Be your own cheerleader against the zombies of self-doubt and celebrate your accomplishments

Updated Oct 12 2015
carolinediezyn
Zombies of self-doubt are no match for cheerleaders. By: mczonkCC BY 2.0

You did a thing! You accomplished a goal you had set out for yourself, and it took hard work to get there. It might have been a large goal that took months or years; it might have been a smaller goal. But you can dust your hands — you achieved something!

…But now you're having trouble internalizing your accomplishment. Maybe you struggle with impostor syndrome and have trouble acknowledging when kudos and accolades from your colleagues and support network are deserved. Your self-doubt is holding you back from really feeling good about what you achieved. Or maybe, your support network isn't very supportive. If you've ever excitedly told a friend or family member about something to have them say, "Well, I knew that would happen," you might have felt a little disheartened. While it's nice that they have faith in you, they haven't exactly made you feel like celebrating. Worse yet, you don't feel comfortable enough to tell anyone at all.

You might feel that the best thing to do at this point is to brush your accomplishment aside and refocus on the next task. You might even begin to doubt that your accomplishment is worth acknowledging at all. If you succumb to the zombies of self-doubt, you risk burnout, loss of motivation, and being generally bummed out. Besides that, the zombies are really not good for your self-esteem. I struggle against them myself. Here's what I've come up with to try to help remind myself to be my own cheerleader and celebrate my accomplishments.

Celebrate completing steps toward the goal

Even before you accomplish a goal, you should be keeping track of each step towards the finish line. Make lists and make sure to cross finished items off. Acknowledge when you've finished a section. Are you trying to write a book? Have a mini-celebration every time you finish a chapter. Spur yourself on by patting yourself on the back for the steps you've taken rather than worrying about everything that's left to do. Consider starting a blog just to track your steps as you complete them. Even if no one reads it, it's good to reflect upon the process yourself. It helps you really internalize how much work went into your achievement. Speaking of reflection…

Debrief

Many moons ago, I wrote a post on the Offbeat Empire blog about a practice we have in place at our weekly meetings where we share something we've accomplished that week, whether it's related to work or not. I said:

[Every meeting, Ariel] asks us to reflect on the past week (recognize that time has passed!) and identify things that we may not have realized are accomplishments. Even if I have nothing particularly epic to share, I'm confronted with the past week's activities and I take the time to differentiate between the mundane and the fantastic. One week the accomplishment might be something huge, and another week it could be smaller. The point is recognizing that since another week has passed, you've accomplished something.

This boils down to being mindful of what you've done with your day, week, month, year, etc. Take time to reflect on the work you put in to accomplish your goal. Think it over, write it down, tell someone who you know will be supportive. Think about the good things accomplishing your goal will afford you — like how helpful your scholarship will be, or how much free time you'll have now that your project is done. Process it. Take a deep breath and let it out. Feel satisfied. But don't stop there. After you work on internalizing your accomplishment, celebrate it!

Indulge your inner hedonist

Take time out to do something that you enjoy that doesn't contribute at all to anything except your happiness and pleasure. Make an appointment with yourself and honour it. Play video games for hours. Watch episode after episode on Netflix. Go out with friends. Go on a date. Do anything that you might want to do while you're working but can't without that nagging guilt. But here's the kicker: while you're indulging, acknowledge why. Tell people you're celebrating your accomplishment by taking this time to yourself. Tell yourself. Out loud, if you have to. "I am going to play four hours of Portal 2 and drink beer and do nothing else because I am celebrating my accomplishment." "I'm making time for that all-day canoe trip that I couldn't make time for before because I am celebrating my accomplishment." Whatever you want to do, do it.

The most important thing about this strategy is that you have blocked this time out to guiltlessly indulge. It's not the same as when you're procrastinating and "wasting time." Channel your inner Hedonismbot and devote yourself to the task of non-productive gratification!

