Walking out of yet another tutorial I failed to make a squeak in—there goes my class part—I beat myself up over my irrational fear of speaking in class. Meeting my assigned group to discuss a project, my silence continues. Alone later, staying up on Youtube, clicking vid after vid, I resign myself to the fact that I won’t start my essay today. I stress-eat another Snickers bar. Such a slacker. As dumb and useless as they get. What’s new? The self-resentment follows me to sleep.
(A typical school day.)
If you’ve ever thought of yourself as “lazy”, “dumb”, “useless”, “awkward”, “boring”, or a “failure”, you’ve come to the right place! Here’s a guide on what to do when self-doubt gets in the way.
1) Adopt a growth mindset
Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, explains the difference between a fixed and growth mindset:
“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.
In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
Here’s the thing: A fixed mindset traps you. A growth mindset gives you space to take risks, make mistakes and grow from them.
I used to think I had social anxiety. But I found myself using it as an excuse to shun social situations, to comfort myself after awkward lunches and class discussions. Far from helping, it worsened my dread of human interaction, especially when transitioning between group and one-to-one interactions. Expecting every conversation to go bad, everyone I met to realize over time that I was lame, I just let my social life crumble. Every night that a friend didn’t ask me to dinner just confirmed my fears that my company was undesirable.
I realize, now, that thinking of myself as having social anxiety was the problem. I was thinking it during those meals and discussions, worrying they wouldn’t like me. How then could I listen to people, let alone connect with them?
Once I stopped labelling myself, I could relax into my interactions with people. It still doesn’t come easily, but slowly I’m getting there—the point where I stop obsessing over what people think of me.
2) Work on your weaknesses
Let’s say you keep screwing up presentations. Telling yourself you’re just shy and bad at presentations gets you nowhere. To get better at presentations, you need to practice.
A girl in my public speaking class admitted her weakness to the entire class: she has difficulty expressing herself. From then on she made herself participate in class every lesson and in the end, delivered an impressive and humorous talk that surprised the tutor. By not caring if people judged her, she overcame her fear, making remarkable progress in her public speaking skills.
To get what you want, do the thing you need to do under 5 seconds before you change your mind, says Mel Robbins, an Ivy-educated criminal lawyer, and one of the top career and relationship experts in America. What are you waiting for? (not a rhetorical question) Speak up in class. Sign up for that project. Text that guy you like.
3) Surround yourself with the right people
Doubtlessly, I have many things I need to work on. But there are some parts of me that I can’t change.
In secondary school I often felt like a misfit. Like any insecure person, I hung out with the “cool kids” to secure my place in the social hierarchy. Although I couldn’t sustain a conversation with them, I joined them for recess every day. Gradually, the clique started leaving me out of plans. Seeing all the fun they were having without me on Instagram convinced me that I was boring, socially awkward and utterly unwanted. I may or may not have cried about this.
In JC, however, I found a precious few with whom I could finally open up and be real with. With them I talked about everything under the sun. These are the ones who’ve stayed in my life.
The right people love you for who you are, and help you love yourself.
4) Don’t compare yourself to others
It is inevitable that we measure ourselves up against others. But rarely does it do us any good. When I compare myself to others I sometimes think there is something wrong or lacking in me, which is a completely wrong approach.
Take it from Anna Akana—filmmaker, actress, author, and comedian: “Change what you can, accept what you can’t change, and be okay with where you are in the process of growth”. Everyone’s journey is different, but we’re all works in progress!
I went from thinking “I’m broken and need fixing” to “I’m imperfect and need to work on these areas”. It has made all the difference.
For one thing, knowing that I can do something about my flaws helps me chill. As my dance teacher (and sage-in-training!) says, use just the amount of energy you need, no more. Don’t waste it sweating the small stuff, like being judged for eating alone or always sitting at the front of the class. Focus on what you want out of your day.
Decide for yourself what matters most.
To me, it matters that I enjoy what I’m studying. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have friends taking the same mods. So I chose mods I was interested in, even if that was an un-S/U-able level 3k mod in year 1 (not the wisest decision). Coincidentally, I found out that someone from my course camp OG was taking the same mods as me, so we went for classes together. I also made friends with a classmate that I did a presentation with. Now who said you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
5) Find out what you’re doing wrongly
I remember going to the National Library every day to study for prelims, almost to the point of burnout. Alas—my prelims results sucked. Disheartened, I decided I was just dumb.
When I sought help from teachers, I spent more time on each question. As it turns out, I’d been rushing through practice papers to cover as much as possible, moving on to the next thing before I fully understood why I’d got a question wrong.
In uni finals scripts aren’t returned. But you can find your prof to ask for feedback and talk about your performance. Better yet, look for them each time you get back a grade you’re unsatisfied with—not to bargain, but to monitor your progress. Make sure you’re on the right track.
If results are not showing despite your best efforts, figure out what’s wrong. If you keep doing the same thing, don’t be surprised to get the same results.
Whatever you are going through, know that you can always learn and improve. Every hurdle cleared will weaken the hold of self-doubt over you and build a stronger, more confident you.