7 Steps to Self-Belief
How to develop powerful tools to get your mind on your side
“It’s not the feather, it’s you! You can fly. Forget the feather. It’s time to dive.”
He falls. The crowd gasps. But just as he’s about to smash into the shallow water, Timothy’s words come back to him: “It’s you, Dumbo, not the feather!”
At last he flies! He doesn’t need the feather. Finally truly believing in himself, he escapes the captive circus.
This article is about your escape. How you can disregard ’magic feathers‘ and believe in yourself.
Why you need self-belief
Self-belief is vital. How many things have you not done or tried because you lacked belief in yourself?
Many fail to believe in themselves because others didn’t (take my friend Dumbo). But as Eleanor Roosevelt so deftly put it:
“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Yet self-doubts creep in, don’t they? Like unwelcome house guests that keep calling round simply because you played host to them before. Doubts such as:
- Can I really do this?
- Other people are better, smarter, more worthy than me.
- What will other people think if I do/say this?
- I can’t risk failure.
- Success is for others but not for the likes of me!
If you sometimes have trouble believing in yourself then read, absorb, enjoy, and practice these self-belief tips.
Tip 1 – Remember self-belief is learnable
Your level of self-belief isn’t set in stone; not unalterable. We can all be flexible and change, even ’fly’. Remember you were born into this world with no sense of what you could or couldn’t do. Then, bit by bit, life started to teach you to limit yourself. A very young child never says: “I’m not the kind of person who could…” They haven’t yet learned to limit their own horizons or listened to people who leak pessimism.
One of the first steps is to re-examine and discard many of the limiting ideas you have about yourself; ideas that you’ve somehow collected along the way.
Tip 2 – Deal with the inner negative voice
When you start to doubt yourself listen, for a moment, to that little negative inner voice. Whose voice is it really? A parent’s, old school bullies? A collection of lots of different voices from different times and people? One thing’s for sure; that little inner self-critical voice wasn’t yours originally. It may masquerade as belonging to you now, but it doesn’t really.
Tell yourself: “This is not my true voice!” Then start to challenge it and also to just plain ignore it.
Tip 3 – Flip a weakness into a strength
Dumbo, our cartoon quadruped, was humiliated by his outsize ears. He hated them at first. But, through time, he came to use them, to fulfil his destiny even, by changing his attitude.
If we just focus on what is not right about ourselves rather than what is, then we miss opportunities for self-belief. We shouldn’t assume there’s nothing to improve about ourselves, but just focusing on perceived weaknesses without either a) taking steps to improve them or b) also giving fair focus toward our strengths gets us nowhere.
For example, if you know that you can be stubborn then find the positive in this. Stubbornness used well is called single-minded determination. If you worry a lot, know that the positive flipside of this is that you have a powerful imagination which, in the right context, can be put to good use.
Take any negative belief you have about yourself and creatively flip it so that it becomes, in its place, a positive resource (think: ’ears/Dumbo‘). You’ll find this exercise fun to do.
The next tip is a favourite of mine:
Tip 4 – Develop your ‘super powers’!
Think of the typical powers of the more popular superheroes and write them down before you start your day. They may be such things as super speed, the ability to climb walls, flight, x-ray vision…whatever. Why do I suggest this? Because ‘priming’ your mind with qualities and positive characteristics can actually determine your behaviour.
Not that you’ll start flying to the rescue of stranded citizens, but the pattern of superhero powers is one of ability, courage, and competence. In one study, people asked to write down as many super powers as they could think of were more likely to give to charity months afterwards. The pattern of giving to charity is that of being able. Prime your mind with ‘able words’ before you start each day.
As well as superhero powers, write all kinds of other positive characteristics (whether you think you have them or not). Do this before you go out. For example, I might write:
- Quick wittedness
- Sex appeal
And so on. I’m not just asking you to focus on your own present or even future qualities here, but just on the words. Take a few moments writing them down each day, then a few moments running your eyes up and down your list (it doesn’t matter if it’s a similar list each day). Really reflect upon what each word means to you.
You’ll be amazed how doing this will powerfully prime your unconscious mind.
Tip 5 – Be your own motivational coach
If you notice doubts rearing their ugly heads, imagine you (the clear-headed part of you) are the coach and the anxious part of you is the person you need to talk to.
