“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.”
― Peter T. Mcintyre
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to improve your self-confidence.
The irony is not lost on me. As I offer my perspective for ways to increase self-confidence, I reflect on my current level of esteem. At any given moment, I can quickly go from feeling assured, strong, unbreakable…to plummeting into an unyielding spiral of self-doubt and shame.
How does this happen? How do we learn and build confidence? What are the obstacles in the way of our ability to hold onto our inner strength?
There are external factors that impact whether we maintain a positive sense of who we are throughout our lives.
How our caregivers responded to us when we succeeded…or didn’t; or how we learn to receive feedback from our peers, family, teachers; or even how early comparison buried its way into our skin. These commonplace occurrences can leave us second guessing our worth.
Through my work leading workshops in The Daring Way™, a highly experiential methodology based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, I teach participants the integral practice of identifying when they are in a shame spiral and how to develop resilience to the feeling of not being enough.
As a Gestalt therapist, I work with clients to identify the creative adjustments (i.e. defenses) they have developed throughout their lives that are no longer serving them. The overlap created with these two approaches leads to a deeper understanding of how the shame spiral that can immediately bring us back to feeling unworthy and undeserving delivers a direct hit to confidence. It is with this awareness, however, that a new choice presents itself.
For months, I’ve been mired in the belief that I am not “smart enough” to meet my goals. Logically and in reality, I know that this isn’t the case because I’m here…I’m working, I’m living, I’m thriving. And yet, even with this knowing, there is a part of me that, within seconds, can revert to this myth and I am once again in shame!
The internal message, often referred to in Gestalt therapy, as an introject, is a creative adjustment (i.e. a defense) that manifests as a story, usually living in the form of "not enough.” I swallowed this story whole and grew to believe it to be as much a part of me as my hands. It runs deep and it’s painful when it resurfaces.
The steps I take to increase my resilience to shame are:
First, acknowledge that I am in it, which does not take long, no more than a few seconds. I feel the shame wash over me like hot water, my eyes swim in tears and my body collapses.
The second, is to reckon with the emotions, and get curious.
Through years of work in my own therapy, I’ve learned to challenge the belief. I question its existence in my life.
Third, I rewrite the story. Each time I’ve practice engaging in this process, I grow more resilient. The belief doesn’t survive as long as it once did, and I develop a deeper, more grounded confidence and my voice gets louder. I know I am enough.
Christine Vargo, LCSW - www.christinevargo.com
When you know that another person totally accepts you and is understanding of who you are and whatever you choose, your confidence increases.
When we can offer that kindness and acceptance to ourselves, our self-esteem and worth rises. It is truly our own negativity and judgment that breeds self-doubt. The more self-doubt we are feeling, the less confidence within.
When we have compassion for someone else, we are aware of their deep suffering, coupled with the wish to help him/her in some way. If we apply this idea to ourselves, we have the opportunity to honor our own humanness and foster more kindness, understanding, and compassion.
Pay close attention to your inner dialogue. Would you speak that same dialogue in your mind to someone you love? Why not? The reason we would not is because speaking words of criticism, blame, and negativity does not lift up our loved ones. Research has found that encouragement, words of support, and loving statements increase self-confidence, rather than criticism and negativity.
So what would you say to someone you love?
You would likely say something like, “You can do it,” or “You are doing the best you can,” or “Everything is going to be alright.” We must pull the weeds of negativity in our minds and plant seeds of compassion. Identify ways that you can lift yourself up in truth and challenge negative thought patterns that keep you down on yourself.
Be aware of the content of your inner dialogue and practice being a compassionate friend to yourself.
Once you are more aware of your inner thought patterns, assess whether it is a dialogue of friendship. When you are being compassionate, kind, understanding, gentle, and accepting within yourself, your level of confidence soars.
Dr. Lisa M. Templeton, Phd - www.interpersonalhealing.com
Some people believe they have no confidence but this cannot be farther from the truth. The fact is that confidence is built into every human being.
There are those who allow it to shine and others who stifle it. Some may disagree with this point of view but just think about it for a moment.
If we do not have confidence already within us then why are we confident about some things but not others.
Let’s try an experiment; think of something you are not confident about. Now ask/answer these questions; what, where, when, who and why. What is it you are not confident about? Where are you when you experience this feeling? When are these feelings occurring? Who is around you? And finally why do you think you are not confident in the area you chose?
