5 Ways to Fight Off Self-Doubt | Dealing with Performance Dips

We can be our own worst enemy if we’re not careful. We’ll tell ourselves that we:self-doubtb 12593039_d4f6_t

  • don’t measure up
  • never seem to get things right
  • keep falling short of expectations
  • are out of favor with the boss

The more we doubt ourselves…the more we doubt ourselves. It’s a downward spiral we need to stop, and fast!

Heads up.

I’m a big sports fan. I watch golf, tennis, basketball, baseball, football, and  the Olympics, both summer and winter.

I’m engrossed by the theater of sports–the physical skills, the competitive drive, and the players themselves.

Individual athletes reveal so much about what it takes to be successful, especially how to handle mental pressures, particularly the  moments of self-doubt and shaken self-confidence they must overcome.

Self-doubt  threatens to derail an athlete when, during a game or match, s/he experiences a dip in performance. Suddenly the player will:

  • miss a gimme shot like a layup, a short putt, or an overhead
  • lose their rhythm, become a step slow, or misread a defense
  • make a series of poor decisions–wrong golf club selections, an excess of 3-point shots, too many returns to the forehand

As employees, we too experience dips in our performance when we:

  • miss errors we normally find; incorrectly enter routine data
  • neglect to jump on a situation before it becomes a big issue
  • make ineffective decisions about problems we need to fix

Just like athletes, anytime you feel off your game, self-doubt has a field day.

 Listen up. Take 5.

Live action sports commentators have a knack for spotting an athlete’s self-doubt during the heat of play. Since many sportscasters like champion golfer Sir Nick Faldo or NBA star Reggie Miller were former pro athletes, they know how to shut those negative voices down.

These five bits of advice that work for athletes can also work for you when self-doubt starts creeping into your thinking:

1. Don’t dwell on a bad call.

Your boss is like a referee. Sometimes s/he will draw a wrong or unfair conclusion about the quality of your work, your role in a decision, your attitude about an assignment, or your willingness to do more. Once you’ve calmly offered your side of the story, commit to avoiding a repeat and move on.

2. Keep playing.

Like an athlete, sometimes you’ll miss a shot or make a bad play. You may forget an assignment, write code that doesn’t work, or make a poor presentation. Everything is fixable but only if you stay in the game and keep working. So do what’s necessary to correct what went wrong and keep improving your skills.

3. Correct missteps asap.

The sooner you jump on the cause of glitches in your performance the better. Waiting only allows self-doubt to settle in and put a death grip on your self-confidence. If you can, take steps to improve in real time, by asking for help from your boss or coworkers right away, just as players do in a sideline huddle, with a caddy , or coach  while the game is live.

4. Plan for what’s next.

In most cases, there’s always another game or contest. To fight against self-doubt, you need to keep looking ahead for other opportunities to demonstrate your skills, your commitment, and your mental toughness. Your workplace is a competitive environment where you’re always challenged to put forth your best effort. There are a lots of days in the week to work on getting better and building your self-confidence.

5. Reach out.

Your boss and coworkers have a stake in your performance. The better you perform, the more successful they will be. Not everyone will have your back, but some will. When you have doubts about your performance, get some help. Often others have a more objective perspective than you do and will likely also  remind you of your strengths. It’s difficult to overcome self-doubt alone, so it’s worth the risk to  reach out.

 Build self-confidence.

Achieving and sustaining success requires self-confidence. Self-doubt kills it.

Overcoming internal negative voices tests your mental toughness. If you take some time to listen to pro athletes after wins and losses, you’ll get some priceless perspectives on how to fight the good fight.

Photo by hotblack via Photoree


Hankering for Colossal Success? Load Up on Support and Gratitude

Bracing ourselves for failure is a self-defeating mindset. But so many of us do it, spending too much time and energy worrying about:

  • Coming up short
  • Making a fool of ourselves
  • Disappointing the expectations of others
  • Losing ground

We let fear of failure tie us in knots, imprison our initiative, and confine us to whatever seems safe.

To prepare ourselves for success, and lots of it, means looking at failure as a stepping-stone not a millstone.

Think big

Opportunities for failure exist whether you go after something small or big. So you may as well shoot for the stars and see what happens. The more obstacles you tackle, the greater your chances of achieving something significant.

The key is to keep trying. It may sound hackneyed, but it’s true. When you get knocked down:

  • Get up and try again.
  • Learn something from the experience.
  • Try a new approach.
  • Seek help and advice

A lot of colossal success happened last weekend.

The colossal failure of pro golfer, Kyle Stanley, who blew his 3-stroke lead in the Farmer’s Insurance Open the Sunday before Super Bowl XLVI made a 360 one week later.

As Steve DiMeglio of USA Today writes,:

Stanley stormed back from an eight-shot deficit Sunday with a sterling, bogey-free 6-under-par 65 to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.

Tom Goldman from NPR adds:

What will resonate most for the spindly 24-year-old is that Feb. 5 was his day of redemption. And really, in sport, or in life, who doesn’t cherish a moment when they can say “I am somebody” after feeling the extreme opposite?