Think what you’d say to someone you really believe in if they started showing doubts. Sit down and say those same things to yourself. So if you are about to go for a job interview and you ’hear yourself‘ starting to express doubts, take a few moments to sit down, close your eyes, and coach yourself:
“Look, you can do this! It’s natural to feel a little anxious, but that just means you care about what you’re doing! You’ve got all the relevant experience and qualifications! Now get in there and stop whinging! Even if you don’t get this job, you’re going to make me proud by giving it your best shot!”
Picture the decent, friendly, straight-talking coach in your mind. Is it someone you know or would like to know? Talking to yourself in these times as if you were another person (in the privacy of your mind J) can ramp up your confidence fast.
Tip 6 – Do ‘hero training’
Hero training is a great way to increase your own self-belief.
I once treated a young boy for emitaphobia – fear of, in his case, other people vomiting. He told me about a time his sister had been sick and how terrified he’d been. Later I discovered he loved Arnold Schwarzeneggermovies. We talked about how Arnie would have coped with his sister being sick and I got this little boy to hypnotically watch the Austrian muscle man heroically dealing with other people vomiting. I then got this little boy to strongly imagine that he was Arnie and what it was like to deal with sickness and so on.
He overcame what had been a severe phobia by ’borrowing‘ the traits of his hero and making them his own. It was easier for this little boy to believe in Arnie dealing with other people being sick than it was to imagine himself dealing with it.
Bit by bit, he transferred the cool, calm, collected, decisive action from his hero to himself.
Think of a situation in which lack of self-belief holds you back. Now think of your ’hero‘ – who could be a world leader, a movie hero, or the guy or gal down the street. Now close your eyes and strongly imagine them dealing with the situation ’heroically‘. Now imagine being them for a few moments, experiencing that time in their shoes. Keep doing this until you notice you can start to transfer a sense of their qualities to yourself.
Tip 7 – Create a powerful vision of yourself
Self-belief comes not just by trying to convince yourself you can do stuff. True self-belief actually comes from developing the vision that you can relax socially, start that business, write that book, or whatever it is you need to believe you can do or be.
Get into the habit of sitting down, closing your eyes, and watching yourself behaving decisively, calmly, and strongly. This powerful visualization exercise means you can learn from yourself how to be confident, have self-belief, and behave in ways which maximize chances of success. Imagine you are viewing yourself on a TV screen. The ‘you’ in the screen is showing the you watching how to act with self-belief. The more you do this, the more you’ll find that you’ll quite naturally start to become like the ’you‘ in the movie.
Self-belief doesn’t mean arrogance or blindness to one’s own shortcomings. Then again, it doesn’t mean believing that you are perfect as you are, either. Your self-belief really needs to be focused on what you will become. And an important part of self-belief comes from knowing your weaknesses and being relaxed about them.
Self-belief gives you the freedom to make mistakes and cope with setbacks by seeing them for what they are: temporary setbacks, not the end of the world. And something else you’ll notice: As your self-belief grows, people around you start to believe in you more, too. Because it really isn’t the feather – it’s you.
How to Boost Self-Esteem
5 ways to improve your opinion of yourself and lift your self-esteem today
The doorbell rang. She was perfectly on time. The first word she uttered was, “Sorry!” She said the S-word three more times before we even got to my consulting room. Later, Joy told me she sometimes felt apologetic for existing.
She’d had therapy before and been diagnosed with low self-esteem, but had unhelpfully been told to “start loving yourself”. She told me (apologetically), “The trouble was, he kept telling me to love myself but he didn’t really tell me how to.”
Joy needed practical help.
What is low self-esteem, really?
Low self-esteem is a false perception of oneself.
If you have low self-esteem then you are better than you think you are. This is the definition of low self-esteem. When your self-esteem improves, it’s because your self-knowledge has improved; just as the ugly duckling in Hans Christian Anderson’s famous tale had to learn its true nature before it could become fulfilled.
But how do you tell if your self-esteem is too low?
Signs and symptoms of low self-esteem
Healthy self-esteem doesn’t mean loving yourself no matter what you do. Shame, guilt, and self-reproach do have a place if we behave badly. It’s just that those with true low self-esteem tend to feel these things even when they don’t behave badly.
It’s been proved a myth that people do ‘bad things’ such as child abuse, bullying, or drug-taking because they have low self-esteem (they might have low self-esteem, but that doesn’t cause these behaviours) (1).
People with genuine low-self-esteem tend to treat themselves badly, rather than other people. So ask yourself, do you feel:
- You are morally worse than most other people?
- That you have less appeal than most other people; that you are uglier?
- You are stupider than most other people?
- You’re unlovable?
