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4 Ways to Soothe Your Professional Competence Anxiety

Do you sometimes feel anxious about your work skills or performance?

Key points

  • Even if you're generally confident, you may have some anxiety about your work skills and performance.
  • Compassionate self-talk has been shown to increase people's motivation to improve themselves.
  • One strategy to use when feeling self-doubt is to remind yourself that you don't always lack confidence.
Amy Hirschi/Unsplash
Source: Amy Hirschi/Unsplash

A common form of anxiety is being anxious about your professional competence. Even if you are generally confident, you may have some anxiety about your work skills and performance.

Your anxiety may be severe and persistent, or milder and intermittent. Regardless it often manifests in thoughts like the following:

  • Am I good at my job?
  • Are my peers at work better than me?
  • Will I succeed in the ways that are important to me?
  • Is the work I do valuable? Do I provide value to others in my role, or am I a weak link or dead weight?
  • Will my imperfections eventually be discovered, leading me to lose my status and security?

When you experience anxiety about your professional competence, these four self-talk phrases can help balance your thinking and soothe your feelings.

Soothing Self-Talk for Professional Competence Anxiety

1. "My flaws and weaknesses don't make me incompetent."

Anxious people tend to catastrophize. Here's one way this manifests at work: When they see themselves as having a weakness or flaw, they often see that as catastrophic when it isn't. We're all better at some things and worse at others; for example, I'm not particularly good at record-keeping or consistency.

Instead of catastrophizing your flaws, try acknowledging that they're real without jumping to the conclusion they're fatal flaws. Doing this may help motivate you to improve your imperfections rather than alternating between trying to avoid those painful thoughts and dwelling on them at other times.

2. "My peers may be better than me at some aspects of our role, but that doesn't mean I'm terrible."

This phrase reflects a similar principle to the last one. It's OK to see others' relative strengths and your relative weaknesses without swinging to the extreme of thinking you're completely awful.

Try acknowledging that it can be nice to work with or be in the orbit of others with strengths you don't. It can be a tad narcissistic to think that you should be better than everyone at everything (for more about this topic, see the sections about vulnerable narcissism in this Psychology Today post by Scott Barry Kaufman). That perfectionistic, sometimes narcissistic, thinking doesn't allow room for others to have and show their strengths.

3. "I'm having the 'confidence wobbles' today."

When you feel self-doubt, use this phrase to remind yourself that you don't always feel unconfident. Fluctuating confidence is more common than chronically low confidence. The phrase will help you recognize that the tide of your feelings could change tomorrow (or later today!).

Sometimes when we feel unconfident, an unexpected boost to our confidence is just around the corner. For example, you could receive an unexpected compliment or perform especially well at a task, despite your anxiety, and surprise yourself.

4. "I'm going to express my deepest values through my approach to my work."

Instead of seeing your work as a minefield of anxiety, try seeing it as an opportunity to express your most important values. Using your values as your compass will help stop you from getting sucked or suckered into other people's values (such as the values of "hustle culture"). Say that bravery, equality, and adventure are your top three values, for example; how can you infuse those into the core tasks you are required to do in your work role?

Do this instead of doing extra tasks or tasks more elaborately than you need to. Figuring out how to infuse your deepest values into your core work tasks is a skill that will improve with practice, and I've written a lot more about how to do this in my book Stress-Free Productivity.

(If you're looking for other relevant self-talk phrases, the ones here, especially #3, are also relevant.)

How Can You Tell If Your Self-Talk is Effective?

Compassionate self-talk has been shown to increase people's motivation to improve themselves. If it does this for you, it's working. The idea is for you to be quietly motivated to improve without the sense that needing to "fix" who you are now constitutes an emergency.

Does your self-talk help you see that even though you're not perfect, you're not the incompetent mess you sometimes fear? Effective self-talk doesn't lead to us ignoring or avoiding our real, small imperfections and mistakes or avoiding other people who have strengths we admire. Instead, it should help you get into the "iron sharpens iron" mindset.


Boyes. (2022). Stress-Free Productivity.…