For many of us the fear of what other people think keeps us trapped from revealing our true selves and living life to the fullest. I know this doesn't apply to everyone but I do know from years of life coaching that it does apply to many people (especially women), including myself. It can be very hard to spot in others who can appear very confident and highly credentialed yet they are still plagued by these silent negative thoughts. So I thought I'd share my journey with limiting thoughts in the hope it may help you.
Your fears may not show up in all aspects of your life, it may be specific areas such as your workplace, or only when challenged, or maybe only in social situations. For others it may pervade your whole life, rarely feeling worthy enough to be listened to. For me it was often around superior male figures that had the ability to make me feel very inadequate and insignificant (little did I realise that it was me making me feel inadequate and not them). It's taken me years of intentionally using various techniques to create a shift in my internal dialogue.
To get an understanding on how much you're affected by limiting thoughts, please take a moment to reflect on these questions:
- How often does the fear of what someone else may think stop you from doing something?
- How often can other people's comments deeply affect you?
- What would the weeks, months and years ahead look like if you weren't a slave to your limiting thoughts?
We develop our deepest beliefs about ourselves and the world during our formative years. Depending on the messages that you received this can leave you feeling more or less good about yourself [note: this is not about blaming your parents or significant adults in your life, it's purely about understanding that you may have absorbed some messages that don't serve you a good purpose, even though there is every likelihood they were delivered from a place of love]. In everyday situations we automatically respond based on our subconscious beliefs. However, there is real empowerment in understanding the incredible plasticity of the mind and that we have an ability within ourselves to shift these limiting beliefs. Here's what has worked for me (and that science supports), although I continue to be 'work in progress':
- First of all it helped to become very aware of what I was thinking. I suggest spending the next few days taking careful note of your automatic thoughts - write them down so they become more visible to you. Are you spending a lot of time being critical of yourself? Are many of your thoughts about what you can't do and why you're not good enough?
- Once I saw a clear pattern of my particular limiting thoughts, I was then ready to work on replacing them with something much more realistic and useful. I began by shifting statements of absolutes, such as, "If I speak up they're all going to realise that I'm an idiot", to something more realistic, such as, "I have not ever been laughed at before so I do know some things".
- I put myself on high-alert for my negative self-talk so I was ready to reframe it immediately. I found that if certain people challenged me, I would automatically reflex into believing that they must be right and I stepped quickly into feeling a little foolish that I even thought I knew what was going on. Over time and with lots of discipline, I learnt to immediately grab that first thought (having previously identified it as one of my limiting thoughts) and encouraged myself to come up with a much more realistic perspective.
- I started practicing 'mindfulness' and found this very empowering for learning how to better 'sit' alongside my emotions, rather than being blindly lead by them.
- I intentionally surrounded myself more often with those people who uplift me and minimised my time with those who took from me emotionally.
- Talking my limiting thoughts through with my husband (or any loved one) helped me a lot. I found that sharing some of the limiting thoughts that had come up for me during the day really helped to get them into a better perspective. Partly this was because when I actually heard myself say the words out loud, I got greater clarity around how damaging and unrealistic those thoughts really were. It also helped because my husband is ridiculously biased about me, so he is genuinely gob-smacked that I could say those things to myself. Seeing his genuine disbelief of such thoughts and quickly sharing his observations that prove counter to my thoughts has helped me enormously to now do that for myself.
- I asked myself, "If I was talking to my best friend, and not to myself, would I speak to them in such a negative way?" and the answer is always, "no". Why would I talk to myself with any less love and care? Showing myself love and compassion has really helped. Click here for a quick and easy 'Loving Kindness' practice that helped me to be much kinder on myself.
Most importantly, know that you're not alone in feeling this way. It is incredibly common, even in those who you would never imagine because to you they look so confident. Most of us, at least at some times, feel the fear of being judged as not being good enough. Hopefully these few tools can help you feel more in control so the world can get to see more of the real you. If you don't feel that you have enough skills to do this alone, please contact me for coaching to work through it together. Good luck, let your real self shine!