You might also feel:
- Like never spending money on yourself or your looks because you feel you ‘don’t deserve it’.
- Your opinions aren’t as valid as other people’s opinions.
- Your low self-esteem is holding you back from really doing what you want to in life.
If you feel you have low self-esteem, here are five things you can do about it. First off…
Self-Esteem Booster 1: Don’t spread bad stuff about yourself
Low self-esteem makes you generalize a specific incident, situation, or trait and spread it to everything.
So Suzy burns a meal she’s prepared for her kids and from this generalizes to: “I’m such a lousy mum, I can’t even cook a meal!”
Jake fails a maths test and from this he negatively generalizes to: “I’m so stupid!” – (then, even worse) – “I can’t do anything right!” We’ve magically gone from failing a maths test (specific) to being a failure at everything (pretty general!).
And more: Samantha really likes a boy in her class but is too shy to speak to him. She is mortified when he asks her best friend out. She generalizes this specific incident to: “I’ll never get a date; no one will ever like me!”
This is known as ‘globalizing’ and if you do this for negative things, you’ll feel bad about yourself. Knowing you are doing it is the first step to challenging it. If you catch yourself doing this – for example, telling yourself you’re stupid because you made a mistake – then force yourself to find examples that contradict your own negative blanket statement.
Next: What do you really think?
Self-Esteem Booster 2: Look to the origins – briefly
Low self-esteem usually results from how we are conditioned by other people. If you were systematically insulted, criticized, or bullied, then you are more likely to have absorbed the negative messages about yourself instigated by other people.
Think about who these other people were and when you feel bad about yourself, take a moment to ask yourself: “Hold on. Whose voice is that in my head?”
I bet it really belongs to someone else originally. Starting to override other people’s conditioning of us is the first step to psychological independence; the real ‘you’ (that you should be listening to) can be much kinder and more reasonable about yourself.
Self-Esteem Booster 3: Be fair to yourself and others
Low self-esteem makes us magnify failures and personal faults and minimize or completely discount successes and personal strengths. Don’t do this. Be fair. If other people say you are attractive, clever, kind, fun, or whatever, respect them enough to at least consider that what they say is a probability.
Remembering and dwelling on criticisms while discounting and forgetting compliments (or any positive feedback) is a very biased, off-balance way of travelling through life.
Self-Esteem Booster 4: Ditch the imperfect perfectionism
“If it’s not perfect then it’s a total failure!” The idea that something is 100% useless unless it is 100% perfect, is a trap. Low “self-esteemers” often see things in very all-or-nothing terms. “That family is just perfect!/I’m just useless!”
Of course nothing in this world is perfect and no one is entirely useless. To stop this destructive black-or-white thinking, do this: Think, “If 100% is perfect and 0% is ‘total failure’ or ‘totally useless!’, how do I rate the meal I cooked?” This forces realism.
You might only give yourself 20% for the meal or your speech or whatever, but then look at that 20% and ask yourself: “What enabled that 20%? And how can I build on that to get to maybe 25%?” This breaks down the perfect/disaster thinking which drives and maintains low self-esteem.
Self-Esteem Booster 5: Take care of your appearance
Low self-esteem leads to a vicious cycle. We feel bad about ourselves, so we don’t dress well, keep fit, or get decent haircuts; but neglecting our appearance in turn causes more low self-esteem. Take time out to look after your body. Get a massage or manicure (unless you’re a macho guy, of course : ) ). Buy clothes that look good on you. Don’t see this as superficial or irrelevant, because the ripple effect of changing outward aspects of yourself can lead to changes on the inside.
And you can take time to close your eyes and start to visualize yourself looking fit, healthy, and nicely dressed whilst doing something you can be proud of – whether that’s talking confidently to others or just looking so calm and relaxed. Or let me do that for you by clicking on the free audio link below.
Healthy self-esteem consists of:
- Honest respect for your own abilities, potentials, and value.
- Knowing your strengths and trusting in them.
- Appreciation and open acceptance of your limitations.
- Acceptance of these limitations whilst understanding that some limitations can be overcome.
- Freedom from being overly concerned with what we imagine others think of us. Whilst accepting these perceptions do play a part in everyday life, remember they do not determine who we are.
Remember: a diamond doesn’t know its own value, but it is still a diamond nonetheless.
Joy came on in leaps and bounds. I noticed she stopped saying sorry (unless it really was justified), and one day she proclaimed: “It’s as if I’ve found the real joy in my life!”
A Little Black Pen