Doubt vs. Desire

Posted by on Jan 18, 2019

            How many times each day do you doubt something? Is this number even possible to calculate? Do you always answer a question with a question? For years, I have heard, read, and attempted to find an accurate citation for the claim that the human brain thinks 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day. The USC neuroimaging laboratory claims similar numbers based on brain scan, and even Deepak Chopra agrees. IF this range is true, we think approximately a thought each second, whether we know it or not. For every tick of the clock, a thought. Wow, that’s a lot. No wonder Harvard Researchers found adults admit to spending 47% of the time thinking about things other than what they were doing ( ). Remember that conversation you had with so-and-so yesterday? Well, for half of it, they weren’t paying attention to you and you weren’t paying attention to them. No wonder so much gets lost in translation…

            Our brains are so good at thinking we rarely notice when it happens. Actually, if you had to notice every thought, every second, you would die of exhaustion before lunch. So, we go about our day and think and think and think. How many thoughts have you had outside of this article so far? “When will she get to the point?” “I had no idea we thought so much.” “What does all this have to do with doubt and desire?” “What should I have for dinner?”

            If you have ever attempted to meditate, the thought per second data point would certainly seem true. Our thoughts keep going and keep us going. The interesting thing to think about is how much impact a thought, or sequence of thoughts, has on us, especially a negative thought…or doubt. Doubt sucks. It eats away at us. It takes a lovely thought or idea or even a dream, and slowly, like a parasite, weakens it. Sometimes, it weakens it enough to force us to abandon the idea altogether. You are going along in your day and read something that triggers a memory of something that was missing and you found the answer for. Yes, that’s it! What a great idea. And off you go thinking of how to take that idea and make it happen. Then you pause, and out of habit wonder, would that really work? And that is all it takes for doubt to seep in and kill that moment, that idea, that energy, that desire. I hate that feeling, the feeling of doubt. It wrecks me and the mood or feeling I had ten short seconds before the doubt crept in. There I was, minding my own business, having a great idea, and just like that, doubt came and crashed the party.

            Doubt is usually discussed versus belief, not desire, and typically in a religious context. I was thinking about doubt and how frequently I have been experiencing it lately. “How do you keep going when you absolutely do not want to or think you just can’t any longer?” A friend in struggle asked me this the other day. Perhaps because she’s knows I am in struggle as well. I paused, longer than I really wanted to because no answer appeared. “I’m not sure, I guess because we want it to be true or come to pass, whatever that thing we are doubting happens to be.” The remarkable thing is how we persist, daily, no matter the day and how much struggle we have or not. The question is not only how, but why, oh yeah, and then for how long? It seems impossible, the things, events, people, traumas, illnesses, losses, and loves we continue to press through. “Maybe it is the good days?” I pondered out loud, “or the hope, it could definitely be the hope. Whatever it is, I’m glad I have it.” And as this fell out of my mouth, I felt the wave of good, of hope, of desire, ready for the next day, whatever it might bring.

            The corporate training company I was with for nearly a decade asked participants to report on the things they struggled with. The first time I read that a CEO or SVP said they constantly doubted themselves and their abilities, I was floored. I thought it must have been a mistake, an outlier. And then it happened again. And again. And again. For each program, no matter what country or industry or level of success, people expressed self-doubt. Doubt is pervasive and does not disappear once you reach a certain level. Maybe it gets worse. If that is true then, like my friend asked, what keeps us going. Well, I say it is desire.

Several years ago, I worked with a young equestrian vying for the Young Rider national championships. She had most of the ingredients: she rode wonderfully, she had a great horse, she had a great trainer, and a completely supportive family. The one killer ingredient was her doubt. It plagued her moment to moment and from the outside, it made absolutely no sense. When we started working together, she had no idea she had so much doubt. Her personality was lovely and happy, and so having so much doubt was a contradiction to who she seemed to be. It was also a mental habit, so ingrained, that it was woven into her mind, initially impossible to see. It snuck out in tiny snippets when she would talk about an upcoming horse show. I would ask how ready she felt, and answers would be so vague, they didn’t match how hard her trainer said she worked to prepare. “I’m good, I feel ready, I hope it goes well,” she would say, trying to convince us both. Show after show for the first half of the season, she would be having a great ride and then right before she finished, she would make a terrible (and ridiculous) error, crushing her score and taking her out of the lead.

            We would all walk back to the barn despondent and confused, heads shaking in frustration and disbelief. For a while, all I knew to do was to attempt to chip away at the doubt. It helped, but not enough. Then one day, she taught me about the power of desire. With the last three shows coming up, we were sitting in the sun, watching her horse graze in the field, enjoying the non-competitive parts of the sport. Like most athletes, she loved competing, and like most equestrians, she loved her horse. Equestrians have a bit of an advantage over say a tennis player because your racket is never going to nicker and trot to the gate, happy to see you when you first arrive at the court. She had months of disappointment and frustration and I had months of pulling every trick I had out of my bag. But sitting there, watching him just be a horse, chatting about unimportant things, tears welled up in her eyes, “I want this so badly. Not just for me, but for him, for us, for us all.” Desire. Burning desire to perform at her highest level and be the best rider, competitor, partner possible. “Then keep at it. There is no option other than to keep at it until you get it,” I said. And as we talked about her mental toughness techniques, we added a new element, her desire, to the mix. You don’t have to guess how it turned out because it worked, of course. Her very next show, she broke through the doubt and rode out of her mind, winning for the first time. As she and her trusty steed marched out of the arena, it was hard to tell who was happier.

            Struggle is part of life, as we all know. And I would say with a few decades of experience, so is doubt. So then, it is the balancing act of having enough desire to bring you back from the doubt that keeps us going. There are enough metaphors and sayings to fill a few more pages but I will spare us all here. Look for the doubt, turn up the volume on the number of times each day you say or think, “I doubt it.” It will be rather uncomfortable and perhaps even overwhelming at first but so what. Then, for each moment of doubt, see if you can muster up a desire. It does something, desire. It moves the energy to the other side of the spectrum, creating a whole new view…and a refreshed feeling that hanging in there is still possible. Take a deep breath and let yourself desire that thing, that day, that person, that dream. What else is there after all.