Are You Paralyzed by Self-Doubt at Work?

Your doubts, insecurities, fears and anxieties will paralyze you at work – if you let them. These nine questions won’t ask you to analyze your childhood or pick apart your weaknesses. Rather, they’ll help you get focused on specific, practical ways to stop self-doubt from paralyzing you at work. It’s time to stop questioning yourself, feeling unworthy, overthinking your decisions, and sabotaging your career.

Women are more likely to be paralyzed by self-doubt on the job, self-criticism even when colleagues praise them, and fear that they’re not good enough at work. Here’s what Lisa Bloom writes in Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World“One of the best things about men is their confidence, their rightness, their ability to go with their gut and produce. I rarely overhear men in cafes talking about how differently they could have or should have done something.”

Bloom is quoting Rochelle Schieck – founder of Qoya. Schieck also says: “One of the most paralyzing things for a woman is her doubt. Do I have the right job? Did I pick the right partner? Are these the right shoes? Did I pick the right place to go on vacation? Doubt is like an anchor that keeps women rooted in murky waters of disapproval.”

If you doubt yourself, you are not alone. You’re in good company!

A reader recently emailed me, saying she works from home. “When I worked in the office I had to learn how to handle a toxic work environment,” she said. “I think that increased my self-confidence. But now I’ve been isolated from my coworkers and supervisor for two months. My self-doubt getting worse and worse. When I worked in the office I felt confident and connected. Now that I’m physically distant from work – my home office is next to my bedroom – it gets tricky. My mind starts playing games with me. I need help overcoming feelings of insecurity and doubt so I can do my job the way I used to, when I actually went to the office. I’d rather deal with toxic coworkers in person than self-doubt in a remote office.”

9 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt at Work

Self-doubt brings so much fear! We fear failing, not being good enough. We doubt our abilities and we fear rejection. We fear being generous because we doubt our capacity to generate more. We fear we won’t have enough, we fear sharing our thoughts or feelings in case we appear wrong or stupid. Doubt brings mistrust, which appears real even though it may have no real substance. Self-doubt creates worry, nervous disorders, and even paranoia. Of course all those negative feelings lead to workplace paralysis! How could it be any other way?

9 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt at Work
Are You Paralyzed by Self-Doubt at Work?

Usually I encourage us to look within and explore the reasons why we struggle with the problem we’re having. This time, however, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of looking internally for the root of self-doubt, let’s change our behavior at work.

We’ll start by asking questions about work habits. I encourage you to be honest with yourself! The first question, for instance, is about your time management skills. Do you often miss deadlines or ask for extensions on work projects? You may find it painful to be honest about your time management skills, but the truth can help you do your job better. Dealing with the practical issues surrounding your feelings of insecurity and self-doubt will help you deal with workplace paralysis.

1. Is poor time management a source of stress for you?

What is poor time management? Procrastinating, underestimating the time it takes to complete tasks, and spending a lot of time on details that matter less than the more important things. Poor time management leads to stress and anxiety, which increases the feelings of self-doubt that paralyze you at work.

Managing your time better can help you reduce stress – and be more productive, creative, and happy. Learning time management tips will reduce workplace stress, help you manage your time better, and relieve anxiety and stress. When you learn how to manage your time productively and wisely, your confidence will rise. You’ll feel empowered because you’ll have a greater sense of control. If you’re a workaholic – and perhaps working madly to erase feelings of self-doubt and paralysis at work – then the right time management habits will help you put limits on unhealthy work habits.

2. Do you take 10 or 30 minutes a day to be still?

Power Journaling is one of the most interesting tips from The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth and Purpose. I don’t “power journal”, but I do spend the first 30 minutes of my day in solitude and stillness. I try to immerse myself in God’s presence and enjoy my true self. This sense of presence and peace lasts for much of the day, depending on how often I return to God.

How do you spend the first hour of your day? If you’re not a spiritual person, consider Power Journaling. Get up, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, and write through your fears, frustrations, and achievements. Set your personal and professional intentions. Power Journaling is your chance to clear your head and focus on what matters. Ask yourself important questions, such as “Why do I struggle with self-doubt at work?” and “In what situations do I feel in control and confident?” Take time to stop and think, to be still and come home to yourself.

3. How do you empower yourself at work?

The more power you have in your life (even perceived power), the less stress you’ll feel. Research shows that the amount of control you have in your life directly affects the amount of stress and anxiety you feel. What creates the most stress and anxiety in your job? Is there a connection between stress, self-doubt, and workplace paralysis? There may not be anything you can do to change the source of your stress (such as a difficult or toxic coworker), but you can respond in different ways.

Here’s an example from my own job. I can’t control how much money I make blogging; my blog traffic and income is mostly unpredictable and even confusing at times. But, I can analyze and capitalize on my most popular blog posts and sources of advertising revenue. Controlling what I can gives me a sense of confidence and power, which increases my self-confidence. I rarely doubt myself as a blogger now.

4. Have you created a work schedule that suits your personality, lifestyle, and job description?

I’m a full-time freelance writer and blogger who could write blog posts all day! Luckily, that’s how I make my living :-) When I first started freelancing I didn’t set boundaries between my work and home life. This didn’t give me a chance to get away, figure out who I am apart from writing, and develop other personality strengths and interests. I realized that solely identifying as a blogger was increasing my doubt and insecurity. So, I created a schedule that gives me chunks of time to work and chunks of time to play – and it’s surprisingly easy to stick to. Creating a work schedule is a good tip for coping with self-doubt because it gives you a sense of who you are outside of your job.

If you find yourself dealing with coworkers more often than you’d like, read 6 People Skills for Introverts Who Prefer to Be Alone.

