You might be starting a new relationship, beginning a new job or buying a house. Or you could be retiring or getting married or meeting a group of strangers. In any case, here it comes: Self-Doubt, that fearful tug at the back of your mind, asking, “What if I’m not good enough?” Self-doubt nips at your heels, nags at your psyche or stops you in your tracks.
If you’re having a hard time feeling good enough, you’re not alone and you’re not doomed to a life of misery and self-doubt. You can exercise your “good enough” muscles by incorporating these five action steps into your daily routine.
If your feelings of inadequacy pertain to a specific skill, practice the skill repeatedly. Most skilled people—even naturally gifted ones—practice those talents and get better at them. If you feel deficient in an area (playing an instrument, for example), you can improve. You can improve all the more by zooming out and focusing on the structure of the skill you’re learning. Linda M Gruson’s study of skilled musicians concluded, “…experienced players are more likely to repeat musically coherent sections of the piece.” Practice really does make perfect.
2. Develop healthier self-talk
Use affirmations. These don’t have to be cheery or false sounding. I have a friend who says that when she’s doing something scary and feels ill-equipped for the task, such as buying a house or getting an advanced degree, she says to herself something like, “Stupider people than I am do this all the time.” She doesn’t pump herself up with narcissistic enthusiasm. Instead, she takes stock of the people around her who are doing difficult things and succeeding. Then she plunges in, telling herself, “If they can do it, I can too.”
Researchers are beginning to look at another phenomenon as well. It works even better to call yourself by name. For instance, you might be more likely to say to yourself, “I can’t do this!” but if you call yourself by name, (“Pamela, come on, you can do this!”) you’re more likely to cheer yourself on.
3. Show Grace
Paul Gilbert of Kingsway Hospital in the United Kingdom says that the mammalian care-giving system involves oxytocin and intrinsic opiates and that this system developed as a way of increasing the likelihood we would care for our young. Gilbert explains that this system creates compassion. The fact is that the same compassion we extend toward our children or our friends can be turned toward the self.
Make a deliberate choice to treat yourself the way your best friend would treat you, making room for mistakes, focusing on your strengths and encouraging your own growth.
4. Silence your inner critic
Most people experience times when their inner critic gets loud or relentless. You might start a new job and keep thinking to yourself, “My new co-workers are so close-knit. I’m never going to be able to make friends at this place” or “I can’t finish this book. I should never have tried to start writing.” Silence your inner critic by pushing back with positive thoughts, such as: “I’ve made friends before, and I’ll make them again” or “I don’t leave things undone, so there’s a good chance I’ll finish this book.”
Athena Staik, PhD explains, “Scientists speculate an average of about sixty thousand thoughts cross your mind a day, most of which you habitually repeat to yourself.” Dr Staik suggests that changing your thoughts can change the way you see yourself and the way you operate in the world.
5. Listen to your inner critic and then push forward anyway
What if your inner critic is harsh and unyielding? What if it keeps talking? Listen carefully, offering your attention but setting a time limit. After a full 20 minutes of senseless agony, let your inner critic keep talking—but forge ahead while the negativity rattles on. At the end of a 10-hour rant from your inner critic, you will have completed your tasks, improved in your deficient areas, performed in areas where you were previously underperforming and held fast amid personal disappointment. Let the negativity churn and do something positive in the meantime.
We know this works because research bears it out. In one study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, researchers at the University of California and Duke University studied MRI scans in subjects who received negative feedback about themselves. Those scans showed people with more self-referential thoughts felt worse about themselves. Focusing on someone else or doing something else, stepping outside of yourself is an effective way to break the negativity loop.
If you incorporate these five action steps into your routine, you’ll have a better chance of feeling at ease with yourself and with others, and you’re more likely to feel good enough. You’re also more likely to be a positive force in the lives of other people. Author and Spiritual Activist Marianne Williamson reminds us, “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”