What is self-doubt? Let me explain with an illustration. It’s one of those days when self-doubt feeders are having a field day. You’ve just walked out of your morning management meeting and you’re no longer feeling 10 feet tall. That encounter you had over the week’s figures with Julie has left you feeling severely diminished and not because the figures were bad.
You went into the meeting on a high but the exchange has left you wondering whether you’re really up to the job. And that’s not something you’ve felt since you started in the role. You’re enjoying your day less. You’ve lost your flow. Your enthusiasm for getting the report done ahead of deadline is no longer there. Even though you were confident this goal was achievable, you’re just not sure any more.
The Causes are Often Hidden from View
Can you honestly say, at any moment during the day, you were conscious that a particular moment has influenced your self-belief? Often several elements are at play and it’s not uncommon for them to be hidden from view.
They can be really small incidents and often involve people close to you. Was it that snatched conversation about the day’s challenges you had with your partner before you left for work or that throw-away line on the phone from your good friend?
Outsized Knock-on Impact
When your assistant asks you for a decision on the format of the report, to their complete surprise, you are reluctant to give a definitive response. You’re usually so confident and easy about such things. Finding this confusing, your assistant starts asking specific questions rather more assertively than usual.
You retreat to your office feeling hurt, threatened and even more deflated. You sit down at your desk saying to yourself, “I can’t even help with a simple response to a simple question. I am hopeless”.
Such knock-on negative impacts are common and include:
- Feeling shaky both inwardly and outwardly
- More difficult emotions that have negative effects on you and others
- Less likelihood of taking a stand on an issue even if it’s one that is ordinarily quite clear to you
- Annoying or even angering others whose responses then cause you to back away even more
- Becoming defensive
- Losing the inclination to work out what the feeders were.
As you think about what happened at the meeting, feeling hurt and defensive, you conclude that it was Julie’s questions that took your confidence away. You feel threatened and then angry, a natural emotion following the belief that something has been taken away or is at risk of being taken away from you.
When your assistant comes back to ask about the report again, feeling that another attack is coming, you protect yourself with a rather brittle request to stop bothering you with things they are quite capable of working out without you. Your normally easy and consultative relationship is disrupted as they retaliate with in-kind defensiveness.
How to Break the Self-perpetuating Cycle
What is difficult is that just when it’s most needed, your awareness of your impact on your assistant – and potentially others – is reduced and that makes it even more difficult to make sense of their manner with you, which can again feed your lower self-esteem. You’ve effectively been collecting evidence to support your theory that you are indeed hopeless. It’s time to stop, step back and perhaps even make a conscious break with your past history of coping with self-doubt.
You need to give yourself the time and space to make better sense of your immediate state. It’s time to recognise what you’ve bought into and created, and work out what you need to do to make good; it’s time to suspend judgement and self-criticism as you revisit the day and make sense of how you have got to where you are now. If you’re finding this a struggle, it really helps to share the situation with a highly trusted, non-judgemental person – one who is not going to jump to making suggestions and offering solutions but will listen, prompt with questions and allow you to find your own way to a greater awareness.
Such properly directed reflection – most important but often least sought when the day is a busy one - is a pathway to greater peace of mind, better leadership, more effective interactions and more constructive achievement of what is most important to you.
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