Workplace Wisdom…Are You an Overthinker?

In Chamber by Saralee Rhoads

“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.”  Honore de Balzac

Are you an over-thinker? Do you make decisions and then get caught in a destructive loop of rethinking and reanalyzing them? Do you over think until the idea just dies an unholy and miserable death? Self-doubt often begins in early childhood when your parents tell you that your feelings or thoughts or actions are wrong. After awhile, you begin to doubt yourself. You question yourself constantly: Is every thought, every word, every action a mistake? 

Don’t Take This Pose to the Grave!

Closely tied to low self-esteem, self-doubt manifests itself in several ways. You can spot this tendency in yourself if you hate to give yourself any credit. You probably heard disparaging comments like, “Don’t be getting a big head” or, “No one likes a braggart.” Belittling throughout childhood leads to an adulthood of excessive self-doubt.

Another way to spot this tendency is if you recognize the imposter syndrome as a part of your makeup. Do you secretly feel like one day you’ll be the proverbial emperor with no clothes, called out as a fraud? You feel like your awards, your titles, your grades, your position is somehow a fluke, a mistake; if everyone knew the real you, everything would vanish in a puff of smoke. You didn’t really deserve any of it. This is especially common among young professional women who rose in the workforce amid conflicting expectations of it being a man’s world and their need to overcompensate to get noticed. 

Look at the six descriptions that are symptomatic of self-doubt:

  1. You have trouble accepting praise. (You don’t deserve compliments.)
  2. You are known as a workaholic. (You loop energy into a good project.)
  3. You are driven to do your best. (You’d rather be a big fish in a small sea.)
  4. You are described as being a perfectionist by others. (You, therefore, must always be perfect.)
  5. You are paralyzed by a fear of failure. (It is not an option.)
  6. You think you’re lucky or charming but never accomplished.

If you see yourself in these descriptions, you’re an over-thinker.

Self-doubt is a poison corroding the wires in your brain. Left unchecked, it will eventually shatter you from within. In essence, you are the enemy destroying yourself. Your basic life essence, the source of your internal strength and power, comes into question a hundred times a day and the poison spreads. 

Your self-doubt is sabotaging your success by looping endless self-fulfilling thoughts about each step you undertake. No one is telling you that your ideas are stupid: you are. No one is criticizing your work: you are. Your inner critic, your self-doubt is the enemy of success. 

Research bears this out. A study of more than 600 high school students revealed proof that a self-doubt loop is the only limitation of your ability to achieve your goals. Students were told one of three statements: 

  1. Your IQ is fixed. It cannot be changed.
  2. Rare cases of increasing the IQ have occurred, but that is very rare indeed.
  3. Your IQ fluctuates and does not predict how smart you’ll be a year from now.

The results were revelatory. Students who believed they could become smarter got better grades and accomplished more. The other two groups performed poorly, reinforcing their own self-doubt.

Forget motivational talks. Pep talks will not change you. What will? Action. Taking action that creates a change in attitude removes self-doubt.

  • Write down an assignment you’ve been procrastinating about. If you doubt you can do it, acknowledge those feelings. Next, write down all the evidence showing that you deserve your place at the table. Write down past successes and validating commendations. There is power in seeing this on paper. Realize your past for what it truly is. The strongest method for eliminating self-doubt is dispelling the untruth at its basis. 
  • Learn to stop it in its tracks. Name one self-doubt you have about a current assignment. Now disrupt that loop by writing down proof you can succeed. The process of setting boundaries for your own mind empowers you to stop the self-doubt spiral.
  • Build belief in yourself. Like John and Michael in Peter Pan, who had to believe in pixie dust to be able to fly, you have to believe in the magical pixie dust in your own life as well. Write down one success that led to being given this assignment. You passed a qualifying class, you earned a degree, you did well on a prior assignment. Something led you to where you are today. That trail of accomplishments is your power. Post this list where you can read it every day. Like all the Lost Boys, you have to believe in yourself to accomplish your best. Create the self-fulfilling prophecy of success, not the death-spiral of self-doubt.
  • Build on steps. Celebrate the accomplishment of achieving small goals and  individual steps in achieving this project. These celebrations of yourself begin the process of strengthening the rewiring of your brain. By now you should recognize the following quote to be true. Write down one good step you’ve taken and how to celebrate that accomplishment.

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

William Shakespeare

  • Take yourself out of center stage. One way to eliminate self-doubt is to eliminate the need to be great. The world around you is so busy acting in their own life’s dramas, they aren’t watching your every move. By shifting your focus, you can shift the importance of each thing you do. You can start that project fixing the bathroom floor because no one cares how great it looks. List some good enough parameters. Take those steps.

Over thinking is the enemy of productivity, and it’s an enemy you can fight. Begin to trust yourself. Make a decision and refuse to rethink it. Let it stand on its own merit and realize you are enough. You are good enough. There’s no two ways about it.