My son DJ is 8. There are days when he thinks he is the greatest thing ever to walk the earth. The smartest in his class, the best looking, the best athlete. Then there are days like today where he misses a fly ball and he thinks he is the biggest dork in the world. No amount of reassurance can convince him that he is a great ball player in spite of his error, and the great throw he made to get an out at second is completely irrelevant in his self-assessment. There are factors that make him more likely to doubt himself: being seen messing up by other people (especially his peers), being overtired, and really wanting to do well.
These seem to be fairly universal factors. If I wobble in tree pose in my home practice, I can shrug it off. If I'm in the front row in yoga class, I am likely to call myself an idiot for hours afterwards. So, fear of being judged harshly by others makes me doubt myself. The second factor, being overtired, is just another way of saying our defenses are down. Overtired, behind schedule, not enough prep time, my lucky socks were dirty, whatever, if the situation is less than ideal, I am less confident. The third factor, wanting it so badly, is also universal. DJ really wants to hit a home run. Hitting the fence is therefore a failure.
So let's put all of these together for a recent scenario in my life. I offered to teach a gentle yoga class to my parents in my basement. I didn't have enough time to practice beforehand, so I was nervous and doubting some parts of the class. I really wanted to do well in front of my parents so they would approve of my yoga teaching (yes I have mother issues), and my kids were taking my class as well. It was a perfect storm of factors to create self-doubt and criticism. I did come off nervous initially, and didn't present as well as I would've liked. The kids got squirrelly, and the middle of the class became a bit of a circus when our cat Jack Jack caught a mouse in the furnace room (I swear I'm not making this up) and ran toward the stairs. Afterwards, I felt I had let myself down. I didn't show myself as the teacher I'm striving to become, because the class completely dissolved into chaos. Ok, how could it not, after that? I can laugh about it, because it was clearly ridiculous, but that doesn't stop the self-questioning. How could I have prepared better? Why don't I practice mirroring more so I'm not confused in front of people? Why didn't I lock the cats in another room? Why was there a mouse in the basement?!
I don't know a way around the three factors I mentioned above, except to be aware of the traps that tend to create self-doubt in the first place. We cannot prepare for every scenario, and we cannot prevent crazy random things from going wrong (seriously, a mouse?). However, self-confidence doesn't have to come out of perfection. Being able to laugh at myself goes a long way towards recovering from embarrassment. Preparing properly allows me to feel confident no matter what the outcome, because I know I've tried my best. Walking tall in front of others shows that I recognize I am a strong and intelligent woman, even if I trip and fall. Letting go of a desired outcome lets me enjoy the ride rather than striving for something I cannot control. Now if only I can teach all that to DJ so he doesn't have to work on self-doubt when he gets to my age!