Reward yourself

Rewards are different from indulgences in that an indulgence is an activity, while a reward is something tangible. Have you ever told yourself that you'll wait until you're done a task or project before you buy something just for yourself? That's a reward. If you accomplish a big goal and you want to treat yourself to the new shoes you've been eyeing for months, you can feel good about the purchase because it's your reward. When someone compliments your new purchase, you can say "Thanks! I got it cause I passed the bar exam!" Every time you use the item you can take a second to reflect on your achievement and really internalize it. Post a picture of it on Facebook and Instagram with a caption explaining what it commemorates. Having a record of it helps you internalize it more. And bonus: you've just been shown off your accomplishment to your friends in a no-pressure way. They can easily "like" it to show you they care about you, and you'll get the warm fuzzies without feeling like you're confronting someone and asking them to praise you.

Just don't go over your budget because this could spiral into feelings of guilt that will bleed over into self-doubt about the accomplishment. Come to think of it, putting money away while you work toward your goal for the reward you want could be a fantastic motivator. Treat yo' self!

What are your strategies for acknowledging your accomplishments? Do you have a goal-achievement ritual? What works best for you?

  1. Something that I always struggle with is seeing accomplishments I've already done as 'real' accomplishments. I feel somewhat like I have to be humble, and somewhat like an imposter. I've found it's important to brag about yourself to yourself occasionally if you have problems believing that what you've already accomplished is any good. (Which can be very disheartening for tackling accomplishments in the future)

    For example, I graduated magna cum laude from one of the top engineering schools in the Midwest with a BS in mechanical engineering, and I sometimes just cannot see that as an accomplishment when objectively, that's freaking awesome! But I'm currently in the process of leaving grad school (without a degree) so it feels empty and hollow. But that doesn't negate the fact that I did really freaking well in undergrad! Sometimes I have to step back and really remember what work I put in to get my BS – it was a lot of work, and I did it well, and I accomplished it. It was a freaking amazing accomplishment!

    I have a tendency to believe that once I've done something, it's no longer actually impressive, so that's something I really have to battle most days, or else it's incredibly difficult to continue on.

    • I have a tendency to one-up myself and believe that once I've done something, I have to do something bigger and better to stay impressive. I accomplish one goal and then think, "I need to make this even better than it is now!" instead of celebrating the awesome things I just accomplished.

      I was so focused on one-uping myself after graduating magna cum laude with my BA in three years, that I went straight into my Masters program the very next semester. I feel like I never got a chance to celebrate how well I did in in undergrad.

        • Boy, do I remember that impostor syndrome post. Sorry for derailing!

          These are all great strategies for acknowledging accomplishments and I'm excited to see how they can help! I haven't had any strategies of my own before and have really only heard "Reward yourself!" Which is great once you actual finish, but hasn't been to helpful during the process. I want to start celebrating steps towards finishing goals! I hadn't thought of that before and it seems like a great way to stay motivated and happy ๐Ÿ™‚

        • I'm sure this isn't the right place for this comment, and there is no need to leave it up anyway, but because I like this site, I want to share my perspective on this kind of "stay on topic" post. I find it patronizing and annoying. I end up avoiding comment threads and definitely refrain from adding my own. I think more flexibility in the comments would be more welcoming and less smug.

          • Thanks for the feedback. I wanted to make sure that Sariah and Kestral knew that there was a post even MORE in line with what they were getting at, and I wanted to encourage them to share on this post's topic, too. No patronizing or annoying intended.

          • To add to what Caroline said, the Offbeat Empire editors all have giant lady boners over keeping "on topic" conversations going in the same spot because that way ALL the brilliant ideas and suggestions that the comments offer can be found in one easy-to-find space. Otherwise we're sitting around going, "Ack! I thought I remembered there was that one super-awesome comment about imposter syndrome that I wanted to reference, but it's not on the imposter syndrom post, and now I have NO IDEA where I saw it." From the editors' perspective, it's less about being inflexible, and more about running a website that can be as helpful as possible.

    • Just yesterday a student came by my lab to tell me that she was leaving the program and starting to look for jobs. It sucks having to make a change like that, but I think the key is to realize that "success" is not such a narrow concept. The process of getting yourself to let go of old goals and make new ones is HARD because OF THOSE FUCKING ZOMBIES.

