The phrase that could be doing you more harm than good

'I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt'

How often have you used or heard someone use this phrase?

Doubt is one of many emotions that receives a lot of bad publicity.

Doubt turns up in a few ways such as:

  • self-doubt
  • situational doubt
  • buyer's remorse or post-decision doubt

Many personal development coaches and teachers say that self-doubt is a sign that you're up leveling or breaking through an inner glass ceiling to expand into greater heights.

Many will also take it a bit further and describe self-doubt as an enemy trying to deter you from completing your sacred missions of developing a prosperous business, career or life.

Dontcha think it's a bit dramatic that one of your natural human emotions is trying to ruin your life?

Situational doubt rises to the surface of your awareness when you're engaged in a conversation or transaction where you're being persuaded, convinced or coerced into making a decision before you have all the relevant information or before you're ready.

There will likely be a sense of being overpowered or overwhelmed by another person, group or situation.

For example, imagine a situation where someone is selling a product/idea/philosophy/program/service to you over the phone or in person and they:

1) didn't give you a chance to speak/talked over you and/or
2) didn't answer your questions directly without telling you that you're making the wrong decision and messing up your life if you didn't buy their life changing program and/or
3) put pressure on you to buy what they're selling at a price that was not really affordable or you didn't actually need and/or
4) was condescending, arrogant, charming or used impressive sounding vocabulary or statements to persuade/coerce you to agree with them and/or
5) use sales tactics that persuade peers in your network who have bought the thing to sell to others/you and you felt pressured and/or
6) relied on the fact that you were unfamiliar with the same area of knowledge/expertise they had and used it as a way to make you believe you needed to have that knowledge too for self-improvement or a better life.

You might feel a few flutters in your stomach, tension in your face, quickened breathing and feelings like overwhelm, fear, excitement that tips into panic, anger and/or doubt. 

You might also feel your doubting companion in your gut, nudging relentlessly waiting for acknowledgement that might never come because other feelings such as fear of disapproval, fear of conflict, people pleasing habits and compliance toward perceived authority figures take over.

Then the 'benefiting' thoughts of the always generous heart quips in with 'he/she's charming/ so nice /gets me/ smarter/more together/wealthier than me'. Those thoughts might also say 'I wouldn't want to offend them by getting out of this conversation or declining their offer.'

Our survival mechanism is so entrenched that it will allow the 'benefit of the doubt'  to override your core danger detection system, abandoning yourself in the process.

There's also the doubt of buyers remorse that you feel after you've bought something and felt like you didn't really need it or loaned someone money and you feel doubt whether it was the right thing to do or if you will ever see your money again. Doubt comes up in response to unfulfilled expectations (I thought I needed this thing but it turns out I don't) or fear of having unfulfilled expectations. In other words, experiencing or wanting to avoid experiencing other much maligned emotions - disappointment and regret.

I have a different take on doubt. Rather than doubt being the enemy, doubt is ALWAYS your ally. It's your BS detection and alarm system.

It carries the message 'are you sure about this?'

Doubt isn't saying 'you're going to fail if you keep pursuing this path'. It's not trying to derail you from progress. That's just a story that's been created from childhood and replayed over and over again every time you tried something new and there was a negative consequence or response from an authority figure, like a parent, teacher or coach. It's a myth, not the truth.

If you're working toward a greater vision of yourself, and the decision you need to make or the program you're designing for your audience/clients or the book you're writing or career change you're contemplating hasn't been done by you before, self-doubt is just testing you to see how much you want it. When you take action toward the direction of your vision, the self-doubt disappears because the job's done. Next level for you!

There's nothing beneficial about ignoring your situational doubts and doing something that benefits others at a cost to yourself. Doubt is just doing its job of being warning bells trying to alert you to possible danger and threat.

Like everything, doubt is on a spectrum. Not enough doubt means that you might be following your desires or impulses without considering the impact and consequences.

Too much doubt can be stifling and prevent you from taking action in your life. It can also create conflict in relationships when you assume the worst about a person close to you and respond to that instead of obtaining more information.

Healthy levels of doubt means you're aware of what your body is telling you about the person or situation and whether they can be trusted with your time, space, energy (money) and you follow through honouring doubt's message.

Life situations are never black and white. We can always do our best to follow our own desire, consider our responsibilities and not allow others' to inform our choices.

If it helps, start with assessing the usefulness and accuracy of 'giving them the benefit of the doubt' by reflecting on the times when you've used it and its result.

From my experience, acknowledging my doubts by expressing their thoughts with curiosity, having the courage to say 'no, I don't need that right now'  and asking many questions of others to help me develop a clear understanding of what's being asked of me before I make any decision, has helped me increase trust in myself and my intuition.


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