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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

What stops us from getting what we want out of our career and life?

One factor is self-doubt, which we can define as not having confidence in our ability to achieve a desired outcome. This commonly leads to situations such as identifying a job we’d like to have but deciding not to apply.

The thoughts associated with this decision can vary:

  • I’d never get an interview
  • I wouldn’t have a chance to get this job
  • If I got it, I’m not sure I could really do it
  • I’d fail, and end up without a job

One barrier we all must overcome to achieve the career and life we want is what we think about ourselves. The mental framework we create about our abilities influences what we think and do. Reducing the degree of self-doubt begins with understanding that most of it comes from flawed thinking that can be reframed, removed or, at the very least, reduced.


It’s helpful to identify and examine how our self-doubts can impact our thinking and behaviour.

Imagine you are meeting your new executive director for the first time. You wonder after you meet them what they thought of you. Nothing went wrong in this first meeting, but you begin to think about all the reasons why this new executive director may question you. As a result, you do all you can to avoid them. This self-doubting behaviour could be why the executive director starts to ask questions about you.

To move past self-doubt, we need to be honest and aware of what we’re concerned about.


We own our own thinking. To take charge of it, we must be willing to take responsibility for it. There’s an entire field of psychology called cognitive behavioural therapy that was created to teach people how to overcome faulty thinking, or at least thinking that’s not in their best interest and doesn’t support mental health.

Self-doubt can result in an internal voice that sends messages that hold us back from trying, or influences us to engage in behaviours that are destructive to maintaining what we want.


Taming self-doubt requires practice and pro-active action. It begins with a desire to control it and a willingness to learn how to think differently. The good news is, people can learn how to tame their self-doubt if they’re willing to do the work:

  • Don’t take the bait: When your mind throws out an automatic self-doubt (I’m not good enough for …), don’t take the bait, because if you do and focus on this thought, more will follow. Changing your focus can help you stop a self-doubt chain of thoughts. Practice saying “no, I will not take this bait” and focus on something you can control. Keep repeating this, if need be, until your mind shifts to more positive thoughts.
  • Give yourself a break: If you start to doubt yourself, avoid the urge to get angry at yourself, because this doesn’t help you learn or grow. Instead, focus your attention on why you’re feeling self-doubt in this situation and the thoughts that come up, as these are areas of opportunity to improve. If you’re not sure how to improve this area, ask for support from a trusted friend or professional who’s trained in cognitive behavioural therapy and can help you learn the skills needed to reframe your thinking.
  • Accept what you can control: We often worry about things we can’t control. Such thoughts may result in blaming ourselves for others’ actions and decisions, as if we were somehow responsible. Most of the time, people make decisions that have nothing to do with us. We can’t control another person’s decisions, nor can they control ours. Practice keeping your focus on what you can control: your own decisions.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2018 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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