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Having tea with my friend doubt.

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

The Oxford dictionary defines doubt as: "a feeling of uncertainty or a lack of conviction. It continues to give more history to the word doubt, in Middle English doubt is from the Old French doute (noun), douter (verb), it was first used in c. 1200, which is from the Latin dubitare (hesitate) and then finally from the Latin word dubius (doubtful). In the Old English language doubt means "to be uncertain with somewhat of a negative connotation - you are expressing that you do not have confidence about something..." ( ... opening the concept of questioning something instead of the person, which is much less emotive and more pragmatic.

We find the word and concept of doubt everywhere in life, there is reasonable doubt described in law courts and in motivational sayings; 'Winners never doubt themselves!'. No one wants doubt in their lives. I grew up and have lived in many societies that teaches doubt as failure and having a lack of conviction. I have spent the last few months researching the meaning of doubt and have found many contradictions, many theories, and a lot of opinions on this very powerful and emotive word. Its use has been around for hundreds of years and has been under philosophical discussion for about the same amount of time. This stopped me in my tracks, I didn't know the full meaning of the word doubt! This very familiar word, this everyday thought, was so prolific and has been causing such turmoil, but still I didn't know this word for its full meaning and history.

Its use had been prolific throughout the ages, used by Warriors to sift out the weak from the courageous and by philosophers to spark debate. Used by religious leaders to explain conviction, poets to convey determination and commitment, and of course it is used by world leaders and on many a playground to motivate or intimidate.

I was so unconscious to the word and its accompanying thought; I missed the impact it was having on me. The challenges it was creating and the unachievable expectations it was setting for me.

The word doubt is so ingrained in society and history with one generalised common meaning of weakness. Through the years I designed many of my belief systems around the meaning I made of the word doubt or what society described and prescribed it to be for me. All along not knowing its full power or potential on my life. My story was: "if you have doubt, you don't have conviction, you are hesitant and you have no confidence, thus you are weak." What a story to tell yourself!

I made doubt into my enemy, my nemesis, my motivator, the voice that told me to keep moving, to win, to conquer. It was my judgement tool. Every time I felt any doubt, I drove myself to run away faster or work harder to win and overcome my doubts. I started associating doubt with my fears. After all, the meaning I was making was that someone who has doubts is a victim, they are not conquers and they are definitely not leaders. I worked so hard to silence my doubts and fears that I never heard the questions, the pauses or warnings. I never looked for deeper meanings or other theories. I started losing myself in this belief system that doubt must be overcome and you are a winning achiever who never fails.

As an ICU nurse, there is no time or place for doubt. People can die. You work and function at the edge of adrenaline, the tipping point of life, any time spent on failure is not an option. I used to teach my trainees and mentees to always ask why, question everything, find out the reason behind what you are doing, don't just do what you have been taught, know the meaning and consequences of it all. We are not mindless sheep toeing the line, nor robots ticking boxes. We are empathetic beings with incredible knowledge to heal, we cradle a human experiencing the most vulnerable moment in their lives, we can not let go or let drop. Nursing taught me to act fast with care and if I don't have the answer, be responsible and ask for help. Fear must be acknowledged and respected, because it keeps you from pretending to be supernatural.

So if I am allowed to stop, think and question and if I must respect fear as a nurse; why am I not allowed to have a moment of doubt as a human? Isn't doubt a moment of questioning, a moment of hearing a warning? At the time I was not ready to answer it or even spend time reflecting on it. The nursing actions I speak of, is part of saving lives, respecting humans, giving dignity and hope to loved ones. It is part of health healing processes and most definitely protocol. It stops life threatening mistakes, therefore there is no weakness in any of it.

It all came to a head when my body fell apart because of Sarcoidosis and total burnout. My body was literally fighting for survival and at the same time destroying it. Sarcoidosis patients joke that their immune systems are so strong, that they need medication to calm it down. Sarcoidosis is a rare inflammatory chronic disease that can affect any organ in the body. Your immune system is basically working in overdrive, causing massive inflammation and that in turn causes scars on your organs, inhibiting them to function properly.

I needed to be calmed down, actually I needed to be slowed down to a complete stop. I was severely breathless, I had to sit down for a rest after climbing a set of stairs, my heart beat was so irregular that I had moments of losing my balance and nearly fainting. I started doubting the little things, like walking up a hill and meeting friends, never mind the big stuff, like a career. I started my treatment and this opened up a whole new can of worms - my mental health. The medication caused depression, anger management issues and absolute total exhaustion. I started doubting all of me. To stop myself from falling down a drain of despair, I only focussed on getting through the day. One day at a time. This worked for a while, throughout the chemo sessions, depression and the loneliness of covid lockdowns.

