When I started typing the title to this blog post, instead of writing “When in Doubt,” I wrote “When in Donut.” Typo? Coincidence? Insignificant? I think not. I think Carl Jung would have called it a “synchronicity.”
The truth is, I would definitely rather be “in donut” than in doubt. Sure, donuts are high in calories and trans-fatty acids, but doubt is high in mental calories. A lot of donuts, over a long period of time, can clog your arteries, but even a little bit of doubt can clog your mind.
I’ve consistently found that doubt is the biggest barrier to my joy. Doubt is an insidious mental process, strengthened every time it’s entertained. And there are so very many things to doubt. Yourself. Your spouse. Your boss. Your parents. The government. Just to name a few.
When you want something and then doubt you can have it, your brain is confused. Should it focus on a solution or a problem? If the attention to doubt is stronger than the attention to the solution, your brain will go there, and that thought pathway will be strengthened.
So here’s the challenge: how do you reach a goal or get something in life, if you don’t have it yet, without focusing on lack? With all of the reasons to question and doubt, how do you stay optimistic and keep your eye on the prize?
Dr. Joe Dispenza, author of Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, explains that change is uncomfortable for the brain. Stepping into that discomfort and pushing through it is how we arrive at breakthroughs. When we’re working towards something we want, we have to find a way to push through the pain of doubt.
I recently faced a time of uncertainty in my own life, and doubt was running rampant in my brain. I wanted joy, peace, stability, and comfort—but I couldn’t see my way there. During this time, I had a dream. I was traveling on a fairly large boat with my family in a fast-moving river. It was getting dark and for some reason I was obsessed with locating the boat’s life raft. I felt like we were moving too fast, like things might get out of control, and I wanted to know that we could safely jump ship if we needed to.
But I couldn’t find the life raft anywhere, and I was frantically searching the boat for it as the sun went down. And then, my 10-year-old daughter calmly pointed to a rope hanging off of the back of the boat. When I pulled on the rope, the life raft appeared. It had been submerged under water, there all along. I don’t like to struggle to figure out what my dreams mean, so thank goodness my subconscious isn’t subtle.
When we panic, regardless of which life raft we’re searching for, our amygdalae (the stress center in our brains) are activated and we can’t think clearly. The thoughts of doubt we play on repeat keep our brains stuck in the same pattern, feeling the same feelings, and experiencing the same things in life. But by intentionally practicing thinking new thoughts, we can create new patterns in our brains which translate into a new experience of life.
In order to let go of doubt, do we have to find faith? That seems to help, but I don’t think it’s required. I think simply the absence of doubt allows the brain—and the Universe—to do what it does best, create the conditions for joy on our behalf. I’ve developed a simple process for this—based on the letters for the very thing it’s designed to eradicate: D-O-U-B-T.
Here it is:
- Distraction. 90% of our thoughts are repetitive, so it’s easy to get caught in a mental feedback loop of fear and doubt. When this happens, change the subject. Watch a funny movie, do a creative project, help a friend. Take your mind off your doubt however you can, so those thoughts will stop being strengthened in your brain.
- Observation. Sometimes it’s helpful to dive into, rather than pull away from, your doubt. I suggest writing down every single shitty, scary, ugly, hateful thought you’re having. Purge it all out on paper and then take a good look at it. Recognize these thoughts for what they are—fears that aren’t necessarily real. And then burn the list, and send those thoughts on their way.
- Understanding. Your brain is designed to give you more of whatever you focus on. You have a thought, neurons fire, those neurons connect to similar neurons from similar thoughts, and eventually neural pathways are formed—like highways that your brain prefers because they’re familiar and well-worn. Understanding how this works can help you break the cycle, and choose your thoughts—thus, constructing your neural pathways—more carefully.
- Better feeling. Doubt feels BAD, but lots of other things feel better. So find one of them. This might bring you back to the donut again. Or a hot bath, a cuddle with a furry friend, a juicy novel, a yoga class—whatever it takes. Find a way to feel better. Get yourself in a better state of mind like your life depends on it, because it does: your mind is how you experience your life.
- Tell a new story. What if you could flip your doubt around? Try telling yourself a completely different story than the one you’ve been worrying about. In this new story, whatever you’re doubting simply doesn’t exist. Use your imagination, get creative, go into details. Practice telling this new story to a loved one. Our brains are easily fooled; we tend to believe whatever we focus on—and you can use this to your advantage. You may as well believe a story that’s more to your liking.
I realize it’s unlikely that we’ll eradicate doubt from our lives forever, but I’m making an effort to curtail it as best I can. Because when it comes to doubt, I’d rather be in donut.