4 Steps to Tackle Self Doubt

Looking back at my professional career, I recognize my own tendency to beat myself up over minor mistakes. While careful self-reflection can be helpful, for instance by learning from mistakes we become better at our jobs, too much self-criticism can also be an unproductive waste of energy.

Here are the steps:

  1. Forgiveness
  2. Understanding
  3. Compassion
  4. Knowledge

In other words: F. U. C. K.! Something about yelling the f-word in my head breaks the stream of rumination, in addition to reminding me of a different way to approach self-recrimination.

First, I take a deep breath and offer myself forgiveness. Taking a recent example, when I found a typo in a resume I just sent to half-a-dozen companies then I felt super embarrassed, especially because I claim to be a detail-oriented writer. I think, “If a friend did this, what would I say to them?” I would reassure them that everyone is human and mistakes happen. Besides, no one is reading your resumes very closely — I hope.

Next, I analyze the situation and try to understand what when wrong. For example, the reason I had an error in my resume is that I was in a rush send in applications to meet the daily goals I’ve set for myself. I edited this version of my resume quickly for the day’s applications, and I didn’t take the time to have someone else give it a once-over. This step is about reflecting on my own emotions and motivations. In this example, I was motivated to meet my goals, and I’m afraid that making a writing error reflects poorly on me as a writer. And I already feel worried about the job search, and making a mistake on applications brings up that anxiety.

Third, I try to offer myself compassion. Compassion is a sympathetic concern, such as, “It’s really hard to apply to jobs perfectly every time. Job searching is difficult and everyone struggles with it.” Sometimes, I will literally talk to myself in my mind. I also ask myself: is there anything I can do right now to help myself feel better?

Finally, I use my knowledge to make a plan to avoid those circumstances, to prevent myself from making the same mistake, or to devise a strategy for dealing with the situation differently next time.

Changing old habits is difficult, but I’ve found that an easy-to-remember strategy makes all the difference.