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3 Consequences of Chronic Self-Doubt and What to do About Them

In this guest post, Talk Boutique Speaker & Founder of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, Louisa Jewell shares her tips for feeling confident and overcoming self-doubt.

I believe that smart professionals who truly want to be confident and successful must learn the strategies that enable them to be positive every day – no matter what life throws at them.

Do you ever wonder why you find yourself hesitating at work for fear that you might fail or be rejected? Do you question if you are “good enough” to go after that next promotion?

You may be suffering from self-doubt.

Self-doubt is a lack of confidence in one’s abilities—which is different than self-esteem. Self-esteem is more of a global evaluation of how you feel about yourself, but the two are very highly related.

Having self-doubt when you are embarking on something new is normal. If we are not sure how to master something at the beginning, feelings of self-doubt may cause us to say “Hey have you practiced enough? Have you researched this enough?” This can motivate you to work harder and put more effort into your endeavor and do a better job.

Self-doubt is only harmful when it is chronic. So how do you know the difference?

Chronic self-doubters are more focused on not failing than they are on the task at hand. They find it difficult to enjoy their work because they are filled with anxiety as they approach certain tasks.

There are many consequences of self-doubt, but here are three that scientists have discovered could be a sign that you are sabotaging your success:

  • Self-handicapping occurs when we deliberately undermine our performance in some task or endeavor, thereby increasing the likelihood of failure, in an attempt to obscure the reason for failure. For example, if I am plagued with self-doubt and I get really drunk before my performance and do a terrible job, I can now blame the alcohol. This makes me feel better than having to face the fact that I might have failed because of my own shortcomings.
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  • Impostor phenomenon, also referred to as “impostor syndrome,” occurs when a high-achieving individual is incapable of attributing their achievements to their own talent or skills and have ongoing feelings of being a fraud. Any success they have is dismissed as good luck or due to their ability to deceive others that they are more intelligent and talented than they really are. Unlike the self-handicapper who obscures the reason for failure, people with impostor phenomenon obscure the reason for success.
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  • Procrastination allows us to delay a task when we know our performance will be socially evaluated. As human beings we are often more focused and concerned with how our performance will be judged than with the success of the performance itself. If we are worried about how we are going to ‘look’ in front of others, we may put off the task (even indefinitely) to protect our feelings of self-worth.

Do you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself? I know when I first learned about these consequences that I realized I had engaged in every one. So if you do find that self-doubt is hindering your performance at work, here are three things you can do about it.

1. Surround Yourself with Positive and Encouraging People

I know this may be difficult, especially when you find yourself in a situation at work where you are surrounded by negative people who are always bringing you down or criticizing you. Scientists originally thought that self-doubt was driven internally by ourselves or our past experiences. While this is true to an extent, research now shows that self-doubt is very much socially constructed. We are highly sensitive to the social evaluations of others so if someone starts to question us or even just gives us a funny look, we may start to question our abilities.

If it is possible to limit your time with the naysayers, do it. And if you cannot distance yourself from those negative people, then seek out a more positive tribe or hire a coach who you can turn to for positive encouragement and support. Do not underestimate how powerful social connections can be. This is critical for your success, especially if you are embarking on something new.

2. Stop Focusing on ‘Looking Good’ and Start Focusing on ‘Getting Good’

Often, we are so focused on what everyone is going to think about our performance that we become obsessed with looking good all the time, which can negatively affect our performance. Instead of focusing on how this performance is going to make you look, or wondering if you are going to fail, focus more on the task at hand. Start caring more about getting better and better at what you do than caring about what others think about you. Taking the focus off yourself will give you the mental energy to persevere towards your goals.

3. Practice Self-Compassion

Stop beating yourself up after every disappointing performance. Berating yourself only zaps your mental energy and hinders your next performance. Understand that making mistakes and not being perfect is perfectly human. Who ever told you that being perfect is normal is just plain wrong. Nobody is perfect, and no performance is ever perfect, so stop expecting it to be. If you say kind and encouraging words to yourself after things go wrong, you will find it not only helps you bounce back quicker after a setback, but you will be happier too.

For more strategies on how to overcome self-doubt watch for Louisa’s book Wire Your Brain for Confidence; The Science of Conquering Self-Doubt which will hit bookstores on September 21, 2017.

Learn more about Louisa Jewell by reading her speaker feature on the Talk Boutique blog.

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