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BY MARIA GARRIDO - 4 MINUTE READ
Manage your insecurities to build self-confidence.
THE STORY YOU TELL YOURSELF
Sometimes, I talk to myself. Before you jump to the conclusion that I've lost it, hear me out, because I'm quite sure many of you will recognize my rhetoric in your own lives. For instance, if I forget something, I might mumble under my breath "Oh, for crying out loud, again, Maria?" and "How could you be so dumb?" Does this sound familiar? Or have you ever heard yourself say any of these to someone else: "I'm terrible with directions. I suck at math. I can't do this. I'll never get it right."? How about when someone compliments you, do you react with a self-depricating joke and try to disqualify their positive comments? "Oh, please, this old coat? It's nothing special, I've had it for years".
Many of us carry a negative internal critic who is often rearing its ugly head to remind us we're not good enough. For some people, this self-doubt is rooted deep in experiences from childhood with less-than-nurturing adults or from a neighborhood bully and in adulthood, from a toxic relationship or a nasty boss. The truth is it doesn't really matter where the critical narrative comes from, these seemingly small negative comments can cause significant damage to our psyche; continuous self-criticism, outloud or in your head, erodes self-esteem and overall well-being.
After years- even decades- of seemingly small commentary like the above examples, negative emotions pile up, causing anxiety, unnecessary stress and diminishing self-confidence. When you constantly focus on your perceived flaws or mistakes, you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel and can quickly feel overwhelmed in the face of life's many challenges, sometimes impairing decision making. Over time and with continuous noise from your inner critic, some people become paralyzed by fear of failure or mistakes.
Net, net, all this self-doubt is not good for the soul.
A BETTER FRIEND
No one is perfect. It is normal to doubt ourselves from time to time and everyone experiences setbacks in life. When you listen closely to what you tell yourself, do you find that the self-criticism is constant? Or do you berate yourself only over certain things? Either way, these are unhealthy and not nice ways to speak to your heart. It's important to assess if you are being the kindest friend you could be to yourself.
If you've already made a mental list of the negative things you tell yourself while reading this, it's time to challenge and change them.
Challenging your inner self-critic involves a combination of self-awareness, cognitive restructuring and shifting these negative thoughts towards more self-compassion. To challenge, you must first understand your critical thought patterns. Why do you say or believe that negative thing about yourself? Where did this thought come from? If you can identify the root cause, you can start to take some distance from your inner critic. You can objectively ask yourself, "Is this really true"? When you question the accuracy of the thought, you're aiming to foster a healthier and more balanced perspective on yourself and your abilities.
Whether you come to the conclusion that the inner critic is wrong (most of the time!) or right (rarely), you must treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer to a friend in the same situation. Remind yourself that the thoughts you have do NOT define you or your self-worth.
To shut down the inner critic for good, you can start by shifting your perspective on even the smallest negative thoughts. When you practice mindfulness (awareness) and follow it with positive affirmations, you make one degree turns that, over time, can drive a more positive view of yourself. For instance, if you didn't forget your keys today, celebrate that success in your mind, no matter how small.
It's also important that you make an effort to surround yourself with positivity. Seek out supportive influences in your life and if you can, limit the time you spend with people who always have something critical to say about you, themselves or life in general. Find those who reflect back at you the kind of behaviour you want to emulate toward yourself: self-compassion and encouragement.
OUT OF TUNE
To illustrate this approach, I'll walk you through a personal negative thought I've held on to for nearly 40 years. It may seem trivial, but we all have those tiny thoughts that linger and chip away at our self-confidence over time. If you've read my blogs, you'll know that I have loved the theatre since I was a child. During all of these years, I have been terrified to sing, which means musicals are off limits. I've held this belief since the age of 9 when I auditioned for a school musical and was rejected because the director said I couldn't sing.
I've carried this criticism around for decades. Whenever a national anthem was sung or I attended religious services, I would mouth the words, but not a sound would leave my lips, because I was nervous someone would hear me sing. To be honest, I've beaten myself up for so long, I don't even know if it is actually true that I cannot sing!
Then, five years ago, Ms. Agatha Hannigan walked into my life.
My theatre club was putting on the musical Annie, and my dream was to play the orphanage director, Ms. Hannigan. There was just one problem...actually two! Ms. Hannigan had two songs in the show. I was so hungry for the part that I reasoned myself into it, saying "Well, since the character is an alcoholic, no one will care if I can sing well. After all, in the first song, she's supposed to be hungover so being in tune won't matter, and in the second song, she's half-drunk anyway, so maybe no one will notice I suck!"
To muster up the courage, I memorized the lyrics, I watched endless youtube videos of everyone from Carol Burnett to Jane Lynch to amateur troupes in Kansas City. I have a good ear, so I thought, if I can teach myself to imitate them, I'll survive. When the auditions came, I was terrified. I nervously sat waiting for my name to be called and stared at my parked car through the window thinking, "There is still time for me to run!". In the end, I stayed because it was time to challenge my own self-doubt, to face the bully in my head. I don't remember the audition but I do remember the tremendous joy at being told I got the part!
And then.... absolute paralyzing fear!
I'm not going to lie; I didn't suddenly start belting out tunes with fine pipes! Challenging my self-doubt on my singing voice was a very long and arduous process. It took time and practice to deconstruct the negative thought. I spent months of rehearsals agonizing about it, terrified I wouldn't hear my cue from the orchestra, going through the songs with our vocal coach, over and over ad nauseam, driving my family crazy singing "Little Girls" all day, every day. Deep down I knew all this crazy self doubt was rooted in that incident when I was 9 and yet, it wasn't easy to let it go.
The second night of the performance was sold out. In the wings, I tried to pump myself up and reframe my self doubt, changing from my usual negative "I can't sing" to repeating to myself, "I did a decent job yesterday so tonight will be better."
At the end of the show, I took my bow to the sound of deafening cheers. That's when I had an A-HA moment; more than anything, the applause was a reward for overcoming my self-doubt. You see, it doesn't actually matter if I can sing. What matters is that I faced my inner critic and I stared her down until she got out of the way.
I still don't perform in musicals often, but I can be heard belting tunes in the shower or karaoking with friends. I've even dared to slip a singing line into a global conference I gave in front of 2000 people! I don't actually care if I hit the note.
I'm in tune with myself and that is melody enough!
OH, YES YOU CAN
To shift your focus from negative self-talk to affirming your worth and capabilities, you can practice daily positive affirmations. Select an empowering statement that counteracts a specific negative belief. For example, if your inner critic often tells you that you're not good enough, your affirmation needs to challenge that with "I am capable and deserving of success."
Write it down and say it out loud to yourself often. The act of writing reinforces the positive message, and repeating it daily can gradually rewire your thought patterns. When you spot positive actions that reinforce your affirmation, make note of them. Over time, you may find that your inner critic becomes less dominant, and you develop a more self-compassionate and supportive inner dialogue. With practice, you'll start to face your self-doubts without fear, overcoming your negative thoughts and cultivating a more positive mindset to be in better harmony with yourself.
SELF CARE TIP
Remember that challenging your inner critic is an ongoing process that requires practice and patience. So be compassionate and try to be consistent. A reinforced effort to replace negative thoughts with positive, realistic ones can gradually reshape your mindset and contribute to improved self-esteem and well-being.
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