How to manage self-doubt at work
Doubting our abilities is something almost all of us can relate to. Whether we feel we lack confidence to speak up in meetings or find ourselves battling with imposter syndrome, self-doubt is a truly human experience.
Here we’ll look at what self-doubt really is, how it can show up at work and importantly, how to calm your inner critic.
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What is self-doubt?
Self-doubt can be painted as somewhat of a monster. It can feel like it at times, a small voice from within telling us we can’t do something, that we’re not good enough, that we’re not ‘enough’ period. The truth is, self-doubt is complicated.
Often, our self-doubt comes from the primal part of our brain that tries to keep us safe. Warning us of perceived danger, you might notice this kind of self-doubt coming up when you’re worried about embarrassing yourself, trying something new or taking a risk. You could think of it like an overprotective aunty, who deep down doesn’t want to see you get hurt.
These intentions may be rooted in trying to help us, but ultimately they hold us back. And this is because we tend to underestimate our psychological resilience. Even if the worst case scenario did happen, we’d likely be OK.
Self-doubt can also come from experiences in our past. If you grew up with a particularly critical parent, teacher or other authority figure, you may have internalised what they said to you. This means the voice you hear telling you you aren’t good enough isn’t coming from you, but it’s become so rooted in your subconscious that it sounds like you.
How self-doubt can show up at work
However your self-doubt has formed, it can show up in all areas of our lives, including work. Here are some examples of how you might see it manifest:
Do you put off tasks until the last minute? Sometimes avoiding work by procrastinating is a sign you doubt your abilities.
Over-planning/staying in research mode
Similarly to procrastination, over-planning is when we feel we have to know everything we possibly can about something before doing it. This can lead to us not taking action and staying stuck.
Not moving forward with something until it’s perfect in your eyes can be another indicator of self-doubt. You might spend too much time on a task, because you don’t believe the work you’ve done already is good enough.
This can look different for everyone, but an example would be saying yes to too many tasks knowing you don’t have time to do them all. This is setting yourself up for failure and may stem from you wanting to appear as if you’re capable, even though you don’t feel it.
Not being able to make decisions can be linked to self-doubt as you’re doubting your ability to know the answer. This is a sign that you don’t trust yourself or your knowledge, so you may ask other people’s opinions before offering your own.
If you are regularly asking your manager or colleagues for reassurance on your work or decisions, this could be self-doubt talking. You may not believe what you’ve done is good or right, so you seek external validation.
How to calm your inner critic
Eradicating self-doubt entirely isn’t realistic, and there are some cases where it could *actually* be helpful. What’s important though is to not let it take control of your life. A helpful analogy shared by Liz Gilbert in her book Big Magic describes fear as a passenger in a car. The aim is to take it out of the driver’s seat and put it in the back. It can still come along for the ride, but it doesn’t get to decide which direction you go.
Managing self-doubt takes time and practice, and you may even find it beneficial to work with a professional to help with this. There are some steps you can take however to start managing self-doubt:
Ask for evidence
When your inner critic pipes up, ask for the evidence that what it’s saying is true. Chances are, it’ll be stumped. Now you can look for evidence that the opposite is true. Say, for example, you’ve been asked to deliver a presentation to your company and self-doubt is telling you to say no because you might mess it up and embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues – what evidence is there that this will happen? Looking at evidence that it won’t happen may lead you to recognise that you know what you’re talking about and have spoken eloquently in meetings in the past.
Tip: Create a self-belief evidence bank. Store positive emails in a separate folder called ‘evidence’ or screenshot positive feedback on your phone and create a new album. The next time self-doubt comes up, take a minute to scroll through your evidence bank and remind yourself how awesome you are!
Create an inner cheerleader
This is where we change the narrative of self-doubt. The next time something comes up that prompts your inner critic, start by asking for the evidence and then counter what your inner critic is saying with something positive like “I am capable” or “I can do this”. If you find this too hard initially, consider what you would say to a friend in this situation and try to use the same logic with yourself.
Take small steps
Building self-belief is a lot like building a house, you have to do it brick by brick. Try to give yourself small challenges, like speaking up in the next meeting, and see how you feel. No one is expecting change overnight, so don’t get discouraged if it takes time. Changing the way we think isn’t always easy, but it is totally possible.
For more information on the topic of self-doubt, take a look at the following resources:
- How to overcome self-doubt
- Regain your confidence at work (webinar with career coach)
- How to overcome imposter syndrome
- Calming your inner critic
- Courage & Spice podcast
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