When it comes to new ventures, especially ones outside of my comfort zone, I look like a squirrel trying to dash across a street.
You’ve seen them: they take a couple of steps, freeze, zig zag, and then retreat until they get up the nerve to go for it, scarcely making it to the other side, or worse yet, get smooshed.
My turbulent path to pursuing goals that were difficult, complicated or unfamiliar was fraught with low self-confidence, impulsive stop and starts, and a fear so great that, like a squirrel, the chances of my survival was dubious at best.
The ancient, reptilian (one could even say squirrely) part of our brain is largely responsible for insisting that we don’t have enough of something– safety, food, money, lip gloss–and if we’re not on high alert at all times, then something awful will happen.
It is so adept at crafting and collecting evidence to match your painful thoughts (I call ‘em mind monsters) that you might even find yourself hiding under the covers, eating microwave popcorn and watching re-reruns of Leave it to Beaver.
Not that I did that, but it could happen. One of those times was when I was asked to speak at a Iarge event. As a life coach I had spoken in front of groups before but never one this large.
I was freaked out — so much so that I found myself daydreaming about everything that could go wrong. My mind would go blank and I’d freeze or when I finally conjured up the nerve I would spontaneously burp, which was probably better than actually vomiting on stage.
The audience would laugh but never in the right places.
The Mind Monsters
My stubborn belief was that I was incompetent, and that without warning someone very important was going to discover that I was a fraud and broadcast it to the entire world!
As a result, my inner world resembled a beady-eyed wild woman continually scavenging for her favorite drugs, Validation, and her best friend, Reassurance.
Outwardly, I frequently relied on external factors like clients, teachers, and grocery store baggers for feedback, recognition and false confidence.
And when I didn’t get an “atta girl”, I was filled with so much dread and self-doubt that I contemplated quitting and enjoying longer dates in bed with my popcorn and TV set.
If you resonate with anything I’ve said so far, read on for some of the most common kinds of Mind Monsters and how to trade them in for true self-confidence:
- If I make a mistake I will die. Unlike a squirrel, whose mistake may be tragic, yours likely won’t kill you—so don’t get carried away when you make them. Look at your mistakes through the eyes of your intellect and spirit, not your automatic fear response. Research has shown that those who continually worry about making mistakes shut down access to the creative part of their brain and make less progress. Those who accept that mistakes will happen and are relaxed about it learn much faster.
- I‘m just not smart enough, good enough, etc.. According to Heidi Halverson, author of Succeed, “many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and our physical aptitudes are fixed — that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. Consequently, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills. Abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable.” If you’re learning a new skill, whether it’s coaching, skiing or mastering a French manicure, focus on “getting better” vs. “being good.” Look for where you’ve made progress rather than what’s lacking.
- I have to do it right–a.k.a. I need it to be perfect! Perfectionism is not the quest for the best; it’s a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, says Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. Ask yourself what you would do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly? I bet a nickel that it’s a lot more fun, engaging and creative than what you’re busy not achieving behind the veil of perfectionism.
- I can’t handle it. Fear is instinctual and alerts us when there is real trouble. In other cases, it can cause hopelessness, paralysis and ultimately trap our reservoir of energy. My guess is that many of you have had to face some pretty tough situations (divorce, death of a loved one, a job loss) and you handled it. According to Susan Jeffers, author of Feeling the Fear and Doing it Anyway, “believing that you can handle your fears is the key to allowing yourself to take healthy and life affirming risks.” Ask yourself: What is one thing you would do if you believed you could handle anything that came your way?
- I Just feel crappy about myself. Make a list of all your positive characteristics, traits and attributes. Enlist others to help make the list unique and all-inclusive. Add any positive comments, feedback and testimonials you receive, then post it where you can see it. Read as often as needed and let the deliciousness of your beauty sink in.
Unlike the squirrel, who truly risks his life scurrying to cross the street, remember that the only “real” danger you face is the illusion that you are not perfect enough just the way you are.
My speech, as it turned out, went well. I didn’t freeze, burp or vomit. Happily, neither did the audience.
They even laughed in all the right places.
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