Now ask/answer the same questions about something you are confident about.
Compare your answers from the two situations and you will probably see the differences.
The influence of external forces can be powerful; especially the views of others either through personal encounters, on social media or even in our entertainment.
Someone somewhere is telling us what we should look like, what we should say and how to say it and even at times what to think. Hearing so many differing points of view when brought about in such forceful ways can make a person examine their own views and at times question the validity of those personal views thereby causing less or lack of confidence.
Others’ judgement is as influential as one allows it to be.
Sounds easy, right? But it is not. People often go with the majority, not because it’s right for them but because so many are saying it’s right. Discovering yourself and what you believe in can help you focus on what is right for you. That is when an individual allows their confidence to shine.
If you are reading this then you are searching for ways to know yourself and what you believe. Keep looking and thinking about what is right for you and not what others are telling you is right, The confidence is already within you. You just have to allow it to shine.
Cheri Allyson Brunory, MA, NCC, LPC - www.cheribrunorytherapist.myfreesites.net
One of those traits we all aspire to possess. You can spot a confident person from across the room. You’ve heard the phrase “she exudes confidence” so, how, exactly, does one go about “exuding” confidence?
There are some simple exercises one can do in order to give off the appearance of confidence. You know, fake it til you make it. If you are coming to this article with a less than desired amount of confidence, starting with the basics can help you practice your exuding in no time!
First: keep your head up!
When walking down the hallways at work or school, the mall, or busy streets, keep your head up! Look around at your surroundings. Make eye contact with people you pass. Smile. If your head is buried in your phone, a book, or even just memorizing the pattern on the carpet, no one will be able to see your face. Looking down gives the impression of apprehension or self doubt. So look up! Take in the world, and in turn, allow the world to take you in!
Second: practice the “Superman stance.”
Sounds silly, but it really works! Stand tall. Put your hands on your hips and jut out your chest, just like Superman does when he exits the phone booth! Try your Superman stance before heading into meetings, meeting friends, going on a first date, any time you need that extra boost of confidence.
There is a saying that goes “see one, do one, teach one.” When you are at your utmost confidence, teaching others something you are good at can boost your confidence even higher. So, by now you’ve “seen one,” aka: noticed the people who exude confidence. You’ve “done one,” aka: walked with your head up, stood in your Superman stance.
Now it’s time to “teach one.” To do this, first think about what you are good at. Are you able to put together a last minute work get-together that will have people talking about how fun it was for months to come? Are you great at figuring out everyone’s portion of the dinner check, tax and tip included?
The thing(s) you’re good at don’t have to be monumental. Just think of a time when you felt others appreciated you. Now go and do that thing! If you hear someone in your office is planning a get together, offer to help them plan it, showing them how you made the last get together so stellar. Do you have a killer banana bread recipe? Are you able to throw together an outfit on laundry day that is still able turn heads?
That’s confidence! Play up your strengths, and pretty soon people will be able to look at you and say Damn! S/he exudes confidence!
Stephanie Weinblatt, MA, LCPC - www.healthylivingcounselingcenter.com
Confidence is a combination of an internal and external job.
First step: Be aware of lack of confidence.
Be able to identify when it happens by observing (noticing) when lack of confidence occurs and describe to yourself or perhaps in a journal the circumstances that you find your lack of confidence most likely to occur. If you journal these, it helps get the thoughts out of your head and gives you an opportunity to read and perhaps share out loud with your therapist or confidant how it is that lack of confidence effects your life and under what conditions.
Second step: Identify the “voice” of lack of confidence.
Meaning, what is your internal dialogue telling you, for example “if I ask for what I want, they will hate me” and as a result you do not ask, which creates a lack of confidence. When you are able to identify what the voice of lack of confidence tells you, you can discern whether it is just a thought or is it a fact? Remember, not all thoughts are facts, we lie to ourselves more than anyone else.
Third step: Once you are able to identify a thought versus a fact, do the opposite of what the voice of lack of confidence tells you to do.
So, if lack of confidence tells you “don’t ask that person to stop doing something” try asking that person to stop. The circumstances are variable, in basic terms you want to do the opposite of what strengthens lack of confidence, and one of the only way to do this is through action, meaning do the opposite action of lack of confidence.
