Stuart Aitken

About 18 months ago I got the job as one of the online coaches for Shredded by Science, which genuinely was one of the proudest moments I’ve had in my career to date.

The day I got the job I was like a kid at Christmas, so excited to get going, so when Luke put up in the SBS staff group that there had a been a new client sign-up I jumped at the chance to take him on.

This initial excitement quickly turned to a horrible bout of self-doubt that actually near as damn it had me messaging Luke to tell him I couldn’t do the job.

I was worried I wasn’t smart enough, worried I wasn’t in good enough shape to be a coach for SBS, worried I’d have no chance of producing blogs and Facebook posts that could cut it at that level… and worried I’d be found out for the fraud I felt like I knew I was.

After spending a week or two worrying about things that hadn’t even happened, and driving myself to the point of around 1 hour sleep a night and zero productivity, I started taking a few small steps forward. This is where I’d like to begin this blog post.

The inspiration behind this article has come from a post I threw up in the Lift The Bar members-only Facebook group a month ago. The reaction from that post has made me realise how common the issue was that I’d faced back then, and still do to this very day.

I like writing about things that people can resonate with and find useful, as that means my writing is serving a greater purpose. I also find that writing it down helps me reflect and gain perspective on what I’ve learned during this time.

What I’m going to write about here is simply my experience with self-doubt, and it is by no means the way you should look to get over yours. As with anything, that’s pretty subjective to each person. It’s always highly individual and will take time, self-reflection and a bit of experimentation. However, I’m confident that there will be something in here that will ease your self-doubt somewhat.

Why does this job lend itself so commonly to self-doubt?

I think anyone who is in an industry that is typically built upon being self-employed will have high levels of this, simply because of the responsibility placed on your shoulders. You are in charge of your decisions, and most of your time – meaning you’ve got to become incredibly responsible in order to succeed.

It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and lost when that inevitable self-inflicted pressure of responsibility keeps increasing.

Am I doing this right?

Why am I doing x, and not y?

Is there a better way of doing this?

I’ve also noticed that self-doubt tends to be a trait of the person who wants to learn and better themselves. The vast majority of the Personal Trainers who I am surrounded by in the Shredded by Science Academy and in Lift The Bar fall into this category.

If I were to throw a guess out there, I would say that this desire to better yourself can come from a lack of confidence in your own ability. This is naturally going to make you search out ways to improve. Certainly for me this is most likely the case – I knew I wasn’t good enough very quickly as I started my career, and this forced me to find other avenues of bettering myself.

At the same time though, it made me realise how much I doubted myself.

SBS blog post pic #1

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Normalize it.

This is probably one of the most under-appreciated tools for self-doubt: knowing that so many other people, in so many other industries, face self-doubt.

You are not alone.

I think there’s a high chance that anyone who is deemed a success in any industry would be lying if they said they didn’t or hadn’t suffered some amount of self-doubt in their careers.

I’ve had it. I can name at least 20–30 other people who have it, who I would consider far more successful than me.

However, what this does mean is that there are things you can do which will help. There have been some very smart people who have suffered with self-doubt, and have written about it in depth.

I also think this point feeds into the stoic thought process of **“Control what you can control, and don’t worry about the rest”. **Is this thing you are worrying about even something you can control? If it isn’t (which is highly likely as we worry about things we can’t control all the time), then you should probably reconsider how much of your “headspace” this thing is using.

self doubt article picture 2

Note down what, when and why it starts to arise.

I can pinpoint my first 2 major moments of self-doubt pretty accurately.

The first was after I’d started having some success in Personal Training and people were starting to rely on me a little more.

The second was after I got the job at SBS.

Both of these are very similar situations – I was starting to increase the amount of people who knew I wasn’t bad at what I do.

This then made me think that it was actually increasing the risk that people would find out I wasn’t actually any good at what I did.

Ironic right?

I also tend to find I get overwhelmed rather easily. If I’ve got too much to do with not enough time, I get stressed out and lose perspective. This feeds back into making me doubt whether I deserve the success I’ve got, or whether I can continue doing what I do.

But knowing both of these things has helped me hugely.

I now know that in times where new, exciting things happen, I’m likely to hit that point of “Oh no, I can’t do this”.

Knowing it means I can normalize it much more easily when it does occur.

I now know that if I give myself too much to do, I’ll probably stress out. I can spot this more easily now, and take time to chill out, go for a walk or just do something that brings my perspective back to a reasonable place.

