That nagging thought that burrows into everyone’s minds at some point or another. It comes in many forms, but usually sounds like “I’m not good enough.”
Maybe it’s when you have a major presentation for work, in how you feel when you’re around your in-laws, when you question your parenting abilities during your two-year-olds tantrum, or when trying on bathing suits for summer. We all doubt ourselves at times.
Changing our thoughts, feelings and actions is a challenge. There are literally thousands of books written on the topic!
There is a strong connection between our thoughts, feelings and actions. Picture a triangle where each of the three points are interconnected and flow back and forth. Creating change in one area will impact the others. Our thoughts, feelings and actions flow and interact in all directions.
If you change your behaviors, your thoughts and emotions will follow suit. You’ve heard the phrase “fake it till you make it” right?
This is probably easiest to visualize this interconnection with physical exercise. If you commit to working out several days a week for a few weeks, you will eventually start to notice changes in your thoughts (improved self-image, more confident), feelings (more upbeat, better mood) and actions (craving healthier foods, feeling more toned, higher energy levels). This creates a positive cycle that will help you continue working out because you enjoy the benefits.
In general, it takes about 21 days to create a change in behavior. Which means it may take three weeks of working out before you start to notice changes in your thoughts or emotions.
And for some of us, it may take longer than 21 days. I mean who really likes getting up before dawn to work out?
This change works in all directions of the triangle. If you change your thoughts around an activity, it will be easier and more enjoyable to do that activity. If you change your emotions, your thoughts and behaviors will follow along.
So you’re asking: what does this have to do with self-doubt?
Self-doubt is a thought. Now that you know the formula, you can change your thoughts easier!
Let’s look at ways you can approach self-doubt from all directions of the triangle.
Here’s an example: imagine you’re questioning your parenting skills. Say your toddler has thrown the largest temper tantrum of his life in the middle of the grocery store check-out line. You see other people whispering and staring at you. It’s difficult to focus and finish checking out; you know you can’t just leave the basket and head home because you need those groceries for tonight and tomorrow. You’re feeling like the worst parent in the world.
If any of this is connecting with you, let me reassure you, you are not alone. This happens to the best of us!
Changing your behavior in this instance might mean:
- taking a deep breath,
- bending down to your child’s level and speaking with him calmly,
- being clear and directive in setting limits,
- possibly ignoring the tantrum while you check out.
Remaining calm will help you finish the chore at hand and you can get to the car and address the tantrum in a more private setting. Keeping your behavior in control will also help you feel confident that you are making the right choices in handling the tantrum. Sometimes the right choice in parenting is to ignore the behavior (even if others look and stare).
To change your mood around in this situation you could try:
- taking a deep breath,
- reflecting on what other feelings you’re also experiencing in the moment (besides frustration/irritation at your child),
- reflecting on times when you feel proud and strong as a parent will help you recognize your skills don’t always correlate to your child’s behaviors and may help you shift your mood around,
- expanding your focus to more than the self-doubt and frustration to also incorporate other more positive feelings. Maybe you’re excited for the latest episode of your favorite show tonight, happy for a friend who just announced their pregnancy , or relieved because you finished a major project at work.
This broadening of your ‘feelings spotlight’ to experience more than just the frustration in the moment helps integrate the fact that sometimes challenging things happen that create self-doubt, and you can still be happy.
Changing your thoughts around self-doubt in parenting can start with:
- finding ways to change the meaning you attribute to your thoughts.
It’s possible that your automatic thoughts are: “My child is throwing a tantrum in public = I’m a crappy parent.” Identifying things that are accurate and also true about your parenting can be helpful to start to change your thoughts: “My son skipped his nap today and is very tired, of course he’s going to melt down when I say no to him having chocolate.”
These shifts away from negative self-talk to understanding the bigger picture will help you begin to see yourself and your parenting skills in a new light. Shifting to this mindset may not change the situation, but will help let go of your self-doubt around your parenting skills. In turn, your mood will lighten and your interactions with your child will be more at ease.
Just like heading to the gym every morning, taking a deep breath during your child’s tantrum or reframing your thoughts of self-doubt may take a few (or 21) tries to stick and become a habit. And the result will be a calmer, more confident you.
If you find that you would like extra support in changing your thoughts, feelings or actions, or gaining confidence in your life, I’d be glad to help. Click here to find out ways to get in touch with me. I look forward to hearing from you!
Adriana Joyner, LMFT is a Sacramento Area therapist specializing in counseling for people healing from painful life experiences and traumas, and gender support for those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.