Lack of confidence is misplaced fear.
Fourth step: Get your body and facial expression involved.
Become physically fit, dress for confidence, have healthy posture, eat healthy, and half smile when you are feeling the fear come in, it signals the brain to be accepting of yourself and the circumstances. It is hard to smile with a willing posture and have lack of confidence.
Fifth step: Identify gratitude’s of who and what you are.
This may mean you explore who you are in relation to the world, what is your meaning in life? Once you have a path and have an idea of what or where that path starts and who is your guide whether it is God, Higher Power, Buddha, Jesus, you, etc., confidence will increase as you follow it. The gratitude practice is a way to build positive emotions and to decrease defeated ways of thinking. Consider how far you have come, some of the crises you have experienced and made it through, the people you have helped and the daily things you have that may be small, but significant, for example you have the capability to have coffee in the morning. The core is a person needs to have some kind of spiritual connection to life and what it means to be alive in order to have true confidence. So now, it really comes down to you, who are you? Why are you here, what is the purpose of your life and if you know the answer to these, the question is why are you not following your path? Now is the time.
Lisa Bahar, MA, LMFT - www.lisabahar.com
Self-confidence comes from knowing and liking who you are.
It’s appreciating your strengths and having grace for your weaknesses. On its most basic level, self-confidence is knowing that you are good enough, exactly as you are.
We all struggle with feeling good enough at times.
Many of my clients like to think their way through change. They hope new insights, or repeated positive self-talk, will change the way they feel about themselves, and that will change the way they experience themselves in the world. And sometimes this works. But often, they end up saying something like, “I know it’s not true that I’m not good enough, but often, it still feels true.”
One powerful way to improve your self-confidence is to try new things.
I know this seems counter-intuitive. Won’t trying (and possibly failing) at new things erode self-confidence? It can if you approach new experiences with a Success-Or-Failure attitude.
But if you approach new experiences like science experiments, with the aim to gather data about who are you, what you prefer, and where your strengths lie, trying new things invariably builds self-confidence.
Imagine you’re asked to take a cooking class with a friend.
You aren’t a very good cook, so your instinct is to say no, to avoid embarrassment and discomfort. Saying no does have the short-term advantages of avoiding uncomfortable feelings, but you miss out on the opportunity to experience yourself in a new way.
If you can summon the courage, you may find getting out on a Wednesday night is a nice way to break up the week, and that you have more energy on Thursday and Friday than you used to. You might find your friend is grateful for your time, and your presence puts her at ease in the class. You burn the first dish, but make a joke and the class finds your self-deprecating humor charming.
The instructor explains why your dish burned and on your second try, it comes out edible. You learn that whisking eggs with a chopstick makes for better omelets and the right amount of salt is necessary to bring out the sweetness of a cookie.
At the end of the six-week class, you have not only improved a few technical cooking skills, but you have experienced yourself as a kind, generous friend; a funny, entertaining person; and someone who is brave enough to tolerate uncomfortable feelings in order to try something new.
Imagine if you had sat at home and every Wednesday night thought to yourself, “I am a good friend. I am funny. I am brave.” It may have improved your self-confidence a little.
But experiencing yourself as generous, kind, funny, and brave encodes this data in a much richer way and allows you to integrate this new story of who you are into your self-concept much more readily than if you had just sat at home and thought about it.
One more example: Imagine you decide to train for a hilly 10k.
This is a terrible idea and you hate it immediately. You are out of shape and a horrible runner. But every day, you follow the training guidelines, and you get outside, or on the treadmill, and move your body for the number of minutes, or the number of miles, the schedule indicates.
If you have a Success-Or-Failure attitude, you might get very down on yourself for how slow you are, or how little you enjoy the runs, how much your knees hurt, or how many times you quit early.
But if you’re focused on collecting data, you might find it interesting that on days you have a handful of nuts and half a cup of coffee 30 minutes before your run, you have more motivation and energy.
You might notice that even though the hill is much steeper than you thought, it feels amazing to reach the top. And it isn’t nearly as miserable to run in the rain as you thought. (Actually, you almost enjoy it, as it brings back memories of being a kid and splashing in puddles).