      • Man, this. SO MUCH THIS. Having recently collapsed at work after months of strain of trying to pretend my anxiety doesn't exist and everything is fine, I've been moved off the high pressure project and onto something a lot easier and calmer. Logically, I'm really pleased about this. Some time to get to work on my emotions and anxiety and look after myself! Self care! Emotionally… it's a bit harder. (Self, you are not a failure. Your goal for the next few weeks is simply about your mental health rather than your work. Work can take a backseat, hey?)

        And it is hard. Thanks for the image of zombies – anything that cheers me up and helps me fight 'em off is worth having in my back pocket!!

  2. I find the "treat yo'self" method to be VERY efficient. I love treats. So I often find excuses accomplishments to celebrate.

    • I totally suck at treating myself, but my husband does it enough to count for both of us! After I finished a huge section of my thesis, he brought me home me a Rice Krispie treat (my favorite) from his work. He wrote a sweet note of congrats on the lid and left it on the desk where I've been working.

      I do however love using any excuse to buy (and read) new books!

  3. The reward-thing is so true. When I finished my MA, my husband bought me a Kenwood kitchen machine, which I had carefully picked out. It was my big reward for working on my thesis, even after I got a full time job. Now it sits in my kitchen on display on the counter. I regularly walk into the kitchen and say to myself: 'you've completed your MA', even though it is over a year ago. It is a good feeling. (And of course I enjoy it while cooking ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

  4. Hey, thanks for linking my old post too!

    The guilt-free celebration time is a big one for me. And you know what? Sometimes it's important to do that just for getting through a tough week, even if you don't feel like you achieved much. Just giving yourself a big old reward for keeping going through the tough times is important too.

    I've now started writing a list of achievements once a term (about once every three months). It's easy to forget all the stuff you've done unless you periodically take stock. Writing a list really makes me recognise my achievements, and stops from getting bogged down in the fact that there's always more to do.

    And then, you know, I'll celebrate by going to the cinema in the middle of a weekday, with a big glass of wine and a large popcorn. (This kind of behaviour also appeals to my "I'm a grown-up and can do whatever I want, bwahaha!" feelings).

    • Also, the amount of time I kept the "Congratulations on finishing your thesis!" cards up around my house was kind of embarrassing…

      Also fun to change all your cards and driving licence etc, so you can be all like "That's Dr Katy to you!" Nothing reminds you of finishing your PhD like HAVING A DIFFERENT NAME.

    • "Sometimes it's important to do that just for getting through a tough week, even if you don't feel like you achieved much. Just giving yourself a big old reward for keeping going through the tough times is important too."

      Now I feel better about my Friday night Netflix binge after a really really shitty week. I wanted to check out on Tuesday, but I made it until Friday night!

  5. I found that I have to trick myself into being proud/treating myself. For example, I got a job, but instead of thinking, "I did a great thing and so I *deserve* some new clothes," I thought, "I got this job and now I *need* some new clothes." I still bought a fierce summer dress I didn't entirely need, but I had to rationalize it differently.

    Oh, also: sometimes updating a resume or CV can feel sort of exciting. "I did a thing! And someday people will know!"

    Keeping a journal also helps. I know other people don't much care about my daily accomplishments, but in my journal I can make a load of laundry, a healthy dinner, and an hour of reading seem totally heroic (at least to myself).

  6. Ed has found HabitRPG to be helpful in this regard (an open source habit building program that treats your life like a Role Playing Game). He enjoys checking off his things to do (or checking off when he does a habit he wants to encourage like "being social") and working towards leveling up, or spending his digital gold on real life rewards (a computer game or coffee and a doughnut from the convenience store).

    He has a hard time celebrating what he has accomplished for himself, but if he's celebrating because he's doing well in a -game- then it's different. You see he's now a Level 16 Rogue, he's -earned- that $10 purchase from Steam.

    It may not be an approach that works for everyone, but it has sure helped attitudes in our house.

    • OH MY GAWD. I think this website might actually change my life, no joke. Thank you so much for sharing!

