How Doubting Yourself Can Work To Your Advantage

Tom Stevenson

Your heart is beating. Your palms are sweaty and fixed on the road ahead. You look up at the red glowing lights. One, two, three, four, five.

After what seems like an eternity, they go out and you push your foot down on the accelerator and speed off into the track ahead. For near two hours, you speed around a race track, at over 200 mph at times, with 19 other drivers.

Adrenaline is coursing through your veins, your senses are overloaded and the slightest mistake could result in you crashing into the barriers. This is not for the faint-hearted.

The sport I am referring to is Formula 1, the highest level of motorsport. A recent Netflix documentary series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, gives us an insight into this world and the main figures behind it.

Before I saw this documentary I believed the drivers were mentally tough and strong in their convictions. While this was confirmed in some aspects, it wasn’t in others.

What was surprising was that these drivers who risk their lives every time they step in the cockpit would doubt themselves.

We see how the drivers doubt their abilities, doubt the decisions they’ve made and doubted whether they will be successful. This was eye-opening for me considering the inherent danger of the sport.

Yet, if you strip away all of this, those drivers and team principals are just like you and me, human. Doubt is a natural part of being human, far from being a bad thing, it can spur us on to greater accomplishments.

Racing Ahead

One of the things society likes to do is hold up sports stars as infallible. We like to think that they never put a foot wrong, that they are somehow above us mere mortals.

I’m not sure whether we do this to make ourselves feel better or it helps us rationalise how they became successful. The problem is, that however much we consider them to be superstars they are still human.

No scene in the documentary series illustrates this more than when, Daniel Ricciardo, a driver for the Red Bull team, is deliberating whether to sign a new contract or join a new team.

We see him wracked with doubt at which decision is best. Should he stay with the team he has been with for the previous five years and won numerous Grands Prix with, or take a chance on an underperforming team in the hope they will become great?

Considering the amount of money they are getting paid, the financial compensation doesn’t matter. What concerns Ricciardo is whether he will be competitive or not. Whether he will stand a chance to call him the best driver on the grid by winning the championship.

This decision is a difficult one for him to come to, however, he eventually decides to take a chance and join the Renault team. It was interesting to see his thought process as this is something you rarely see in professional sports.

The process looked familiar to what many of us have gone through in our lives. We have to weigh up the path we are on now, one that we now well, with the choice of taking another route.

In essence, the choice is between that which we know, and that which we don’t. Looking back it seems crazy to think that Formula 1 drivers wouldn’t go through the same tumultuous thought process that we do, but that’s because of the lens through which we perceive them.

Because they are living a life that most of us would give our right arm for, we neglect to realise that they still have the same problems that we do. That they would doubt themselves despite being blessed and unbelievably lucky to do what they do.

In all of this, we forget that doubt is a trait that we all have and one that it’s ok to suffer from. Indeed, it’s one that might be necessary if we want to better ourselves.

No doubt

What I realised while watching Formula 1: Drive to Survive was that everyone suffers from doubts no matter how rich or famous you are. Money does not make you immune from traits which are a fundamental part of being a human.

To live without doubting anything you do or say would be a dangerous existence. It puts yourself above everyone else, as someone impervious to making any mistake.

The reason we doubt ourselves is not because we are failures, it’s because we’re conscious of trying to be better. Much like Ricciardo was wondering whether he would be better at a different team, our doubts are related to how we can be better.

To dismiss doubts as trivial is to suffer from hubris. Doubt is essential if you want to become better. Improvement can only come from a realisation that there are areas in which we are subpar.

If we believe that we do not need to improve anything, then we will not bother to work on ourselves, and, as a result, we will stagnate. The more I watched the series, the more I realised how these drivers had reached Formula 1.

Much of it was due to their ability and belief in themselves, but this was coupled with the doubts that festered inside. These doubts were what powered them to become better and relentlessly improve.

Without doubt, would they have reached the pinnacle of their sport? Would they take risky decisions that could jeopardise their career?

When we doubt ourselves we should not condemn ourselves for doing so, we should ponder why we do. From there, we can move forward. Without we doubt, we regress.

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