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How to Stop Being So Hard on Yourself at Work

Four methods to help you ease your internal battle.

Key points

  • "Sensitive strivers" are sensitive high achievers who feel things more deeply than others do. They tend to set a very high bar for achievement.
  • Sensitive strivers often over-identify with their work—every deliverable, every task, and every project becomes a life-or-death situation.
  • To give yourself a break try looking at the bigger picture and redefining what a “win” looks like.
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
Building your confidence means keeping your inner critic in check.
Source: Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

You start the workweek ready to tackle your tasks, feeling confident, but then, it happens.

You don’t speak up during an important meeting, and the critical voice in your head starts.

“They’re going to think you’re not engaged. How could you let that opportunity go by?”

You try to brush it off. Then you catch a typo in a report you submitted. “Can’t I get anything right?”

Add to this the constant feeling that you have to attend every meeting, start work earlier, and finish work later than everyone else in order to be a team player.

It’s a recipe for self-doubt and burnout.

If all this sounds a bit too familiar, then you’re not alone.

Many "sensitive strivers" are prone to beating themselves up. Perfectionism and people-pleasing lead you to be your own harshest critic. Perfectionist as you are, you feel as if every little setback is the end of the world.

It doesn’t have to be like this, though. You don’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time and energy being so hard on yourself.

Here are strategies to help you get out of your own way and develop a healthy mindset.

How to Stop Being So Hard on Yourself at Work

1. Look at the bigger picture.

Sensitive strivers tend to set a very high bar for achievement. This tendency is what may cause you to criticize yourself and, as a result, to zero in on singular events like:

The one mistake you made on that report...

The one meeting where you couldn’t think of anything useful to add...

The one time you told a joke that fell flat...

And, of course, once your brain has latched onto that one thing, it’s a quick mental leap to “I’m not good enough. All my colleagues are better workers than me. What am I even doing here?”

But zoom out for a second and try looking at your performance on aggregate. Rather than focusing on your performance on a single day or during a single Zoom meeting, how are you doing overall? What does the general curve of your performance look like?

Think about your performance like a bell curve. Most days, you’re probably going to perform average or higher than average. Some days, you’ll be below average… and that’s okay. It happens. Your general performance isn’t going to be tanked by one bad day. So try to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

2. Redefine what a “win” looks like.

As a sensitive striver, you have a natural tendency to define achievement in a hyper-specific way: complete and total excellence at all times. You don’t need to lower your bar, but you do need to broaden your scope of what qualifies as a “win.”

For example, as a sensitive striver, you might hesitate to speak up unless you have something of immense value to share. However, even half-formed ideas can provide immense value and be considered a “win.” Your suggestion may be a useful jumping-off point and spark a chain of thoughts that lead to an exciting breakthrough, for example.

Beyond speaking up in a meeting, you can more broadly expand your definition of a “win” to encompass:

  • Overcoming resistance or fear
  • Pushing back and standing up for what you think is right
  • Approaching a situation with a different mindset or attitude

By shifting your definition of success to include more possibilities, you’ll gain the confidence to share more often and stop beating yourself up over having “nothing to contribute.”

3. Reframe the relationship between your identity and your work.

Sensitive strivers often over-identify with their work–every deliverable, every task, and every project becomes a live-or-die situation. It feels like your whole identity is bound up in your work. If your performance is anything less than excellent, then that means you are less than excellent. And that’s a road to anxiety.

Remember, you are not your work. If someone doesn’t like your idea or presents you with negative feedback, it’s about the content, not about you. This can take a little mental practice (especially if you have the mental habit of conflating yourself with your work, as many sensitive strivers do.)

One useful strategy here is to make a list of positives or things you’re proud of that have nothing to do with your work. These could be accomplishments like sticking to your morning yoga practice or being the go-to in your family for a fantastic dinner.

But it’s even better to look at your inherent traits–for instance, you may have a knack for using your empathy as a superpower, or you might feel proud of the level of commitment and dedication you bring to friendships. Untangling your perceived value as a human from your performance trains you to see your self-worth as non-negotiable.

4. Change the “what if” narrative to work to your advantage.

Instead of criticisms, ask yourself more constructive questions like:

  • What if the senior leadership team loves my work?
  • What if this is the breakthrough the project needs to finally move forward?
  • What if this proposal revolutionizes how we work as a team?

Your brain is wired to look for answers to questions. So instead of using your brainpower to go down a negative rabbit hole, direct all that creativity towards scenarios that empower you rather than drag you down.

As a sensitive striver, you tend to be harder on yourself than others. And while your sensitivity can drag you down if you let it get out of hand, if you’re aware of it, you can use it to your advantage.

Try these tips to give yourself a break, gain a little more perspective, and actually recognize what you’re doing right rather than focusing on what–if anything–you’re getting wrong.

More from Melody Wilding, LMSW
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