Having Doubts about Doubt? — Lean In.

What do you mean Ari Meisel Image

I had another illuminating conversation with one of the people in the Less Doing Leaders program the other day. We talked about doubt. What it is and what we do with it.

We decided that doubt has an awful name and that it was time to take stock of its value. Use it to make better, more informed decisions; begin listening to that quiet voice in our head, which allows us to see things from another perspective.

And then doubt was everywhere. I mean everywhere. Should I take that speaking engagement? Can I write another book? Do I need to work harder on my business or relinquish even more control? Should I repaint the kids’ room? Does intermittent fasting work? I had fallen victim to one of my favorite psychological phenomenons; the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is a fascinating mind trick we play on ourselves. It’s otherwise known as frequency illusion. This phenomenon occurs when the thing you’ve just noticed, experienced or heard about, suddenly crops up everywhere — thinking about Teslas? You’ll see them on every corner. Heard someone ramble on about blockchain? Yup, everything on your LinkedIn feed is about blockchain. Talking about doubt? It becomes the topic of most of your conversations, both internal and external.

I first heard from Pema Chodron; not Pema personally, but in an interview with her published on a blog.

“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.” Faith and doubt help us be to be open to what scares us.

Doubt acknowledges what is not understood. While it actively seeks understanding, it also accepts that understanding will never be perfect. Zen teachers talk about “beginner’s mind” and “don’t know mind” to describe a mind that is receptive to realization. This is the mind of faith and doubt. If we have no doubt, we have no faith. If we have no faith, we have no doubt.”

So I love Pema Chodron. She’s a Buddhist monk who uses swear words and speaks the language of transformation in a way that inspires me to take action. She also wrote a book called, “The Wisdom of No Escape.” which is a phrase every entrepreneur should tattoo on their forearm.

Then, the Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman film, Doubt, showed up out of nowhere. Now I’m not going to go into the plot, but rather the thoughts that kept me up that night.

What can we be really sure of? What are other people’s motives, and will we ever honestly know them? And is doubt helpful or harmful when there is a conflict between old and new, status and change, and infallibility and uncertainty?

So, let’s talk about doubt.

To doubt something is to be “uncertain of belief or opinion”; to “deliberately suspend judgment” Some would say it’s skeptical, others critical, and many would say judgemental.

It could be all three depending on the situation, but the most crucial distinction here is that I’m NOT talking about self-doubt. No way. That stuff sucks. Self-doubt is a lack of confidence, tanking self-esteem, and a negative, albeit, egotistical way of looking at the world. It translates into, “Well, I know I’m messing up, I’m not going to do the right thing, but the world still revolves around me and my decisions.” Toxic shit.

No, I’m talking about doubt as an agent of change. It can be a middle finger to the status quo and honest interrogation of why people around you “always do it this way.” The push back you’ll inevitably get from that heels dug in mentality should be your invitation to doubt even more.

If you question or doubt, a system, decision, policy or process which others are fully invested. If someone in a position of authority feels challenged by your doubt, stuff will get stirred up and brought out into the open.

In the words of my favorite Jurist, Louis Brandeis,

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants;”

Things will change. Now I’m not saying that they will always change for the better. We need to put ourselves in a position to do the work, question the thinking, offer alternatives, and let the results go.

It is how we build up our doubt muscle.

We do not attach ourselves to the outcome. We take pride in our investigation, in our curiosity, and our questioning. When we do this, we get better at the doubt game. Our questions become more pointed. We allow others to see the problems, not as something of their making, or their fault, but as an opportunity to get on the doubt train with you and develop more innovative solutions.

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