Self-doubt and Self-sabotage: The impact of behavioural dysregulation in professional growth and per
I was taking a well-deserved break from “life’s struggles” through one of my go-to relaxation tactics – watching one of my favourite comedy series – when my phone rang. I reluctantly answered the call whilst silently praying it would end quickly. The call was from a friend who had an innovative and seemingly well-thought-out idea that she wanted to run by me. This “short call” got extended to us talking about the number of times we’ve had similar discussions about other ideas with nothing tangible ever materialising. We ended up discussing why other ideas never moved past the ideation stage and started brainstorming on ways to circumvent this from continuously happening. Alas, my silent prayer for a short call was not answered but that didn’t matter! Despite my earlier reservations, that call became the catalyst for this article. I flicked back to my comedy show but I was more engrossed in the thought that there are thousands, if not millions of wonderful ideas that have been “wasted” because of limitations we have allowed to either intentionally or unintentionally eat away at them. While some limitations are outside of our control, the ones that pose the greatest threat to our ideas are often the ones we are most in control of – Our Minds, Our Psyche! It therefore goes without saying, that our ability to control self-doubt and self-sabotage are intrinsically linked to our personal and professional success.
According to Marisa Peer, “self-doubt is a feeling of anxiety, a state of uncertainty or a lack of confidence about one or more aspects of oneself. Self-doubt can come from past experiences, upbringing, and self-comparisons and can result in feelings of unworthiness, imposter syndrome and self-sabotage”. I believe that self-doubt can be likened to a malignant growth where normal cells (self-doubt) continue to grow uncontrollably and feed off the body’s nutrients (self-esteem, confidence, self-assurance, wisdom gained from past experiences, etc.) to survive. When caught early, it can be successfully managed and perhaps eradicated. The longer it is left unchecked, intentionally or not, the harder it can be to regain full control and more importantly, the more severe the damage to our personal and professional lives.
The pertinent questions that spring to mind are:
What are the key drivers for self-doubt?
How can we successfully manage self-doubt?
How can we harness self-doubt as a tool to mitigate risks in our decision-making at work or in our personal lives?
Does it ever stop? Can we consciously identify the triggers?
Answers to these and more to be revisited further in this article.
“Self-sabotage occurs when we hinder our growth and development by allowing negative mindsets, thoughts and patterns to hold us back and prevent us from achieving our goals” (Wilson, 2021). Some saboteurs are perfectionism, people-pleasing attitude, procrastination, self-medication, indecisiveness, lack of grit and persistent self-doubt.
Self-sabotage is inherently born out of self-doubt but unlike self-doubt, it is hard to see any positive or healthy spin to self-sabotage. Its self-depreciating nature impacts the mental and physical health of the individual.
If self-doubt is akin to a malignancy, self-sabotage is akin to an auto-immune disease. The intent or lack thereof should be factored when considering possible triggers of self-sabotage and every effort must be made to eradicate these from one’s primary or secondary environments.
Effects of self-doubt and self-sabotage
I mentioned earlier that wisdom gained from past experiences (including our upbringing) formed part of our ‘body’s nutrients’ but, on reflection, I cannot deny the huge impact some lived experiences have on our beliefs and our feelings of accomplishment. It certainly doesn’t help that we tend to internalise and recall the worst experiences better than the good ones. These especially erode our confidence, increase our feelings of unworthiness and keeps us stuck from getting past the ideation stage. I’m sure therapists and psychologists reviewing past traumas and experiences will connect the dots better than I can, but in my overly simplistic view, self-doubt arises from a perceived lack of confidence and belief in ourselves. Self-sabotage following the same notion, is born from the conscious or unconscious acts we carry out to keep ourselves within a comfort zone – that ‘medium’ that doesn’t want us to go through a bad experience again.
Other common causes of self-doubt include overly comparing ourselves with others and fear. On the one hand, constant comparisons (with others) limit us from seeing the bigger picture, from understanding that each individual has a unique take or perspective and from seeing that our path in life will always be different from those we are comparing ourselves to. On the other hand, fear – of failure, of the unknown, of success – is debilitating in that is stops us from gaining the clarity required to progress through different situations. Typical examples are having the imposter syndrome, questioning if we can duplicate current/previous success, and fear of judgement from our peers or superiors. We are enabled by our beliefs and confidence but hampered by our fears and doubts. The longer the fears and doubts win the battle, the easier it becomes for us to self-sabotage and make genuine and plausible excuses why this is in our best interest.