No matter how you perform on race day, you feel proud of the commitment you made to yourself and your health, and you have a hundred little achievements to look back on: the way it felt to cross the finish line; your sister’s smiling face as she handed you a fresh water bottle; the training day you did sprints and pushed yourself to run faster than you thought possible; that time at work the elevator broke and you had to climb 12 flights of stairs and everyone was winded but you.
Memories are encoded as thoughts, so you want to be purposeful and strength-based about how you think about yourself in new experiences.
Memories are also encoded as feelings, so focusing on the times you feel proud and strong and happy in new experiences is important. And memories are encoded physically. There is something very powerful about how strong your legs feel as you cross the finish line, or how the cookie dough feels and smells as you knead it in your hands.
I know trying new things can be hard. But it is one of the most powerful ways to learn more about how amazing you are and improve your self-confidence. And trust me, you’re worth the effort!
Shelby Riley, LMFT - www.shelbyrileymft.com
Do you ever feel drained, tired, or overworked? Do you feel like your relationships are typically one-sided with you doing most of the work?
It could be that you do not have very healthy boundaries for yourself.
Having unhealthy boundaries leaves you feeling walked over, resentful, exhausted and often your value in yourself is based on the behaviors or thoughts of others, which comes with loneliness, rejection and poor self confidence.
Having healthy boundaries can help us build self-confidence because we begin to take ownership for our emotions and manage the parts of an interaction we have control of.
Healthy boundaries allow us to honor our needs and attempt to hold people accountable. We hold people accountable by holding the line. Every time we enforce a boundary with someone they are more likely to respect our boundaries, which helps us feel more confident and empowered. Having healthy boundaries also helps us deal with the emotions that arise when people attempt to cross our boundaries.
Here are some helpful tips to remember when setting healthy boundaries that will begin to build your self-confidence.
1. Boundaries are actually about you.
As a clinician, my clients often tell me “I set these boundaries but people keep crossing them. They aren't working!” That's because they are typically setting boundaries based on another person’s behavior, and we don't have control over other people.
A boundary like “You need to stop disrespecting me”. isn't a bad one, but expecting people to stop doing something just because you say is not actually a boundary. There has to be a line that you hold.
Something you do if the boundary is crossed. Like “I am feeling disrespected so I need to come back to this conversation later”. In this example you own your feelings rather than blaming and the actual behavior you are changing is your part in feeling disrespected.
2. People may and probably won't like your boundaries.
As I mentioned above, boundaries are not for the other person. Because they will often be mad or upset at you for setting and holding these boundaries. You do not need to nor should you explain or convince them that your boundary is acceptable.
If you are enacting a boundary that is about protecting your feelings and emotions and not about controlling and manipulating others, then you have no reason to explain yourself. If they are mad, sad or rejected that is their emotion and you should give them the space to cope with those feelings.
3. Proximity is the most obvious and an easier way to set boundaries.
This can be by removing yourself from the situation, removing yourself from a relationship or getting some distance from whatever you typically have trouble holding boundaries with.
For example I teach at a university and I constantly get students wanting me to break my boundaries of accepting late work. The way I help myself hold that boundary, if I am having trouble just saying “No”, is to say “Give me 24 hours to think about it”.
By getting distance I am able to think about the pros and cons of my boundary and then I can address the issue again when I have more confidence in my decision.
4. Make sure your line is something you can actually hold.
Because I work with a lot of spouses of individuals who struggle with addiction, they often attempt to set a boundary to get their spouse not to drink. For example “If you don’t stop drinking I will leave”. But they say that over and over again without enacting it.
This is because 1). This is an ultimatum that is based on controlling another person’s behavior. 2). If you are unwilling to actually follow through with that boundary then there is no reason to set it.
Each time you fail at holding the line it will take a hit to your confidence. So make sure your line is something you can hold.
For example instead you may set a boundary like “I get too anxious when you drink, so in order to not react in anger I am going to be distant”. Make sure to cope with this anxiety and anger. Sometimes that comes with getting some distance.
5. Practice, practice, practice.
Change doesn't happen overnight. And unhealthy boundaries have likely been a cycle of interaction you have participated in most of your life.
The more you continue to set these boundaries, every time you tell that person “I will not continue to feel disrespected” by no longer participating in that interaction, the more they will realize they no longer can cross that boundary.
It also gives you the chance to deal with your emotions and cope without someone else doing anything different.
