Developing confidence in your ability to return to work

Your level of self-confidence can show in many ways – in your behaviour, your body language, how you think, what you say, and more. When confidence in your ability is high, you are generally able to master various skills and achieve meaningful goals. You trust in your ability to work towards your goals in a particular area.  Confidence can lead people to accept challenges, and persist in the face of setbacks.  It also connects to how we perceive ourselves and can build our self-esteem overall.

When coping with an acquired brain injury, you may find that your self-confidence has been re-shaped as a result of your experiences. Things you might be thinking about may include, but not be limited to:

  • How are things going to be for me when I return to work?
  • Can I really do this?
  • What’s it going to be like trying to keep up with others?
  • What will happen if I cannot function at the same level as before?
  • I don’t want to let others down

If you are having these or similar thoughts, building confidence in your ability to return to work may need to be addressed.

Topics in this section include: 

Preparation & commitment

The first step in building your confidence involves getting yourself ready.  It’s important to reflect on your current priorities and to realistically think about where you are now and where you want to go.

As you prepare, it will be important to understand any ongoing recovery and symptom management priorities you may have. Your care team, which can include a range of medical and other practitioners, may also have insight into how you are progressing overall, along with important advice related to return to work planning. Be sure to follow any medical recommendations as you prepare to re-connect with your workplace.

Some individuals recovering from an acquired brain injury can experience difficulty initiating change and finding the motivation to take the steps required to make something happen or to move something forward. If this describes your experience, you may need some extra dedication to the return to work process. The best way to do this is committing to the steps required to prepare for this important endeavor.  

When you are preparing, the key is to not take on too much at once. Understand your limits and be sure to check in with yourself and assess how things are going. It’s also important to note that things do not always go as planned. If you find that this may not be the right time to engage in the process of returning to work, that’s okay. Take some time to determine what you will need in order to make this happen, and commit to trying again in the future.

Re-connecting to your strengths

Take a look at how far you have come

Think about your recovery so far. What have you been through? What have you been doing to support your recovery? How much have you learned? The likely answer to all of these questions is quite a lot!  

Through your commitment to the recovery process, and the steps you have been taking to get well, you have reached an important milestone. You can now begin to engage in return to work planning with confidence in your proven abilities thus far. 

Think about your accomplishments at work

Think about your work and identify some of the accomplishments that you are the most proud of or satisfied with. Whatever this means for you, take some time to reflect on this, and remind yourself about the success you have already achieved. You can also think about how you felt when working, and how it would feel to re-connect with this aspect of your life.

Identify your strengths 

It’s normal for individuals with an acquired brain injury to compare themselves and their circumstances to where they were before the injury. Perhaps you find yourself thinking about how good things were before your brain injury and now, what things have been like after your brain injury. This can be challenging in terms of identifying strengths because you may have come to believe that your strengths are associated only with your pre brain injury self. This can have a devastating effect on self-confidence. The key message here is to begin to take a holistic view of your strengths overall, and to understand that your recovery process has been applying a range of strengths and skills that you already possess.

As you prepare to return to work, with proper planning you will be able to re-connect with and build on your strengths. As you think about how far you have come and your strengths and skills that have brought you to where you are now, your confidence in your ability will begin to increase.

Engage in valuable conversations to identify needs

As things progress, you will be doing some planning around any supports you may need. This is an important aspect of returning to work, and in some cases it’s a step that is often overlooked.

Working through the Returning to Work Following an Acquired Brain Injury Guidebook you will have an opportunity to think through, identify and talk about your needs.  At the same time, your support network – whether this is a partner; family members; friends and/or others – will also have an opportunity to offer and provide support as may be required.

Steps to achieve this may include, but not be limited to:

  • Identifying who the stakeholders are, at home and at work. Who can assist you with your efforts?  
  • Setting up a time to get together to talk about your goals
  • Discussing any expectations you may have of others and vice versa 
  • Identifying any specific support required. In practical terms, what might this look like?  
  • Clearly communicating your needs in an open and honest way. It’s understandable that you may not be comfortable with this. Start small, and work up to bigger topics
  • Keeping the channels of communication open. Establishing an on-going dialogue will help you to check-in; monitor progress; assess support levels; and make adjustments where may be required

Framing any requests for support within the broader goal of return to work will help you recognize this positive step forward. This preparation, planning and taking control will make a big difference. It’s also an opportunity to return to work on your own terms. The more you can build on the positives and ensure proper supports are in place, the better position you will be in to begin this process with confidence.  

