Self-doubt can be crippling, but it doesn’t have to be part of our daily lives. Founder of F*ck Being Humble, Stefanie Sword-Williams, shares her advice on how to get rid of negative thoughts and self-doubt for good.
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How do you respond when someone gives you a compliment? Do you accept it, or does it make you feel toe-curlingly uncomfortable? Self-deprecation is something many women do without realising and, if done enough, it can lead to self-loathing and negative thoughts.
These thoughts can haunt us in our personal lives and in the workplace. Research from KPMG found 75% of executive women had personally experienced imposter syndrome during their career. Meanwhile, a Hewlett Packard report found men applied for a job or promotion when they met 60% of the qualifications, whereas women only applied if they met 100% of them.
Whether you’re struggling with your self-image at work or socially, dealing with negative thoughts and learning to stop putting yourself down isn’t something that happens overnight. But, it’s something you can start working towards right now.
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Stefanie Sword-Williams: “Self-promotion is not a dirty word”
“F*ck Being Humble is a movement to help people be unapologetically proud of their achievements,” says Stefanie. “I believe a big part of our individual success is down to the storytelling that accompanies our hard work. I don’t think self-promotion is optional – I think it’s essential.”
Stefanie’s platform focuses on careers, but her message applies to all areas of life. “For women, in particular, I want to take the pressure off fitting into society’s standard of what success looks like,” she says.
Stefanie provides resources and tips to help stop feelings of self-doubt. Here, she shares some of the most useful advice she’s learnt along the way, as well as exercises to help you deal with negative thoughts and self-deprecation.
Unlearn what you know about self-promotion
“In the UK, it’s more encouraged to be self-deprecating than it is to celebrate yourself,” Stefanie says, explaining that putting yourself down is something that’s ingrained in UK society. It’s crucial to recognise how the culture we live in might have affected you in order to move past it.
“We don’t have lots of role models advocating for building a positive self-brand or self-advocacy,” says Stefanie. “A lot of people assume self-promotion is standing on a table with a megaphone screaming, ‘I am amazing,’ and it’s absolutely not that.”
“If we’ve always looked at self-promotion or self-advocacy as being arrogant or self-indulgent, we’ll feel those negative emotions when we do it,” Stefanie says. “But if we can reframe it in our minds to see it as a benefit, we can change our outlook on it.”
Understand how your inner thoughts affect your approach to life
“The words you say become the house you live in,” Stefanie says, explaining that talking and thinking about yourself negatively can seriously affect the way you perceive yourself and present yourself to the world.
This impacts the way other people view you, says Stefanie: “If people don’t already have an opinion on you and you only ever say negative things about yourself, that’s the story you’re telling them and they’re going to take that on.”
Recognise what your goals are and don’t chase other people’s dreams
Comparison culture – the urge to analyse the minute details of the people around us – looms over our lives, particularly on social media. But, if it gets to a point where you compare yourself to others so much, you can’t differentiate between what you actually want and the things people are achieving around you, it’s time to re-think.
“Not every woman wants to be a CEO or an entrepreneur or a ‘girl boss’,” Stefanie says. Try and understand what your goals are and what they would be if no one else knew you were achieving them. Then you can focus on what you really want from life.
Stefanie advises against making goals based on where you think you should be, like wanting to buy a house by the age of 30. “Don’t do things because you feel like you need to by a certain age. Do them because it feels like it’s the right time in life for you,” she says. “Give yourself permission not to have it all figured out.”
Use social media as inspiration
When it comes to building a more positive relationship with social media, unfollowing and muting people who you compare yourself to in a negative way is a good place to start. But, it’s also important to reframe the way you view other people’s success.
“Rather than negatively compare, strategically compare,” is Stefanie’s advice. Instead of saying to yourself, “I can’t believe they got that – I’d never get to do that,” reframe it as: “That’s amazing. How have they got that?”
“Be inquisitive about someone’s success, rather than putting it down to make yourself feel better in the moment,” says Stephanie. “There’s no long-term gain in bitching about someone else’s success.”
Move from a ‘blame mindset’ to an ‘owning it mindset’
Perfectionism is something lots of us struggle with, but when it leads to putting yourself down a lot, it can be really harmful. “If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll never give yourself permission to say you’ve done something perfectly because you’ll always think that you could have done more,” Stefanie says.