6. Change does not always mean other people will change.
You might work really hard and get awesome at setting and holding your boundaries. However, this might mean people do not like this change and leave or no longer want to have a relationship with you. That is on them!.
You are still holding your line of not being disrespected, or whatever your boundary might be. It may be hurtful for them to no longer want that relationship but the more you are able to hold your boundaries the more practice you will get at coping with these feelings.
Give yourself some grace as setting and holding boundaries are hard. But begin to notice some of the interactions with those boundaries.
Heather Austin-Robillard, PhD, LMFT, LMFTS - www.facebook.com/heatheraustinrobillardtherapy/
1. Be of service.
Believe it or not, doing something nice for someone else who appreciates it releasing feel-good neurotransmitters and hormones that lift our spirits. And doing for others gets us out of the space where it’s just about ourselves.
2. Do something you always get complimented for.
My mom makes great blueberry pancakes. She gets so much pride when all of us kids gather and ask her to make them. Focus on what you ARE good at and soak up the positive feedback. It will help you push through the areas you have room to improve on.
3. Practice self compassion.
When you notice your inner voice judging and being critical something you’re doing - like say yoga - and you can’t quite do the pose or the cardio is a bit too much, notice the critical thought.
Don’t shame yourself for thinking negatively. Just notice it and re-shift your inner dialogue and say internally, “Okay! You will get there one day!” Remember progress, not perfection!
4. Ask for a hug from a loved one.
Acknowledge when you’re feeling low about something and reach out to your bestie for some connection. We all need a little extra love sometime from people who know how fabulous you are in general.
5. Track your thoughts and feelings following a situation where you’re feeling especially down to get a better understanding of what triggers your thinking negatively about yourself.
Then ask yourself if there were examples of other times where you can contradict your immediate negative to disprove that you’re not good enough.
An example would be if you catastrophize how the latest work project didn’t go well because of your performance. Then think of a few times when your project performance did go well to prove your self worth isn’t based solely on this one mishap. And better understand why it was that those times worked better and learn from it!
Jennifer Musselman, MA, LMFT - www.jennifermusselman.com
I'm sure you've heard of self-love. “Just love yourself … man.”
Sounds like a phrase straight from the 60s, right? But it's so much more than a hippie, new-age philosophy or movement. Self-acceptance, or self-love can transform your life in incredibly meaningful ways. Loving yourself can boost your self-esteem, make others like and respect you more, and send your confidence soaring, among many other things.
Self-acceptance starts with you.
But what exactly is self-acceptance?
I like to think of it as a kind inner voice that loves you unconditionally. This inner voice is caring, compassionate, and patient. Think of it as an ideal caregiver – the perfect mother you sometimes see in a movie who always has the right thing to say at just the right time.
And here's what self-acceptance is not.
You're lacking in the self-acceptance department if you put yourself down, downplay your accomplishments, call yourself names, criticize your looks, abilities, actions, or intellect. Isn't it good to be humble though?
Sure, at times. But self-deprecation is not the same as being humble. The type of negative self-talk mentioned above, over time, eats away at your self-esteem and can cause others to lose respect for you.
Why is loving yourself so hard to do sometimes?
People are taught to emotionally protect themselves at a young age. Human beings are extremely vulnerable when they're young for many reasons. Other children, and sometimes even caregivers, can be incredibly cruel throughout a young person's formative years. I'd be surprised if anyone made it out of childhood without at least one experience of being humiliated, bullied, or teased.
What does this have to do with accepting yourself?
Believe it or not, negative self-talk, which is the opposite of self-acceptance, can be a method of emotional protection which may have been needed as a child. I'll talk more about this later. Self-criticism can serve a protective function, which means it can be a difficult habit to reverse.
Because it can be so challenging to quiet your Inner Critic, I'm sharing three incredibly effective methods to teach you how to start embracing yourself unconditionally today.
1. Who's Voice is that Talking?
It's time to get to know that inner voice that criticizes or puts you down. Listen closely the next time you make a mistake or feel embarrassed. There will likely be an internal voice that provides running commentary about you as a human being.
It might say things like, “You're so dumb. Why did you just say that?” or “You're too damaged. No one could ever love you.” Ouch. This part of you is what is commonly referred to as the “Inner Critic.”
Start by getting to know this part of yourself. It may help to imagine your Inner Critic as if it were a character from a play, movie, or book, but inside of you. What would this character look like? It helps to have a visual sometimes to help separate or get distance from that part of yourself.
