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  • Lan Anh Phan

Self-Doubt is Self-Sabotage

Let's define self-sabotage here as the act of preventing a plan or a process from being successful. It can take many forms, but I would like to precisely address the effect of self-doubt on performance.


How does self-doubt manifest itself? Here's what it can look like: not embracing opportunities, giving more space to others, feeling undeserving, not following through, crediting luck and good timing, avoiding risk-taking behaviors, untapped potential, negative inner dialogue, symptoms of anxiety, etc. The list can go on and on. However, that is not what people who are dealing with self-doubt observe. To them, it all just feels like a big ball of frustration. They know they can and should perform better, but something is pulling them back (themselves!). They end up stuck in a negative loop of subpar performances turning into more exasperation.


I want to share this quote from successful sport psychologist Dan Abrahams: "You will never play better than the image you hold of yourself in your mind." The narrative we tell about what we cannot do and what we cannot be is being manifested daily through unproductive thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These self-limiting beliefs prevent us from showing up as our actual talented and valuable selves. This is why I am using the term self-sabotage. We have to realize that the responsibility is only ours.


So, how can we bridge that gap? How can we stop ourselves from being our own worst enemy? Before answering these questions, I want to normalize this experience. It is not uncommon at all as athletes to feel this way. Most of us are perfectionists and hold ourselves to a very high standard. The consequence is that we fear not being good enough, fear disappointment and fear failure. The pressure can come from external expectations as well. All of this leads to overthinking and hesitating while we should be focusing on executing the task at hand. Doing so is only adding one more opponent to fight against.


Now, let's get to the solutions. First things first, it is imperative to let go of all fear-based affirmations. As mentioned in another blog post, vocabulary matters. We have to shift our focus from "what if's" to "I am's" and "I can's", from the future to the present moment. These are examples of statements that I like to use:

- I am the captain of my ship, I am in control.

- I am not an imposter, I belong right where I am.

- I am capable and I am reliable.

- I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.


Once we are able to transform our thoughts into realistic and productive ones, we have to work on self-belief. It is one thing to claim these powerful affirmations, but it is another to mean and embody them. Visualization is my go-to exercise when it comes to building confidence. It is crucial to be able to see ourselves accomplishing a task or an objective. Whatever it is, we have to create a clear picture of the desired sequence in our mind and play it back as often as possible. We have done it before, we can do it again. Strengthening our sense of competence will not only increase self-esteem, but also levels of motivation, consistency and enjoyment. The next element to address would be our support system. We can't pick and choose who our coaches and teammates are, but outside of the team environment, we can certainly distance ourselves from individuals who are not helping us move forward. With a solid core and solid allies, we are ensuring that no one is stepping in our path to success. Of course, none of it is easy. It is a long and trying process that requires a lot of self-reflection, but it is necessary to reach excellence.


A few weeks ago, I was listening to Dr. Phil speak on the Powerful Joe Rogan Experience podcast and he said something that resonated with me: "It takes a special kind of player to want the ball at the buzzer." I personally think that is the type of self-confidence that we should all strive for. We have to know and believe that we can step up in the most crucial moments. And it has nothing to do with the "clutch factor".


I want to end with this single take-away message: Self-Belief is Self-Help. Scratch the title of this blog article.


Please, help yourself. You are a winner, believe accordingly.


- LP.


Please note that the concepts discussed above might not apply to individuals suffering from mental illness.


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