How Can Millennials Fight Self-Doubt?

Much of this self-doubt comes from our constant striving to be better.

Today’s high-achieving Millennials and young entrepreneurs are good at faking it. Some even at making it. But the vast majority, even the best of the best, experience regular bouts of self-doubt. It’s part of being human.

Much of this self-doubt comes from our constant striving to be better. Compared to the older Gen Xers and Boomers, Millennials are more likely to engage in personal improvement. It’s a double-edged sword: Committing to being better is the only way to actually getting better, but it comes at a cost of feeling inadequate in our perfectionistic pursuit of self-betterment.

Luckily, we can dull the one edge of this sword using certain tactics and mental exercises. Psychology and neuroscience research offers key insights into how we can shift our mindset to reduce self-doubt without sacrificing the goal of self-improvement.

Remember these four easy-to-implement mindset tactics and learn to push back against self-doubt.

A growth mindset for personal improvements


Having a “growth” mindset is believing your skills can be developed and honed (you got what you got because you worked at it). The opposite, having a “fixed” mindset, is believing your skills are based in some innate ability (you got what you got, that’s it). With a growth mindset, self-doubts are temporary; with a fixed mindset, they’re forever.

It works because people with a growth mindset focus on learning. As a result, they don’t get hung up on whether they can or cannot do something, but on the capacity to grow and get better over time.


Multiple lines of research point to the benefits of fostering a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset: believe they can develop their intelligence over time; persist longer in the face of adversity and show greater resilience; have better educational outcomes; and are more empowered at work.

Concerned your natural disposition is more fixed and less growth? Not to worry. Growth mindsets can be trained and cultivated in a short period of time.

So, I recommend seeing effort as a good thing. It’s a sign you’re on the right track. Also, don’t seek out the easy tasks simply because they’re easy. Commit yourself to the challenge of a difficult task with personal resolve, tenacity, and grit. Envision your future self getting better at a particular skill or talent, and then mentally work backwards to map out how to get there.

A distancing mindset for getting out of the mental trap

No doubt, reflecting on one’s shortcomings serves a purpose. It’s wise to immerse yourself in the negative feelings from time to time. But finding some separation from the anxiety and distress has also proven to be an effective strategy. Referred to as “psychological distancing,” it’s recommended in times when your self-reflection might be causing you to ruminate.

Psychological distance makes negative self-views less emotionally disturbing, and has even shown to reduce people’s level of cardiovascular reactivity. These simple exercises work because they help broaden your thinking and give you some mental breathing room. They allow personal failings to be perceived as part of a bigger picturerather than as isolated, standalone incidents.

Credit: Pixabay

Space can allow you to see things differently.

In a very recent set of experiments, a team of neuroscientists asked people to recall negative events of personal failure, while assigning half of participants to a first-person self-talk instruction (using “I”) and the other half to a third-person self-talk instruction (using their first name).

People using third-person showed less self-referential emotional reactivity in the brain compared to those using first-person. And, interestingly, though the self-talk strategy distanced people from the pang of personal self-doubt, it reserved the brain’s ability to perform and stay motivated on task.

A non-competitive mindset for fighting feelings of inferiority

This is especially pertinent advice for Millennials, as we tend to be more competitive than our elder counterparts. Admittedly, I’m the first to argue that a healthy dose of friendly competition can be an effective motivator. But there is an unintended dark side to the competitive mindset. This is especially true when you’re feeling bad about yourself to begin with.

The reason is because competition organizes the mind to perceive social environments as hierarchical in nature: There’s people at the top and people at the bottom. This creates the zero-sum perception bias in which my wins are your losses, or vice versa.

Credit: Pixabay

Fist-bumping cooperation can be a buffer against self-doubt.


Research shows that when a person feels insecure about themselves and their abilities, they begin to develop a fear of inferiority. Feeling this way, the findings suggest, leads to heightened depression, anxiety, and stress. And there’s even now evidence showing that seemingly fun “gamification” competitions in classrooms produces decreased motivation and poorer student performance.

To keep the self-doubt at bay, avoid unnecessary competition in your work life. Seek out the opportunities around you where there’s more collaboration and cooperation.

An attitude certainty mindset to find a solid base


Attitude certainty means the conviction with which we hold a belief or value. It’s what we stand for and the lengths we’ll go to defend a particular cause. Research suggests that people’s personal conviction on a core set of values is associated with their sense of self-certainty.

In two studies, a team of Stanford researchers primed people to feel either high or low attitude certainty. Afterwards, the participants indicated the extent to which they experience self-doubt on their own abilities. What they found was that the people who were made to feel greater conviction in their attitudes showed less self-doubt and were surer of themselves and their personal talents.

The more you stand for something, the more sure you are not just of that value but of your abilities as well. It works like a self-concept spillover effect.

There’s strong reason to heed this advice: A certain stereotype of Millennials exists, which says that relative to the other generations, we might show less attitude certainty. Or that the things we do “stand for” are more materialistic. Turns out there’s a kernel of truth to this. Scientific research examining data from nationwide surveysindicates that Millennials consider goals related to extrinsic values (e.g., money, image, fame) more important than those related to intrinsic values (self-acceptance, community, belonging).

Given that intrinsic values and attitudes are more meaningful and lasting than extrinsic ones, it’s wise advice to develop a solid base of intrinsically-driven attitudes. I recommend having these in place as a psychological safety net in times when self-doubt rears its ugly head.


Originally published at Forbes

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