Really start to pay attention to what it says.
Does anything it say sound familiar? Does it sound like anything you've heard growing up? It's possible your Inner Critic might sound a lot like your mother or father if they were highly critical or difficult to please.
Get to know this part. The important part of self-acceptance isn’t to get rid of your Inner Critic, it's to embrace and learn to love this part. Remember, we're talking about self-acceptance, and your Inner Critic is a part of you too!
When you notice it speaking loudly, ask it what it's afraid of if it didn't criticize you or make you feel so bad? It may feel strange to talk to yourself and get answers, but it works if you keep trying.
The most common scenario I see with my clients is that this part is trying to beat others to the criticism by being mean to you. It thinks that if it judges you first, then it gives the other person less power to hurt you. It might make you feel more prepared if someone else does say something nasty.
What this part doesn't realize is that it's actually hurting you more by making you speak so meanly about yourself.
2. Stop Judging Others
Yes, you read that right. Stop judging others harshly. Be kind.
What does this have to do with accepting yourself?
When we judge others harshly, we're usually commenting about a part of ourselves that we see through someone else that makes us uncomfortable. In counseling, this is called projection. Projection is when you label other people with traits or characteristics within yourself that you feel ashamed of or dislike.
When you find yourself harshly judging someone for being late or not being perfect enough, turn the focus towards yourself. What's really bothering you about that person? What is it triggering within you? Do you do the same thing or act in the same way at times?
It's true, sometimes people do things that are not ok and it's not actually about us at all. But most of the time, when you feel annoyed by someone else's actions, it'll point to something within you that you don't like.
Try to give people the benefit of the doubt. And if you're unsure about why they acted a certain way, ask them instead of assuming you already knew their motives.
When you stop judging others harshly, it helps to break the habit of judging yourself.
3. Speak Kindly to Yourself.
Almost every one one of my clients speaks kindly to their friends and family, but neglects to do so for themselves. If you're truly learning how to accept yourself, this third step is critical. You MUST transform the Inner Critic's voice into one of kindness.
Become mindful of your inner dialogue.
Try to start catching your Inner Critic when it's being mean and ask if you would ever speak to a friend that way? If you wouldn't, immediately ask that critical part if it could rephrase what it was about to say.
Maybe your Inner Critic is trying to get you to change something so that you don't make a mistake, or it's trying to protect you from being ridiculed. That's fine, but you can ask that part of you to rephrase its commentary into something more constructive.
Here's how that might look in practice: You notice your Inner Critic starts commenting on your reflection in the mirror.
It lays into you, “You look so fat in those pants. Ew. If I can see your muffin top, so can everyone else. You really need to go on a diet.” As soon as you notice this inner dialogue, catch it and ask for kindness or constructive criticism.
You might say to your Inner Critic, “I know you're trying to protect me from other people who might make fun of my weight, but can you say that differently?” Then give the Inner Critic time to rephrase what it might say.
If the critic struggles to come up with something kind, ask yourself how you might phrase the criticism if it were your friend. Surely you wouldn't tell a friend they looked fat in such a cruel way.
If you would, then that is a whole different topic for a different day. I'm assuming that you wouldn't for the sake of this article. Maybe you would say to your friend, “You know, those pants aren't as flattering as that pair of jeans I saw you wear on Friday. You looked great in those.”
Moral of the story. If you wouldn't say it to a friend or loved one, don't say it to yourself. Period.
When combined and used regularly, these tips should help your Inner Critic transform into a kinder and more compassionate voice.
When you treat yourself with respect, other people are likely to follow.
Self-acceptance isn't a luxury. It truly is a necessity that affects your entire wellbeing, confidence, and relationships with others. It can be difficult at first to break this habit of negative self-talk, but once you start treating yourself with love and kindness, life can feel so much easier!
If self-acceptance is still a continued struggle and interferes with your quality of life I recommend seeking out a therapist in your area or a personal development coach to help you work with your Inner Critic.
Tarah Galloway, MAAT, LCPC, ATR - www.tarahgalloway.com
How do you motivate yourself to do better?
For years whenever I felt like I was falling short on something, I would call myself as a “Stupid B****.”
