“It’s good to be confident but not so confident you always think you’re right – that’s arrogance, it’s good to be humble, it’s not good to be so humble that you’re discrediting yourself – that’s insecurity.”  Anon

Timothy Gallwey, the author of the Inner Game series of books, says that achievement is the result of skill minus interference. By interference he means the self-talk that tends to clutter up our minds while going about our WorkLife, notably at times when we want to be our best. We get in our own way and sabotage our performance. He goes on to say that we need a better relationship with our inner critic. We think self-criticism pushes us to perform better and live up to higher standards, but actually it can bring about self-sabotage, because focusing on what is wrong with you rather than what is right decreases your confidence and makes you afraid of failure. This hurts your performance, makes you give up more easily, make poor decisions, and become less likely to try new things and less resilient in the face of failure, less likely to learn and grow from your mistakes. 

A Case Study

Samantha and Josh’s Stories of Self-Sabotage 

Samantha and Josh were working at A-Z Advertising Agency for two years., Both had joined as college graduates. As part of their graduate programme they had both worked for six months at a time in different functions across the company. This was a requirement designed to allow them to understand all aspects of the business more broadly.

The next part of their development plan was to have the opportunity to be part of the team working closely with Caitlin, the company’s Creative Director. This was an opportunity that was offered just once a year. To be accepted onto her team, they were each required to present their ideas for a new campaign for a long-existing client.  

How did they do? 

They both failed. 

Why? Because they both sabotaged themselves.

But in very different ways:

Samantha allowed her negative self-talk to impact her self-belief in her own ability. She doubted every single idea she had, and came across as insecure and needy.

Josh believed his ideas were the best ideas, and the only ideas that would work. He came across as arrogant and closed-minded.

As part of the process in preparing their presentation for Caitlin, they had first pitched their ideas to focus groups. These groups were made up of experienced professionals across the company.   The groups had given feedback on what they liked and did not like.

Samantha homed in on what they did not like, completely blanking what they liked, which led her to not believe in herself or her ideas. Her belief was that everyone else’s ideas were better than hers.

Josh homed in on what they liked, completely blanking what they did not like, which led him to believe in himself and his ideas. His belief was that his ideas were better than anyone else’s. 

For them to be considered for the opportunity the following year Caitlin gave them both feedback.

She told them that the focus groups were impressed with both of their ideas, and that the feedback was given to help their ideas to be even better. But instead of listening and understanding what was being said, and learning from that, they had both gotten in their own way. They had in effect sabotaged themselves through whatever it was that was going on within themselves.

She went on to say that a stipulation for them to be considered next year would be for them to present back to her what they had learnt from this experience, and how they have used this to set themselves up for success at the next opportunity. She told them she wanted to see confident presentations that demonstrated both humility and self-belief. She said she would meet with them in nine months to hear what they had to say. 

She left them with these parting words of wisdom: “Listening to the right people, and this includes listening to yourself, is a gift, a chance to learn about how to do better. Listening to the wrong people, and this includes listening to yourself, particularly the early critics, is a trap. If you’re not careful, it can become a place to hide.” 

She proposed a question to ask themselves by way of reflecting on their experience. The question she said that will serve them well in this moment, and will stand them in good stead throughout their WorkLife, is to ask:

“How am I complicit in creating the conditions that I say I don’t want?”

She finished by suggesting they read Timothy Gallwey’s work on The Inner Game.

Nine months later this is what Samantha and Josh presented to Caitlin:


The greatest challenge and consequently the greatest possibilities lie in overcoming the self-imposed mental limitations which prevent the full expression of my ideas and subsequently my potential. 

I realised I need to monitor my negative self-talk, because my mind is always listening, and if I talk about all my perceived limitations, if I argue for them, they’re mine, if I fight for them, I get to keep them, and so I always have to be careful of my negative self-talk. 

My self-image can be an obstacle, probably the greatest obstacle to my growth, by believing my ideas are not as good as other people’s, I limit how well I will let myself draw on other people’s ideas to develop my own thinking.  

Acknowledging my weaknesses, has allowed me to behave differently in response to what I’ve acknowledged. I’ve taken my inner voices on a journey with me to highlight challenges and obstacles. This allows me to be my own fiercest opponent, other opponents will be small compared to the expectations I have for myself. 

