Why Do We Doubt Ourselves? How To Make That Inner Voice Your Friend – Not Your Enemy

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This is a bit of an unusual post, but its something that’s been rolling around in my head for the past couple of months. Let me give you some context as to why that was/is. You guys know I work as a junior doctor in Ireland, and have been since July 2015. I started a basic medical training programme after my intern year, which is two years long, and consists of multiple 3 month rotations in lots of different hospital specialties. That’s quite a standard training scheme to go into post-intern year – other options would be surgery programmes, GP, Paediatrics, Psychiatry, Obstetrics, etc. I chose Medicine because it’s what I’ve always been most interested in, although figuring out WHICH area of medicine I want to pursue has yet to be decided. I know what I’m passionate about, as do you guys, if you know me or follow my blog/Instagram – that’s lifestyle and health promotion, spreading the message that our food, our movement, our rest and our stress are CRUCIAL aspects of our well-being. That’s not what I’m talking about today though.

Changing specialty every 3 months (I believe its every 4 months in the UK for junior doctor programmes, but correct me if I’m wrong) means that we as junior doctors are constantly meeting new challenges – different work schedules, responsibilities, knowledge and skill expectations, and new faces on your team every changeover. Part of me loves that, because even if we don’t want to admit it, we don’t grow as individuals by staying INSIDE our comfort zones forever. Being forced to jump outside of that zone can be and is scary, but at the same time, deep down we DO know it’s healthy for us. However, sometimes it does feel like you’re JUST settled into that new job, and it’s already time to move on – just when you feel like you’ve gotten the handle on life!

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This past 6 months has 100% been my most challenging to date as a doctor, and equally as a person. I rotated through 3 months as an Emergency Department doctor, followed by 3 months working as part of a ward-based team on an Oncology service. Both busy, busy jobs, with frequent night shifts, long hours, and high stress at times – but also, both amazing experiences in teamwork, confidence-building, and development of essential skills for me as a doctor. And that was because over the past 6 months, I’ve consistently been working OUTSIDE of my comfort zone.

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So. How does all of this tie into the title of this post? Well, I realised something as I began both of these 3 month rotations. I was terrified. I’m not an anxious person – I am lucky in that I would consider myself pretty resilient, and not counting the usual butterflies, I can generally get on with whatever it is has to get done, be that an exam, competition, presentation, etc (once I’ve prepared in advance that is…I am NOT a last minute person!). When starting in the Emergency Department, I began my 3 months with 4 night shifts – not the easiest introduction, in fairness. For Oncology, I had one week on the day job with the team before jumping straight into 5 night shifts for my second week. Anyone who has done night shifts before will know it can be quite a disconcerting experience starting off, especially your first set, or first set on a new job.

But it wasn’t the fact that I was on nights that was the issue. The part that I now reflect on with hindsight is how NERVOUS I was before starting these 2 rotations. As I got dressed for work, and drove to the hospital for each first shift, I tried to figure out WHY I just couldn’t shake the monster butterflies from my stomach.

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(How cool is this image of those butterflies! And slightly creepy!)

And then it hit me. Self-doubt. That was why. My nervousness and fears about starting a new job where I knew I would face clinical challenges I hadn’t dealt with before were all down to negative involuntary thoughts – ‘What if you mess up?’ ‘What if you get the diagnosis wrong?’ ‘What if you feel overwhelmed by what you face?’ And my least favourite, but one which did enter my head – ‘What if you’re not good enough?’

These thoughts entered my head as I drove to my first A&E night shift, and they ROARED through my head as I drove to my first Oncology night shift. And the most frustrating thing about these thoughts is that they are INVOLUNTARY. It’s not like I consider myself a bad person, or doctor, or incompetent. In fact, I’m a pretty logical gal, and I know damn well I’m more than capable for my job. At times that will mean asking for senior advice/help/guidance, and that’s absolutely natural. It’s how we build experience.

Interestingly, by virtue of my luck with rosters, I have finished both of my rotations in A&E and Oncology with a further set of night shifts. As I write this, I have just finished my second set of five nights on-call for Oncology, and with that, my three months on the service. Having a second week of nights, after nearly 3 months behind you of experience, makes for a really fascinating comparison for how I felt starting the week the SECOND time versus the first.

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What was the difference? A few things. Experience. Confidence. Rationale. Knowing that yes, you might have a crazy stressful shift, but it might be less crazy than the one before it, it might be worse, or you might find yourself not stressed at all. Literally just being able to visualise yourself in the situation you fear was a massive help to me. And I noticed that things that threw me the first time around, didn’t the second time. Sure, I met new challenges. But as I finished each rotation, I walked out of the hospital with my head high, PROUD of myself, because I realised that I had grown – as a person, and as a doctor. Hilariously, feeling that way when I finished my rotation in A&E didn’t stop the ferocious nerves when I started Oncology. But that was also because again, I was facing a brand new experience, just when I’d started to inch back to my comfort zone. And now, as I reflect on my second week of night shifts in Oncology, I realise again that I have grown. And that all of those awful nerves are explained by that inner voice we have, the one I’m determined to make my buddy from now on, even when she’s being a Negative Nancy (no offence to any Nancy reading this!)

Do any of these ramblings of mine resonate with you? Working as a doctor is my profession, and obviously I know you guys reading this blog work in similar and totally different fields. But I think we’ve all heard that inner voice of doubt at some point. If not, FAIR PLAY to you, I’m impressed. You might have heard that voice in many different contexts – before a new job, an interview, or something more personal like meeting new people, going on a first date, starting a new lifestyle change, you name it, that voice can start shouting. But what I have learnt, and want to build on and share with you, is this.

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Instead of letting that voice of doubt take over, we need to just take a step back when we hear it. Hear what it’s saying, however irrational and negative it seems. And then you just gotta acknowledge those thoughts. You can’t control then. If someone tells you NOT to picture a blue elephant, what’s the first thing you picture? Bingo. A bright blue Dumbo. So instead, when you hear those thoughts, speak your own rational voice back. Sure, you might mess up on Day One. But you also might not. And if you do, then you’ll learn from any mistakes you made. Yes, you might encounter a situation where you’re out of your depth. But then you’ll ask for help so that the next time, your depth is that bit deeper.

As I drove to work last Sunday to start my second week of nights, I had all the thoughts I had experienced the first time around. But this time, I just let them have their five seconds, and then kept going. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘Fake it until you make it’, and that 100% applies here.

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I’ll stop my ramblings here guys. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that a lot of the time, we are our own worst enemy. No one but myself had expressed any doubt in my ability to take on the new challenges my rotations would bring. And once I recognised that doubt, those fears, and decided to fake a bit of confidence until I had the experience behind me to truly feel it, suddenly that voice became less of an enemy and more of a friend.

I’d love to know what you guys thought of this post. It’s a bit different from my usual, I know, but I’ve really gotten such great feedback from being pretty honest on this blog, and I think sharing personal thoughts and reflections is a big part of that! We’re all only human, and we all experience the same emotions, just in different contexts. So leave a comment or message me on Instagram or Twitter with your thoughts – I’d love to hear them!

Ciara 🙂 x


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