It’s ironic, isn’t it? You have ambition and drive, yet you could be undermining your career in small, incremental ways that you’re unaware of. Underestimating your worth can throw you into a cycle of career disappointments, which in turn lowers your self-worth. Sometimes we get so focused on building our careers we overlook the running monologue in our heads that can promote or demote our motivation to continue the career climb.

A recent study is the first to measure imposter phenomenon in a real-life situation. Imposter phenomenon is the tendency to underestimate our worth and attribute our performance to outside causes. The research found that if you have imposter syndrome, it’s an unwarranted fear of exposure that has no basis in fact and is unrelated to your actual measured intelligence or performance. The findings also showed that if you have imposter syndrome, regardless of your age or gender, you devalue your objectively measured performance and attribute any positive results to external reasons such as luck and chance, instead of your own abilities.

Another body of research found that the value you place on yourself is directly tied to your well-being, job performance and career advancement. Other findings show that low self-valuation is linked to truncated career trajectory, burnout and sleep-related problems. High self-worth increases job engagement, beefs up your productivity and performance and improves relationships with coworkers. Employees who value their worth tend to have better focus and make better leaders because they trust their judgment. They make sound decisions in such matters as assuming autonomy on projects, managing teams, hiring and promoting personnel and overall communication with colleagues.

The Neuroscience Of Your ‘Under-Estimator’

Mother Nature hardwired us with an under-estimator—the voice in your head that overestimates challenges and underestimates your ability to handle them—all in an effort to keep us safe in a cocoon so we don’t fail. But safety eclipses success. Your under-estimator makes up untested stories hundreds, maybe thousands of times a day, to keep you from going outside the box. But in trying to protect you, it keeps you from trying, sticking your neck out and facing challenges. You know exactly what I’m talking about—that inner voice constantly whispering you can’t do it, you’re not good enough or you don’t have what it takes. As the voice narrows your perspective, it distorts your capability and limits your potential. When you believe the distortion, you end up underestimating your potential and unwittingly sabotaging your career.

Neuroscientists say the antidote to your under-estimator is distanced self-talk. This approach allows you to process an internal event with objectivity, as if it happened to someone else. So, the under-estimator’s distortion isn’t the only story that rules. And your distanced voice sheds a more balanced light on the scenario. Mental health experts have found that the best approach to manage the under-estimator is to respond to it as if it’s another person. Third person self-talk leads you to think about yourself similar to how you think about others, giving you agency to regulate your self-worth simply by how you use internal dialogue. Science shows you have greater self-control when you use distanced self-talk by using your name and non-first-person pronouns (instead of self-immersed first-person pronouns of “I”).

University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross conducted research into the value of first-name self-talk as a way to disable self-devaluation before and after a challenging event when people often ruminate about their career performance. Kross gave 89 participants five minutes to prepare a speech. Half were told to use only pronouns to refer to themselves while the other half were told to use their names. The pronoun group had greater anxiety with such comments as, “How can I possibly prepare a speech in five minutes,” while the name group had less anxiety and expressed greater self-worth using self-talk such as, “Bryan, you can do this.” The name group was also rated higher in performance by independent evaluators and less likely to ruminate after the speech.

6 Tips To Beef Up Your Self-Estimation

  1. Develop a wide angle lens. Keep your eye on the big picture, which allows you to build on the many positive aspects of your workday. Think of a camera. You can replace the zoom lens—which devalues you—by putting on a wide-angle lens which helps you see bigger possibilities and more self-value. Get in the habit of looking for the upside of a downside work situation; avoid blowing disappointments out of perspective; underscore positive feedback instead of letting it roll off; focus on solutions instead of problems; pinpoint opportunity in a work challenge; refuse to let one bad work situation rule your outlook. And for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience, create at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that build your self-worth.
  2. High-five your “tallcomings.” When your thoughts constantly focus on your shortcomings, you become blind to the strengths and talents you have. To offset this imbalance, learn to high-five your “tallcomings” alongside your shortcomings. Odds are, having been hijacked by your critical voice on a regular basis, you get in the habit of ignoring your positive attributes and clobbering yourself with negatives, creating a flawed view of your worth. Make it a habit to throw modesty out the window and name as many of your accomplishments as you can—what you’re good at, the skills and talents you possess and what you’ve achieved that your under-estimator eclipses.
  3. Cultivate self-compassion. Self-compassion is like a best friend that talks you off the ledge, bounces you back when you feel disheartened and propels you closer to your goals. It orders you the proverbial pizza when you need it. Pep talks, affirmations or an arm around your shoulder are good medicine to co-exist with your under-estimator’s oppression. When you self-soothe through letdowns—instead of devaluing yourself—you feel confident to face career challenges.
  4. Practice story editing. Story editing is a form of self-talk that preempts your under-estimator from seizing control of your career with its bludgeoning feedback. When you hear the under-estimator’s made-up story circling in your mind like a school of sharks, observe it much like you would inspect a blemish on your hand. This approach creates a self-distanced versus a self-immersed perspective and helps you overcome the egocentric impulses of the under-estimator’s voice. Story editing revises the under-estimator’s story just as you would revise a written report. And the under-estimator’s story is no longer the only story circling in your head. Story editing takes you out of the under-estimator’s perspective and catapults you into the objective, bird’s-eye perspective of an outside observer as if it’s happening to someone else.
  5. Recall past victories. Your mind is hard-wired to give the under-estimator the power to overestimate any career challenge. But when you reflect on what you’ve achieved in the past, it brings the underestimation into balance. Studies show when you’re confronted with a challenging work situation and recall a time you mastered a similar hardship, it boosts your confidence and self-worth and helps you scale career obstacles. Point to lessons learned and underscore ways you grew stronger through previous hard knocks.
  6. Be open to feedback. You can’t have a front without a back or an up without a down. And nobody is perfect. So consider requesting feedback from coworkers whose opinions you value. After a performance review from a manager or supervisor, take the constructive feedback, instead of getting defensive, and turn it to your advantage. Asking yourself how constructive feedback can improve your performance is in itself a building block to self-worth that can help you arrive at your career destination.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Founder and CAO of ComfortZones Digital and Author of 40 books.

    ComfortZones Digital

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is Founder and Chief Architect Officer (CAO) of ComfortZones Digital--the digital companion to mitigate workplace stress. He is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself."