Sounds wrong doesn’t it? That self-doubt might be better for us than confidence. Before I explain the difference and why it is better I should explain what I mean by self-doubt, a term that for most people is a negative, and something they would prefer not to experience.
Maybe self-questioning would be a better way of describing it. Asking yourself if you are right, asking yourself if your choice is the best course of action. Doubt is a bad word, but actually doubt makes us stop and think. Doubt can be debilitating, but like anything, in moderation is best.
I suspect that everyone has made a decision in life and afterwards thought, if only I had waited longer. Or, I should have listened to my common sense, these are basically the same as doubt.
The general view of someone who is successful is a person with little self-doubt, a person with forceful views and someone who can go forward without showing vulnerability. This is a very 1950’s type of view of how people work and if you look at many of the comic book heroes from the time they did embody this to an extent.
When Superman was playing the role of the nervous bumbling Clark Kent, was this a façade where he pretends to be a flawed human or was it the real Superman. He was vulnerable, damaged by his home world and family being killed. Superman famously was vulnerable to kryptonite, a mineral that sapped his power. Kryptonite has now become the symbol of weakness in any situation. It’s become a commonly used phrase.
“My Kryptonite is chocolate cake, it will be my downfall”
“Puppies are my Kryptonite, they stop me in my tracks”
Everyone has something that saps their power in those somewhat facile examples but also in serious and real terms. It may be an emotional trigger, it may be a substance misuse issue, and it may be receiving a criticism. Even the people who on the surface are the most confident, those with the least self-doubt have a Kryptonite, a weakness.
Let’s move away from comic book heroes and fantasy, we have heroes and villains in real life and they are both affect by the proverbial Kryptonite as well. One of the obvious examples is Donald Trump. Before I go into this I have written about him before and this isn’t about political views, I’m sure I’ll explore that further in time. But Donald Trump to me is a super-villain on a comic book level. His total disregard for humans shows a person of genuinely psychopathic qualities, he undoubtedly has some kind of narcissistic personality disorder, it’s always someone else’s fault, fake news, lies and so on. But, he is a sex offender, he is a capitalist, he is legitimately the opposite type of personality for a leader. The opposite of a person who should be in charge of a nuclear arsenal…
Real life supervillain may be extreme, but psychologically damaged, power hungry criminal is not. Something that having a personality disorder like that is a complete and total lack of self-doubt. At any point has Donald Trump questioned his own actions? To be a capitalist often means disregarding ethics over profit which is a major lack of empathy. Empathy, or in really simple terms, thinking about others, means you question your own actions to ensure you don’t have a negative impact on others.
At work I am a manager, which means I have significant influence over other people, which means each decision I make must be empathic, and must take into account many factors. I have made decisions which from my perspective are completely selfless, but have resulted in people being unhappy. At times when in a position of power you need to make a decision very quickly, part of the skill of being a manager is to make choices to resolve a situation, to problem solve and do your best to have a positive outcome. This doesn’t always work.
I needed some time to doubt my choices, basically time to assess the many factors in a complex situation. I have been faced with these types of decisions many times at work and in life and sometimes I make the wrong choice. And even if publicly I stand by my choice, internally I think about why I did what I did and what went wrong, this is self-reflection and another form of self-doubt. Does Donald Trump reflect? Do Psychopaths reflect? Probably not in the same way.
Right now Trump is at theoretical war with North Korea, between Trump and Kim Jong Un it looks like two Supervillains fighting each other, I half expect them to suddenly turn around and unite to take over the world together…
Or, are these two people who have gone deep into a situation and need to carry on the façade? Kim Jong Un is just continuing his father’s legacy, does he know any better? Trump started a campaign based on hate and ignorance and won, and now he can’t go back? No of course, you can always change tack, as a manager I have had to apologise at times. You do need to show great confidence in your decisions and stand by your reasons but also have the ability to stand up and say “sorry, that was my mistake”.
What this leaves us with is world leaders, who don’t doubt themselves threatening to throw bombs at each other, quite literally, when will one decide to push the button? Or do they question the rationale behind firing nuclear weapons at each other? It’s obvious the risk we face here, potential eradication of life on earth. It’s on a comic book level but we have psychopaths in power, they had the lack of doubt to get themselves there. Trump showed a total lack of empathy in his campaign, but people seemed to like that, which is baffling.
You need to employ self-doubt every day in big and small ways. Have you every ruined a meal with too much salt? Or a tea with too much sugar? Have you ever bought an item of clothes without trying it on, only to find it doesn’t fit? Have you ever had an argument knowing your point is wrong? I suspect most of you would say yes, these are little ways we need to question ourselves. By all means be confident in what you know and making mistakes is just part of being human. Don’t necessarily feel bad about it. But you know when your mind questions something and you ignore it, don’t ignore it, that’s just your mind asking you a good question.
The old fashioned angel and devil on each shoulder that was a popular way of showing the yin and yang of the conscience, in the cartoons the devil would often win for comedic effect which begs the question of how often the imaginary demons take over and cause people choose the wrong thing.
We need people in charge to have self-doubt, we lose self-doubt often when angry or drunk, some doubt themselves more, some people have too much self-doubt which stops them from achieving what they can in life, it’s really about thinking through what we do. I’ve talked many times about problem solving skills being incredibly important, this is part of that, maybe the most important part. I’m sure Trump, Kim Jong Un and the many others like them have a Kryptonite. Ironically they come across as incredibly sensitive, sensitive to any criticism, sensitive to any one questioning them and maybe that’s a sign of them switching off their own self-doubt. Often people trust those who show the greatest confidence, maybe we should trust more those who show thoughtfulness first.