If you find you’ve experienced similar things, be really mindful of noticing when and why it’s actually happening.

Be proactive.

I personally think this is the worst thing about doubting yourself – its impact on your productivity and proactivity.

You become lazy and very, very reactive to what’s going on around you.

Here is what I now do:

Create.

I force myself to write down something. Whether it’s a Facebook post for my business page, something about how I’m feeling or a blog post like this (which, trust me, has had its fair share of edits and changes – it’s very rare that something you write will be first class, first time!).

Talk to people.

There is never a bad time to have a conversation with someone, but at times like these, do yourself a favour by talking to someone you trust.

Watch this scene from The West Wing, where Leo is telling Josh a story about a guy who has fallen down a hole.

“I’ve been here before – and I know the way out.”

As I said in the first point, there are a hell of a lot of people before you who have suffered with self-doubt. A lot of them will be willing to let you in on their experiences, and guide you towards finding your own solutions.

I’m also more than happy to lend an ear if it would help a fellow PT out – hit me up on Facebook!

1% better, everyday.

Instead of thinking that you NEED to be better at a huge amount of things right now (which will only lead you to end up spinning your wheels) tell yourself that you are going to become 1% better every day.

(Don’t focus too much on quantifying it – it’s the principle of taking small steps that matters.)

Pick something you know is important to learn about, learn it well enough you could teach it to a 5 year-old and then move on. If you do that weekly, you’ll know 52 more things than you currently do.

Putting pressure on yourself to know everything right now will honestly get you nowhere. Doing some focused learning or development on one topic, with the mind-set of improving by just a bit each day, will help you move forward that much more easily and effectively.

A, B, C, D it.

I’ve taken this idea off of Cathy MacDonald, who runs a business called “The Art of Communication”.

Essentially what this means is that –

A – something happens

B – we make sense of it in our own individual way

C – we feel an emotion

D – we respond/ react to it

What is important here is that we look into what the actual facts of “B” actually are.

Lets take an example of losing a client –

A – we get that message from a client saying they’re stopping

B – we blame ourselves and make ourselves think its because we aren’t good enough at what we do

C – we feel disappointment, fear and anxiety

D – we respond by speaking negatively to ourselves, and being pulled into a reactive frame of mind

If we think about the actual facts of “B”, what we will usually see is that it’s not our fault and that attrition rates in Personal Training are completely normal.

No Personal Trainer has a 100% retention rate – heck, I’ve probably lost more clients than I’ve gained. I just give 100% to the clients who want the help, which helps me keep those clients over the long-term.

We’ve still got all those other clients who pay us money and know how good we are… and yet we see this one loss as the worst thing that could possibly ever happen?

Brain dump.

This is easily the simplest of all the points I’ve listed.

Take a piece of paper, a pen and write every single thing down onto a sheet of paper that either needs done or is in your head.

Clear the space in your brain.

Writing it down will help you gain perspective and actually enables you to start that process of dealing with some of the things that need dealing with.

Shift your concerns.

Let’s hypothetically say that you are doubting yourself about building your business up. This is an outcome that can’t really be controlled immediately. Essentially, this concern has what’s called a “delayed return”, which means it will take time to become something that offers a return.

We want to try and shift our focus to something with an “immediate return”, which in the case of building a successful business could come from:

  • Producing daily/ weekly Facebook posts that educate and entertain a target market
  • Reading books about business, as this will mean you’ll improve your knowledge
  • Aiming to speak to one new person per day about what business does

Those things listed above all deliver a relatively quick return (or at least fairly immediate feedback), and are much more focused on the process of what is needed to build your business – rather than on the outcome of actually having a successful business.

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” ~ Bruce Lee

(Yes, I know it’s a cliché to have a Bruce Lee quote in an article like this. I don’t care.)

As always, and as I said at the start of this article, pieces of writing like this have a large degree of subjectivity to them. Everything I’ve listed is very much my experience with self-doubt.However, the friends and colleagues I have shared them with have found similar positive results with regards to their self-doubt. If you do – awesome. If not, that’s cool as well.

I’d love to know what has helped you out in situations like what I’ve described, and I’d also love to know if this is as common among Personal Trainers as I think it is!

We’re about to turn the world of Personal Trainer education upside down.

We can’t say too much just yet – but when we do, we’ll tell our email list first. Pop your email address in the box to hear about what moves we’re making next.