In a previous post I wrote about the power of positive influences and how this has a great impact on our health.
But what if the influence of others isn't the problem? What if our own negative voice is the biggest problem?
When I think about the most discouraging voice that talks to me, I realize that it usually comes from me.
On that self-defeating voice...
You know the voice. It's the one that says things like:
- You aren't good enough.
- You can't do this.
This voice is in all of us, to some extent. Fear and doubt are "wired" into us. So we might as well accept this part of ourselves and learn how to best deal with it.
The Up-Side of Fear
Fear is actually a good thing, in some ways. Its job is to protect us. It's that voice that says, This is unfamiliar territory, and it might be unsafe.
When we lean over a balcony railing that is 10 stories high, fear says, Don't do that. In these potentially life-threatening instances, fear is a nice thing to have around. (Thanks, fear!)
The Down-Side of Fear
Sometimes fear gets a little dramatic. It wants to act like we could die when there is no life-threatening danger present.
Take public speaking, for example. This is one of the biggest fears that people have, said to affect 3 out of 4 people. Fear of public speaking can be so strong that it can cause physical symptoms such as vomiting or fainting.
In these (non-life-threatening) instances, fear is downright annoying. (Calm down there, fear -- you're freaking out.)
When we take risks in our personal or professional life, when we try something new, or when we are vulnerable with others, fear steps in to do its job. It tells us that this could be unsafe territory. It says, Don't do that, and proceeds to give reasons why. The reasons tend to stem from insecurity, usually in the form of negative self-talk, telling us that we are somehow "not good enough."
For example, we tell ourselves that we are:
- not talented enough
- not smart enough
- not funny enough
- not fit enough
- not attractive enough
- not ___ enough (insert your own self-defeating narrative)
Some of the biggest dilemmas we face, the worst case scenarios, often exist only in our mind. As Mark Twain once said, "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened."
When fear shows up in this kind of situation, it helps to ask:
Is there a legitimate threat here, or does the problem exist only in my mind?
Is the negative self-talk true, or is it just fear trying to protect me from failure or from being hurt?
What is the worst that could happen? If I did fail or get hurt, could I learn from it? Would it strengthen me in the end?
Fear doesn't feel good. It's uncomfortable. It is designed to make us stop. Yet this area of discomfort holds the biggest opportunity for growth. We grow the most when we move outside our comfort zone.
Where is your comfort zone? Perhaps your comfort zone is not showing up at the gym. Perhaps it is not taking the lead on a creative project. Perhaps it is not putting yourself out there for a cause that you feel is worthwhile. Perhaps it is not reaching out to others. Perhaps it is not enrolling in an educational program.
Perhaps it feels more comfortable to listen to the negative yet somehow "safe" voice that tells us we are too old, too out of shape, too ugly, too dumb, too unlikeable, too unworthy, etc.
Could there be an underlying fear of success? I love this quote by Marianne Williamson: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."
What if we listened less to our inner voice of self-doubt and fear, and we listened more to the inner voice that says:
- You are good enough.
- You can do this!
Perhaps it's been a while since you've heard this voice speak up. Perhaps it has tried to speak up, but the negative voice quickly quieted it.
Perhaps it's time to set some boundaries with the negative voice. Recognize it for what it is. Thank it for trying to protect you, but realize it's being over-dramatic. Decide that the opportunity for growth exceeds any perceived threat, and nobody is going to "die" here. Meanwhile, give your positive inner voice a megaphone.
How might this change your approach to life? Would you be less concerned with failure, and more concerned with giving it your best shot and learning along the way? As Thomas Edison once said, "I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
Next time you find yourself giving a long list of reasons as to why you can't do something, I challenge you to instead ask yourself, "Why not me?"
This post was originally published on September 1, 2016.