Self-Doubt: How To Overcome It And Progress Your Career

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Most of us will have feelings of self-doubt now and again. But persistent self-doubt can be a big impediment in the workplace, and an obstacle to progressing one’s career. Why? Well, it can prevent us from taking risks, pursuing our ambitions and ultimately achieving our full potential.

But the good news is that it is possible to overcome self-doubt. Here we’ll outline some steps you could take to regain confidence and control, with the goal of moving forward with your career goals.

Key points:

  • Self-doubt can manifest in a number of ways, and it’s important to recognise it in yourself before you can take steps to tackle it. Types of self-doubt include fear of failure, imposter syndrome, excessive reliance on external validation, overanalysing, and comparing oneself unfavourably to others.
  • Signs of self-doubt include the inability to accept compliments or take credit, the need for constant reassurance, and low self-esteem.
  • Steps to overcoming it begin with identifying the source of your self doubt; followed by focusing on your strengths and accomplishments; setting realistic goals; challenging negative self-perception; seeking support; and practising self-care.

The first step: Recognising your self-doubt

It’s natural to experience misgivings from time to time. But when it becomes a persistent pattern, it can hold you back. Likewise, humility is a good attribute to have – but if it’s at your own expense, then it needs to be addressed.

Ultimately, self-doubt is a defence mechanism. It’s there to spare us from embarrassment, from disappointment and from getting hurt. But it’s also motivated by fear, and can prevent us from taking exactly the type of risks we need to embrace in order to progress.

Before you can overcome self-doubt, it’s important to recognise its presence. Acknowledging your self-doubt can help you to better understand its underlying causes, and develop strategies to manage it.

Types of self-doubt

#1. Fear of failure

Self-doubt can manifest itself in different ways. For example, the fear of failure or making mistakes can hinder your progress. It can make you question your abilities, leading to avoidance or self-sabotage to avoid even the possibility of failure.

#2. Imposter syndrome

Another way self-doubt can manifest is imposter syndrome. This is the belief that you’re not competent enough to justify your position. For instance, you may feel like you don’t belong in a certain job role – possibly even that you’re a fraud.

Even if your accomplishments belie this, you might attribute success to luck or other external factors. As such, you end up minimising your own abilities.

#3. External validation

Another type of self-doubt could be where your confidence and self-worth relies excessively on external validation. However, if you constantly seek approval and validation from others, it can undermine your belief in your own abilities. Belief in yourself has to come from within.

#4. Overanalysing

You might also struggle to make decisions on account of overanalysing. Worrying about making the wrong choice even when it comes to small decisions can also hamper you from moving forward.

#5. Making comparisons

It’s also common for people with self-doubt to compare themselves unfavourably to others . Other people’s successes can make them feel inadequate by comparison – which can be exacerbated if these achievements splashed over social media, for example.

💡Tell-tale signs that you’re doubting yourself💡

There are several signs which could indicate that you’re dealing with self-doubt, either in your personal life or in the workplace. These include:

  • Inability to accept compliments from others 
  • Never giving yourself credit
  • The need for constant reassurance
  • Low self-esteem
  • Persistent negative thoughts about yourself

*Self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence are closely related. Find out more about how to improve self-confidence, both for you and your team.

6 Steps you can take to overcome self-doubt

Once you’ve recognised your self-doubt, you’ve made a powerful start to overcoming it. These are the next steps to take to help minimise it, and ideally leave it behind you completely.

#1. Identify the source of your self-doubt

Self-doubt can arise from a variety of sources, such as past failures – actual or perceived. Or it can come from negative feedback. If you’ve been told that you’re not good enough at something, it can have a lasting effect. Self-doubt might also stem from the way you were raised. It will certainly have come from somewhere, as we’re not born with it.

Identifying the specific source of your self-doubt can help you address it more effectively. For example, if your self-doubt stems from negative feedback, you could take steps forward by learning from your mistakes, and paying heed to constructive criticism.

#2. Focus on your strengths and accomplishments

The human brain is a funny thing. It’s sadly all-too easy to focus on our weaknesses and shortcomings. However, these don’t define us. It’s important to also recognise our strengths and accomplishments, and celebrate them.

Take a bit of time to reflect on your successes. Think of something you’ve done that’s awesome. These achievements must have come from somewhere. Next, consider the skills and qualities that helped you to achieve these successes. This can help boost your confidence and remind you of your capabilities.

#3. Set realistic goals

Setting realistic goals can help to overcome self-doubt. It can do this by giving you a clear direction and a sense of purpose.

It’s worth noting that ‘realistic’ is the operative word here. You should always set goals that are achievable and within your control. Setting unrealistic, overly ambitious goals is counter-productive, and can actually fan the flames of your self-doubt if you fall short.

When it comes to setting goals, break down larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps. Take time to celebrate each achievement along the way.

Find out more about setting goals and improving motivation using Locke’s goal setting theory.

#4. Seek out support and feedback

Having a support system can be invaluable when it comes to overcoming self-doubt. So this could include friends, family members, mentors or colleagues. People who know you well are best placed to provide encouragement, advice and feedback.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to share your concerns with others. Constructive feedback can also be helpful in addressing specific areas of self-doubt.

#5. Give yourself a little TLC

The importance of looking after your mental health can’t be overstated. Self-care is essential for managing self-doubt and maintaining your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Practising self-care could include exercise, meditation, or simply getting enough sleep. Take time to engage in activities which bring you joy and fulfilment. Taking care of yourself can help to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve your overall confidence and resilience.

#6. Challenge negative self-perception

Negative thoughts about yourself can be a major contributor to self-doubt, regardless of how fleeting. When you notice yourself engaging in negative self-thought, challenge it by asking yourself:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it kind?

Try to reframe negative thoughts into more positive and constructive ones. For instance, “I keep making mistakes” can be framed more helpfully as “I’m capable of learning from my mistakes”.

“Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo”

A famous quote by Jon Sinclair, famously adopted by ex-football player and manager and now Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, “failure is a bruise, not a tattoo”, seeks to change the mindset of fearing failure and making mistakes, but rather to embrace the risks of making decisions to progress your life or career.

This fear of failure can often be a major source of self-doubt. However, it’s important to recognise that failure is a natural part of the learning process, and that every successful person has experienced failure at some point, even Gary Neville.

Rather than seeing failure as a reflection of your abilities, try to embrace it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reflect on what you can do differently next time, and use the experience to improve your skills and knowledge.

How to tackle self-doubt, in summary

While self-doubt can clearly prove a major obstacle to career progression, it’s by no means insurmountable. We hope you find that – by following the steps we’ve outlined in this guide, and believing in yourself – it’s possible to overcome your self-doubt. While this is a benefit in itself, achieving a sense of confidence and purpose should also help progress your career.

However, it’s important to remember that overcoming self-doubt is a journey, not a destination. It requires ongoing work, and you may find that you experience challenges and setbacks along the way. This is normal. But with strategies in place, and a little persistence, you can build the confidence and resilience needed to reach your full potential – whether in the workplace or otherwise.

We have confidence in you, and feel hopeful that you’ll share in this.

Did you know? You can gain confidence in the workplace by becoming a better public speaker .

Picture of Andrew Wallbridge
Andrew Wallbridge
Andrew is TSW's Head of Leadership & Management. He’s coached and mentored leaders and the senior management teams at international brands.
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