Of course I can’t demonstrate I’m right for the project if I only focus on my inadequacies, I have to project confidence, and this is a confidence that I can learn to develop myself and my ideas through other people and their ideas. I can do this by accepting feedback objectively, making my judgement by observing the facts, and from this making my decisions.

When I engage in self-sabotage through negative self-talk, then my self-confidence suffers. This leads to a cycle of self-interference, and one that I haven’t yet learnt to overcome, but I have learnt how to deal with it and to manage it. 

I do this by asking myself the question: “Do I want to do this badly enough, or do I want to give into the notion that I’m not good enough?” To be part of your team, to have the opportunity to work closely with you, and to learn from you, is my heart’s desire, this is an amazing opportunity, and it’s my opportunity. So, yes I do want it badly enough, I have to do it, and I am good enough. 

Success for me is walking into a room, believing in myself and what I do. Presenting my best self in the knowledge I’ve put everything I can into my work, and being happy with the result.


I can be my own worst enemy, and I need to get out of my own way, and start developing patience. To be patient with myself, to accept that I don’t know everything, and my ideas are not the only ideas or necessarily the best ideas. 

The mental interference that is keeping me from being my best right now, will also make it more difficult to acquire new skills. I needed to find a better way, and to make a change.

To do this I looked to behaviours/tactics of people I admire in the world of sports, how they keep their minds quiet, and focussed to manage the impact of inner dialogue on their performance. I discovered the art of relaxed concentration to trust my mind’s potential to learn and perform.

This practice uses the unconscious rather than the self-conscious mind, it helps to unlearn or suspend the habits and concepts which interfere with my natural learning ability and to trust the innate intelligence of my mind. 

I want to be good at my job, and I want to find solutions, I want to find a way to become good. I recognise now that there is no instant solution, I will learn through experience, I’ll make mistakes, working with and listening to experienced professionals who are passionate about their work, will allow me to learn though these experiences and mistakes.

I need to let go of what I think I know because learning any new skill is about the process of discovery which comes primarily from the experience itself. By letting go of my preconceived notions, by not resisting new experiences I can learn far more. I can learn how to deal with the unexpected whenever I encounter it. I’m discovering I can adapt to strange or different concepts only when I’m willing to let go of dependence on old concepts.

George F. Kneller said: “To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.” 

I believe there’s a way to be humble and confident. Success to me is to turn up in life with humility, confidence, authenticity, with fun and to be myself.

Caitlin was impressed by the sincerity of their self-reflection, and what they had learned from this. She gave them both the opportunity to present their ideas for that year’s campaign. She asked that they work together on their presentation, saying they each had something different and unique to bring to their work, that they could both learn from and challenge each other.

Samantha and Josh were both relieved and excited to have been given the opportunity again. They agreed to be their own and each other’s biggest critics and champions, to hold themselves to the highest standards. To work to come up with new ideas to challenge their excellence.

It worked. They were both successful in Caitlin accepting them onto her team, to work closely with her on the new campaign. 

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

Taking a long hard look at how you are self-sabotaging is both insightful and painful. It requires you to look in the mirror at who you are, and what you do. At its worst it is destructive, or at its best it is slowing you down, preventing you from fully being who you should be. 

My Complicity Assignment

To turn up as the person you should be in the world, to turn up for yourself, for your family, for your friends, colleagues, clients, for whoever it might be.

Ask yourself: 

How am I complicit in creating the conditions that I say I don’t want?

This is the type of question that if you really take time to think about it and journal on it, it will change your life. 

Moral of this Story

We all play the inner game of telling ourselves stories. You have the power to use your self-talk to create a vivid, three-dimensional life out of your words, to make your WorkLife your masterpiece. 

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Find the truth by looking beyond what you perceive the facts to be. The truth and the facts are not the same. Being objective rather than subjective will allow you to see something deeper, and when you do that will stay within you forever.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

To discover how you get to where you want to go in your WorkLife, you need to get to deep questions. Ask yourself:

How comfortable can I be with the discomfort it takes to get me to where I want to go? 

Words of Wisdom 

Master your inner dialogue. What you say to yourself matters more than what the entire world together says about you. 

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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