Skip to content
Struggling With Self-Doubt? Leadership Coach Tara Mohr Offers 3 Practices to Help Us Start "Playing Big" at Any Age

Struggling With Self-Doubt? Leadership Coach Tara Mohr Offers 3 Practices to Help Us Start "Playing Big" at Any Age

By Tara Mohr
M389.2 48h70.6L305.6 224.2 487 464H345L233.7 318.6 106.5 464H35.8L200.7 275.5 26.8 48H172.4L272.9 180.9 389.2 48zM364.4 421.8h39.1L151.1 88h-42L364.4 421.8z

Who do you think you are?! 

How could you not have this figured out by now?

Sure, you could do that one day, but you aren’t ready yet.

That’s been done before, you won’t really add anything.

These are all what I call “inner critic thoughts”—the voice within us that intrudes on our dreaming, our curiosity, and our instincts to move into action—keeping us stuck in self-doubt. We often think of self-doubt as something that mostly younger people deal with, assuming that confidence comes naturally with age and experience, but that’s not true. I’ve coached countless accomplished, midlife people whose inner critics are cropping up in new and often subtle ways. 

In midlife, the inner critic can arise because: 

Ageism in our culture is real. When we feel unseen in a conversation, overlooked in a job interview, or like our kids see our point of view as outdated and irrelevant, it can fuel our inner critics. 

The inner critic often shows up more strongly in times of major transitions or hardships. Midlife brings those, whether through our own health challenges, caring for parents through illness or end of life, or the trials of parenting adolescents and young adults. In midlife, old career and life goals often lose their luster, and we wander in a confusing in-between before finding new north stars. In all these circumstances, when our prior sense of ourselves has been shaken, or our prior view of “how life works” has been shattered, self-doubt tends to show up. 

We may feel uncomfortable about what’s still difficult or unresolved in our lives. In midlife, our inner critics may berate us that we should have some aspect of life (marriage, family, career, finances, fitness, and so on) figured out by now, or at least that we should have found a way to feel more confident. 

Typically, people see the antidote to self-doubt as confidence, and make confidence their goal. But in fifteen years of working with people to help them quiet self-doubt, I’ve learned this: when we are stretching into new goals or new versions of ourselves, self-doubt will join us for the ride—inevitably and persistently. Yet we can ensure that the inner critic voice doesn’t hold us back from living the fulfilling, dynamic lives we long for. This work isn’t about finding unfailing confidence; it’s about developing a wiser relationship to our self-doubt. 

Corrine was a participant in one of my workshops who had worked hard to make a midlife transition to a new career that was better aligned with her strengths and passions. But a few weeks into her long-awaited dream role, she found herself overwhelmed by a voice in her head telling her she wasn’t qualified for the job, that the company had made a mistake by hiring her. 

Through her work in one of my courses, Corrine put three “inner critic practices” in place. First, she would notice and name the inner critic thoughts whenever she became aware of them, with a simple, “Oh, hi inner critic,” or, “Okay, inner critic is speaking up now.” That helped her get some distance and remember those thoughts weren’t the voice of truth. 

Second, Corinne would name the fear underneath the self-critical thoughts. When self-doubt comes up, it’s almost always because we’ve left our comfort zones, and our safety instinct is trying to convince us to retreat back into what’s more known and familiar, using that voice of self-doubt as its strategy for doing so. Corrine could identify that she had an underlying fear of the job not working out. She practiced meeting that fear with tender compassion, with a “Yeah honey, this is a big new thing, and I can see why you’d be scared.” Sometimes she’d even put her hand on her heart to embody that compassionate stance. That calmed the scared part of her and helped her remember that the self-critical thoughts had nothing to do with her actual capabilities; they were just a way for the panicked part of herself to cope with the uncertainty of this situation. 

Third, she would use what has become my favorite tool for moving through self-doubt: she would connect with one of her core values. I often say it this way: the antidote to our self-doubt isn’t thinking better of ourselves, it’s thinking bigger than ourselves. Our core values—principles like connection, honesty, love, integrity, creativity, curiosity, trust, or others—get us connected to that something bigger. Rather than argue back at that voice of self-doubt with self-confident declarations that are often hard to believe, and that leave us still focusing on ourselves, we can root in values that are so compelling they take us out of ourselves and into constructive action. 

Corrine chose “collaboration” and “curiosity” as the two values she personally held dear, and that she thought would be helpful touchstones in her new role. When self-doubt was getting the best of her at work, Corrine would connect to her value of “collaboration.” She’d immediately become more excited, remember she didn’t have to figure it out all alone, and get into conversation with colleagues about whatever she was working on. Other times, she’d connect to “curiosity”— leaning into her curiosity about colleagues she was just getting to know, and about the real problems she was in the job to solve. She found that when she was connected to curiosity, self-doubt faded to the background. 

Corrine continued practicing these three tools in her work day-to-day. That’s a key to inner critic work. We don’t graduate from self-doubt, but we can become skillful in responding to it when it shows up. How might you begin to do the same in your life? What is one area where self-critical thoughts are coming up? What if you didn’t have to wait on confidence but instead started practicing these tools?

Here’s a quick reminder of three in-the-moment practices you can use:

  1. Notice and name what’s happening. When you hear a self-critical thought, notice and name it, quietly remind yourself, “Oh, that’s my inner critic speaking up.” 
  2. Find the fear underneath. When you are feeling self-doubt, ask yourself, “Hmm, what feels emotionally scary about this situation?” Respond with compassion, just like you would toward a scared child. You might gently say to yourself, “Yes, this situation is a little daunting and it’s uncertain, but that’s okay. We can handle the ups and downs that will come along with it.” 
  3. Connect with values, purpose, and service. When you are feeling self-doubt, ask yourself, “What values could lead me in this situation?” Perhaps for you it’s connection or honesty, love or integrity, creativity, curiosity, or trust—or something else. Let that value—not your self-assessments—guide your actions. That larger-than-you value will always be a more sustaining source of motivation than “confidence” could ever be. 

Your gifts and your voice are so important. You deserve the joy of sharing them, and our world needs them, too. 

Tara Mohr is the author of the bestseller, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead. She is the creator and teacher of a variety of online courses for individuals who want to step into their unique playing bigger and help others do the same. Learn more at

Want to learn more about Sunday Paper PLUS?

You're invited to join Maria Shriver's new membership program!
You'll unlock exclusive content, receive access to her monthly video series called Conversations Above the Noise with Maria, and much, much more!

Join Now