Published May 1, 2013

Overcoming the Voice of Doubt

by Guest Author

And your dreams are lost up on a shelf. You're a the age of not believing. And worst of all you doubt yourself." I still remember the lyrics to this song from the 1970s family movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The Voice of Doubt...we've all had it.  It doesn't matter what you are doing, or how good you are at it, when that little voice kicks in you start to doubt. And doubt. Maybe it's time to put those voices to rest? Let's see what happened to our friend David Allen, and how he challenged "The Voice"—and won.

Overcoming the Voice of Doubt

(or, How I Subbed The Most Popular Instructor's Class, and Thrived.)

By David Allen
One of the “occupational hazards” of most jobs is that at some point, we have to get up in front of an audience of complete strangers and attempt to win them over. Whether it's a job interview, a sales pitch, the PTA, or a presentation to the Board of Directors, it takes a lot of self-confidence to stand in the limelight and sell yourself.

However, unless your parents were Clair and Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable from “The Cosby Show” who instilled you with high esteem, you're bound at some point to have to deal with what I'll call “The Voice.”

We all know The Voice, in one form or another. At its most benign, it sounds like a Homer Simpson life lesson:

“Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try”

In its most destructive form, it sounds like a character from “Mean Girls,” doing everything she can to tear you down, calling you names, and ripping at you from all angles.

Where does The Voice come from? I have read articles that say that it's the result of being raised by narcissistic parents, but who really knows? We could explore all the possible psychological explanations for it, but honestly, when we're actually going through an attack of The Voice, do we really care where it comes from?

My worst bout with The Voice started when I agreed to sub a Spinning class a few years ago. Normally, subbing doesn’t make me nervous, but this wasn’t just any Spinning class—it was the class of one of the most popular instructors at my gym. On a weekend. In the winter.

In short, this was the perfect storm for the Spinning class to be packed. The fact that the classroom itself could’ve doubled as a college auditorium didn’t ease my anxiety.  Okay, that's an exaggeration, but...the room was—and still is—big.

I started the class, and everything seemed to be going without a hitch. But then suddenly, without warning, it happened. Out of nowhere, The Voice rose up inside me with a vengeance, and went after me mercilessly, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man going after Peter Venkman  in “Ghostbusters.”

“You suck. They hate you. This class is terrible. Get off your bike right now. God, what is the matter with you? They HATE you!!!” 

The Voice almost convinced me to dismount my bike right in the middle of class.

Just as I was about to give in, I heard another voice —this one a lot less scary—telling me, “Well ... why don't we act as if they like you, and see what happens?”

And so I did. And mysteriously, The Voice shut up. I finished my class, thanked everyone for coming and started to head out the door and back home.

And that's when I got yet another surprise: One of the students came up to me and said, “That was great!! When else do you teach?” Just as I began answering him, another person came up. Then another. Soon I was surrounded by a handful of students expressing the same sentiment.

I shared this story with a much wiser friend, and she wrote back that I had discovered the lesson she'd learned from her mother, a school teacher:

“Walk in the classroom like you own the place. They won't know any different.”

What did I learn from this experience?

People don’t care how I feel; they care about how I act

The old adage, “actions speak louder than words” is true.  I can feel like teaching a great Spinning class, but if I don’t show up, no one will care what my intentions were.  That spills over into all aspects of my life, whether it’s showing up for work or showing up for a social outing. People judge me by my actions, not my feelings.  And if my actions are good, it doesn’t matter how loud The Voice screams.


PHOTO: Bergen, Norway