“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” I believe it was Henry Ford who made that quote famous. A lot of folks in the positive psychology space cite it when trying to get clients to think about the power of positivity and the mind’s influence on our behavior. However, the quote I prefer is this one by C.S. Lewis:
You might recognize the author’s name from the Narnia series of books-The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was always my favorite.
Do you hear that voice in your head that says, “You can’t do this,”? Typically, it will creep in when faced with a novel task or perhaps just after you have landed that new job or promotion. Impostor syndrome is something that many high achievers battle with at one time or another in their personal and professional journeys. Negative thoughts plague us; and, more importantly, they are a significant impediment for our performance.
Learning to control your thoughts and create a positive outlook is an effective antidote to that voice. If you can do this, you can capitalize on the enormous boost in performance that comes from having an optimistic mindset. The idea is simple: if you feel good, you perform well. By changing your thoughts, you change your game.
Use a physical or mental cue to shut out a negative thought and replace it with the belief that you can succeed. I teach Olympic and World Championship athletes I work with to live in the moment. That means letting go of their mistakes. It’s hard for a high performer not to dwell on mistakes. They are typically perfectionists, and that has served them well for many years. That’s why they are at the top of their game. However, when we hold on to thoughts about our failures, it impacts our ability to recover quickly and limits our progress.
The athlete or leader who dwells on their mistakes starts to live and act in fear. They are afraid to put their hand up in case they are wrong again. They are afraid to step forward for the next assignment because they didn’t hit it out of the park last time. They are afraid to take the next shot because they missed the previous two. The mistake happened seconds or days ago and is now in the past. We need to let it go. Instead, focus on the present and live in the moment. Sometimes this is hard to do. When we we focus on the failure and shame, we spiral down into this defeatist talk and punish ourselves for not being perfect.
Let go of being perfect.
Here is where I introduce high performers to use thought-stopping physical cues that help them shift their mindset from the past to the present. The physical cue could be a deep breath, a finger point or a clap. It needs to be physical and practiced enough, so it becomes routine. My own thought stopping gesture is two claps followed by rubbing my hands together vigorously for 2 seconds and punctuated by my affirmation. This physical action helps disrupt the negative thought pattern and helps remind you to insert a positive affirmation in the space.
Write down what ritual you will use to stop your negative thoughts. Finger snap? Ear rub? Hand clap? Something else? Next, add this easy and powerful step to go from stuck to strong:
Recite a personal value or positive belief you hold about yourself. Here are mine:
List three positive affirmations about yourself. Remember, to be effective, each must be short, precise and truthful in relation to who you really are.
Another way to get rid of the negative thoughts is to be your own hype person. Be your own raving fan and compliment yourself. We all need to be reminded of how great we are from time to time. Why not take a moment to do so?
It's your own brag sheet to yourself about just how amazing you are. Don’t hold back here. There is no need to be shy and humble. If you won the science fair in 4th grade, put it down. If you think you have the best-looking hairstyle or organized an amazing meeting for your team, put it down. There are no limits here. Brag about your personal life, your professional accomplishments, and the times when you picked yourself up after you were knocked down. Include all the things you love about yourself. This is your letter to yourself (and only you).
Sometimes, I will have clients ask me if this is too much or if it’s egoistical. My simple answer: Ego is when you to speak to others about your accomplishments--confidence is when you speak to yourself, and only yourself, about your accomplishments. There is nothing wrong with that. We will all have dark days when we feel like we aren’t good enough or have made mistakes and want to just climb in a hole. These are the days when you bust open the confidence letter and start reminding yourself of your greatness.
My letter opens like this:
Congratulations on choosing the right woman to marry. You have raised three great kids who are on their way to being successful young adults. You set a goal to get your PhD before the age of 40, and you hit it out the park. It wasn’t easy, but you did it. Your focused efforts and tireless work ethic have helped you….”
When I first became an Athletic Director, that letter was out two to three times a day. A decade later, when I became a Vice President for the first time…out came the letter again.
We could all use a pick me up every now and then. Who better to remind yourself of your accomplishments than yourself? Start a letter to yourself today. Don’t focus on accolades, material things or titles. Focus on moments when you felt a sense of accomplishment because you did something that mattered to you.
Most of all, remember…
Believe in yourself and the rest of the world will, too.--Dr. Ivan Joseph
PS. If you want to learn more about how to build your self-confidence, consider The Confidence Catalyst.