How to nip self-doubt in the bud (as featured in Management Today)

Sep 1st, 2021

What Andy Murray can teach you about managing the gremlins inside your head.

If this summer of sports has taught us one thing, it is that even athletes at the very top of their game suffer at the fate of the gremlins inside their head. Where they differ from many of the high achievers in business though, is that they have been taught how to recognise when the doubting voices are getting the better of them and how to control them.

Take Andy Murray’s fightback against Oscar Otte on Centre Court during Wimbledon this year. Murray has always displayed a very public battle with the saboteurs inside his head. This time it was clear though that he had doubts about his fitness and it was holding him back from playing the style of tennis that got him to the top of the men’s game.

No matter how confident we are as individuals and leaders, we all have inner critics that cast doubt over our ability to do our jobs. All too often we let them surface and control the way we behave, the decisions that we make and prevent us from reaching our true potential.

Whether you define them as saboteurs, gremlins or inner critics – we all have them. During childhood, we developed them as an alert to keep us out of danger. As adults, they have become so developed that even if we no longer need them to survive, they can reappear and easily control the way we feel, think and act.

There are a number of strategies to control our inner critics, but the most important thing to be able to start is to understand and recognise them and how they control us.

Author Shirzad Chamine’s website has a free to use test which assesses the Saboteurs’ each person has and to what degrees. This can be a very helpful tool for taking that first step to understanding ‘who’ your inner critics are and how they might impact your decision making and leadership. This enables a level of detachment from you and your inner critic which is important.

One of the most successful strategies in increasing our performance is finding a way to interrupt the interference coming from within us. Going back to Andy Murray; once he realised that his inner doubts were steering him towards losing the match, he quickly started asking the umpire for a break to close the roof of Centre Court. When he was finally granted his wish he had a 20 minute break to get away from the court and interrupt his gremlins. He came back out after the break and played at a much higher level to close out the match with confidence.

Building our mental fitness to manage the saboteurs is important and it takes daily practice – just like our physical fitness we need to prioritise our mental gym workout. This can be through mindfulness strategies, journaling, or visioning exercises. Taking as little as 2 minutes to pause and be conscious of our breathing, can quieten the mind before an important meeting so that we can access a more resourceful state.

Our bodies are pretty good pharmacies when it comes to releasing the hormones needed to impact parts of our brains so we can thrive. Positive mental strength is derived from an increase in dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, which can be triggered through exercise, laughter, music, eating, fresh air and mindfulness.

Next time you are faced with tough decisions and doubting yourself, ask yourself who is actually doing the doubting, you or your inner critics? Then take a break, interrupt the gremlins and see if you have a clearer head and more space for making the best decisions and giving the best performance.

The article first appeared here on 24th August 2021.