For many of us, that’s just how we’ve learned to talk to ourselves. Those who shaped us (parents, teachers, coaches, etc…) used pointing out our failures and shortcomings as a way to get us to try harder. Over time we develop patterns of using those judgments on ourselves when we need a little motivation boost.
A group exercise during my Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) training, opened my eyes to how a large percentage of our thoughts tend to be judgments and the negative emotional impact of relying too heavily on them.
We define judgments as evaluative statements that do not include description of observable facts. This includes opinions, assumptions, beliefs, and guesses about other’s emotional state or thoughts.
As human beings we use judgments all the time.
They are quick shortcuts, and our brains are programed to like shortcuts. If I can put a person (or a behavior or group of people even) in certain box, then I don’t have to take the time to learn any further information about them. From an evolutionary standpoint this can be helpful. In situations regarding survival, it is beneficial to be able to make quick decisions without having to sort through all of the facts.
There are consequences for relying too heavily on judgments though.
They contribute to heightened emotional states by adding connotation. They can keep us looped in unproductive thought patterns. Also when we place judgments on ourselves, they tend to be global self-judgments. Thinking about yourself in this type of all encompassing way can leave you believing you are powerless to change things.
If you think judgments are contributing to feelings of low self-esteem, you can use the DBT mindfulness skills to combat this thought process.
The first step is to become aware of when you are using self-judgments.
This means observing your thoughts and self-talk. When you catch a judgment, you want to rewrite it with a descriptive statement. For the description stick solely to observable facts – again this means letting go of assumptions, beliefs, and emotional labels.
For example - you have trouble with procrastination and find yourself stressed about an upcoming deadline. When you feel the urge to throw out that “Stupid B,” instead describe the situation using only the facts. “I waited to begin my project the day it was due and now I am feeling stressed about it.”
Substituting the judgment for a description of behaviors, then gives you space to see where there are actual changes you can make. And it opens you up for a whole slew of other behaviors that also contribute to self-esteem: problem solving unhelpful patterns, gaining mastery and a sense of competence, and increasing engagement in life.
It takes time to make these changes.
Remember you are working against patterns that were laid externally but have been internally reinforced since childhood. As you become more mindful of your thoughts, you may realize you relied upon judgments way more that you had initially thought.
Be patient and keep rewriting the thoughts when they appear. It may seem overwhelming. Mindfulness is a skill, thus it requires deliberate practice to gain mastery. The more time you spend observing your thoughts, the more control you will gain over them.
Put it into Practice:
Step 1: Observe when you are using self-judgmental statements as motivators.
It is likely you have a couple of go to ones. Practice being aware when those statements run through your mind. It may be way more often then you had originally thought.
Step 2: Acknowledge the emotions behind your judgments.
Usually when we are talking to ourselves in this way you can find one of these negative emotions - anger, disappointment, shame or fear. By labeling the emotion, you are practicing self-validation and reducing emotional activation.
Step 3: Rewrite your judgment statement using a fact based description.
Focus on behaviors. Once a behavior is identified you can move to problem solving to avoid the situation in the future.
Step 4: Repeat. Remember, we are often working against years of conditioned behavior.
A statement we often share with clients is “avoid judging your judging.” These thoughts will likely resurface, continue to rewrite it each time you are aware.
Jamie Schmidt, M.Ed., LPC - www.jamieschmidtlpc.com
We create our own life’s story. These stories have the power to hurt or heal the way we live our lives, moment by moment.
Take a breath or two to consider the word self-talk. What is it? Where does it come from? Can we do anything about it?
Simply put, self-talk are the words we say, silently to ourselves, all-day, every-day.
We talk to ourselves constantly and we tell ourselves stories about our lives. The stories we tell to ourselves and the stories we tell to others, create our reality.
As humans, we do not always do well sitting in the unknown.
We like to have answers! We like to know why things are the way they are, why someone said what they did, and why that thing happened to me. Instead of sitting in the unknown and letting things “be” just as they are, without attaching meaning to them, our brains like to make up stories because stories give us meaning. Stories allow for us to see patterns in our lives and those patterns also give us meaning.
This is what we need to remember: We have control over our thoughts, our patterns, and the meaning we create. Our thoughts do not control us, we control them by choosing where we put our attention.
