Dealing With Doubt Planters

How often do we allow others to get into our heads, and cause us to question our abilities? Here's how to handle that and push forward with your writing.
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One source of external “noise” that keeps us from hearing our call to greatness is the voices of critics who cast doubt on our ability to shine. These people are the doubt planters whom most of us have experienced in our lives. When people criticize others, it often originates from their own insecurities, anxieties, or fears. Though their actions may be unintentional, these doubt planters find ways to rattle our confidence, rather than acknowledge or celebrate our success. Frequently, we’re not aware of how we limit ourselves by allowing the doubt planters in our lives to hold us back. Their messages can be subtle or even couched as constructive feedback.

This guest post is by Donna Stoneham, PhD. Stoneham is a master executive coach, transformational leadership expert, speaker, and author of The Thriver’s Edge: Seven Keys to Transform Your Life, Work, and Relationships, a book designed to help people unleash their potential and thrive. Learn more about Donna’s work and her Thriver Movement at and

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When I was applying to my doctoral program, one of the professors on the admissions committee told me he had doubts about admitting me because he wasn’t sure I had the academic rigor necessary to be successful in the program. I was admitted to the program, but after completing my coursework, I spent the next several years struggling with the dissertation process. At some level, I didn’t believe I had the intelligence to do the research and writing that were necessary to complete my Ph.D.

One day, after we’d finished working with one of the leadership teams in our program, Pat, my business partner in our Integral Intelligence leadership development work, said, “You know, for an academic, you’re very accessible. You can take a concept and make it meaningful to people in a way that most academics can’t.” Dismayed by her comment, I replied, “An academic? I’m not an academic!” Pat responded, “Of course you are, you almost have your PhD!”

[Learn important writing lessons from these first-time novelists.]

At that moment, I felt tears well up in my eyes because I realized how I’d internalized my professor’s negative comments about my abilities. It took Pat’s affirmation of my talents to snap me out of the trance of self-doubt. I had allowed myself to become a victim of my professor’s words by internalizing his limiting beliefs about me. Once I could see how I had unconsciously colluded with his assessment, I was free to make a different choice.

Writing is much the same. How often do we allow others to get into our heads, and cause us to question our abilities? How many words go unwritten, and stories untold, simply because we’re too afraid to try? [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] As a writer, it’s easy to get caught up in self-doubt. We spend hours upon hours putting our thoughts down on paper, and as soon as someone questions one or two of them, it feels as though our entire body of work has come under fire. But the truth is, no one knows what you’d like to say and how you’d like to say it, better than you do.

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Managing Our Perceptions

Max Planck, the German physicist, Nobel Prize winner, and creator of quantum theory, said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” We each have a choice in how we perceive our lives and our circumstances. More than anything else, our attitude defines the kind of life we’ll lead and how fully we’ll express our potential. No one can manage our perspective but us. And the more expansive we help it become, the greater the odds that we’ll make the kind of contribution we want to offer to the world.

I was reminded of this fact when I received a review of the first draft of this book two years ago. The feedback wasn’t as positive as I’d hoped for, and at the end of the conversation with my editor, I felt deflated. My inner critic rose up screaming, “What makes you think you can write a book that anyone else will care about? What makes you think you have any talent as a writer? Why don’t you just stop wasting your time and energy working on this book and focus on your coaching? You know how to do that. Your dream of writing and publishing a book is simply that, a dream.”

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I wrestled with my inner critic for a couple of weeks. Following a conversation with my writing group, I decided to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start revising. I made a choice to shift my focus from giving so much energy to my inner critic to a larger perspective of learning from my editor’s critique so I could improve the book. When I made that decision, the voice of my inner champion reminded me, “Hey, it’s important to remember that this is just your first draft. The criticism you received will only help make it stronger. Writing is like anything else. You have to practice. It may take twenty drafts before it’s ready to be published. Don’t give up on your dream this time. Everything you’ve learned prepared you for this. Just be patient, stick with it, trust the process, and do your best.”

When I was willing to change the way I perceived the situation, my motivation shifted. My attitude began to change, even though my circumstances hadn’t. My attitude had been one of defeat, rather than possibility. I had focused on the negative feedback, rather than the positive comments my editor offered. My mind was filled with limitations on what I could do until I made the choice to see things differently and expand my perspective, and I was willing to envision the situation as an opportunity for learning and improvement instead of as a failure or defeat. Are there places where you are unable to see possibility because you’re focusing too much on the negative? Are there situations in the story of your life where you would benefit by expanding your perspective?

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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