As an entrepreneur, your focus on creating results is based on action. Doubt is one of the biggest factors that sabotages your efforts. It does not care if you are just starting out as an entrepreneur or running a multi-million dollar organization. It only wants to stop you from your actions, and cause you to want to give up.

Doubt is a powerful emotion that hinders action, that whispers negative thoughts such as, “are you sure you can do that?” It is the middle ground between belief and disbelief. It is by definition purgatory, a place to hesitate and ruminate.

Dealing with doubt is a necessity for entrepreneurs, but too often strategies that are meant to manage doubt focus on building confidence or accepting the possibility of failure. Both are good exercises for an entrepreneur, and can decrease doubt, but do not focus on the main reason why doubt exists. They are only symptoms, and if you only treat symptoms, you never will actually be cured.

Over the years of coaching clients through their doubt and researching the areas of personal and professional development, I’ve developed the belief that the main reason you doubt yourself is that there is a gap between the vision you have and the place you are in. It may be conceptual or reality, but what matters is that what you want isn’t what you have. You have unmet expectations.

Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff, and in front of you is a deep canyon which leads to a mountain that looms above you. The gap and the distance you need to travel is your doubt, it’s what you need to overcome in order to reach the top of the mountain (your goals).

Anything that brings attention to how far you need to travel or causes the journey to seem more difficult will increase doubt. For example, doubt can become stronger if something affects your ability to make the journey (an injury or professional set-back), if you can’t seem to figure out how to actually get to the mountaintop (a lack of clarity), seeing others fall into the gap and fail, or even seeing people at the top of the mountain (negative comparison).

Entrepreneurs that struggle with doubt are constantly looking up at the mountain top and down into the gap, focused on where they want to be and how far is left to travel. They have a hard time accepting their present position and the journey that’s ahead of them.

Overall, doubt is caused by unmet expectations and becomes stronger if you seem further away from achieving your goals. Doubt can increase for the following reasons:

  • A lack of clarity, personally and professionally. Clarity includes your reasons for having your goals, and the actual processes toward how to achieve them (what, how, when).
  • Comparison to others that have failed or succeeded through a negative lens.
  • Disbelief in your own worth and abilities (lack of confidence or fear of failure).
  • Other perceived personal and professional set-backs (injury, prioritization, lack of resources).

Dealing with doubt requires a change in focus. If the source of doubt is unmet expectations, the cure for doubt would be to redefine how you perceive your expectations. It is that straight-forward. An entrepreneur can reduce doubt the following ways:

  • Take your focus off of the gap or mountain top. Focus instead on where you are now.
  • Make the journey ahead of you seem manageable. Break your goals down into simple to follow tasks. Set milestones (summits) that you can take a break and enjoy the view.
  • Celebrate how far you’ve come. The journey didn’t start where you are now. Look back in awe and gratitude.
  • Prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Learn skills, purchase tools, create relationships that will make the process easier.
  • Stop comparing your journey to others. Their failure or success does not relate to your own journey.
  • Remember that the journey is long, yours alone, and at times never ending. Your mountain top isn’t fixed. Your expectations tend to increase as you achieve more.
  • Keep your WHY front and center. There is a reason that you have set these goals, and it’s not just to achieve them, it is the value you earn from them.

Growth requires that you have goals and work towards them, but it does not require unmet expectations. Feeling like you need to be somewhere other than where you are guarantees that you will not appreciate the present. And as we’ve discussed, all that will create is doubt, which only holds you back. Exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.

As an entrepreneur, if you are constantly comparing yourself to where you want to be, you will always doubt where you are. Next time you are struggling with doubt, imagine that you are standing at the edge of a cliff with a great mountain in the distance. You have a choice, to allow doubt to hold you back, or instead, take out your map, plot a course, grab some snacks, bring some friends, and enjoy the journey.

Written by: Dr. Benjamin Ritter, founder of Live for Yourself (LFY) Consulting, is a Chicago based leadership and empowerment coach, national speaker, consultant, mentor, teacher, and passionate about guiding others in finding, creating, and sustaining a career they can love and greater meaning at work and in life.