As I am learning in my work as a therapist, and in my life, it is not about what happens to us in our lives, it is about the stories we tell about what happens to us. We choose. Do we want to grow from our experiences or do we want to be stunted? Here, in this place of autonomy, there is so much power in our choice.
So, what does this look like in real time?
Step 1: Attend to the body
First and foremost, you must begin right where you are and bring your awareness to your body! When we notice the constriction or openness in our bodies, our world expands. Whether we have a clenched jaw, hunched shoulders or a tight lower back, noticing our shape is crucial (not our clothing size but the way we hold ourselves in our lives).
When we recognize what creates our experience, we can respect it, then change it, and even reverse our human psychobiology, rather than ignoring it or trying to change it. Scan your body for what you observe.
Step 2: Adjust your breath
We must bring our breath out of the chest, the fight or flight breathing, and move it low to the full belly breath for rest and digest breathing. Let your stomach move out while you breath in deeply, and contract as you breathe out fully.
Step 3: Attend to your thoughts
Notice where your thoughts are active right now. What story do you have about what is happening right now and what it means? Are you thinking about past events or concern for the future? Are you experiencing feelings of connection or loneliness, openness or constriction, anxiety or freedom? Just notice.
Step 4: Adjust
Put your attention on what you care about. Choose the story that you care about and that makes you feel connection, open and free.
Step 5: Move from control to trust
You belong in love, you belong in the flow of life and your body will tell you how to get there if you can quiet your mind by tuning into your body. As the yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar states, “As long as you do not live totally in the body, you do not live totally in the Self.”
Eleanor Hooper, MA, MFTC – www.themakarandamethod.com
We all do it. Set unrealistic goals, that is.
We may think we’re establishing realistic goals because they seem like they are doable at the time. But once we get into our normal, busy lives, we realize we may have underestimated the the amount of time or flexibility needed to accomplish said goal.
And then we ended up feeling frustrated, disappointed, and unmotivated to try again. This is the reason so many people have difficulty keeping New Year’s resolutions.
Take for example, you set out to start going to the gym 5 times a week (when you currently go zero times a week). Oftentimes, you may get to Thursday and realize there’s no way you’ll make the goal of 5 times a week, so you decide to just wait until Monday and start over next week. So, the cycle continues and you never actually get to your goal.
So, how do we change the cycle?
Well, we start by adjusting our expectations and goals to be attainable.
Sure, you might physically be capable of working out 5 times a week, but maybe you just don’t have the time or space in your life to make that huge leap from zero to five right away.
When we set out to accomplish goals that are actually realistic for our lives, we ended up increasing our confidence in our own capabilities.
In turn, we become more motivated, and then we may even end up pushing past the initial goal little by little and getting to that lofty goal we wanted to obtain in the first place.
So, how do you set goals that will actually motivate you to keep going and feeling confident and accomplished?
1. Make your goals attainable.
Setting a goal that is realistic is going to be a lot more motivating to work towards than a pipe dream. Often we set such lofty goals that we don't even know how to get started in trying to accomplish them.
Begin by adjusting your expectations so that your goal is something you might actually be able to accomplish (e.g. start working out twice a week for 20 minutes each time instead of aiming for 5 days a week).
2. Make your goals measurable.
It can be difficult to break our goals down into tangible steps, but establishing goals such as "getting healthier", "prioritizing family time", or "improving my career" are pretty vague. Think about what you actually want to accomplish and break it down into steps.
Starting with a small step is a great way to gain momentum and figure out how you can actually meet your goal. It can be helpful to spend some time defining your goals using the SMART goal system (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely).
3. Make your goals meaningful.
If you set out to "be a better employee" or "lose 30 pounds", just because you feel like you should chances are high you won't stick with it. Your investment in your goals does matter. The more enjoyment you feel about your success and accomplishments, the more likely you are to increase your own self-efficacy about meeting your goals.
Design goals that are meaningful and be kind to yourself if you don't get it perfectly. If you realize you’ll only make it to the gym once this week, don’t get down on yourself about it. It’s still better to go once, than not at all! Giving up certainly won't get you the end result, but forgiving yourself and trying again just may.
When we set realistic goals and expectations for ourselves, it’s more likely that we will experience increased confidence and feelings of success. This drives out momentum to continue the goal. And chances are that momentum will keep driving you to push yourself even more the on the go-around!
Liz Kent, MSW, LCSW-C – www.perissostherapy.com