Published on November 1st, 2015 | by Nancy F. Clark0
Steps To Follow For A Woman Who Wants To Stop Worrying
By Michelle McQuaid —
Ever find yourself lying awake at night and worrying about what’s gone wrong at work during the day and what might go wrong next? If you’re nodding your head, you’re in good company with 50% of women reporting that they experience feelings of self-doubt about their performance and careers, compared to just 31% of men.
The truth is it appears the female brain is wired to worry more. While researchers believe that the male and female brains are more alike than they are different, it seems there are small variations in structure and chemistry that encourage unique patterns of thinking and behaving that may affect our feelings of self-doubt.
For example, not only does it appear that we may have 30% more neurons firing at any one time which can lead us to overthink things, but the cingulate gyrus – the brain’s “worry wart”- is larger making us much better at recognizing our mistakes and prone to ruminate on them. Add to this the higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of testosterone generally coursing through our veins, and it’s no wonder we might worry about avoiding conflict and risk, even at the cost of winning.
But while this neurological and hormonal cocktail, coupled with our experiences at school, at home, at work and in society may cause us to hesitate be it for fear of failure, a desire to do it perfectly or the need to be liked, researchers also report that we can manage the worry created by our self-doubt by focusing our minds on the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that build our confidence.
Tested, practical steps you can try when worry is undermining your confidence include:
- Challenging your stories. To make sense of everything going on around you each day your brain constantly creates stories about why something is happening and what might happen next. In an effort to keep you safe, often you’ll find these stories foreshadow the worst possible outcomes, like “You’re not worthy of that promotion,” “You’re not good enough to win that sale” or “Taking on this new challenge is a mistake, you won’t be able to cope if something bad happens.” Sound familiar at all?
It’s hard not to worry when your head is full of worst-case scenarios, but you can challenge these stories when they don’t serve you well by simply asking: “Is that true? Is that the only explanation for what might be happening?” Then try to find one or more equally believable alternative stories and notice how each one makes you think, feel and act before choosing to invest your energy and efforts in the story that fuels you with confidence.
- Building on your strengths. Your strengths are the things you’re good at and actually enjoy doing at work. Make sure you understand your top strengths and find small ways to put these to work each day to lower your levels of stress and improve your energy, confidence and happiness. You can discover your strengths and find small, busy-proof ways to develop them each day – no matter what your job description says – at strengthschallenge.com.
- Take small steps. – Professor James Maddox at George Mason University has found acknowledging our self-doubts and taking small steps that lead to small successes is an effective way to shift our beliefs about what we’re capable of doing. Maddox’s research suggests that improving our self-efficacy – our beliefs about what we can do and what we can’t – can help us to worry less and improve our levels of effort, persistence, resilience and ability to achieve our goals. If there was one small step you could take to make doing what matters most to you less scary, where would you be willing to start?
- Practice self-compassion. Don’t let that “mean girl” voice run wild in your head. Instead talk to yourself like you would to any other friend and be willing to look at the mistakes and short-comings that are worrying you with kindness and understanding. Acknowledge that you’re “not there yet” but that as long as you stay open to learning and willing to practice, you will get better.
William James, the father of modern psychology, once observed: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter their life by altering their attitudes.” If you were to use these steps to train your brain to worry a little less, what might be possible as you look ahead?
Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, workplace wellbeing teacher and playful change activator who is passionate about translating cutting-edge research from positive psychology and neuroscience, into practical strategies for health, happiness, and business success. She is the creator of the free global Strengths Challenge – www.strengthschallenge.com – where women and men can bolster their confidence by learning how to put their strengths to work.