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Conquering Self Doubt

You’ve created a list, you’ve checked it thrice. Your pack is full, your phone is charged. You are ready to go! So…you go.

You have a big goal for the day — maybe it’s solo backpacking for the weekend, maybe it’s a day hike in a new area, maybe it’s your longest trail run. Whatever it is, it is something awesome and you are stoked about it. So…off you go!

Except, not yet.

Not because your gear isn’t ready. Not because you aren’t prepared. Not because you forgot something. Naw, you’re ready for this…everywhere except for in your own head.

You park at the trailhead but hesitate to get out of the car. As soon as you close that car door it is time to venture onto the trails and into the reality of what your big adventure is all about.

That’s exciting…but it is also crazy terrifying.

As you sit in your car, pretending to wait for a friend so no one else at the trailhead thinks you’re scared, you list off all the reasons this isn’t such a good idea.

Maybe you should have trained harder.
Maybe you could have packed lighter.
Maybe there is an easier trail to explore.
Maybe you should bring someone with you.

This is self doubt. This is something many of us feel on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s at the trailhead, sometimes it’s on the trail, sometimes it’s in front of your computer. It doesn’t matter where it happens…it’s normal.

On one level this doubt is essential to keep us in check. We need to know our boundaries, so we need to keep tabs on our actual skills, preparedness and choices. If self doubt only popped up when we were in a situation that genuinely required a self-check it would all be a-okay.

But self doubt isn’t that kind. Quite frankly, self doubt is never kind. It shows up when we are fully prepared and perfectly capable. It becomes that voice in the back of our head that scares us away from something completely attainable. Self doubt is incredibly inconsiderate and frustrating.

So, how do we keep self doubt in check? How do we ensure this doubt is there when we need it but under wraps when it is a hindrance?

Honestly — I’m not sure. This is a constant struggle for me, but with time I have found a few techniques that work to keep the self doubt in check.

Make a List

When self doubt creeps up and gets in your way right a list of all the ways that doubt is wrong. It can be a long letter to yourself or a quick checklist. I often put the doubt [ie: trail is too hard] at the top of a piece of paper then follow it with a list of reasons that doubt is wrong [ie: I have trained, the mileage is attainable, I know the terrain, etc.]. Once the list is made I look back at all the subtle affirmations and know I have got this!

Tell a Friend

Share your self doubt! Let your friends help you keep tabs on legitimate doubt vs harmful doubt. This is a great option if the list isn’t quite doing the trick. Slide into your friend’s DMs and let them know how you’re feeling. More often than not they’ll slide right back ‘atcha with a list of reasons you have got this!

Give Yourself a Way Out

Okay, so this might sound like succumbing to self doubt but it isn’t, at least not yet. If you’re having a chat with self doubt at the trailhead and really need to hit the trail offer that doubt a compromise. Tell your self doubt that you are going to go get after it, but if things are still too hard at [insert distance/location] then you will give yourself permission to turn around without any guilt. Usually you’ll get to that predetermined place and feel great, putting self doubt in its place. Worse case scenario, you turn around and know you truly did give it your best.

Self doubt is sneaky and very persuasive, but don’t let it dictate your adventures! Spend some time thinking on where it is coming from and work to keep it at bay. With time this gets easier. You’ll find tactics that work for you and techniques that you can share with others.

Side Note // All those cross country skiing photos? Yea, they were all taken on a variety of outings where I *seriously* doubted my ability to survive on two slippery sticks! But I did it…with the help of the three techniques I mentioned above. With time and effort I’m getting more confident on skis!

About the Author


Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. She is so stoked on adventure that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world around them. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike, or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she's here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes, safely.