Anna sat across from me, tears streaming down her face as she described her new role as director of HR. “I am feeling so overwhelmed, I just don’t think I can do this” she said. At that moment, Anna was doubting herself and her capabilities. This is such a common situation so I wanted to share with you today the steps that you can take when you feel like you are doubting yourself.
What is self-doubt?
Self-doubt is the feeling you get when you lack confidence or feel incapable of doing the things you need to do. You might experience uncertainty around the things you can’t control or worry about things not going to plan.
We all experience this feeling sometimes, and it can be a good thing because it shows that you understand what you need to improve in order to grow. However, persistent fear and self-doubt can affect your life in a negative way.
Let’s take Anna as an example. Anna had applied for and interviewed for the director of HR position and she had been successful. Clearly, the interviewers felt she had been the most suitable candidate. However, instead of seeing this as a recognition of her own performance, Anna was starting to panic.
She was worried about whether she was capable of doing this role. She was worried that if she failed to perform she would be judged and ridiculed at work. This led to her stressing over every decision she was making and worrying about how things could go wrong. This fear manifested as procrastination and feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated and less than enough.
Where does self-doubt come from?
Self-doubt may stem from previous negative experiences or from being criticised frequently as a child. If you were told in the past that you’re “not good enough” or that you’re incapable of something, then this can have a large negative effect on your self-worth. We also have a deep societal pressure to achieve, particularly exacerbated by the 27/4 social media world we live in. Inevitably, when we can’t achieve something, we blame ourselves and doubt ourselves further.
There are three forms of self-doubt
- Imposter syndrome – a fear of others seeing you as a fraud or being undeserving of your accomplishments
- Self-sabotage – where you undermine yourself, your values and your goals
- Indecisiveness – where you struggle to make big and small decisions due to a worry that no matter which path you take it will be wrong
All of this erodes your self-esteem over time and contributes to feeling like you are doubting yourself.
4 signs that you’re doubting yourself
Common indications that you may be dealing with self-doubt in your personal or professional life include:
- You can’t accept compliments from others, and you can’t give yourself credit
- Constantly seek reassurance
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling like you’re never good enough
Over the course of her coaching programme (6 months), Anna and I worked on helping her feel confident and capable in her new role. We focused on maximising her potential and minimising her doubt so that she could thrive in her new role. Here’s what we did:
Focused on a growth mindset
Anna and I worked on a growth mindset, understanding that we all make mistakes and it is these mistakes which help us grow and improve our skills and strengths. I encouraged Anna to be kind to herself when she tried something new or stepped out of her comfort zone, regardless of the outcome. She chose three positive affirmations to say to herself at the start of the day.
This is something I do with all of my clients. Anna and I took a session to identify and assess her values, and what mattered most to her. She was (is) kind, and a good listener and she wanted to contribute something meaningful to her team. We worked on incorporating these values into every decision she made, to live a life aligned with her values because when we do that, fear of criticism becomes less important.
This is perhaps the hardest challenge we face and Anna was no exception. Whilst getting recognition from others feels great, it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t believe them. It was this lesson that really underpinned all of the other work that Anna and I did together. We worked on acknowledging her strengths and accepting them and what she had to offer to the new role.
I asked her “Would you doubt a friend who took on a new job?” The answer of course was no. Anna was able to see her friend’s strengths and how she would be amazing in a new role and so we worked to apply that same compassion and kindness that she had for her friend, to herself.
Comparison is the thief of joy
Many of us experience self-doubt as we fear we are falling behind compared to someone else. We aren’t making the money they are, we aren’t moving up the ladder like the person who started at a similar time etc. This comparisonitis can feel paralysing. Anna and I talked about control and how we can only control our own behaviours and actions. She focused on her own path and where she wanted to go and what she wanted to be known for as a leader. We worked on her own leadership style and where she could close the gaps in her own knowledge based on her career development strategy.
Find your tribe
Anna already had a supportive network so she continued to nurture those relationships. Having a supportive tribe is important for your mental health and when you’re having a bad day they can remind you of your resilience and strengths. Anna was struggling to ask for help and so she leant on her tribe for advice, reassurance and to provide practical support when needed – with no shame or guilt!
There were also a couple of specific exercises that Anna worked on:
Past achievements exercise
Our brains are hardwired to look for the negative and society encourages us to be modest and humble. A recipe for hiding our light under a bush! One of the coaching exercises we did was to draw a timeline, highlighting times when Anna had felt something had gone well and when she felt it hadn’t. This works as a visual representation of the cyclical nature of life – sometimes things work, and sometimes they don’t.
It’s useful to recognise that in times when we have been challenged we have often achieved more than we think. Many of these achievements are born out of initial uncertainty and doubt and when we remember these moments we realise that if it could happen then, it could happen again. Anna looked for lessons that she could learn from and how to use them to improve her present.
As part of the coaching, I encouraged Anna to keep a journal of three things she was grateful for each day and also one thing she felt proud of. I didn’t ask her to share but I know from my own experience, these entries can cover everything from getting a new job to remembering to do the dishes!
She also wrote down any thoughts of self-doubt or experiences with imposter syndrome in order to get them out of her head. This makes the concerns smaller usually and you feel more able to create actions to deal with them – or ignore them! This can help to gradually overcome self-doubt.
Being mindful of your thinking
One of the trickiest things about doubting yourself is that we are so used to these thoughts that when they creep in, we don’t recognise them. Doubt thrives on thoughts that tell us we are unworthy or that we won’t produce good work. If you are suffering from thoughts like these, take a moment and ask yourself if you really believe that they are true.
If you believe they are and you can’t shift them by moving your focus, getting support from your tribe, or challenging them with counter-arguments or positive affirmations then ask for professional help. Whilst the tips I have outlined in this article do work, they don’t work for everyone. Sometimes you need a bit more help and that’s OK. This is especially true if your feelings persist to the point that makes it difficult for you to function in everyday life.