Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Self-Doubt: The Poison Ivy of the Mind

A few weeks ago, we made our annual summer migration to central Minnesota. There are lots of little chores that accompany getting settled in our new place, most of which my husband and I share equally. There's one job that I do all by myself, though.

Our neighborhood, like many wooded areas in Minnesota, is overrun with poison ivy. When I say overrun, I mean it's the predominant foliage anywhere it isn't actively destroyed. Our yard is mostly free of the stuff, thanks to the diligent care of the previous owners, but when we arrive each summer, I'm tasked with eradicating any adventuring sprouts.

I grew up in northern Minnesota, running wild through the woods whenever weather permitted, and I have never once reacted to poison ivy. I suspect I am immune to its toxins, although I won't be rolling around in woods to test that theory any time soon. My husband, born and raised in southern California, is allergic to everything. He attracts mosquitoes, ticks, and pollen like squirrels to a birdfeeder, and his immune system overreacts to it all. He's never come in contact with poison ivy, but I honestly fear what would happen if he did. We're talking hospital stays and IV meds. As a precaution, I fight the poison ivy that constantly threatens to overrun our yard alone.

As I sprayed the other day, I fretted about my recent lack of writing. June was a blur of vacation, packing, migrating, unpacking, and celebrating major life events with people I love. Alone, each of these is enough to derail my process for a few days. Back-to-back, like they were this year, they've erased much of the year's progress toward accountability and motivation.

Confidence is like the cyclamen, one of my favorite flowering houseplants. With the right attention and care, it improves your writing with its vibrant energy. Turn your back and it keels right over and dies.

The beautiful, flowering bed of confidence I so carefully built on my successes in April has wilted from neglect, overrun once again by the poison ivy of the mind, self-doubt. How dare I call myself a writer if I'm not writing? What if there are no more ideas? Why would anyone want to read what I've written?

The noxious weeds of self-doubt are many and they are hearty. They thrive on neglect. Just as I am the only one who can deal with the poison ivy in our yard, I'm the only one who can weed out the self-doubt spreading through my mind.

My husband's safety and health are very important to me. I go after poison ivy aggressively and without hesitation because I know how dangerous it could be for him. Self-doubt is just as dangerous to my own mental health and productivity. I need to apply the same enthusiasm to eliminating it. If only it were as easy as finding the right poison to spray.

I've been doing some reading on self-doubt and how to overcome it recently, and I've found several articles that proves helpful.

  • Here's a brief summary of self-doubt, how it develops and some of the ways it can manifest. 
  • Although I generally mistrust anything that claims personal growth is "simple", these 7 Simple Steps are clear and reasonable.
  • This article discusses why self-doubt can be so convincing and shares 11 Ways to fight it.

My research also led me to information on Impostor Syndrome.
  • This article explains what Impostor Syndrome is and what it looks like.
  • Here, the author talks about why Impostor Syndrome isn't actually a syndrome at all and how it's even more common than most people think.
  • The end of this article about Impostor Syndrome outlines some coping strategies.
  • If you experience Impostor Syndrome, you're in good company. Many very successful people struggle to accept their own success.

The poison ivy around my yard is turning brown and withering away. Perhaps, if I apply these tips liberally, my self-doubt will begin to do the same.

Do you struggle with self-doubt or Impostor Syndrome? Care your tips and strategies in the comments below! 


  1. Excellent analogy. I struggled with self-doubt for much of my life; not as much anymore, thankfully. My ever-encouraging DH and my brave daughter have helped tremendously. (Sometimes a little outside influence is needed, to counteract the outside influence that put it there in the first place.) Publishing a book helped too; now I KNOW I can do it.

    1. Thanks, Teresa. I have lots of supporting family and friends. That definitely helps. I think sometimes it's easier to just throw up your hands and say "I just can't" than it is to really dig into the reasons behind doubt. I'm gradually building up the strength to pick up a shovel, though! :)