Are you often plagued with self-doubt? It doesn't have to be that way. Experts promise we can put the nagging narrator that tells us we’re not good enough on mute and turn up the volume on our confidence. Here are six ways to build yourself up and seize the day.
Picture your inner critic. Does she look like you? She shouldn’t, cautions psychologist Emma Seppälä, PhD, who explains that we are not our thoughts.
“This awareness creates distance between you and the voice of self-blame.” And surprisingly, one of the best ways to create this space is by embracing your naysayer: “If you tell your critic to take a hike, it’ll come back even louder,” she says. “Instead, respond to it gently by saying, ‘Thanks for your input — I’ll take it into consideration.’” This polite brush-off takes away your critic’s power to bully you.
Treat shame like spam.
To turn down the volume on self-blame, treat it as you would an email, says psychologist Jane Shure, PhD. “We’re skeptical of the emails that show up in our inbox because if we believe everything, we can get scammed. Similarly, with the emotionally based stories we tell ourselves, we can get ‘scammed’ into believing lies unless we separate fact from fiction.”
If you tripped over your words in a meeting and are sure co-workers are talking about you, ask yourself what really happened. The story is people judged you, but the fact is you got anxious. Identifying the truth cues your rational voice to say, “We all experience nerves and no one cares.”
Say your name.
What’s in a name? More than Shakespeare may have thought. “Talking to yourself using your name bypasses the brain’s worry center,” says Shure.
“If I’m beating myself up, I’ll say, ‘Jane, I understand you’re upset, but it’s okay.’ “ As soon as we hear our name, we take what follows more seriously and believe the encouraging words we’re telling ourselves.
Practice “mirror moxie.”
Some of the ugliest things we tell ourselves involve body image. To fight this negativity, gaze at your reflection in a mirror and repeat an affirmation, such as, “I deeply and completely accept myself,” suggests psychologist Joy Jacobs, PhD.
“Doing so on a daily basis rewires our brains over time, short-circuiting our inner critic,” she says. “It’s called ‘mirror work,’ and I’ve seen it work miracles.”
Ask this question.
Our inner critic has a good twin: the voice of self-compassion. Says Seppälä, “It asks us, ‘What do you need right now?’ That could be calling a friend or taking a walk to clear your head. By framing self-kindness as something you need, rather than a mere ‘want,’ you help make self-compassion a habit.”
Yes, you are enough.
We tend to believe that we’re different — everyone else has it together while we, and we alone, struggle. This mind-set leads to “eternalizing,” that is, telling ourselves, “I’ll never succeed.” To avoid this trap, remind yourself you’re human, urges Seppälä.
“This takes you out of ‘me’ thinking and gives you a wider perspective. It’s like you’re running a marathon and trip in the first mile: Your critic says, ‘You’re such a loser’ while self-compassion says, ‘Everybody falls!’ and encourages you to keep going. Listening to this voice boosts resilience and inspires us to try again.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.