Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Is Self-Doubt Sabotaging Your Success?

Five ways to feel more confident at work

Ever find yourself hesitating, holding yourself back or even dimming yourself down at work for fear that you’ll be discovered as the imposter you really are? Do you lie awake at night worrying you’re not really “good enough” to achieve the kind of success you dream of?

If you find yourself plagued by self-doubt, you’re not alone. In fact, one study of managers by the European Institute for Leadership and Management revealed that 50% of female managers and 31% of male managers admitted to experiencing self-doubt.

“Unfortunately when we’re worried that our abilities are going to be questioned, we lack the confidence to turn our thoughts into actions,” explained Louisa Jewell, positive psychology and self-doubt expert when I interviewed her recently.

Listen to the full podcast here.

“Self-doubt causes us to engage in self-protective strategies at work like procrastination, hesitation and self-handicapping to avoid failure,” said Louisa. “While we may start out consciously using these strategies, once we realize they’re working they often become unconscious habits that limit our potential for growth and success.”

While often viewed as an internal phenomena – something created by the stories we tell inside our own heads – Louisa points out that researchers are discovering self-doubt is socially constructed.

“Self-doubt is often generated in your mind because of the social evaluations of others,” she explained. “Human beings are generally sensitive creatures, and the moment someone questions you, challenges you or looks at you in a funny way, you start to doubt your own abilities.”

Louisa suggests you can move beyond self-doubt by using the following approaches:

  • Be aware of who you’re surrounding yourself with. Your social network can either increase or reduce your self-doubt. If you’re embarking on something new, make sure you’ve got really supportive people around you who are uplifting you and encouraging you to move forward.
  • Don’t make it all about you. Instead of wondering, “Oh dear, how does that make me look?” or, “What if I fail in front of this person now?”, focus on what you’re trying to create, who you’re trying to serve and what you’re trying to achieve. Try saying instead: “I’m just working away here and I’m going to care less about how I’m looking and more about how I’m serving.”
  • Challenge the mental chatter in your head. Be aware of what you’re saying to yourself. If you find your thoughts are full of negativity and abuse then challenge what you’re saying by asking: “Is that true?” Rather than having your thoughts irrationally hijacked by self-doubt, rationally look for evidence to take a more balanced point of view to what’s really unfolding.
  • Use your strengths. Be aware of the things that you like doing and are good at (you can take a free survey at if you’re not sure) and use these consciously to fuel your confidence to act. When you draw on your strengths it removes your fear of moving forward and taps into your deep-rooted belief that you can be successful, that you have resources and the skills to tackle new challenges.
  • Practice self-compassion. Be willing to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding. Don’t judge yourself harshly or feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego. Instead, embrace the fact that to err is indeed human and try to get a realistic sense of your abilities and actions and then figure out what needs to be done differently next time.

If you’d like more tested, practical ways to show up, shine and succeed at work grab this free podcast series of practical strategies from leading thinkers in the field of human flourishing.

This post first appeared on Live Happy Magazine.

More from Michelle McQuaid Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today