Do you believe the things people tell you about yourself? Do you believe the things you tell you about yourself?
I got an email from a reader, Chelsie, a few days ago. She’d been through a tough time lately and had gained some weight. Feeling out of sorts and depressed, she decided to go for a run to work out some of the stressful kinks. She ran in the woods of Iowa, feeling on top of the world. Then, she rolled her ankle and fell.
Laying there with no phone and 2 miles from her car, she felt foolish and defeated. Her mind started playing back all the crap people had told her over the years, “"You're not a runner. You're not athletic. Why do you even try? You aren't good enough." She sat in the midst of all of the negativity for a couple of minutes, crying, wallowing. But, then a switch went off.
It started as a whisper, but became louder and louder. “I am good enough,” she told herself. For so long she’d been allowing all of the negative things people had told her about herself to enter into her head. She had started to believe the naysayers. She had become defeated and had stopped standing up for herself. But, on this day, in this moment of vulnerability, she was done. She had “reset her mindset.”
She ended the email by saying, “Life won't go according to our plans, but doing something good for yourself everyday, like running or yoga, makes it a lot easier to roll with the punches.”
I love this story (even if it doesn’t involve ONE bodily function) because it so perfectly illustrates the power we have over our thoughts. It lets us know that we can filter not only what others tell us about ourselves, but what we tell ourselves about ourselves.
I don’t think we’re born with self doubt, I think we learn it. Over time, we take in negative external messages from parents, peers, teachers, coaches, etc., and decide to believe them. We learn the ways of the world. We start to compare ourselves to others. We decide we don’t stack up. Before we know it, we’ve decided we’re not good enough.
Self doubt can crop up about anything and everything. I am not a fast enough runner, I’ll never get my PR. I am not an effective parent, my kids will be in therapy forever when they’re older (don’t know if you can avoid the therapy thing no matter how hard you try). I suck at my job, I’m not smart enough to get this stuff done.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some steps you can take to nip self doubt in its ugly ass:
1. Admit it. Realize the self doubt is there. Most of us have some degree of self doubt. For some it is the smallest of whispers and doesn’t lead to inaction, depression or low self esteem. Others, however, operate out of self doubt and can be paralyzed by it.
2. Trace it. Try to figure out why it’s there. Does it rear its ugly head when you run with a friend who is faster than you or when you go to your mom’s playgroup? How about when you visit your parents? What triggers the strongest feelings of self doubt? When you are in those situations, be prepared to notice the self doubt and to move onto #3.
3. Tackle it. Don’t take self doubt sitting down. Set up strategies to minimize it.
- Question it! Are the doubtful feelings true? Not likely. For example, if your Aunt Edna keeps telling you that you will never run a 5K because you are too out of shape and it will kill you, is this true? Not likely. Maybe she needs a lobotomy. Consider the source. Know that some people want to bring you down because they are jealous or they don’t feel great about themselves.
- Be bold. Challenge the doubt. If you’ve always wanted to run a half marathon, but talked yourself out of it, take the first steps. Find a training program or a coach. Prove yourself wrong. This is the best way to kick self doubt to the curb.
- Talk back. Self doubt thoughts creep into our brains on average 1,560 times a day. Okay, I just made that up, but the number is probably pretty large. Have a strategy in your head for when this happens. When I was a junior in high school my speech teacher always told me that before I got on stage I needed to tell myself, “You are the queen of the world.” I know it sounds goofy, but it worked. Sometimes building up your own confidence and getting behind yourself is the best thing you can do. Other good talk back techniques? “Screw you, negative thought. You are out of line and don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Of course I am good enough. Of course I can do this.”
If all else fails, there is always the Stuart Smalley inner voice to fall back on:
Do you struggle with self doubt? If so, how do you cope with it?