I used to doubt myself all the time. I had a running commentary in my head telling me all the things that I couldn’t do, that I wasn’t good at or that I’d never be good at. Have you ever stopped yourself from trying something because you listened to those doubtful thoughts? I used to let them stop me all the time, until one day someone asked me a question that changed my entire perspective.
I knew that doubtful voice hadn’t always been there. When I was a child I used to try everything! I was brave in the face of fear and I would give anything a go at least once. I loved the excitement of a challenge and I was curious to solve problems. When we are kids, life seems like one big adventure, doesn’t it? When I was younger I used to really enjoy performing, singing and acting. For me, it was the thing I thought about all the time and I’d dance around the playground reciting scripts from scenes on TV or I’d sing in the shower imagining I was on stage. I just felt most alive and excited about life when I was engaged in one of these activities. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them I wanted to be a singer, an actor or a performer.
I was lucky to have many supportive and encouraging people in my life, but like many of us, there were also those who were less than supportive, or who thought that they were helping me by discouraging me. They’d say things like “It’s a very competitive industry, you might not make it, better to do a trade or go to university and have a backup plan.” or “That’s a lovely hobby, but you’ll never make any real money out of that, you need to be more realistic.”As a child, I thought that these adults must know something that I didn’t know, and I started to believe that they were right.
By the time I was a young adult and going to a performance arts college, I was the first to talk myself out of really going for it. I’d tell myself that “Performing is fun but it’s not a good career move. I’ll never be as good as the professionals anyway.” It got to the point where I’d started to believe I was that terrible at doing any performance art and I would freeze on stage in practice. I dared not attend an audition until I’d finished my training, because I thought I’d need a certificate, a piece of paper to help prove to others that I was good at something, even if I wasn’t so sure of it myself. This became a pattern for me throughout my life. It got to the point where not only did I stop trying, but I wouldn’t even start. I’d talk myself out of it so fast because I didn’t want to have my deepest fears confirmed. Because not getting the thing right, or not being great at it, not winning or even failing, meant that I wasn’t good enough in life. To me, every time I perceived myself to fail at something, was a tiny confirmation of my own belief that I was not good enough. I did not want to feel the pain of that anymore, so I stopped trying, and avoided situations that challenged me or that were even slightly uncomfortable.
But one day, I was chatting with a friend of mine and he asked me what I did for fun. To my surprise, I really struggled to answer this question that once would have been so easy. In that moment I realised that I had stopped having fun. I had stopped singing in the shower and dancing my way to work. I felt as if I had lost my spark for life. I was sad more often than I’d ever been and I knew that I couldn’t continue to do this. I had to find a way back to who I used to be before this fear took hold. I wanted to face it for what it was, and start to find a way to believe in myself again like I did when I was little. I just wanted to find the joy in life again but I had forgotten what that felt like. What it felt like when challenges were an adventure and trying a new things was about playing and being curious, and not about getting it perfectly right the first time. As I took myself back to those times, I realised that if I wanted to believe in myself, I was in control of that. I could choose to believe in myself again.
How to believe in yourself?
The first step for me was to take note of my thoughts. Whenever I had a negative or doubtful thought pop into my head, I took note of it and then I let it pass by. Instead of giving it meaning and energy like I used to, I decided to say “Thank you for your input, but I’ve got this.” And that was it. I didn’t listen to the thought and take it on as advice. I just said thanks, and let my mind move onto the next thought. This meant that every time I started to tell myself “I can’t” or “ I don’t know” or think of a worst case scenario then I would simply give thanks before sending it on it’s merry way.
Doing this helped me to become more aware of how often I was saying these things to myself, and it helped me to notice which situations brought up the most emotion for me. I was surprised to learn that I was talking down to myself and doubting myself so much more than I realised! I did it in nearly every conversation or interaction with others at uni, at work, and in my relationships. Being aware and bringing the emotion to the forefront of my mind helped me to take some of the reaction out of it, so that I could just observe the thought, and not take it on as part of my identity. When you try this for the first time, you might find it interesting to notice all the different times you might have been judging yourself or letting less than great thoughts slip by undetected.
The possibilities are endless!
The next thing I did, was learn how to turn those thoughts around into more empowering ones. This wasn’t about just thinking positive things or saying affirmations that I didn’t really believe. This was more about taking those dead-end statements of “I’m not good at this” or “I can’t do it” and turning them around by asking myself questions. Great questions can help our minds to open up and consider alternative possibilities. Whenever I said to myself “I can’t” I would pause and turn it around by asking myself a question. I would ask things like “What would it take for me to be able to do this?” “What if I tried again?” “How else can I get this?” “What are some other ways I could do this?” “Who do I know that’s done this before that I can learn from?” “If I could do this, what is the smallest part I could start with right now?”.
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So instead of telling myself that I’d never be a good enough singer, actor or person, I’d ask myself “What can I do to become better?”, “When I’ve really nailed it in the past, what worked for me? What didn’t work? What can I learn from that and take with me for next time?” Doing this simple step of asking better questions, helps to direct your unconscious mind into the open field of possibilities that are there in one’s imagination. It helps you to notice what is possible, as opposed to what is not, and it gives you a chance to succeed and to consider the possibility that maybe you can do it. Sometimes all it takes, is the idea that it’s possible.
