Escaping From a Pit of Doubt

#Blog Pit of Doubt by Bristlebot

Escaping From a Pit of Doubt

A few days ago, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt like crap. I felt like a failure. I felt like there wasn’t much point.

There were lotS of reasons I felt like this. A big project I was working on fell through. I’ve had trouble signing up new clients. My relationship with a friend and mentor felt in doubt.

But more than anything else, my mind was the main reason I felt this way. I’d been fighting these thoughts for over a week and though I’d kept them at bay, for one day they took control, and convinced me I was a failure.

They pointed out that my business only made a couple thousand dollars last year. They pointed out the debt I had accrued. They pointed out that I’d lost a big opportunity. And they pointed out how uncertain the future was.

All of these thoughts gathered in my mind like a storm that pulled me down until I didn’t want to get up. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Defeat, failure, and loss are an inevitable part of our lives. But knowing this philosophically and feeling the ache in your heart are two very different things. When you get caught in a pit of doubt it can feel like there is no escape

But there is a way out. It’s a path I’ve walked before, but it can be hard to find in the dark. So I’d like to share it with you so you and I can follow the lighted signs to the exit.

1. Talk About It  (Without Advice)

One of the hardest things to do when you feel self doubt is to talk about it. But it’s also one of the most healing.

Thoughts of doubt only grow in silence, so bringing them into the open can create space and allow you to see and accept your doubts.

The problem is whenever I try to talk to someone about my doubt; they usually want to give me advice. And while advice can be helpful, what I really need is someone who can listen and reflect without offering a solution.

So instead of hoping I’ll get lucky, I’ve learned to just ask for what I need. I go to a good friend and say, “Hey I want to talk about something I’m feeling. Do you think you can just reflect what I’m saying without offering me any advice?”

I’ve found that when I make this simple request most people are not only happy to oblige, they’re relieved that I know what I want. I’ve also found that when people listen first, the advice they do offer is much more helpful.

Be bold and willing to talk about your doubt. But also be willing to ask for the safe space you need to do it.

2. Reconnect With Your Values

Often doubt arises when I’ve suffered a setback or have experienced failure. It’s easy for me to get caught up in lots of things that don’t matter, but I find that even in defeat my values hold great power.

What makes values powerful is that I can connect with them no matter how successful I am. Even if I’m failing, I can still work to serve others, to bring fourth truth, and to help other people discover their own deep wisdom.

In fact, in times of defeat my values become even more important, because I’m not distracted or influenced by my ego or my desire to be successful.

If you find yourself caught in a state of doubt, try to reconnect with the things that really matter to you. This small act of reconnection with your values, can keep you going even when it seems like you aren’t getting anywhere.

3. Look for the Opportunity

Every failure I’ve experienced has offered me an opportunity. Sometimes it’s been hard to see those opportunities and at other times they seemed small compared to what I’d lost. Yet each of these defeats and the opportunities they revealed have shaped my life in significant ways.

The reason for this is that even when I’ve been caught in doubt, I’ve also been willing to risk trying something new.

When my first company went out of business, I used the space it created to get a job working as a rock band roadie. When I lost my job as a venue manager, I used my free time to learn mediation and move into a monastery. When I lost my job as a pre-school teacher, I used it as a chance to start my own business.

No matter what the situation, every setback opens up space for change. If you find yourself caught in doubt and focused on what you’ve lost. Try focusing on the space that was created and seeing the possibility it contains.

Once you see it stick a toe in the water and get started. Doubt loves inaction and withers when you begin to explore.

4. Let Yourself Grieve

One of the things I always try to skip over when I’m caught in doubt are the emotions doubt reveals. Instead, I tend to focus on taking action or on distracting myself, so I can avoid the sadness and grief that often comes with doubt.

But the truth is I do feel grief. I feel grief at the lost illusion that things were perfect. I feel grief over my lost confidence and success. I feel grief over the lost opportunities and joys.

It’s easy to think that allowing myself to feel this grief is wrong, lazy, or pathetic. But accepting the grief we feel over the tiny deaths in our lives is completely normal. In fact being willing to feel this grief allows our hearts to grow stronger.

So if you feel sad or angry in your state of doubt, let yourself feel it. Don’t fuel the fire of grief, but also don’t try to squelch it. If you let it in, it will go away on it’s own.

5. Follow your heart

The final and most important thing I’ve done when caught in a pit of doubt is follow my heart. Every time I follow my heart, I’m amazed that even though it aches, it nearly always leads me to where I need to be.

Often I’m caught in doubt it’s because I’m stuck on some idea I have about myself and what should be happening in my life. And I try to battle these thoughts with other thoughts, ideas, and logical arguments. But it never works, because instead of bringing me relief, it only ties my mind in knots.

I’ve found that when I let go of my ideas and trust my heart that the storm begins to calm. I begin to see a light through the clouds. And even though that light sometime makes me cry, it leads me to an inner spaciousness and clarity I can’t find anyplace else.