It is important to note that experiencing occasional self-doubt is normal and should be welcomed. Self-doubt when applied healthily (i.e., with one staying in control of his/her thoughts and actions), could provide an internal ‘check and balance’ to ideas, helping to modulate plans and milestones, or provide an element of risk assurance, or a voice of caution. The problem arises when we are overwhelmed by self-doubt to the extent that it starts to overpower and impede our ability to reach for our goals. If we lose our ability to remain in control of our minds and psyche, self-doubt would erode our confidence and our self-assurance.
Back to my conversation with my friend, part of the limitations she highlighted was lack of funds, which is a common problem with any new venture. However, we realised that her limitation with funds was as a result of her unwillingness to go the extra mile in search of capital. This brings me back to how self-doubt can be a positive emotion as a voice of caution as well as limiting factor. I believe that in my friend’s case, her self-doubt is disguised as a caution, making her unwittingly sabotage her ability to fulfil her dreams. In other words, her inability to overcome her persistent self-doubt that stems from fear of failure was a major factor in getting stuck in the ideation stage.
Overcoming self-doubt and self-sabotage
Successfully overcoming self-doubt and self-sabotage is possible. The longer they have been allowed to fester and grow unchecked, the more difficult they will be to overcome. The easiest trick that has helped me is building on small wins and small victories. The more I convince myself that I can get though doing the smallest tasks and doing them effectively, the better I felt about myself and the more my confidence grew.
I believe that overcoming self-doubt is a primary step in overcoming self-sabotage. The most significant part of which lies in understanding and recognising the trigger points and when they need to be curbed. The best way to recognise these trigger points comes from mastering our emotions and developing genuine self-awareness. A high emotional quotient (EQ) combined with an equal amount of clear self-awareness are the best ways to engage in an honest self-appraisal. With this tool, we can understand patterns of our behaviours (for example, those self-sabotaging tendencies as well as niggling and constant of self-doubts), and build a stronger and lasting healthy relationship with ourselves and our fears.
Affirmations and positive self-talk are two powerful mindfulness realignment tools for overcoming self-doubt. We must understand that the human mind has the power to deceive and betray even the mentally strongest amongst us. In the same vein, if fortified with continuous mindfulness practises (using positive word and affirmations, and constantly reminding ourselves of our successes), our mind can be our strongest ally. Thus, I believe that the success of our personal and professional growth and development can be measured by our ability to maintain control of our minds and psyche.
Another powerful tool in overcoming self-doubt is self-compassion. In simple terms, self-compassion is being kind to ourselves, accepting, and forgiving our shortcomings just as we would for others we encounter. I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time chastising myself for even the littlest mistakes or the wrong decisions but, all that did was erode my self-belief. Being kinder to ourselves does not mean lack of accountability. It ensures that we understand that life is short, we are error-prone as humans and that our mistakes do not define us.
I believe that the ability to practice self-compassion will go a long way to overcome the anxiety that could arise from negative past experiences which could eventually lead to self-doubt and self-sabotage. In my case, when I made the decision to learn from my past mistakes and move on from them, it was easier for me to silence the voice of self-doubt that emanated from my negative past experiences and make decisions that would lead to my personal and professional growth
We often forget how much impact our thoughts and fears have on us and how those feelings influence our lives (both negatively and positively). In most cases, our beliefs about a situation or an idea influences our expectations, which affects our behaviour or attitude, and it is our behaviour that determines the kind of outcome we’ll have. Simply put, when we refuse to allow self-doubt, fear or anxiety to overwhelm us, when we charge at our goals with a positive mindset, we naturally have a positive expectation that trickles down to a positive outcome.
We need to become more aware of the power we over our personal and professional development, so that we can start making conscious efforts to use them to our advantage. A notable difference between the varying levels of success we have in our careers could often be traced to the importance we place of factors within and outside of our control. The more we are in charge of circumstances within our control, the better equipped we are at dictating the direction or the level of success we hope to attain. This is not to make light of the struggles we face daily. I believe it is more about making it clear that we are not alone. We all go through the same worries, the same fears and are equally anxious over aspects of our lives that we mostly have no control over. We tend to give power to these issues and lose sight of the most important ones – our minds, and our dreams. Ultimately, the more effort we put in self-awareness, emotional intelligence and mindfulness practises, the better equipped we will be in maintaining the controls necessary to keep our self-doubts benign, stop it from turning malignant, and by that very fact eradicate self-sabotage completely from our lives.
Every day, make a conscious effort to nurture your mind, positively affirm your strengths and your dreams. We must be kinder to ourselves though and remember that everything takes time and effort. Remember that your best is yet to come, so trust in the process and be patient with yourself!
About the Author
Ifeoluwa Oyelade is a Clinical Research Associate at Reliance Clinical Limited by day and a 'healthy living advocate' at all times. She is the creator of Health and Wellness joint on Instagram, where she enlightens her followers on healthy living practices to live a wholesome life. She enjoys Yoga and watching movies.