Lying in bed last night, I started to think about how the “lows” have impacted my life and goals I wanted to accomplish. And how others struggle with them and what we all can do about it.
- How low self esteem keeps me doubting the truth of the love and support of my friends. How it keeps me rooted in shame and feelings of worthlessness.
- How low self confidence insiuates itself with that little voice that says “why try, you’ll never be good enough” and is surprised at compliments and especially anything indicating I have positively impacted or helped others. It also keeps me isolated with the belief that my social skills are poor.
- But self doubt is probably the most insidious and destructive of the bunch. It’s what keeps me/us on the couch instead of trying to walk a block, it’s what keeps us from trying new things, from believing we can do a short session of cardio after a difficult strength workout, indeed, from doing or continuing an exercise our trainer is asking us to do. Doubting we can do one more ____, doubting we can even finish the session. Doubting we can start eating more healthy and stick to it. Not even starting an exercise program because of doubting we’ll stick to it. Not trying anything new because we automatically think we won’t do it well or fail, so why expend the resources only to be disappointed. And most devastating, doubting our ability to get better, to grow and evolve. That we are stuck and that’s that.
If you’ve struggled with any or all of these, you’re like the majority of folks. We all struggle with these at one point in life or other. Incredibly successful people, seemingly very self confident people, people we admire, they’ve all had their moments, too!
Warning – geeky science bit!: These negative feelings are actually patterns of thought hardwired into brain by repetition over time. Think of it as stepping onto a forest floor with one set of footprints and walking through the woods – that’s the “initial event” that creates the basis for a new neural network. In order for that network to continue to automatically get utilized, you need to continue to walk that path (repetition) until it’s worn down to a nice dirt packed trail. At this point, when new positive events, information, or ideas are presented to us, that “path” asserts itself to challenge the new information, a bit like a filter. If the new information doesn’t match our existing belief system, red flags are raised and all that work in the background comes up to our conscious mind as the voice that says “you’re not good enough”, “you can’t handle that situation”, and “you’ll never be able to_____”.
But here’s the thing: our brains are receiving so much new information constantly and by focusing on positive information and making a conscious effort to change our internal “self talk”, we start to create new forest paths, new neural networks in our brains that say “yes I can!”.
The science is nice to know, that your thoughts and belief systems were formed over time and can be changed at the physiological level. But to do that you have to pay attention! When a negative thought comes into your mind, attend to it, think about if it’s true NOW and applies to the person you are. And decide if it serves you or is just holding you back. As you challenge yourself over time, just like old patterns are established, your brain will start new paths and repetition will reinforce them.
This takes time as you’ve walked your “paths” so many times they are second nature. You may want to try the tried and true “positive affirmations”, reading change-oriented books, cognitive behavioral therapy (which addresses how our thoughts impact our actions and underlying toxic thought patterns), and after identifying your “hot spots”, slowly challenging them with new approaches and scooting out of your comfort zone.
The Benefit To You:
I run into these issues time and time again, especially since transitioning from the working world to SSDI, although it’s been a long-term struggle. Each new project is approached with trepidation and waves of self doubt. It’s taking time to believe I can do things again, whether it’s a spreadsheet, a few extra reps with the trainer, getting out and walking before breakfast, and so much more. “Stikin’ Thinkin” is very powerful, the murmuring voice of negativity in the background and it takes attention and work to address and replace it with healthier, and more realistic modes of thought. Because the reality is that we are capable of so much more than we think we are; it just takes the strength to believe that and then to act. Just try to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and changing an established outlook will be challenging and you will have set-backs. But the satisfaction and confidence you gain from trying and succeeding, over and over, will be worth every ounce of effort, I promise!