How to make big (or small) changes when you struggle with self doubt

Jayne Anne Ammar
7 min readNov 29, 2021

So I was talking to a client the other day and she tells me she’s afraid she not going to do the thing she needs to do when the time comes. She’s referring to the physical therapy necessary to keep her recovery going after a joint replacement surgery she’s having in a couple of months.

We’ve been working together now for 6 weeks (of our 7-week program together), and she’s made progress in leaps and bounds around what she wanted to achieve around her health, pain management, her identity moving forward, self-acceptance and self-compassion. A theme she’s spelled out to me more than a couple of times is how proud she is of herself for following through. And yet even as she tells me this and has made measurable progress any outsider can see, I notice she still uses qualifiers and modifiers like, “I usually don’t stick with something this long… This is so new to me. It’s such a big deal because I don’t usually follow through.”

What follows is my take on evidence-based tools to move forward with confidence when you struggle with self doubt.

Lack of self trust in the beginning is normal, it means keep going.

So maybe you’re like this client and you’re not firm yet in your resolve or your new behaviors. You don’t quite believe in yourself, despite the new evidence to the contrary coming in. Any positive outcomes you’ve seen you could easily let your negative self-talk chalk up to luck or something outside of your influence, as a matter of bad habit. What’s really going on here though when my client said she’s worried she won’t follow through on what she needs to do in the future is that she doesn’t trust herself. Yet.

Conscious attention over time is required to rewire your neural patterns and get to the place where you feel solid in your new way of being in the world. Where the actions you’re taking outwardly in the world on a regular basis are in line with your thoughts, beliefs and emotions and who you want to be.

I know this feeling well myself. When something is new, it takes courage for you to do it, it goes against your normal patterns. The new action or behavior itself is a “pattern interruption,” and not the norm yet. So what helps you get from “this isn’t really me” to “ it’s the new norm” and then eventually to just “this is the norm for me?”

How to build self trust to make changes easier — and make them stick

So when you’re self-trust in your ability to do the new thing or the scary thing is like a tiny sprout and you wish you could just skip to the self-trust as a mighty oak part, here are some ways you can shore up your resolve and keep you moving forward during the in-between phase.

Photo by Sushobhan Badhai on Unsplash

Overcome the negativity bias by focusing on what’s worked well in the past.

So here’s the thing, we can be notorious about not following through with our commitments to ourselves. In one way, this negativity bias is meant to keep us safe, and to see what we need to look out for. So any negative self-talk we may be aware of often feels “real” and not necessarily like you’re even being negative, but positive psychology shows us one way to counteract this is to actually focus on what’s been going well.

Questions to ask yourself when you notice your negative self-talk come up around something you’re doing differently and haven’t seen pan out yet:

  1. During the times you’ve already been successful with the new behavior, even if only for a short time, what was going on then? What worked?
  2. How can you harness what you learned then to what you’re working towards now?
  3. What’s another time you can recall when you overcame a challenge? What was it? How did you approach it then? How can you call upon some of your inherent strengths you’ve used in the past to this new situation you’re facing?
  4. Even if it feels like you’re not successful yet, what was different about even just the one time you were able to do the thing? Start there.

It helps to redirect the mind to what actually works to lift you back up as often as needed into a state of possibility and potential as opposed to feeling down about what you haven’t yet accomplished. This is the way you move forward.

Other evidence-based ways to help you bounce back from challenges and build your resilience from positive psychology and the neuroscience of change or neuroplasticity are Savoring and Gratitude, both practices you can also cultivate to keep your headspace where it needs to be.

Calling in positive emotional attractors and why this change matters to you.

One way to think of this is as your actual future self calling to you from this already changed space, “come on in, the water is great.” When you can call to mind and feel the sensations and emotions you’d like to create from making a shift in your life, you are that much closer to creating and finding the way to what you want. In more scientific terms, it’s called evoking positive emotional attractors to “enhance an individual’s motivation, effort, optimism, flexibility, creative thinking, resilience and other adaptive behaviors.”

So if you’re going to make a new commitment and not to someone outside of yourself but to yourself, you got get really clear on why this matters to you. And while you can start with some of the negative things you want to avoid by making a change, you must also focus on the benefits or positive aspects of what making this change will mean for you and how it could affect your life.

Q’s to ask yourself to evoke your inner motivation as the foundation of your commitment:

  1. What will be different in your life when you have (the thing you want achieve) or feel (way you want to feel instead of how you feel now)?
  2. Achieving this, how will your life be different? Better?
  3. Why now? What makes it important to do, change, or start this action you want to take now?

Building trust in yourself by doing what you say you’ll do.

Now comes the action part of making any type of change. It’s the ongoing step by step changes required, the “just do it ✔” part. But it doesn’t have to be that hard — when it comes down to the nuts and bolts you need an actual plan.

The way you overcome inertia without simply relying on “willpower” is by creating a plan, and a realistic one, for you, at that. The plan comes in to get the job done — even when it’s feels hard or uncomfortable, and you don’t “want” to do it because it’s asking you to grow.

The key is realistic and doable so that you can have an easy enough win that what you said you would do, you actually followed through on. You start out small enough that it doesn’t feel overwhelming to start, but just enough of a challenge that you can think you can do it, and it feels good. This is how we build trust with others in our lives, and this is also how we build trust in ourselves, too.

Q’s to ask yourself to create the realistic plan of action you will follow:

  1. So what is that plan? Specifically? Think about it in terms of a smart (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) goal. And
  2. What will you commit to doing over the next week? You might consider completing this sentence stater to make it more concrete: I will do…. at….. for …. # of times per week.
  3. What do you need to help you be successful with that? What will that actually look like in your life?
  4. Does it feel doable?

Without a coach, writing this down for yourself can be incredibly helpful!

Self-compassion for when you fail to keep you moving forward.

So you’re on your way, an it’s important to know you will “fail” because as you move forward. And if we’re not failing, we’re probably playing it too safe, and there are no real rewards in playing it too safe, either.

So when you stumble, giving yourself some grace through looking at yourself with kind eyes, the way you would a child or someone you love who is trying something new can go a long, long way to helping you get back up and moving through low points and tough emotions along the way. Questions to ask yourself when your on the path and feeling down or trying to move through a setback:

  1. What was my best experience with this?
  2. What did I learn from this?
  3. What can I do to give myself some grace around this?

So back to my client with the hip surgery and physical therapy coming soon. When I hear her talking about everything she knows she can take forward with her in our final session, all of the tools she’s found and made her own, including some of the ones I’ve shared here — I know she’ll find or make or create her own way forward.

Some tools you can may borrow from her journey to apply to your own as you embody the changes you need to make to get from where you are to where you want to be: the clear vision of why this matters to her and what she’s literally moving towards, alongside her growing ability to coach herself, tap into her body and the present moment through her breath, and give herself heaps of self compassion as she goes.

New to this work?

I’m Jayne Anne, a certified Health Coach working to support women in healing their chronic pain or disease by addressing its underlying issues. If you’re wanting to make a change around your physical or emotional health, this intersection is where I love to work with women around healing the circumstances of their life and identity.

If you want support around uncovering some of the underlying causes of your physical symptoms, Root Cause Journaling Prompts can help.

To learn more about my 1:1 support, click here.

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Jayne Anne Ammar

Health coach. My coaching and writing are meant to reconnect you with your own healing wisdom. jayneanneammar.com