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Overcoming self-doubt in the workplace

photo credit: via photopin cc
Rebecca Kincade on February 6, 2014 - 6:45 am in Advice, Featured Advice

Dr Michael C Paterson OBE, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, tmr health professionals, considers the impact of self-doubt in the workplace and provides some key steps to overcoming it. 

You may have noticed that some people seem to strive forward, taking on challenges and new projects without a second thought. Others seem to hold back, hesitating, as if unsure whether it is safe to do so. Why might this be? Inevitably it comes back to self-belief which, in turn, affects the confidence we have in facing new challenges.

So why then do some people lack confidence and hold back? It is to do with what they have learned in the past. This influences how they see things in the present and effects how they would do things in the future.

Life experiences

Going through life experiences we learn different things about ourselves. These become reference points which inform the way we see ourselves in future situations. This affects our attitudes and then our behaviour.

For example, a business person received frequent criticisms from a parent during their childhood years. This meant that they started to see themselves as defective in some way, but, despite this, still achieved academically and went to university. They went into a job that required them to take responsibility but always lacked confidence when asked to take on a particular project. This person had learned, “I’m not good enough” and this impacted on them when they were faced with new situations. As a result, they felt anxious about taking on new things as they were afraid to fail.

They procrastinated, putting things off to the last moment and then when the pain of not doing something became greater than the perceived pain of doing it, they were motivated to action. When moving forward with the project, they put themselves under undue stress and became more anxious as a result.

Stress and tension

When faced with a situation we perceive as threatening, the primitive parts of our brain trigger the release of stress hormones. When we experience this we feel the fear response and then are motivated to avoid. When this occurs, it leads to tension in the body, often along with negative self thoughts, anxiety and physical discomfort. There are things which we can do to help counteract this and take control, through activating a relaxed state.

There is a relaxation and calming exercise available on YouTube, free of charge.  You can find it here: 

Positive steps

When doubting your ability to deal with a particular challenge you can take positive steps to challenge the negative automatic thoughts which can come into your mind. Consider what the challenge is and then take a page and draw a line down the centre.  Label the left column ‘positive’ and the right column ‘negative.’

In the ‘negative’ column write down the negative thoughts which come up in relation to facing the challenge. Then on the left hand side, write down the successes you have had, in recent times and even going even further back. Don’t hold back with what you consider to be positive, write down the positive attributes which you have and even the smallest success you have achieved. By doing this you counter balance the negativity which is at the back of your mind.

Ignore the critics

Often people have a critical voice which they would hear nagging at the back of their minds as they shy away from facing a challenge or taking on a project. This also arises from those early life experiences but there are ways to manage it. What I suggest you try next time the voice plays in your mind is change it to Donald Duck’s voice. Although, Donald Duck is a belligerent character, nobody can take him seriously! Another way to deal with that critical voice is to imagine it as a figure standing on the palm of your hand. Shrink it down to about one centimetre in height and then just blow it away with a sharp breath out. Notice how that feels when you do it.

The issue of self-doubt and, dealing with it, is something which has been around for a long time. Many years ago I learned another strategy for dealing with procrastination. This came from a personal development guru known as Brian Tracey. The story goes that Brian was working with a group of executives. He said to them, “The first thing you need to do each day is eat a raw, live frog.” Understandably, the executives winced at the thought of it and some even felt nauseous. However, when they were asked if they didn’t eat it what would happen?  The executives were in agreement: the frog would have grown bigger and uglier looking as the day went on. So what was the solution? Eat the frog!

In summary, we will hold ourselves back, based on experiences we have had in the past. We can deal with these by remaining calm. This allows us then to think in more rational ways when we can move forward and “eat the frog.”

To find out more please visit: www.trauma-stress.co.uk




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  • February 12, 2014

    Excellent article – love the Donald Duck trick !