Self-doubt. God, I hate it. But then again, I’m not quite sure (get it?).

Yes, if you have self-doubt, which, if you’re alive, then you do, you know how debilitating it can be. Self-doubt, stated simply, “is a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities.” Pretty straight forward. However, self-doubt can creep into every area of our lives, and not just hamper our human capabilities.

Everyone understands how self-doubt normally affects our psyche. It stops us from asking for that promotion, talking to that girl or guy, or dreaming big. It increases our insecurities and causes us to think that we aren’t worthy of whatever it is that we’re trying to do.

But it goes deeper than that. Self-doubt causes us to second guess ourselves…in almost every situation. It’s not that we’re too meek to stand up and grab life by the horns, it’s that we’re constantly worried about what we’re giving up by deciding to take a specific action.

Have you ever heard of opportunity cost? Sounds bad, right, to associate an expense with an opportunity? But these costs do exist, and they arise whenever we make a decision; any decision. Opportunity cost, for those who didn’t major in finance or economics (lucky you), describes the “loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”

What? Ok, if you decide to move to New York, you forgo all the opportunities that would have presented themselves had you stayed in the place you grew up. If you decide to eat a salad for lunch, you give up the chance to eat a cheeseburger…delicious, but alas, unattainable. An opportunity cost is “the thing” you give up by choosing something else.

And that’s what I’m finding self-doubt really is: it’s the fear of the opportunity cost of a decision. It’s “FOMO,” for lack of a better Millennial phrase. But when that FOMO manifests itself in a loss of potential income or a missed connection with the potential love of your life, it’s easy to see how that self-doubt can turn into a debilitating fear.

There’s Always an Opportunity Cost

An opportunity cost, at its core, is a tradeoff. It’s the intersection of two mutually exclusive events, of which you can only choose one.

If you believe modern economists, you know that there is literally an opportunity cost to everything. Sometimes that cost is overwhelmingly negative, as in, if you don’t get a college degree, you might have more free time in your 20s, but the opportunity cost is a lack of “traditional education” that decreases your aggregate lifetime earnings. It can also be seen as a positive: the opportunity cost of going to the gym means that you have less time to sit on the couch.

But, when that opportunity cost surrounds one of the key areas of your life (career, social, emotional, spiritual, etc.), it results in a level of self-doubt that can immobilize you.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to pursue a career in a new field. And that new industry happens to be centralized in a city far away from the one in which you currently reside. Ok, well, at first glance, it seems like you have no choice but to move. Follow your dreams! Right? If only it were that simple.

As soon as you internally decide to make the big move, effectively starting over in your career, self-doubt begins to creep in. How can I leave all my friends and family? You might ask yourself. Why would I want to start at the bottom of the totem pole again, after I’ve worked so hard in this career track? You may say out loud. And finally, what if I move and then miss the chance to meet my future husband or wife?

Bleh. You see, all those questions of self-doubt are actually fears of missing out on the opportunity cost. It’s a feeling of dread that by changing your routine, you’ll forgo an opportunity that would have otherwise presented itself. But in reality, would you have?

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone Already!

You see, FOMO goes both ways. When an opportunity first presents itself, it’s natural to think about all the benefits and the drawbacks of not capitalizing on it. Then, almost immediately after, FOMO swings the other way, and you start to dwell on what you’d be giving up by moving forward in a new direction. And then, the FOMO sticks, and your thoughts begin to spiral downward toward the negative aspects of the opportunity. You dwell on the opportunity costs and decide to take no action. 

It’s because of your damn comfort zone. It’s easier to maintain the status quo than to shake things up. We focus on the negative trade-offs of the opportunity and live in fear of change.

What a shitty way to live though, right? Instead, we need to focus on the things we’re trading up for, not down. There are as many positives as there are negative, yet our physiological makeup forces us to first think about what we’re giving up rather than what we’re adding to our lives. We put more weight on the opportunity cost itself rather than the upside of our decision.

And that’s the crux of self-doubt. We fear giving up what we know, so we doubt our desire to make a positive change, and therefore remain stuck in a repetitive rut. Groundhog day, if you will.

Instead, we need to embrace change. We should welcome new reference experiences. Focus on the upside of a decision, not the downside. Because ultimately, that “thing” you’re afraid of missing out on, that opportunity cost you’re afraid to incur, probably won’t come to pass anyway. You let an infinite future affect your current decisions. The future, by definition, is unpredictable, and you have to act as if the things you expect to happen will never happen.

Instead, when an opportunity presents itself, take it. C’mon, deep down you know that the opportunity that’s presented itself to you is the right path to take. Don’t let a fear of the future tell you otherwise.