      I recently started keeping a shoebox in my bedside table with 'evidence' of things I've done well for times when I'm feeling less than stellar about myself. It helps me continue celebrating the big and little things I've accomplished so I can stay motivated to keep 'doing'. So far it has things like an amazing reference letter a professor wrote for me that makes me cry every time I read it, my Tough Mudder headband and race bib from last year, some certificates from high school, and copies of things I've had published.

      • I'm a college math teacher. I keep a file folder of "good things" in my file cabinet for this reason! When I feel overwhelmed or wonder if I'm even making a difference, I pull out that folder with copies of emails from grateful students (even a card a whole class made me!) and get a dose of warm-fuzzies!

  7. I love and needed to read this!

    I have a difficult time with this. When someone tells me I did a good job handling a situation at work, I downplay it a LOT and say it was a team effort or something.

    But, I do try to celebrate accomplishments by going out to a nice dinner, or buying a new wardrobe item I've been wanting. Some days, just getting through my shift is an accomplishment and I grab some beer on the way home to enjoy with an episode of Daria. (THANK YOU, Hulu Plus!)

    My biggest challenge is this:
    "Take time out to do something that you enjoy that doesn't contribute at all to anything except your happiness and pleasure. "

    I always feel guilty for doing anything at all that doesn't accomplish anything or make me money. I feel incredible guilt for doing anything purely for pleasure. Does anyone else struggle with this?

    Maybe I should look at doing things for my enjoyment as rewards. Even for little things–like, "I went for a run today," or "I didn't lose my effing mind when something didn't go as planned at work today." I think this article just solved TWO of my problems!

    I shared this on my facebook and it's getting a very positive response…so I'm trying to spread the gospel!

  8. TREAT YO' SELF! Yes!!
    I got a Q&A 5-year journal, and I think I'm going to love looking through it and seeing some of my answers–some of the questions relate to accomplishments…
    I also made a 2014 memory jar. I covered an old pickle jar in stickers, and I put in little pieces of paper with happy memories from the year so far. I add in accomplishments and compliments, too. That way, on NYE, I can look back at the year and feel awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Oh man, I have so many feelings about this.

    I try to steer clear of using rewards as motivation. Or rather, I'm VERY careful which things in my life I use as rewards because there's a propensity for the things I use as rewards for accomplishments to become guilt-laced demotivators when I buy/use/consume those things without an accomplishment.

    The issue I have with rewards is the possibility of developing the feeling that, if I use X as a reward in my life, I am only deserving of X when I've accomplished something. That can morph into feeling like I'm UNdeserving of X when I haven't accomplished something. It can easily get twisted from "I did something great, I deserve this treat!", which is a very positive motivator, to "I don't deserve this, I haven't accomplished anything", which is self-critical and hurtful and demotivating.

    Food is the biggest reward I try to avoid, although there are certainly others (new clothes, painted nails). Food is particularly difficult to avoid because it's so commonly used as a reward in our society. I'll sometimes think, "Yay, I just finished writing a page! I'm going to go to the kitchen and eat a cookie!" And that seems OK in context. But, dudes, saying things like that is SUCH a slippery slope toward beating up on myself. When I eat another cookie later (which of course I will, because cookies are tasty) and I haven't accomplished something, that cookie becomes loaded with guilt and self-hatred.

    I believe that I am deserving of all rewards and all indulgences always, just because I'm me. I don't spend all my time indulging in things because it wouldn't be practical or economical. But I find that it's much better for my mental health to decouple accomplishments and rewards. What works better for me is to say "Yay! I accomplished something! I'm so awesome!" and then write it down, share it with my someone I care about, and do a little dance. It's a mentally-healthy way to celebrate the moment, without tying it to a physical reward.

  10. This is another reason it can be healthy to have a hobby.

    When life gets busy it can be easy to let your hobby get away from you. So when I accomplish something it is a great reminder to set aside some time to play with my fabric. Even if I don't plan on finishing a project, I get to pull it all out and look at it and dream about stuff I want to make, with no demands on myself.

    I am also trying to stay away from food rewards, or rewards that cost very much. So knowing what kind of things feel good is important. A bubble bath is also a great reward.

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