Gather your tribe
Who do you know in your life that’s positive and can make a tough situation better? Do you know people who like to look for solutions or seek comfort by listening, and not tearing others down? They support you, cheer you on and focus on what’s possible. How many of those people do you surround yourself with on a daily basis?
I know that I used to work with, live with and be around people who were just as scared as I was, but instead of looking for solutions or cheering me on when I started to believe in myself more, they shot me down and told me I was silly or that I was being unrealistic. It wasn’t their fault, and they might have even thought they were doing me a favour and protecting me from being hurt, but I started to work out that the bigger hurt would be if I never tried at all. Sometimes it can be hard enough to contend with the less than great thoughts in our own heads, so we really don’t need to have extra negativity surrounding us every day.
As much as I loved my friends, family and coworkers, I knew some of them were not helping me to stay strong and get myself to where I really wanted to be emotionally and in my life. So I started spending more time on my own, and finding activities I liked to do and where I might meet people who were on the same wavelength as me. People who wanted to face their fears and who were trying to be and do better. I went to meet up groups and met some amazing people there. I found awesome people at the gym and drama class. I even started trying new activities like stand up paddle boarding, and I found amazing people there too.
Now I surround myself with people who look for possibilities like I do! I get to have fun doing activities that I love and being around fun and happy people who help me stay on track. They give me perspective and help me to see when I might have doubted myself without realising it. Having people like this in my life, really helps me through tough times and it was a huge step in keeping me on track towards my goals. Just being around great people can make all the difference.
I still hang around some of my old friends and work colleagues, but the best thing is, the better I get at things in my own life, the easier it is for me to enjoy being around them and to cheer them on too, even if they don’t always get it.
Start Small & Celebrate Big
This one is so important! When you’re feeling down and doubting yourself, it doesn’t always seem easy to focus on your strengths, or remember the great things you’ve achieved. It’s not even about motivation or positive self talk, it’s about finding the smallest thing that you know with 100% certainty that you can achieve, and then doing that one small thing. The key to this is that once you’ve achieved it, you’ve got to celebrate it as if you’ve just ticked of the biggest item on your goals list. You’ve made it! You’ve done it! You are a champion!!
Part of why I used to doubt myself in the past, is that my mind had this long list of all the things I hadn’t done, achieved or been good at. So in comparison, the list of great things that I was proud of, seemed really really tiny. If I really wanted to believe in myself and stop self doubt for good, then it was going to be my responsibility to build a super long list of positives. A massive list of references that prove how awesome I truly am.
And so that’s exactly what I did. I wrote a list. For example, if my goal was to run every day, then I’d start super small. My first step was so small that for a week my goal was to put on my running clothes every day and step outside the front door. That was it. Then I’d celebrate as if I’d run a marathon! It was so much fun. Each day I ticked that off my list, and I wrote it down in my achievements diary. Before long I was running up the street and back and really feeling great about my progress, even though it was only a 5 minute run. Over time, I continued to progress slowly, so that each additional 5 minutes felt easy and fun. Now I run 5-10 kilometres a day and I still celebrate each run as if I’ve just won a marathon.
Now, my list didn’t just include things that I’d achieved at this stage in my life. I looked back over my entire life, right down to the time I was born, to all the things I’ve achieved and could be proud of. I wrote down all the times I’d helped people and was proud, all the times I aced a project or skill, the times I faced my fears and did something out of my comfort zone. I even wrote down the fact that I was born. In the grand scheme of things, that is a pretty awesome achievement!
It might sound silly, but writing all these seemingly little things, can actually help you to notice that your list of achievements is way more important than your previous list of negatives. Your positives list will keep growing and growing and growing, and it will make it even easier to keep going. Not only that, but celebrating is really fun and we could do so much more of it! Think of how many ways you could celebrate your goals? Read a book, go on a picnic, dance, do a cheer move, go on holiday, sing a song, play a game, chill at the beach, hug your friends, high fives and black slaps, a victory lap around the house or supermarket. Whatever it is for you, you can even create a list to help you remember to celebrate your successes.
Give yourself permission to get up and try again
Permission to fail. To get up and try again. To look silly. To laugh about it. Permission to give anything a go. Permission to be curious, adventurous, and courageous. Permission to be afraid, to be scared and to do the thing anyway. Permission to say no, to say yes and to do what it is that makes your heart sing! Nobody else can do this for you. If you’re always waiting for someone else to give you permission to do something, then you’ll end up confining yourself to what others believe is possible or impossible for you.
Why not find out for yourself what you truly are capable of, and really give life a go, because at least you know that you’ll never regret trying for something you really wanted or cared about. You’ll never regret going for it even if you don’t quite make it all the way.
I certainly don’t. In fact, ever since I began applying these steps to my life daily, I opened up a whole new life for myself. I’m discovering and learning new things all the time, and loving it! I’m much more curious and I get to be playful, knowing that whatever happens, I’ve got this. Not only that, but I get to enjoy a career that challenges and excites me. I get to have deeper relationships and enjoy being a little vulnerable when that would have scared me in the past. I get to feel more healthy and more vibrant just from pushing myself a little further outside of my comfort zone each time I exercise. I get to enjoy all of this, simply because I decided to believe in myself again, and you can too. The possibilities are truly endless.