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5 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt

Live Happy blogger, best-selling author and workplace wellbeing coach Michelle McQuaid presents this series of interviews entitled "Show Up, Shine and Succeed." This is the first of five insightful, informative posts, each featuring a different positive psychology expert.

Do you ever find yourself hesitating, holding yourself back at work for fear that you’ll be discovered as an imposter? Do you worry that maybe you’re not really “good enough” to achieve the kind of success you dream of?

Everyone experiences self-doubt from time to time

If you are bothered by self-doubt, you’re not alone. In fact, one study of managers by the European Institute for Leadership and Management revealed that 50% of female managers and 31% of male managers admitted to experiencing self-doubt.

“Unfortunately when we’re worried that our abilities are going to be questioned, we lack the confidence to turn our thoughts into actions,” explained Louisa Jewell, a positive psychology expert who has studied self-doubt extensively.

Click here to listen to full audio interview.

Self-doubt can hinder your performance at work

“Self-doubt causes us to engage in self-protective strategies at work, such as procrastination, hesitation and self-handicapping in order to avoid failure,” says Louisa. “While we may start out consciously using these strategies, once we realize they’re working, they often become unconscious habits that limit our potential for growth and success.”

While often viewed as internal—something created by the stories we tell inside our own heads—Louisa points out that researchers now believe self-doubt may be socially constructed. 

“Self-doubt is often generated in your mind because of the social evaluations of others,” she explained. “Human beings are generally sensitive creatures, and the moment someone questions you, challenges you or looks at you in a funny way, you start to question your abilities.”

According to Louisa, we can move beyond self-doubt by using the following approaches:

1. Be aware of who you surround yourself with.

Your social network can either increase or reduce your self-doubt. If you’re embarking on something new, make sure you’ve got supportive people around you who are encouraging you to move forward.

2. Focus on your work

Instead of wondering, “How does that make me look?” or “What if I fail in front of this person now?” focus instead on what you’re trying to create, who you’re trying to serve and what you’d like to achieve. Try saying: “I’m just working away here and I could care less about what others might think about me.”

3. Challenge the negative chatter in your head.  

Be aware of what you’re saying to yourself. If you find your thoughts are full of negativity and judgment, then challenge what you’re saying by asking: “Is that true?” Rather than having your thoughts irrationally hijacked by self-doubt, rationally look for evidence to take a more objective, balanced point of view.

4. Use your strengths.  

Be aware of the things that you like to do and are good at and use these consciously to fuel your confidence to act. When you draw on your strengths it removes your fear of moving forward and taps into your deep-rooted belief that you can succeed, and that you have the resources and skills to tackle new challenges.

5. Practice self-compassion.

Be willing to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding. Don’t judge yourself harshly or feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego. Instead, embrace the fact that to err is indeed human. Try to get a realistic sense of your abilities and actions, and then figure out what needs to be done differently next time.

You can find out more about Louisa’s research and her upcoming book on self-doubt at https://www.louisajewell.com.

And if you’d like more tested, practical ways to show up, shine and succeed at work visit https://www.showupshineandsucceed.com.


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