Doubt is deeply connected to our hearts, because it exposes our innate vulnerability leaving us feeling raw and weak. But if instead of fighting this vulnerability we choose to embrace it, then this state of doubt can lead us to greater peace and greater faith in ourselves and the universe in which we are held.

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Today someone I care about very much suffered a setback. It reminded me of all the setbacks in my life. And I thought I’d share a few with you.

  1. I failed two classes in high school: Social Studies and German. The first because of lack of effort the latter because of a personality conflict I couldn’t overcome.
  2. My junior year of high school I didn’t make the wrestling team.
  3. My senior year I didn’t get a very good part in the play.
  4. I fell in love with a girl in college and spent the whole summer writing love letters to her in England. She broke up with me within two weeks of returning to school.
  5. I dropped out of college in 2003 with only 2 credits left between me and a diploma.
  6. The first company I started failed miserably and lost over $10,000.
  7. I got fired from my first touring job with the Gin Blossoms because I got into a fight with the drummer.
  8. I probably would’ve gotten fired from my second touring job, if I hadn’t decided to quit.
  9. Despite catching my boss stealing and standing up to her, I lost my job and she kept hers.
  10. At the monastery, I lost my temper and got into ‘trouble’ on many occasions.
  11. I lost the first job I got when I left the monastery as a preschool teacher because I got into a disagreement with my boss.
  12. I have lost more clients than those I currently train.

While all these setbacks were painful. Each of them taught me something very important. Many of them even led to huge shifts in the way I live my life.

When I look back on these setbacks, I realize that they were more important than many of my successes.

Take for example the job I lost after catching my boss stealing. It was because of that setback that I was open to trying meditation. It also meant I had enough time and space to move to the monastery.

Another example is how I lost my job working as a pre-school teacher. If I hadn’t lost that job, I may never have tried out personal training or started writing this blog.

Though each of these set backs seemed like the worst thing possible.
Each of them became a huge pivot point in my life. Here are the steps I’ve used to overcome and grown from my setbacks.

1. Mope

It’s important to let yourself mope a bit. Setbacks can be painful or even gut wrenching. Let yourself feel that pain. If you let that pain in and accept it, it will move along more quickly.

This doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up. If just means taking some time to lick your wounds. Decide how long you need, ideally 3 – 5 days, and then set a deadline to stop moping.

2. Listen For and Acknowledge Your Jackals, but Don’t Believe Them.

Any setback will likely bring up some self-critical thoughts. It’s helpful to notice and name these thought patterns. I use the term Jackal for this, but you could use anything that works for you, like gremlin, inner critic, or Reginald.

For example I have a, “You’ll never be as successful as your sister jackal,” a “Your such a screw up jackal,” and a “Your not a good person jackal.”

Whenever I notice these Jackals, I name them. I notice what they have to say. Then I do my best to let them go. I know from experience that if I listen, but don’t buy into what they have to say, they eventually fade.

3. Take Action

As soon as your moping period is over it’s important to do something. But it’s easy to get caught up in trying to figure out the ‘right’ thing to do. The answer to this is simple: Anything.

Do the first constructive thing that occurs to you especially if it involved leaving your domicile.

My favorite thing to do after I’ve suffered a set back is to set up meeting with as many people I know. Over the years, these meetings have led me to getting amazing jobs, doing amazing things, and discovering new parts of myself.

The trick is that only 1 out of 10 of these meetings will yield something so it’s important to keep them. You never know where the right inspiration or referral is hiding.

4. Reflect

As soon as you have taken action and started to come out of your mope mindset, it’s time to reflect. Every major set back I’ve suffered held a little lesson for me. But I needed some space before I could see it.

Take some time and write out what you learned paying special attention to any faulty assumptions, missing skills, and lack of planning. Very often, this is where I’ve discovered some very valuable bits of information.

If you’re having a hard time, don’t be afraid to talk this step over with someone. Especially if they can ask good questions and offer some perspective

5. Celebrate Small Victories

As you back on track, celebrate every small victory you have. These small victories will provide essential energy to keep you moving forward. And remember no victory is too small.

If you get out of bed at a reasonable hour, do a little happy dance. If you spend 10 mins online to looking for work, put your hands up and say, “I’m Awesome.” This little bit of positive reinforcement can help keep your sprits up when the future feels daunting.

6. Practice Gratitude

No matter how bad your set back there is always something to be grateful for. It may be small and it may pale in comparison to what you lost, but its essential you focus your mind on that gratitude.

Setbacks can be a great opportunity to appreciate the blessings life has to offer.

7. Be Humble

At some point, your set back will fade and you will return to a state of normalcy. When you are on your way up it’s important that you practice humility.

You never know when a set back could be around the corner so take time to honor and appreciate where you are now and how you’ve grown.

Final Thoughts
Setbacks are a part of life. They have happened to all of the people I admire and to many intellectual greats as well. But what makes the difference is how you accept and learn from those setbacks.

Setbacks often offer us harsh lessons, but it’s those lessons that stick with us. Pain always cuts deeper than joy and that’s what makes setbacks so powerful.

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