It was exhausting. I needed a new frame of reference, I needed to approach this from a different angle. This was when my life coach at the time suggested the concept of doubt being a friend. What if I listened to doubt and gave myself the chance to hear it? What if I explore the word doubt in all its forms, not just the negative aspects of it? A friend has your best interests at heart, a friend cares, a fiend wants you to succeed. The research started.

Part of the definition of Doubt in the old english ..." brings in the concept of questioning, which is less emotive and more pragmatic."

Moments of doubt is your intuition and morality expressing itself, which can lead to changing your mind and changing your current belief systems. So if you suppress those moments, you are not actually open to all the vital things you have to do in your life. Dale Carnegie author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, asks the question; "When do we change our minds?" And he then explains: "We change our minds by ourselves when there is processing that needs to happen."

Doubt is part of our life processing system; by reflecting on your instinctive moments of doubt and reconciling it with your current belief system, we are doing the work that has to be done to grow and develop as humans. When we actually stop to listen and do this, we are able to reflect, reframe and redirect our current belief system to a new one or an upgraded version of it.

This reframe changed everything, not instantly, it took a few months and lots of practice, but it brought huge change for me. The change was invigorating, energising and hopeful. Starting to see doubt's honest and sincere questions about my life, the events in it, situations around it and the previously unseen possibilities, helped me become more objective and calm. I stood still and looked, listened and felt, instead of running away to overcome. I quietly calmly reflected. Doubt asked me what I wanted, it asked me my thoughts about a situation, it wondered what life experience I needed to answer a question or what will I learn from an event.

Doubt asked: "Is this thought you are thinking for survival purposes or is it for your growth? It never screamed at me, it never lost its temper, it never wanted to take anything from me.

Listening to myself and doubt having a conversation was a bit like having a cup of tea with an old friend. The process slowly helped me remove judgement and expectations from my life.

Doubt has no expectations to win and it has no judgement on failure.

I now understand that my doubt was asking me to stop, think and question. Doubt is not a weakness or a failure to prevent, doubt is a question, the pause before you do something, the moment before you make a choice for yourself, the calming influence of taking a step back and looking at a challenge from a different perspective. Doubt is now my moment of taking a deep breath to start listening and reflecting. Whenever I now feel doubt, I know it's time for a lovely calming cup of tea.


Stop, tea & question!

I always start these reflective pauses with the following questions;

  • Do I need to walk away from this?

  • What will happen if I allow this to play out in my life?

  • How will this help growth in me or others?

  • What do I actually want?

  • If I take all of me out of this moment, what do I see, what is left?

  • When and where do I want this, if at all?

  • What do others want?

  • If I take other people's opinions out of this moment, does it still mean this much to me?

  • Who actually wants this?

  • And finally; is this achievable in the time I have?

When you take yourself out of the equation and make it about the situation or event, you suddenly stop writing stories in your thoughts to cope, you stop telling yourself lies and both judgement and expectations are removed. You can now objectively look at an issue and see the truth. I have stopped chasing, I have stopped rushing, I have stopped reacting, reaching into the future, I stopped planning everything to escape and I have stopped trying to conquer. It took me becoming ill to stop and listen to what I have known for a very long time.

Question everything, know your WHY and never stop asking for help.

There are deep discoveries to be made and victories to be won in knowing your doubts, embracing the reflection process and respecting the possibilities that come with it. Once you see doubt as a moment to breathe, the last chance to stop and think before the cliff drop, that's when you will see your possible answer or the opening to a new path. Since I have started practising this, I have changed so many of my old belief systems. I have allowed myself to be more in silence and I have taken more responsibility of letting go of past lost actions. The competition with myself has stopped, the self judgement has gone and the high expectations I have set for myself have tumbled away. I don't run to overcome anymore. I am busy living, hopefully excited and I have so much more time to be in the present; conquering the now, growing and educating me and creatively spending my time. Having a full understanding of the word doubt is empowering. There is strength in questioning, there is hope in waiting, there is winning in not running after your emotions created by your ego and there is healing in breathing.

I do not ignore doubt anymore, I stop, listen and decode what doubt is asking me. I then reconcile my new findings with my current belief system, this enables me to update it with the new found conclusions. I then internalise it to become part of my daily life.

When was the last time you stopped and really listened?

When did you last take time to breathe and focus on the environment around you?

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