“Rather than blaming yourself for everything you’ve not done so far, ask yourself how you can carve out time to do the things you want to accomplish in the future,” she says. “Instead of saying, ‘I should have done this in my 20s,’ ask yourself, ‘How can I do this in my 40s?’.”
Deal with negative thoughts head-on
“The longer you let feelings of self-doubt or insecurity fester, the longer they dictate your life,” Stefanie says. “You don’t necessarily have to find a solution, but the quicker you understand where the emotion is coming from, the easier it is for you to solve it or put coping mechanisms in place.”
Stefanie uses the example of being worried about speaking up in meetings. If this is something you’re anxious about you can put small steps in place to deal with it, like speaking up in a small meeting of two or three people and then working your way up to bigger meetings.
Stefanie recommends setting yourself regular time slots to deal with certain worries or stresses. Spending 20 minutes every week thinking about coping mechanisms or solutions for one particular issue can help you to feel better about it.
Start accepting praise
“The secret to being good at self-promotion is accepting praise and taking pride in your work,” Stefanie says. “When you reject praise, you block yourself from growing and seeing your value from the perspective of other people.”
Seeing yourself from other people’s perspectives helps you look at yourself in new, positive ways. If you outwardly reject praise, you won’t be able to reap the benefits of it.
When someone gives you praise, Stefanie suggests responding with: “Thank you. I really appreciate you telling me that because I really value your opinion.” This will ensure you’re receiving credit where it is due, as well as letting people know you appreciate being valued.
Write down things you’re proud of
If you don’t take note of the progress you’ve made, it can be easy to feel like you’ve made none at all. “The more you see your progress, the more likely you’ll feel you’re progressing,” Stefanie says.
She recommends writing down your achievements, be it once a week or once a month, whatever feels manageable to you. “We live in such a ‘what’s next’ culture, so once we achieve something we just move onto the next thing,” Stefanie says. “If we don’t take the time to soak up our achievements – believe, celebrate and absorb them – we forget the progress we’re making.”
Voice your ‘wins’ on a regular basis
At the beginning of lockdown, Stefanie and some of her freelance colleagues started ‘wins before dins’. Every Friday night they sent voice notes to each other sharing things they’d done that week that they were proud of. Stefanie recommends that everyone does something like this so you start voicing your achievements out loud.
“Each day we do small things we should be proud of, but are easily forgotten if we don’t take note of them,” Stefanie says. “Speaking these things out loud is powerful because you’re positively verbalising your progress and how good you are.”
You can be vulnerable without putting yourself down
Working to stop putting yourself down doesn’t mean you have to be positive about yourself all the time – it just means being more honest about yourself. “There’s power in opening up and being vulnerable to create a space where everyone can talk about these emotions and feelings,” Stefanie says.
“It helps you to feel more authentic to yourself too,” Stefanie says, explaining that in order to feel more positive about yourself, you don’t have to be the best possible version of yourself. Instead, just putting some techniques in place means you won’t end up feeling like the worst version of yourself and begin putting yourself down.
4 things you can do right now to start dealing with negative thoughts
- Track your progress in a notebook and schedule a time to write down what you have achieved.
- Find 20 minutes to write down coping mechanisms for one of your niggling negative thoughts.
- Next time someone compliments you, accept it and thank them rather than brushing it off.
- Send a voice note to someone you trust about all of the things you’ve done this week that you’re proud of.
For more advice on how to deal with self-doubt, you can follow F*ck Being Humble on Instagram or buy Stef’s book, F*ck Being Humble: Why Self-Promotion Isn’t A Dirty Word. Find more expert-led guides and tutorials by signing up to The Curiosity Academy newsletter.
Images: Getty, Stefanie Sword-Williams
Stefanie Sword-Williams, founder of F*ck Being Humble
Stefanie is the founder of F*ck Being Humble. Named as Forbes 30 Under 30 in Europe, she has delivered workshops for global brands including Unilever, Warner Music, Google, ASOS, Microsoft and The Guardian.
In 2020 she released her first book F*ck Being Humble: Why Self-Promotion Isn’t A Dirty Word and delivered a TEDx Talk on why the world needs to be a little less humble.