How to stop second guessing yourself and overcome imposter syndrome at work

woman writing thinking
Overthinking can hold you back and make it difficult to move forward.

  • Executive coach Melody Wilding helps people navigate their careers and find work-life balance.
  • She says overthinking and second guessing can prevent us from being confident in decisions at work.
  • To move forward, interrupt the thought, root yourself in the present, and redirect your thinking.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

How do I stop second-guessing myself?

This was a question one of my clients, Sarah, came to coaching with.

Sarah was an accomplished manager and executive. During her career, she had earned two PhDs and over the course of twenty years, worked her way from the legal department to director of business development at a luxury retail company.

One year earlier, the CEO had tasked Sarah with starting a sub-division within the business development department to focus specifically on innovation. This meant her team was responsible for creating and implementing cutting-edge strategies to modernize the company’s marketing and distribution channels.

As a Sensitive Striver, Sarah was thoughtful, empathetic, and skilled at spotting opportunities others missed – a combination of skill which made her a perfect fit to lead the team.

But Sarah had started her career as a lawyer and operated under the false belief she had no idea what she was doing. The thought of building the innovation team filled her with imposter syndrome. She doubted whether she had what it took to get the job done and make their work a success.

Soon, her insecurity started to hold her back in other ways, namely in terms of her ability to make decisions. Sarah often found herself overthinking choices – both big and small – which stressed her out and slowed the team’s progress. She had trouble trusting her own judgment, and instead sought excessive amounts of outside approval before making a call.

Most of all, Sarah was constantly second-guessing herself.

After she would eventually make a decision, she would find herself preoccupied by all the what if’s (What if we had chosen direction B? What if X wouldn’t have happened? etc). She would toss and turn at night (and feel distracted at his desk during the day) by thoughts of whether he could have made a better choice.

In other words, Sarah couldn’t stop ruminating.

What is rumination?

Ruminating is a type of overthinking that involves obsessing over the same thoughts. Typically these are “dead-end” thoughts that aren’t productive, positive, or useful. It’s as if your mind is a record, stuck on the same track that keeps playing over and over – hence the second-guessing.

When you’re ruminating, you’re dwelling and living in the past. You analyze and replay situations over and over. You may rehash conversations, dissect people’s body language, and stress about what you did or didn’t say.

When it comes to decision-making, ruminating can look like:

  • Beating yourself up for making a decision too slowly.
  • Wondering if there were better options.
  • Replaying missteps or mistakes you made.
  • Worrying about other people’s reactions and judgments.

Thinking about a decision can be helpful – especially if it leads to a resolution or provokes new solutions and insight. But rumination doesn’t do that. It simply causes distress and drains you of mental and emotional energy you need to do your job effectively.

Why rumination affects Sensitive Strivers

Rumination to some extent is normal because we tend to believe that by ruminating, we’ll gain insight into a problem.

The problem arises, however, when it becomes an ingrained mental habit that begins to hold you (and possibly those around you) back from your full potential – as it was for Sarah in the story above.

Ruminating is also common in people who possess certain personality characteristics, like Sensitive Strivers.

As driven, deep thinkers, Sensitive Strivers pride themselves on being conscientious and thorough. When well balanced, their thoughtfulness can be a strength – contributing to above-average self-awareness and giving them superpowers like intuition and creativity.

However, when unbalanced, their Thoughtfulness can become a hindrance, which is exactly what was happening for Sarah.

Sensitive Strivers also tend to be perfectionists. So while they deliver high work quality, they are often extremely hard on themselves and their own worst critic, which leads to rumination.

If this sounds like you, then fear not, because it is entirely possible to rebalance your Thoughtfulness. With new tools to channel your sensitivity and ambition, you can stop second-guessing yourself and learn to regain your confidence and trust your judgment.

How to stop second-guessing yourself

Here’s a three-step process to end rumination that I coached Sarah through, which will also serve you.

1. Interrupt

At its core, rumination operates on negative self-talk. These unhelpful thoughts can sound like:

  • I’m such an idiot. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? A smart person would have.
  • This is all going to turn out to be a disaster.
  • I bet everyone is thinking I’m a failure.

Everyone’s inner critic is different, so your brand of negative self-talk sounds different. Regardless, your first step remains the same, and that is to interrupt the unhelpful thoughts.

This works because rumination is like an automatic, knee jerk reaction. It may be so automatic that you’re not even aware it happens. But interrupting the thoughts helps you build internal strength and command to be more in control of your experience.

You can interrupt your negative self-talk in a few ways, such as by silently saying STOP or “This isn’t helpful” or snapping a rubber band on your wrist. I also like to have my clients name their inner critic, so they can find emotional distance from their cruel inner voice when it arises.

2. Accept

Rumination and second-guessing yourself are characterized by wishing you or a situation were different or beating yourself up for all the woulda-coulda-shoulda’s that exist in decision-making. In both cases, you are wasting valuable time and energy fighting against reality.

