How to Stop Being So Hard on Yourself at Work

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Building your confidence means keeping your inner critic at bay.

Source: Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

You start the work week ready to tackle your tasks and feeling confident, but then it happens.

You don’t speak during an important meeting and the critical voice in your head starts.

“They’ll think you’re not engaged. How could you let this opportunity slip by?”

You try to shake it off Then you discover a typo in a report you submitted. “Can’t I do anything right?”

Add to that the constant feeling of having to be at every meeting, starting work earlier and finishing later than everyone else to be a team player.

It’s a recipe for self-doubt and burnout.

If this all sounds a little too familiar to you, then you are not alone.

Many “sensitive aspirants” tend to hit themselves. Perfectionism and philanthropy make you your own harshest critic. You are a perfectionist and you feel that every little setback means the end of the world.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to expend an inordinate amount of time and energy to be that hard on yourself.

Here are strategies to help you get out of your own path and develop a healthy mindset.

How to stop being so hard on yourself at work

1. Look at the big picture.

Sensitive aspirants tend to set the bar for achievement very high. This tendency can lead you to criticize yourself and therefore focus on single events like:

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The only mistake you made on this report…

The one meeting where you couldn’t think of anything useful to add…

That one time you told a joke that went flat…

And of course, once your brain gets used to that one thing, it’s a quick mental leap to, “I’m not good enough. All my colleagues are better workers than me. What am I even doing here?”

But zoom out for a second and try looking at your overall performance. Rather than focusing on your performance in a single day or during a single Zoom meeting, how are you doing overall? What is the general curve of your performance?

Think of your performance as a bell curve. Most days you will probably perform at average or above average. Some days you’re going to underperform… and that’s okay. It happens. Your overall performance will not be affected by a bad day. So try to keep the big picture in mind.

2. Redefine what a “win” looks like.

As a sensitive nerd, you have a natural tendency to define performance in a hyperspecific way: complete and total excellence at all times. You don’t have to lower your bar, but you do have to broaden your scope of what counts as “profit.”

For example, as a sensitive nerd, you might be reluctant to speak up unless you have something of immense value to share. However, even half-finished ideas can offer immense value and be considered “profit”. Your suggestion can be a useful starting point and trigger a chain of thought leading to an exciting breakthrough, for example.

Aside from speaking up in a meeting, you can expand your definition of a “win” more broadly to include:

  • Overcome resistance or fear
  • Push back and stand up for what you think is right
  • Approach a situation with a different mindset or attitude
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By changing your definition of success to include more opportunities, you’ll gain the confidence to share more often and stop beating yourself up about “having nothing to contribute.”

3. Reshape the relationship between your identity and your work.

Sensitive aspirants often become over-identified with their work – every accomplishment, task, and project becomes a life-or-death situation. It feels like your whole identity is tied into your work. If your performance is anything but outstanding, it means you are less than outstanding. And that is a path to fear.

Remember, you are not your job. If someone doesn’t like your idea or gives you negative feedback, it’s about the content, not you. This may take a bit of mental practice (especially if you have a mental habit of conflicting with your work like many sensitive aspirants do.)

A useful strategy here is to make a list of positive things or things you’re proud of that have nothing to do with your job. These can be achievements like sticking to your morning yoga practice or being the focal point in your family for an amazing dinner.

But it’s even better to look at your innate traits—perhaps you have a knack for using your empathy as a superpower, or perhaps you pride yourself on the level of commitment and dedication you bring to friendships. As you disentangle your perceived worth as a person from your achievement, you train yourself to see your self-worth as non-negotiable.

4. Modify the “what if” narrative to work to your advantage.

Instead of criticism, ask yourself more constructive questions like:

  • What if the Senior Leadership Team loves my job?
  • What if this is the breakthrough the project needs to finally move forward?
  • What if this suggestion would revolutionize our teamwork?
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Your brain is wired to look for answers to questions. So instead of using your intelligence to fall down a negative rabbit hole, direct all that creativity towards scenarios that empower you rather than drag you down.

As a sensitive nerd, you tend to be harder on yourself than others. And while your sensitivity can drag you down if you let it get out of control, you can use it to your advantage if you are aware of it.

Try these tips to give yourself a break, get a little more perspective, and actually see what you’re doing right instead of focusing on what, if anything, you’re doing wrong.

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