This was originally posted on the Military Spouse Advocacy Network blog, and I’m honored to be working with them! You can read the original post, and find more great information for those who support service members and veterans most, by going here.
Many times, when faced with challenges in our lives, we are faced with a crisis of doubt. Have you ever had those moments? Uncertain, unstable, unsure of whether or not you can do this? It might be yet another deployment, or an unexpected duty station change. An opportunity to take advantage of, a new position. Maybe it’s moving into the unknown, the challenge of not being in the military. If fear of an event is an external emotion, doubt is the internal emotion that tells us something about ourselves, something negative: “I can’t.”
How do we resolve this crisis of doubt? How do we overcome this paralyzing thought of, “I can’t,” the thought that stops in our tracks or keeps us from moving forward? The doubt that we have in ourselves is often the most debilitating obstacle that we face. “Who am I to do this?” “What if I screw it up?” We often build castles of catastrophe in our minds that cast such a large shadow, we never even begin. What makes us move in the face of paralyzing doubt?
The thing about emotions: they’re there for a reason. When they become overwhelming and paralyzing, they can be unhelpful, but perhaps the crisis of doubt is there for a reason. Maybe taking an honest look at why you’re experiencing this doubt can save you from avoidable pain. Maybe someone is asking you to do something that is beyond your capabilities…there’s a good reason for doubt in that instance.
The first thing to understand is that you’re experiencing doubt. Sometimes it comes in the form of concrete thoughts: “I’m not sure I can do this” is a common one, or “There’s NO WAY!” Sometimes it comes in the form of vague uneasiness, a general discomfort when you think about something that you have coming up. Instead of ignoring it, or pushing it away, maybe you could sit with it for a bit. Think about it. What about this event is causing you discomfort? What evidence do you have that you can’t do it?
After you recognize that you’re experiencing doubt, think about it more rationally than emotionally. Look at the upcoming event critically. Is it something that can be avoided? Is there another way? Maybe it has the inevitability of a deployment or a retirement, or maybe it’s something that can be resolved if you took a different course of action. By accurately assessing our ability to face the looming obstacle, we can overcome our doubt and choose a wise path.
We can resolve the crisis of doubt by recalling the heights we conquered in the past, which gives us hope for the heights we will conquer in the future. I recently experienced this, for some unknown reason. I was uneasy, thinking about an event that I had scheduled, unsure if I could really put my money where my mouth is. The feeling got so strong that I told myself that I needed to get out of the office and take a walk.
As I walked outside, I looked at the mountains overlooking Colorado Springs. I pulled myself out of the doubtful thoughts in my head and looked at the peaks in front of me, and thought, “I climbed that one, and that one, and that one, those two, and the big one right there.” In younger days, when I had more time, and less pain, maybe, but I did that. The memory of those mountains I climbed are my memories, and the knowledge that my feet stood on them is something that I can hold on to forever. Those mountains are tangible reminders that I once overcame a lot to accomplish something.
We can do the same in our lives when faced with doubt. We can remember the triumphs in the past in order to give us the will to try. The knowledge that we were able to achieve great heights before can give us the confidence that we will achieve great heights again, and this doubt in our way is just another obstacle. Remembering the mountains we’ve overcome can help us turn can’t into can.
We can overcome the crisis of doubt by conquering our fears, and stepping out in spite of them. We can decide to act in spite of our doubt, and choose to conquer it instead of allowing it to conquer us. After all, what is the price of failure? Knowledge? Experience? Who doesn’t want more of that?
I get it all the time, with veterans I work with. “That wasn’t as bad as I thought,” they’d say. “I thought I’d feel worse after talking about that stuff.” The fear of a thing is often greater than the thing itself, and the shadow of the castle is larger than the castle. Telling yourself this, understanding it, can help to conquer the nagging doubt.
Consider the crisis of doubt as a see-saw, perfectly balanced. There you are on the center point, unsure of which way to shift your weight: “Do or don’t?” The indecision between do and don’t, can and can’t, may be perfectly balanced but won’t stay that way for long. Instead, something will happen to make you shift one way or the other. Towards action, towards “can” and “do,” or towards inaction, “can’t” or “don’t.” Sometimes, great success is only one more action away, and all you have to do is hold your breath, close your eyes, and shift your weight towards “can.”
What do you do when you are faced with the crisis of doubt? How have you assessed, remembered, or conquered your doubts in the past? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.
The Head Space and Timing Blog is supported by the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The goal of the CVHWA is to provide military culturally competent mental health counseling to veterans and their spouses, regardless of characterization of discharge, time of service, or era of service. Our vision is to assist veterans to identify and remove barriers to their mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral wellness. For questions or inquiries, contact us!