Five Keys to Managing Doubt

Young sad mad sitting by the window in regret
Young sad mad sitting by the window in regret

Five Keys to Managing Doubt

It is not always easy to be self-assured and confident. Many people move through life with numerous doubts and insecurities. You may doubt yourself, others, or the world around you. Perhaps you look at certain situations and certain people with suspicion and distrust. Doubting yourself and the world around you make solid decision-making agonizingly difficult. Some people respond by wavering between several options, unable to make a choice. Even when a decision is made, they may second-guess themselves, feeling inadequate and unsure about the choice they made.

Many people with a substance use disorder have tried treatment before. They may doubt their ability to stay in recovery. They may feel a tug-of-war between wanting to use and wanting to stay sober. They may doubt their value or sense of worth, or see themselves as inferior to others. Being filled with doubt can make life much more difficult. Struggling with decisions about relationships, making purchases, choosing schools, selecting a career, finding a partner, or initiating intimacy can all be daunting. Fear, as it increases, becomes harder to face and there is increased temptation to avoid the cause of the fear. Insecurity, doubt, and anxiety can all cause paralysis. And when you are afraid to move in any direction, you will stay stuck in your own indecision.

Doubt can be managed by applying the following five specific strategies.

1. Review Your Successes

Negative “what if” scenarios are full of doubt. Reviewing what went wrong increases timidity, insecurity, and fear. Looking back over your successes can increase confidence and remind you of past strength and abilities. Going over your past successes will help you feel more reliable, confident, and solid in your decision-making ability. Similarly, you may want to review what went right recently, rather than endlessly thinking about what went wrong, or what might go wrong in the future.

2. Manage Your Uncertainty

When you make a decision, doubt may creep back in, and you may wonder if you made the right choice. Decisions are often difficult if there is no solid right or wrong answer for the question or situation. An uncertain choice can lead to doubt and indecision. You may end up needing to make a decision, even though you anticipate several problems with it. Remember, you cannot eliminate all problems, gather all information, or make perfect decisions. With practice, you can better tolerate the frustration that comes from being mildly unsure or a little hesitant.

3. Build and Practice Confidence

To help build confidence over time, practice in small ways. Ask for something in the store, request a favor, choose a restaurant for you and a friend, or decide to take a class. Make your decisions in advance of “having to make them.” Choose to get gas, decide to buy milk, and commit to paying a bill early. Practicing in these easy ways will make difficult decisions more manageable in the future.

4. Conquer Your Fear of Disapproval

Doubt and insecurity often come from our fear of what people will think of the decisions we make. This can make us cautious, hesitant, and passive. It is important to continually work on being independent and assertive. Although it is nice to have everyone’s approval, it rarely, if ever, occurs. Look for those who affirm and encourage you, and minimize your attention on the disapproval and criticism coming from those who do not know you well. As you face your fear of disapproval, you will become stronger. Resist the urge to avoid all situations that may lead to interpersonal conflict.

5. Engage in Positive Self-Talk

Engaging in negative thinking and repeating negative thoughts about yourself is very harmful. Ask yourself if the doubts are realistic or if you are overreacting. Challenge your doubts and worries. Identify the doubt, and if it is unrealistic, refuse to entertain it. You can get better at recognizing and refusing negative thoughts and labeling them as irrational, distortions, or misperceptions. After you identify these thoughts, replace them with something positive and practice the positive substitution.


Be Determined

Increasing confidence, assurance, and security is a skill that can be developed. It is futile to attempt to live in a world that presents you with easy to solve, surefire, 100% guaranteed, mistake-free decisions that always feel right. Instead, we all need to manage our anxiety, work down our doubt, and overcome our uncertainty. When you do, everyday decisions become easy to make and you grow into a person who is strong and confident.


Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!