All high achievers have two attributes in common. The one you hear about is their self-confidence–the inner sense they can overcome challenges more often than not.
What is often forgotten (or ignored) is that most people who enjoy self-confidence were once plagued by fears born of imagined or actual inadequacies. The truly confident manage to flush much of that self-doubt from their systems.
Here’s a 10-step plan. What follows isn’t easy, but the struggle is worth the reward.
Phase #1: Eliminating Self-doubt
Step 1. Understand Its Origins
Self-doubt crept into your system as a baby. As toddlers, we all looked at the power our folks had and thought: “Gotta be like them.” This wish isn’t the problem; putting our parents on pedestals is. It’s complex, but from the moment we crave power akin to what we feel our parents have, we continually contrast our sense of self with our ego ideal—an imagined, perfect self, derived from our image of our “super-powerful” parents. Since no one can live up to the standards set by ego ideals, we spend the rest of our lives (to greater or lesser degrees), plagued by doubt. This is irrational, of course, but true.
Step 2. Accept It
There’s a school of psychotherapy—called “acceptance therapy”—based on the insight that admitting you suffer from a problem reduces the distress it can cause. (Conversely, denying the existence of a problem, or beating yourself up for having a flaw, is always debilitating.) Everyone, even superstars, feels like a fake or failure at times. We all have imperfections. Recognizing that those whom you admire most have them, too, is the trick.
Step 3. Fess Up
You’re probably not done with Step 2 yet. Chances are that real acceptance won’t kick in without sharing your anxiety with someone you trust. Think you’ll flub a presentation? Give one to friends. Doubt you command respect? Ask someone you admire (but don’t report to) if all is okay. Worst case is that whomever you confide in will give you negative feedback that you can use to improve. Admitting what plagues you (and then learning that others feel the same way) will help you realize that while self-doubt is vexing, no one dies from it.
Step 4. Look At The Facts
If a claustrophobic person gets stuck in an elevator, it’s hard for them to focus on the certainty that, any minute now, it will be moving again. Fear and panic simply take over. The same tendency is true with self-doubt, but unlike with claustrophobia, a few hard facts can help. Example: If you’ve been promoted somewhat recently, remind yourself why you were tapped. Make a list of all your valuable skills and accomplishments. Read them aloud if you have to. But–and this important–don’t lean on a prepackaged pep talk, a la the old Stuart Smalley character on “Saturday Night Live.” False self-praise will do more damage than self-doubt.
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