Message from Your Older Self: Lighten Up!

Every business career hits speed bumps. You know, those times when obstacles pop up unexpectedly, you seem stuck with outdated approaches to your work, or you constantly seem to be on the wrong course. The bad news is, everyone is prone to these problems now and then. The good news is, there are straightforward but not always easy ways to get your business mojo back.

That’s what we’re talking about, how to avoid or recover from the habit of self-doubt. 

Yes, everyone thinks about being more effective and efficient at work. That’s self-reflection, a good practice, which benefits anyone’s career. But we’re talking about persistent feelings of unworthiness or a lack of essential knowledge or skills that lead to specific examples (you think) of sub-par performance.

Time to Face the Beast

Do you find yourself using time thinking about examples of your less-than-perfect performance at work? That’s rumination, a prime indicator of self-doubt. If you have this problem, remember, you can act and neutralize it. You’ll find that it’s worth the effort and occasional discomfort of dealing with what could become a career-crippling habit.

Self-doubters travel in the wrong direction… There are many reasons why self-doubt is a bad thing. The three biggest reasons include: 

  • Your “mistakes” or shortcomings can’t be changed. Yes, this is an obvious point but an important one. Self-doubt takes you out of the present, where action and accomplishment occur. Instead, it makes you live in a painful past or the unknowable future. The ROI of this habit: a big, fat 0.
  • You get into the habit of lying to yourself. When you doubt yourself, you develop the habit of assuming that you’re always lacking, unable to succeed, or can’t make an effective decision. Just as it’s unlikely that you’re always right, you can’t always come up short.
  • You miss opportunities to contribute in a positive way. There will always be opportunities to take powerful, relevant action, but self-doubt puts blinders one you. You can walk right by a first-rate idea or solution without knowing it. Why walk past opportunities for success?

…and others follow their lead

If you doubt yourself, others will doubt you, too. This can create all sorts of career fallout, such as:

  • Colleagues and partners failing to see you as a capable professional. If you seem wishy-washy about your knowledge or abilities, why would anyone ask you to contribute to team efforts, a pillar of modern business?
  • Stakeholders becoming reluctant to invest in your projects or ideas. If you can’t project the ability to “deliver the goods,” whatever they might be, you’ll be less likely to make the positive contributions that you want to make. 

Okay, you say, all of this sounds good, but what can a self-doubter do to get beyond the mantra of never being good enough? 

Neutralizing Self-Doubt with Kindness and Self-Awareness

Here are three time-proven ways to get out of the mental rut of feeling ineffective. Think of these thoughts as instructions and well wishes sent from your older, wiser self to the career-minded person you are today.

Be more aware of your thoughts and growth opportunities.

How you view yourself can affect how you perform at work and how you recognize opportunities as well as mistakes. Knowing yourself is an essential part of decision making. So, it makes sense to get a very clear idea of who you are and what you want to accomplish. Try these methods: 

  • Define your path, and then following it. You won’t get far in decision making until you get a clear vision of yourself—your goals, values, and places in life that you refuse to go. Realizing who you are and what you are and are not willing to do makes choices in everyday life much easier. 
  • See yourself as the person you want to become. No one said that accomplishing the previous task is easy. It might help, however, to identify one or several people you admire and focus on useful traits that they have. Link these admirable, useful traits to aspects of your work. Document them for future use. 
  • Take time to develop yourself. Learning how to stop self-doubt is within everyone’s reach. But building self-confidence requires development of knowledge, skills, and experience over time. Think of mistakes or missteps as enablers of not obstacles to your long-term development. Document them and maybe even review them, briefly, at times. Think of what you want to develop (admirable, useful traits) and avoid (mistakes of the past). When you link them, you have a customized recipe for success—yours. 

Time has many important roles in developing self-confidence. Here are several more.

Live in the here and now. 

As we mentioned earlier, the present is the realm of action and accomplishment, the only time in which you can succeed. So, it pays to:

  • Focus on current reality. Learning from past events and decisions can be a positive force. Spending time going over past mistakes or dread of the future never is. Don’t dwell on past mistakes. Learn from them, then move on.
  • Stop your calendar obsession. Even if you don’t have the wish to succeed while very young and retire early, you might have created time-related goals that make every decision riskier and more difficult to make. If self-confidence is a challenge, you might want to put that schedule aside at least for a while. There’s time to accomplish long-term goals without adding time pressure to the discomfort of learning to make decisions.

And finally, there’s kindness to oneself. Without it, none of these suggestions work.

Be kind to yourself.

There’s no cosmic law that says business success requires pain and suffering. Hard work and focus, yes, but not pain and suffering. Here are some ways to avoid inflicting them on yourself.

  • Stop keeping score. Keeping an eye out for general trends can be a positive thing. Obsessing about more or fewer successes so far this year isn’t. When looking at an individual success or mistake, STOP. It probably didn’t matter much then and matters less now.
  • Be your own cheerleader. Document the accomplishments you make and the positive outcomes that they create, Review these as often as needed to convince yourself that all in all, you’re on the right path.
  • Become (more) comfortable with the unknown. The unquenchable need to know what’s going to happen is a major cause of self-doubt. The more water you can throw on the fiery need to know, the more confident decision maker you’ll become.
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