Self-doubt isn’t a bad thing (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Always doubting yourself? That’s not a bad thing, says neuroscientist and psychologist Albert Moukheiber.

In fact, frequent self-doubt can actually be a sign of intelligence, he claims.

‘We live in a world where we only talk about doubt towards the “exterior” (don’t believe what you hear in the news, for example) and to “trust” yourself,’ Albert tells Metro.co.uk.

‘However, this is not a good way of developing our critical thinking, because a lynchpin of critical thinking is metacognitive control: doubting my own thoughts/emotions/intuition before blindly accepting them.’

Essentially, Albert believes that a little bit of self-doubt is good, because it allows us to pause and recognise that our thoughts and feelings are not always true.

Instead, the way we view the world can be informed by all sorts of factors that throw us off, from certain sensitivities to bias.

‘It’s recognising that most of our thoughts and feelings are just our brain’s “best guess” at a certain situation, and that something this best guess is not so “best”,’ he notes.

Here’s an example: let’s say you’re dating someone and they’re taking ages to text you back. Your immediate thought might be something like: oh, well, they don’t really like me, as they clearly can’t be bothered to message.

But what if rather than trusting this first thought, you brought in some self-doubt?

This would see you questioning that initial reaction – is there a subconscious reason why I’m assuming the worst? Could I be reading into something that’s really not that big of a deal? What about all these other possible reasons for someone not immediately messaging; whether that’s because they’re busy at work, they’re chatting with a pal, or they’re just trying to cut down on their screentime?

This is the kind of self-doubt that’s actually a healthy thing, because it allows us to question our pessimistic thinking.

Start to question negative thoughts (Picture: Getty Images/fStop)

‘This doesn’t mean not having self esteem,’ Albert notes. ‘Quite the contrary, we need good self esteem to allow ourselves self doubt. 

‘Metacognitive control has been associated with better self regulation and better decision-making skills.’

Albert recommends that we all use this type of self-doubt to move away from ‘automatic thinking’, and thus hop right over the ‘traps our brains set for us’.

How do we do that? The first step is simply recognising the way our brains mess us up.

Albert explains: ‘There isn’t a magical spell to undo the traps our brains sets for us. No simple and immediate solution to “unbias” us.

‘But we can try to counter the biases’ negative effects by taking an interest in the mechanisms that trigger them.

‘The human brain naturally produces thoughts, emotions and automatic actions, which psychologists call heuristics. Added to these heuristics are secondary thoughts, thoughts about our thoughts, expressed by a little voice in our head: we call them metacognitions.

‘It’s on these we will be able to act in situations where we gather that we’re victim to certain cognitive biases causing us harm.

More: Mental health

‘We have no immediate control over our primary thoughts, which are too quick and automatic, but it’s possible to act on metacognitions.

‘This metacognitive control aims to delegitimise our harmful automatic thoughts.

‘We don’t have to feel responsibility for or ownership of our primary thoughts: nobody chooses to be jealous, stingy or petty.

‘But we can and must act on our metacognitions. It’s why we must learn to identify the primary and automatic thoughts and emotions linked to a problematic situation, then to create a distance between the primary thought and the metacognitions.’

What this means is that when we experience a negative way of thinking, we question it, rather than accepting it as the truth.

If you’re anxious, this is vital. It’s a way to interrupt worry spirals and to prevent worst-case-scenario thinking from taking control.

Albert suggests three questions to ask:

What concrete elements form the basis of this thought? Is this thought or emotion circular? Does it come back over and over again? What would you recommend to a friend if they shared a thought like this one with you?

‘This questioning will progressively enable you to gain some distance each time anxiety-generating situations come your way and will eventually enable you to limit the appearance of harmful automatic thoughts,’ he tells us.

Albert Moukheiber is a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist, and the author of new book, Your Brain Is Playing Tricks On You: How The Brain Shapes Opinions And Perceptions.

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