Overcoming Self Doubt - Advice from an Olympian

Obstacles don’t scare Sarah Wells. As a 400m hurdler, this Olympian’s reputation was forged through overcoming challenges, redefining realistic and achieving the incredible.Her debut at the London Olympics in 2012 came despite an injury that had her sidelined her for months just the year before.

Sarah fought to realize her dream no matter what.

Someone who understands the importance of mindset to manage pressure, Olympic semi-finalist and Pan Am Games silver medallist, Sarah Wells shares with us how she tackles self-doubt.

Everyone struggles with self-doubt, even the most successful people. It’s normal, healthy even! But you do not want self-doubt to take control and be the pilot of your life choices.

As an Olympic athlete in the sport of track and field you may think any time I go out for a run, I am confident in my abilities. But I’m not! I often wonder if all my mental toughness was used up during the previous workout. “Will my body and mind make it through this time? Because I almost gave up last time, so what if I can’t do it this time”.

This conversation with myself is no rarity, it requires me to flex a muscle you can’t see. It’s one of the hardest muscles to train, and that, is my self-belief muscle.

In my sport the difference between epic success and potential “failure” can happen in half a second. Knowing the effect that seemingly negligible details can have on an end result, I commit to making half second choices to strengthen that self-belief muscle, and in turn, moment by moment help me tackle self-doubt and lead me to success. In my keynote speeches I call them 0.5 second choices because all it takes is an impulse of action to change how you act, talk or think.


Check out these tips to help you conquer your self-doubt and start to flex your self-belief muscle:


Find your word 

The importance of self-belief is so important to me that I actually have it tattooed on the inside of my wrist. The year before the Olympics I was sidelined with an injury for 9 months. Doctors and the people closest to me reminded me to remain “realistic” since making the Olympics after sitting out for almost a year was deemed “impossible”. But I thought of those brutal 9 months, I thought about the injury and how I could have given up, but I didn’t. I recognized a strength inside myself I didn’t even know I had – and because of that I believed that if anyone could do this, it was going to be me.

While I do not suggest that everyone needs to tattoo themselves of their goals (haha), I do suggest you find your word or phrase that reminds you of the obstacles you’ve already overcome, that reminds you of the strength you have inside – and then put it somewhere you can see it! Maybe that is on your bathroom mirror in lipstick, or a sticky note on your fridge, or maybe drawn across the cover of your favourite notebook. Find your word!


Sleep well

Sleep hygiene has been linked to many positive health benefits, and one of those is the effect sleep has on your mental wellness. After a night where you had little to no sleep, it would be unlikely you would feel energetic enough to go to the gym and give it your all. The same goes for the lack of energy you may feel when you have to flex your self-belief muscle while feeling exhausted, giving the opportunity for self-doubt to take over and sabotage your goal.

Try committing to a consistent sleep schedule that allows you to feel refreshed, this will allow you to recharge your batteries and have enough energy to spread amongst the activities and people that require your time, and still leave some to flex your self-belief muscle.


See pressure as a privilege 

In the middle of pressure you may often think “Why me?” It’s easy to begin to get overwhelmed and then the self-doubt takes over. But rather than “Why me?”, try and see it as “Thankfully me!” Because would you rather be the person who is coasting through life and has no risk to receive the reward? Would you really want to be someone who isn’t learning and being challenged to grow? All of that comes with pressure, and if you’re in the middle of it, what a privilege! If you can choose in half a second to see it this way, you won’t let that voice of self-doubt win.


Surround yourself with people who build you up

It has been said many times that you are a reflection of the 5 people closest to you. Whether we are conscious of it or not, those 5 people will have a significant effect on how you think and feel. I challenge you to think about who you surround yourself with and how do they make you feel about your ability to rise above challenges. Do they help you recognise your strengths? Do they make you feel supported?

During hard workouts my training partner and I do our best to talk about how much better we’re going to be after this workout rather than complaining about the pain. I need her in those moments and she needs me. We begin to feed in to this positivity fire and it allows us to rise above the challenge we’re facing and quiet that voice of doubt. By being that person for each other, I feel more inspired and motivated. Who are those people in your life that provide you with motivation, that inspire you and empower you to make positive choices that will lead you to your definition of success?


See Green 

In moments when you feel like that voice of doubt is so loud that you can’t think about anything else, try going outside and seeing nature – specifically green nature. The latest findings in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that the colour green can enhance mood, self-esteem, motivation and enjoyment. That means by simply going outside you may be able to gather up the strength to help combat that voice of self doubt and reap all the mental benefits.


This article was originally published by Lorna Jane Active.

Lorna Jane Active are proud sponsors of the 2020 Australian Fitness Awards. 

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