5. Do you protect yourself from distractions at work?

Before I created my work schedule, I kept Twitter, email, my blogs, and various forums open in the background. If I got stuck for an idea or phrase, I’d surf through all those open applications, which made me less productive. Feeling unproductive decreased my self-confidence and made me doubt I could write the article I’d planned. That increased my anxiety, which of course made me feel paralyzed.

See how destructive something as “little” as being distracted at work can be? Those little things affect your self-confidence in surprisingly powerful ways. Luckily, the opposite is true. Little things can help prevent self-doubt and paralysis at work from overwhelming you. For me it simply meant setting my email, Twitter, etc, time to four set times a day.

Here’s another tip from a coworker I worked with years ago: For the first hour at your desk do NOT answer the phone. Use the time to I catch up, mentally prepare, and get ready for the day.

6. How much time do you spend honing your strengths?

I love Marcus Buckingham’s advice to work on our strengths and not worry about our weaknesses! He’s the author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, and he encourages people to maximize their strengths at work and home.

For instance, my strength is writing blog posts and learning about search engine optimization. My weaknesses is visiting other blogs and commenting (which is supposed to be a great way to market your own blog). So instead of worrying about my weaknesses, I focus on my strengths. This empowers me and makes me feel in control of my career goals, which reduces workplace stress and anxiety.

Empowering yourself at work is the best way to relieve stress and anxiety. The actual task that gives you a sense of strength and control isn’t important – it can be as little as watering the plants every Tuesday. The important part is to create habits or tasks that give you a sense of mastery and achievement. This is a simple but effective way to reduce the self-doubt that leads to feeling paralyzed at work.

7. Do you sabotage yourself at work?

Self-sabotage is when you put obstacles in front of yourself. Self-sabotaging behavior means you set yourself up to fail – sometimes without even knowing it. What makes things trickier is the fact that the signs of sabotage and self-defeat aren’t the same for everyone. The results of self-sabotaging behavior, however, are similar: depression, despair, defeat, helplessness, self-doubt and paralysis.

Signs of self-sabotage:

  • Allowing fear and insecurity to trigger foolish decisions, such as drinking too much the night before an important presentation or client meeting.
  • Not staying focused on your goals at work. Always planning, never achieving.
  • Listening to your inner critic, letting self-doubt paralyze you.
  • Doing things that are in direct opposition to your goals, dreams, wishes, desires.
  • Feeling confused, frustrated, or depressed because your goals never seem to work out.

Self-sabotage is a combination of thoughts, feelings, and actions that stop you from achieving your goals or succeeding at work. Self-sabotage feeds insecurity, anxiety, and self-doubt by creating obstacles that work against your self-interests. How does self-sabotage or self-defeat appear in your professional life? Think of specific instances of when you made a “mistake” that cost you something at work.

8. Do you take 100% responsibility for your decisions and actions at work?

That means no excuses. Ever. At first this is difficult because life is so much easier when we’re victims of our fate (“I was late because traffic was bad” or “I missed the deadline because Sally didn’t get me the report on time.”). If you’re not responsible for the outcomes, then you have no power or control. This increases insecurity, anxiety, and self-doubt! But if you are responsible – you willingly take responsibility – then your confidence and faith in yourself will increase.

Accepting responsibility in healthy, affirmative ways can seem overwhelming. It may take time, practice, and more information than I can give in this blog post! But learn it, and you will experience an incredible sense of empowerment. If you truly believe that everything in your life within your control (the good, the bad, and the ugly), then how can anything stop you?

9. How is your insecurity and self-doubt affecting your choices?

What would you do if you weren’t paralyzed by doubt at work? Would you quit your job to go back to school? The first step to shaking off your “doubt paralysis” is to figure out what you really want to do with your career – and your life. If you doubt yourself at work, you will be consumed by fear. One of the biggest fears is leaving the safety of your job – even when you hate it. You’d be surprised how many people stay in jobs that are distasteful or unhealthy because they’re paralyzed by self-doubt and insecurity.

overcoming self-doubt and work paralysis

In The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, Ryan Holiday shares how advice for overcoming obstacles from the icons of history – from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs. Here’s a formula that let them turn obstacles into opportunities.

We all have goals we’d like to reach; often we don’t succeed because of obstacles that we believe stop us. We see these obstacles as insurmountable…but they’re not.

If you feel stuck, stymied, and frustrated, you may need to learn the timeless art of turning trials into triumph. There is a formula for success that’s been followed by successful people, and you can learn it.

“It’s a sad day when you find out that it’s not accident or time or fortune, but just yourself that kept things from you.” ~ Lillian Hellman.

Are you your own worst enemy? Read 5 Tips for Taming Your Inner Critic.


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3 thoughts on “Are You Paralyzed by Self-Doubt at Work?”

  1. Hi laurie,

    So glad I’m able to leave a comment! The system did not allow me to comment on your other blog.

    Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year and best of health, success and prosperity in the days to come!:-)))

    This sweetly charming and lucidly expressed post talks about simple home grown truths. However, how encouraging and inspiring the semantics are, if pondered over deeply. Thanks for such reassuring words. They really dispel all doubts.

  2. Thanks for the article, Laurie. It happens to guys as well. I think sometimes our boss or colleagues can instill a sense of doubt within us, whether maliciously or not. I keep a list of things I do well or have done that worked out positively then refer to the list when doubting myself. We all make mistakes and we all have poor judgment on things to varying degrees. I find it helps to remember we are all human and make mistakes and have doubt. I also try to practice patience with others when they have self doubt or make mistakes.