In The Science of Speaking, I present many different tools for feeling more confident about your speaking. But I also note that there can be benefits to feeling nervous: in particular, that it can help you avoid overconfidence. As Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band said, “If I went out there thinkin’, ‘Eh, we’ll go slaughter ’em,’ he says, ‘I’m positive something would go seriously wrong.'”
In a recent post on The Mission, Ravi Raman expanded on this idea, writing about the power of self-doubt. The whole article is worth a read, but here’s a particularly relevant excerpt:
Have you ever noticed that when you doubt yourself, you automatically think of all the little things you need to do to accomplish your goal? You become cautious and careful. Doubt promotes a run-down of your mental checklist to ensure that everything is taken care of. It produces a greater sense of caring about what you are doing and the skills you can apply to get the job done.
Self-doubt is a necessary part of personal growth and achievement. Without it, we would make all sorts of unforced errors in the pursuit of our goals. We would parade around supremely confident, but lacking humility and the personal growth that comes from self-awareness. The choice we have, however, is to approach the barrier of self-doubt as an opportunity for learning, reflection, and improvement; and not as a dream killer.
While it’s important to find ways to overcome paralyzing self-doubt (the kind that causes us to abandon our dreams), I like this idea that a reasonable amount of self-doubt can actually be critical for successfully achieving them.