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You Don’t Need to Believe in Yourself to Be Successful

Ignore your intimidation don’t try and eliminate it

When we see someone who is really successful in a way that we want to be, we assume the best about that person. We know success takes hard work and discipline.

But at some level we don’t say that they worked hard, we say that they are a hard worker. We say that they are talented, smart, lucky.

In other words we give ourselves an out by imaging that person has some inherent magical set of traits that we are lacking. While that sounds like we are being hard on ourselves, in fact what we are doing is making an excuse.

Implied by this idea that the other person was born with something that we don’t is that it was not in their control, it was just the luck of the draw. And if we are not succeeding it was because we are not as lucky and don’t have those magic traits.

So their success and our lack of it is due to factors beyond our control. It’s not our fault.

The root cause of this is not laziness, it is insecurity. We are intimidated by the scope of our heart’s ambition and we don’t believe that we have what it takes to succeed.

However, it’s not that we did this rational analysis about our chances for success and made an intellectual decision to give up based on that.

If this were the case it would cause regret maybe, but not this existential angst. It wouldn’t be personal. It wouldn’t be something that affected our self-worth because it was the circumstances.

However, that’s not what we actually do.

Instead what happens is that we have this grand ambition, but because it is important to us, we get intimidated because we want to do it right. Failing at something that we don’t care about doesn’t really give rise to any depth of feeling.

In contrast, failing at something we really care about feels like we would be giving up on our dreams so it scares us.

However rather than taking this fear as a warning that failure is possible, we take it as a sign that failure is inevitable. And our intellect, being in thrall to our feelings, immediately begins to build a case for why that failure is inevitable.

We lack faith in ourselves, we think we are going to fail, and we selectively find evidence to prove this. What really puts the nail the coffin of our dreams is that we take this very lack of belief in ourselves as another sign that we are doomed to fail.

After all isn’t it true that people who are successful believe that they will be? That seems like the most primary of prerequisites.

But what we are doing is building a self-referential house of cards that essentially says we don’t think we are going to succeed because we think we are failures and we think we are failures because we don’t think we are going to succeed.

So how do we break out of this motivational death spiral?

We do this by realizing that our feelings are real but they are not reality. When we are intimidated by our goal, there is nothing we can do to eliminate that.

There is no rational argument, no facts you can bring to bear, that will convince you to not be intimidated. You can’t use your intellect to get out of this spiral because its not your intellect that got you into it.

Instead we short circuit the assumption by understanding the purpose of fear. Fear is not a sign of danger, it is a sign that we must be alert for potential danger.

So when we feel intimidated, when we feel scared that we cannot achieve the scope of our ambition we just accept that fear, that discomfort, and do it anyway.

The key to doing this is to not put so much pressure on yourself to “believe in yourself”, ie to have confidence. Confidence is not a prerequisite for action, it is a reward you get after pushing through that initial self-doubt and fear.

I remember when I was in college, I would panic almost every final exam I took, no matter how well I knew the material. Knowing this, what I would tell myself is “okay, don’t do the exam but you have to stay here in the exam room for the next hour”.

It was weird, but giving myself that permission to fail (literally) took the pressure off. Then I said to myself, “well since I’m already going to be here for an hour I may as well take a look at some of these questions”. Once I got started, my brains would reengage and I would be able to finish the exams.

It’s not that I suddenly felt confident, it was that I essentially gave myself permission to not be confident. That feeling of discomfort is normal and we make ourselves feel bad for feeling bad. So break that vicious cycle.

Fear is an uncomfortable feeling and we naturally do not want to feel uncomfortable. But if instead of trying to eliminate discomfort we focus on our goal despite the discomfort, then that is the way to success.