Raise Your Standards – Dealing With Self-Doubt


Hello and welcome to another episode of Raise Your Standards.  This week I’ll be taking a break from covering the current landscape of Standard and will instead talk about a topic that affects me more often than I’d like.  I’ll also try to offer you some helpful tips and tricks you can use when you find yourself caught in its grasp.

What Is Self-Doubt?

Self-doubt is defined as a lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities.  Imagine, if you will, sitting down to play a game against your opponent at a tournament.  As you look at your opponent, what thoughts go through your mind?  Do you begin to worry that you might lose the match and therefore lessen your chances at winning a prize?  Do you worry that you haven’t done enough testing with your deck?  Do you regret even coming to the tournament today because you probably have no shot at winning?  If you feel any of these things, you have felt the pain of self-doubt.

I know, for me, self-doubt usually doesn’t happen until I lose my first match or when I’m doing well, but the final round or two are coming up.  In the first example, once I’ve lost my first match it can be difficult for me to stay on track.  I find myself overanalyzing my plays in order to determine the mistake I made causing me to lose the match.  Sometimes these thoughts carry over into the next round, and I find it to be a struggle to concentrate on the game I’m currently playing, as my mind is stuck in the past.

In the second example, as the final rounds are approaching, if I’m doing well self-doubt begins to creep into my subconscious causing me to have the feeling that I’ll somehow make a mistake and blow the whole tournament.  All of the time playing that day will then have been for nothing, just a colossal waste of time.  At that point, I begin telling myself that whatever the prize is that I’m playing for is something that I don’t even want, just in order to rationalize to myself that losing is an acceptable result.

In each of these examples, the self-doubt I feel can be crippling.  Once the self-doubt has set in, what can be done to combat it?

What Can You Do When Self-Doubt Sets In?

The first thing is to realize that everyone goes through these feeling at some point in their life.  Professional Magic players are no exception to this.  A few weeks ago, Brian Braun-Duin wrote an article titled Failure and Persistence.  It’s a great article about his loss at a big tournament and how he found a way to power on.  He likely suffered a bit of self-doubt at that time.

So, you’re not alone.  That’s not exactly comforting, but it helps to know that there’s nothing wrong with you.  However, it doesn’t help fix the problem.  Unfortunately, there’s not a magic cure-all solution, but there are some things you can do that might help.

One suggestion, if you find self-doubt starting after losing a match, is to write down what you believe to be were your misplays during that match.  Once it’s written down, put that piece of paper away and try to forget about any mistakes you’ve made in the past in order to concentrate on your future matches.  You can revisit your mistakes after the tournament, but try not to dwell on them until the tournament concludes.

Another suggestion is to get away from the tournament area between rounds.  Clear your mind, get a drink of water, look at other merchandise in the shop you’re playing in, etc.  Simply take a couple of minutes to not think of Magic.

Another thing to try (although I’ll admit that I find this more difficult to do than the other suggestions) is to mentally treat each match as a self-standing match and not part of a larger event.  Try to treat it as any other fun match you’ve played that’s not part of a tournament.  That can help relieve some of the pressure that a tournament provides that can cause self-doubt.

My final solution is to listen to music in between rounds to clear your head.  If possible, try to pick a song that you find energizing and encouraging.  Listen to that song prior to each match (including your first), and it should help to keep your spirits up and keep you focused.


Those are my thoughts on dealing with Self-Doubt.  Do you have any other solutions?  If so, let me know by leaving a comment, or by contacting me on Twitter (@mikelikesmtg) or by emailing me directly at mikelikesmtg@gmail.com.

As a reminder, my series of articles reviewing the upcoming cards from Ixalan in relation to their Standard playability will begin on Sunday (Sept. 17th) and will run all week.  Be sure to check them out and let me know what you think about the new cards and my comments and ratings.  Ixalan looks to be a pretty fun looking set, so I’m excited to get this party started.  I’ll see you then!

Mike Likes


Mike Likes

Mike Likes

Mike started playing Magic back in 1994, but gave it up at the end of 1995. He came back to the game during the Lorwyn block and has been playing ever since. Around this time, he opened and ran his own comic & game store, while also raising his newborn daughter. After 8 years, he sold his business and moved to Wisconsin with his wife and daughter. With the debut of Kaladesh, his entire family became regular Magic players. He now has hopes of competing alongside his wife and daughter at a Grand Prix or similar event in the future. #MTGDad

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