Say Goodbye to the Self-Doubt that Limits Your PotentialBy Homaira Kabir
“You’re not good enough for this”, “You messed things up again”, “They’ll never let you do it—hey, they don’t even like you!”
Self-doubt is that internal voice that questions our abilities, downplays our performance and leads to ambivalence and avoidance. This constant chatter is loudest when we are about to take our most important decisions. And more often than not, we succumb to its authority and sadly, limit our potential.
Some self-doubt is necessary, of course. It allows us to prepare better, to seek feedback and to strive for personal development. However, self-doubt that permeates every aspect of our lives leads to a downward spiral that lowers our general self-confidence and inhibits us from showing up fully in the world.
So how do we build genuine self-confidence, release limiting beliefs, and stop getting in our own way?
Be Part of the Conversation
The inner critic is a one-way monologue that tells a very negative story. We need to listen closely so that we can rethink its story, begin a dialogue, and create a more realistic and helpful narrative. Through it, we can take responsibility for our lives and act with integrity rather than run away from what we were meant to achieve. This is the basis of self-respect, the deepest form of self-confidence.
Be present with your thoughts. Create a distance between them and your current reality. This allows you to keep calm and maintain perspective, rather than get carried away with your mind’s chatter. Better yet, begin a daily mindfulness practice.
Be Authentically You
Each one of us is unique in what we are passionate about and how we desire to express that passion. Professor Robert Vallerand at the University of Quebec in Montreal has found that passions help define our identity, bringing a sense of deep confidence and self-worth. However, we can become disconnected with our authenticity because of gender stereotypes, societal expectations or erroneous childhood beliefs. This leaves a part of us at the door as we delve in self-doubt and inner conflict. To bring our full selves to life, we need to shift our focus from questioning our abilities and performance to the genuine difference we can make to others through our unique expression.
Recognize what you are passionate about and what brings you genuine happiness. Identify the opportunities around you that could benefit from your special gifts. Now go out and honor that natural desire to make a difference.
Surround Yourself with Cheerleaders
Human beings have been called the most social of animals for a reason. We are highly relational, as is evident by the many neural networks that allow us to feel empathy, to synchronize our reactions with others and to exhibit heroic acts of altruism. However, this interpersonal quality also makes us dependent on other people’s approval, over which we have little control. The inconsistency of their opinions can perpetuate our self-doubt and keep us constantly on the lookout for reassurance. By surrounding ourselves with people who believe in us and who remind us of our abilities and qualities, we can remove the barriers that sabotage our success.
Identify the five people you can count on to pick you up in your moments of self-doubt and who remind you of your positive qualities and natural competencies. Make a conscious plan to spend time with these personal cheerleaders on a regular basis.
Build Your Library of Positives
Talking about our successes tends to be considered as bragging. However, unless we attribute our success, when it is due, to our skills and hard work, we fail to appreciate our efforts or build our self-worth. Instead, we fall prey to "imposter syndrome," where we believe that luck and good fortune were responsible for our success, and fear having to do well again. The 3 Good Things exercise in positive psychology, that redirects our thoughts towards three good things that happened in our day, has shown to be effective in increasing happiness by transferring otherwise forgotten positive events into our long-term memory. We can use it to mentally construct our own library of successes so as to counter feelings of self-doubt and self-pity.
Every time you make a positive difference in any area of your life, spend a few moments thinking about the steps you took that led to the outcome. Research shows that even 20-30 seconds spent in this activity can help develop confidence in your abilities.
Develop Self-Compassion for Apparent Failures
Every journey is bound to have its share of successes and failures. However, our minds have evolved to latch onto negatives and make a big deal of them. Add to that the fact that we live in a society that worships perfection, and we end up chasing a mirage and beating down on ourselves for our apparent failure to arrive at it. Professor Paul Gilbert’s work on self-compassion shows that beating down on ourselves brings on shame and makes us run away from difficult choices. However, by recognizing our efforts and giving ourselves the understanding we need, we can find the strength to continue our journeys with the best of what we have to offer.
Practice self-compassion meditation as a way of countering the inner critic and challenging its voice of criticism and self-doubt. Place your hand on your heart for greater connection to your own suffering and speak to yourself in a kind voice. Soon enough, you will find the strength to take the right action.
Remember the Power of Non-Verbal Communication
Communication is only part verbal. The rest of our message is communicated through tone, gestures and expression. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy shows that we can change other people’s perceptions and our own body chemistry simply by tweaking our body language. Sitting tall, for example, makes us appear powerful and confident, whereas slouching in a chair makes us instantly feel weak and small. By making it a habit of speaking with presence, where our posture, expression and tone is aligned with what we have to say, we can convince ourselves that we have something worthy to contribute.
Experiment with different “power poses”—like standing with your feet apart, hands on hips. Note the difference in confidence that comes from shifts in your bodily stance. Now practice talking in the body language that makes you feel most authentic and confident. This image of self-respect you portray is how others see you too.
At the end of the day, self-confidence is about our own belief in our own ability to succeed at the game of life. What’s more, when we display genuine confidence that is grounded in our authenticity, we come across as credible (and people tend to like us more, too!). This interplay of action and positive vibes leads to a self-perpetuating upward spiral of lasting self-confidence.
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach and a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist whose practice is founded on the science of positive psychology. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. To sign up to her free course on Finding Your Life’s Direction, visit her at www.homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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