At home, I’m the ideas woman. I’m full of suggestions to improve my house, streamline my schedule, and make sure I’m making the most of every ounce of free time I have. I watch Shark Tank and throw my hands in the air — you call those innovations? I’m full of ideas for better ones.
But at work, in an environment that urges workers to “fail fast, fail often,” I mostly sit silently in meetings. “I’m sure someone has already thought of this,” I think when fresh ideas come to mind. “If it was a good idea, we’d already be doing it…” It’s an ever present self-doubt that keeps me from voicing my thoughts.
How to Tell if Your Self-Doubt is Unhealthy
A little self-doubt is healthy and normal. After all, we’ve all had moments where we’ve questioned whether we are doing enough, questioned our success, or leaned too heavily into uncertainties. We’ve doubted our decisions or been presented with opportunities where our reaction has been: “I am not good enough for that, I don’t deserve it.” It becomes unhealthy when you let this self-doubt derail you from what you’ve set out to accomplish.
When self-doubt — and negative talk — becomes a habit, it can prevent you from grabbing opportunities that come your way and acts as self-sabotage. When it keeps you from improving and stuck in an endless loop of self-loathing and negativity, you’re caught in a mental paralysis.
Below are three signs that self-doubt and the fear of getting things wrong could be undermining your ability to turn thoughts into action:
You’re constantly apologizing
Being polite is a great characteristic, but if you find yourself apologizing all day, it could be a sign of low self-esteem — especially if you’ve done nothing wrong.
I recently caught myself apologizing to my boss for popping into his office at our scheduled meeting time, and realized the lack of self-confidence this conveyed. My boss agreed to this time slot, and my time is valuable, too. Realizing how often I apologize when someone else is in the wrong, or no one is at fault, has helped me realize little changes that can be made in how I convey myself to others.
You second guess yourself
Confident people make informed decisions and stick with them. People with self-doubt second-guess themselves, even after they’ve done their research and come to an educated conclusion.
Overthinking leads to the inability to make firm decisions, and that fear prevents actions from taking place. When you make any decision, for better or for worse, you effect change. And it’s scary to be responsible for change. But decisions can have a strong, positive impact and it’s important to remember that. We need to break the assumption that a decision will end up hurting someone’s feelings, rocking the boat, or causing friction.
You’d rather be in the background
It’s OK to step back until you’re ready for the spotlight, but constantly blending into the background and trying to hide can be a sign of low self-esteem. In fact, psychologists Thomas Gilovich, Victoria Husted Medvec, and Kenneth Savitsky have coined the term spotlight effect. With the visual of imaginary spotlights, people who suffer from self-doubt create smaller, weaker lives than they deserve because they think that is what they deserve.
Those who suffer from the spotlight effect don’t allow themselves to do what their hearts and minds desire. They’re worried that critics will judge them, coworkers will gossip, or that their decision will cause the worst to happen, In an effort to not be embarrassed, they stay as far away from the light as possible.
Eliminating Self-Doubt Leads You to the Life You Want
The problem with self-doubt is that the fear it creates stops you from living the life you want — and deserve. To change that, you want to teach your brain to say “yes” when you feel that fear of failure is holding you back. Easier said than done, but the first step is acknowledging that self-doubt is often made up of exaggerated, irrational thoughts.
The voice inside your head that says you’re not good enough, that you’re wrong, and that it’s not worth speaking up or taking action, is quite convincing. But it’s often not right. If you believe those lies, your insecurities will hold you back.
So, acknowledge that self-doubt exists, but make an action plan to silence it moving forward. Responding to that negative voice with a healthier inner dialogue will help you develop the mental strength you need to perform at your peak this year and beyond.