The Challenge of Doubt2 min read

When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.

—Honoré de Balzac

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose

the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.

—William Shakespeare

Certainty brings confidence, power, focus, whole-heartedness, and perseverance. It energizes you to keep taking action regardless of failures and setbacks.

Doubt, or uncertainty, does the opposite. It pulls you back, slows you down, dissipates your energy and willpower, and may make you quit prematurely. If you do move forward, you are half-hearted. No meaningful goal can be achieved this way. We need the whole of you to step forward, please.

Doubt is a greater enemy nowadays than a few centuries ago, courtesy of the scientific revolution. The ability to doubt and question is the cornerstone of critical thinking, making scientific enquiry possible. Putting assumptions to the test allows us to let go of biases and find the truth about things.

The problem is that every virtue casts a shadow. Doubt is an ally of knowledge, but an enemy of the focus and creativity necessary to manifest our goals. The ability to doubt, thus, has a place in your life—but it’s not something that you should use every time, in relation to everything.

If analysis, questioning, and skepticism are the only tools you have, and you use them for everything and in all areas of your life, then you are limiting yourself. For the purposes of self-discipline, there are three types of doubt that hold us back.


Doubting yourself—your capacity—is questioning your abilities, assuming that you are not good enough and that you can’t reach your goals. This type of thinking is like a self-defeating virus in the mind. You need to overcome it at whatever cost.

Doubting your path—your strategy—on a constant basis, and changing your strategy every week, won’t get you anywhere. Figure out the best way forward for you; get the best mentors, advice, and systems that you can find. Then have faith that it will work, and patience with the time it takes. Give it a good trial before questioning its efficacy.

Doubting your goal—your purpose—saps your motivation and your ability to persevere. When progress is slow and challenges build up, you may have the feeling that you will never achieve your goal, that it’s just too difficult. To protect yourself from such pain, doubt can come up, erode your interest in your goal by and distract you with “shiny objects” to pursue instead. You can overcome this with a strong aspiration, perseverance, and self-belief.

Do you have doubts? Most of us do, to some degree. Pause now and ask yourself how you may be doubting your capacity, your strategy, or your purpose.

Scan your brain for all feelings of doubt, and write them down, one per line. Then consider how you can get to what Professor Scott Geller calls the three yeses: “Yes, I can do this”, “Yes, it will work”, and “Yes, it is worth it”. You’ll be glad you did.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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