A much more productive approach is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is not the same as resignation or passivity. Rather it is about:

  • Taking ownership and responsibility for yourself within a situation.
  • Adjusting your perspective to willingly and realistically take in the facts, realizing you can’t change them even if you’d like to.
  • Assertively moving forward without staying stuck in thoughts like “why me,” “this is unfair,” or “it wasn’t meant to be this way.”

Embrace radical acceptance by rooting into the present instead of fighting it. Sarah did this by reminding herself “this is where I am now” or “I don’t like the situation we’re in, but I can’t change how it unfolded” after making decisions.

3. Redirect

After you’ve interrupted rumination and accepted reality, you can approach the final step in the process: redirecting your thinking.

By redirecting your thinking, I mean channeling your depth of thought and intelligence more constructively. Specially, you can do this through self-coaching – asking yourself open-ended, growth-oriented questions that open up new possibilities.

Self-coaching questions to stop second-guessing yourself include:

  • How can I make the most of the circumstances in front of me?
  • How might someone who is confident respond?
  • How would I advise my closest colleague to approach this?
  • What thought helps me feel energized and powerful?
  • What would I believe if I knew everything was going to work out?
  • What’s the very best next step I need to take?

Keep in mind that you can’t attempt this process once and expect rumination to magically dissolve. Changing any habit, especially a mental habit that’s as ingrained as second-guessing yourself, requires repetition and dedication.

But if you follow the steps above, soon you’ll experience greater success without so much stress.

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 techniques to control your emotions and remain calm during stressful moments at work

woman upset at work
If you find yourself getting upset at work, use grounding techniques to keep calm.

  • During high-stress situations at work, we often don’t have time to go for a run or write in a journal.
  • Career coach Melody Wilding says there are other techniques you can use instead to calm down in the moment.
  • Cooling down with a drink of water, clenching and relaxing your fists, and box breathing can help you relax.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Strong emotions are inevitable in today’s busy, stressful work world. And it can be difficult to control emotions – especially in tense situations at work.

Maybe you’ve been so frustrated with a colleague that you exploded with anger. Or perhaps you cried after getting feedback. If you’re anything like the high-achievers I coach, then you may wrangle with fear of not measuring up to the expectations you have of yourself. 

Complex feelings like disappointment, panic, or even shame are natural, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult to deal with. Without the right strategies for regulating your emotions, it’s easy to overreact.

However, many well-known strategies are unrealistic or impossible to do during the workday. Few people can go for a run or write in a journal during a heated meeting, for example. 

Here are four realistic alternative strategies you can use to control your emotions in the moment. Stay calm and composed and respond in a way you’ll feel good about. 

1. Cool down

When you experience an emotion, your body gears up to fight or flee. Your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. Your heart rate speeds up and your internal temperature rises. It’s why your palms perspire when you’re nervous or your cheeks get flushed when you’re embarrassed. 

To push back the rising tide of emotion, you have to quell your internal, physiological response. One easy way to do this is to lower your body temperature. Grasp onto a cold glass, melt an ice cube in your mouth, take off a layer of clothing, or move closer to the air conditioner. Better yet, take a time out and head to the bathroom so you can splash water on your face. 

Scientifically speaking, this activates the mammalian diving reflex and kicks on your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation. 

2. Ground yourself 

When overwhelming emotions strike, it’s tempting to lose yourself in a wild train of thought. You might recall every past instance of failure or worry about future outcomes. When this happens, you can use grounding techniques to reorient back to reality and keep yourself firmly rooted in the present. 

Simple grounding techniques you can use in the moment include to control emotions: 

  • Clenching and releasing your fist
  • Digging your heels into the floor
  • Relaxing your hips into the corners of your chair
  • Concentrate on the eye color of the person you’re speaking to

Pay attention to concrete, observable sensations and objects around you. This channels your attention toward what’s true and what you can control versus the chatter running through your head.

3. Breathe like a Navy SEAL

Navy SEALs know a thing or two about managing emotions under pressure. They use a particular form of regulated breathing to stay alert, focused, and calm. Box breathing, or four-square breathing, is a practice you can use discreetly at your desk or even in the middle of tense conversations. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Breathe in for four seconds.
  • Hold air in your lungs for four seconds.
  • Exhale for four seconds.
  • Hold your breath, lungs emptied, for four seconds.

You can find guided visualizations online to assist you in a box breathing practice if you’re just getting started. 

4. Buy yourself time before you respond

You’ve probably experienced regret after spewing words you didn’t mean. You want to avoid losing control in the future, but how? I tell my clients to buy time for themselves by asking questions. 

Start by empathizing and validating the other person’s view, then pose a question to get more information.

For example, you might say: “Great question. What’s your sense of the situation?” or “What I’m hearing is that you’re unhappy with the results. What else is factoring into your response?”

This gives you space to process your emotional reaction, use the tools above to calm down, control your emotions, and consider how you want to respond. 

Fighting your emotions doesn’t work. It will only leave you frustrated and unhappy. Instead, embrace your feelings and manage them appropriately using these simple strategies.

Read the original article on Business Insider