Then John Nicholson of the Huffington Post quotes Stanley:

 I’m never going to forget that. I think it makes this one a lot sweeter, just being able to bounce back. I’m kind of at a loss for words. I’m very grateful for the support I’ve gotten. It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable turnaround.

Then there was the New York Giants winning the Super Bowl when at one point in the season their chances of getting into the big game seemed unlikely.  The players, some with rings and many without, kept believing, setting their sights high.

Steve Edelson of the Times Union quotes Coach Tom Coughlin:

Mental toughness, resiliency, resolve. We keep playing, we keep fighting, and we’re highly competitive. We do have great trust in each other, great belief that we can finish, and that if we keep playing one play at a time as hard as we can go that we will find a way to win.

Edelson calls this season, “Coughlin’s greatest coaching job ever…,” adding, “It’s why he was so emotional in his address to his players Saturday night, telling them he loved them.”

He quotes the notably hard-nosed coach as saying,

I’m trying to think if I’ve ever said that before…this is a very special team, and I think it was appropriate and this point and time to let them know how I felt about them. So they didn’t have any question…that I deeply appreciated what they accomplished, where they’ve come from, the fact that they’ve done it together. I wanted them to know it. I told them, I’m man enough to tell you, “I love you.”

What it all means

To achieve big, you have to:

  • want success so much that you’ll fight through the negative pull of failure
  • deny failure a permanent place in your thinking
  • ask for and draw on the support of others
  • believe that eventually success, yes, colossal success, will be yours
  • keep getting better at what you do
  • be grateful for what you have achieved and for those who have helped

All great athletes visualize the outcomes they want on their field of play and see themselves holding that coveted trophy.

You need to visualize your own success, however you define it and see it. Your day will come, so please commit to seeing it today.

Photo from maxbee via Flickr

Can You Handle the Heat? A Mental Toughness Test

Pressure tests our self-confidence and mental discipline.

Life is good on the job when predictable conditions give us a clear path for showcasing our talents. That’s when we’re convinced we have what it takes for our next step.

Unfortunately, the unpredictable is also predicable. Are you ready for it? Do you know how you’ll handle the heat?

Rings of fire 

No job is immune from surprises that test you. On any day and at any time, things can go up in smoke and your job will be to find your way through the flames.

Disruption emerges from:

  • Your boss and coworkers
  • Customers, clients, and vendors
  • Performance reports and financials
  • Software glitches and system failures
  • Policy and procedure errors
  • Communications breakdowns and stymied negotiations
  • New regulation and legal decisions
  • Marketplace competition and under-performing products

We can either crumble or rise to the occasion when things go wrong. In either case, everyone will be watching.

Gut it out 

Great models for developing mental toughness are athletes in individual sports, like golf and tennis. It’s always the player against the opponent and the conditions. To succeed, one will contend with adversity better than the other.

These athletes live by routines which become a kind of rhythm of play. It’s how they tap into muscle memory and keep their visualization patterns humming.

Golfers and tennis players are frequently disrupted by:

  • Weather delays, causing them to stop, wait, and restart
  • Crowd noise during play or reactions unsupportive of them
  • Persistent or sudden injuries
  • Excessive heat, cold, wind, or rain
  • Disrespect or gamesmanship from their opponents

There are hundreds of examples where certain athletes blow leads, implode, or even retire from play because disruptions overcome them.

Our mind can either weaken or strengthen us during adversity. We just need to know which one we want it to be when it’s our time to be challenged.

Assess your mental toughness 

When the heat’s on, how do you react? If you answer “yes” to any of the following, consider taking the next steps in parens.

  1. “I get stressed out and lose concentration when I’m told my project is due by noon instead of the end of the workday.” (Clear out all other distractions, defer other tasks, avoid interruptions, and focus only on the project.)
  2. “When my boss gives me negative feedback, I lose motivation.” (Think about the contributing factors in the feedback; develop and implement a plan to change what you’ve been doing.)
  3. “When I’m accountable for a team result, I micro-manage to avoid things going wrong.” (Stay away from the details, refocus on the big picture, provide support and cheerlead.)
  4. “In a conflict situation, I usually back off.” (Ask questions to understand the issue; request time to think about what you’ve heard; come to terms with your position; and set a time to meet again to resolve.)
  5. “If I make a mistake, I’m reluctant to try again.” (Learn from each mistake and commit to trying again as soon as possible. Ask for feedback. Work at the fix until you’ve mastered it.)
  6. “When a problem arises, I wait for a coworker or my boss to take the lead.” (Commit to taking the reins, especially when you have the expertise.)
  7. “If I get a poor rating on a performance factor, it takes me weeks to get over it.” (Reset your performance goal for that factor to meet expectations. Commit to immediate actions to turn the rating around.) 

Action is the marker 

Mental toughness is the outgrowth of committed action. It demonstrates your willingness to keep pressing forward, drawing on your capabilities, and being averse to quitting no matter how difficult the challenge.

You have to act to build and increase mental toughness. Each step you take increases your self-confidence and your business fitness.

Mental toughness builds on itself but it takes your efforts to get the ball rolling. Once you do, everyone will take notice and your career will benefit.

Photo from Ben Sutherland via Flickr