Focus forward through goals development

Setting and achieving SMART goals is a key part of building confidence. SMART stands for goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

As you develop your goals and take the steps towards achieving them, you will gain confidence and see concrete results. Your SMART goals can help you:

  • Connect to your strengths
  • Progress through your recovery
  • Move forward in returning to work
  • Identify up-coming opportunities 
  • Explore newly emerging areas of interests and skills
  • Maintain some degree of control over any challenges you may be experiencing.  

In the beginning, focus on the basics and build from there. Break larger goals into small ones, and celebrate your successes when you achieve them.

Build in milestones

A milestone is an event or a point in time that marks a significant change or important stage of progression. 

In relation to achieving an overall goal, building in milestones will provide you with a road-map of what you want to accomplish and by when. The actions you take towards achieving your goal will move you forward incrementally overall. The milestones you reach will map out forward movement and will help ensure you stay on track.  

With this in mind, milestone recognition can become a key aspect in monitoring the progress you are making. As you reach key milestones in specific areas, you will begin to see the positive momentum building.  

Manage your self-messaging

If you are having difficulty building your self-confidence, you may need to begin monitoring and managing your self-messaging. Learn to become aware of your thoughts, and what you are telling yourself. This is a key step in the process of managing self-defeating, limiting or negative thoughts. 

Pay attention to the number of times throughout the day that your thoughts lean towards negativity, self-doubt and/or self-defeat. Spend some time reflecting on these thoughts:

  • Do you see a pattern?
  • Are there any trends developing?
  • Can you identify the most common negative and/or limiting thoughts you are experiencing?

If so, address these particular thoughts directly. Ask yourself if what you are thinking is accurate, partially accurate, or if it fits with what you know about a situation. Is the thought partially incorrect or altogether wrong? 

Get into the habit of challenging negativity or limiting thoughts with logic:

  • Is the thought reasonable?  
  • Does it stand up to a rational analysis?

If you are doubting your ability to return to work, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have the knowledge and information that a reasonable person would think is needed to do a good job when returning to work?
  • Have you educated yourself as well as you reasonably can?
  • Have you planned appropriately?
  • Do you have the resources in place that you need to support this process?
  • Have you cleared the time you need to follow this through?

If you have answered yes to these questions, then you have done everything that you can sensibly do, and you are well positioned to take this on. If you are still worried, address any specific areas that may be giving you a challenge. Using this analysis as an example, you can delve further into any specific areas that you are experiencing challenges with. Be sure to work in specifics versus “blanket statements”.  Blanket statements can make it difficult to understand what the actual area of challenge is. Instead:  

  • Practice being specific
  • Break things down into bite-sized manageable categories
  • Work through each one with logic, analysis and planning 
Example #1 – blanket statement:

” I’m not sure that I can do this. ” 

This is vague and broad-based. It seems to be all-encompassing. Where would you begin to plan from?

Example #2 – specific statement:

” I’m feeling unsure about what my work hours should be when I return.”

This identifies a specific area that needs to be addressed. For return to work planning, discuss the hours of work; make suggestions for reduced or part-time hours on a gradual and/or trial return basis; work from home and any other possible solutions can be considered. This is concrete planning.  

In the end, if you find your commitment, preparation and planning may not be working to reduce negative and/or limiting thoughts, ask yourself the following questions:  

  • Am I setting unattainably high standards for myself?  
  • Are there any specific areas that I need to adjust?  

If you find you are having persistent negative and/or limiting thoughts, you may want to consider reaching out for some support. Sometimes, talking to an objective listener can help to identify any areas that may need to be addressed.  

Apply the learning to move forward

Self-confidence is extremely important in almost every aspect of our lives.  By doing the preparation and planning, combined with identifying any supports you may need, you will build a strong foundation.

It’s important to remember that mistakes or mishaps will occur when you are trying something new.  If you can get into the habit of looking at mistakes as learning experiences, you can see them from a different perspective.  And be sure to take the long view of any situations that you may find difficult or stressful. If you are finding new ways of doing things and/or new responsibilities stressful now, it does not mean that they will always be in the future.  

As you find your self-confidence building, it may be a good time to consider building on your goals. Remember to take it slow: you do not want to take on too much and crash in the process.

In the end, the steps that you take towards developing confidence in your ability to return to work will be unique to your situation.  Each step that you do take, and the planning that you put in place will support you in this important endeavor.