May 29, 2018

You’re so smart! You’re so strong! You’re so talented!

Compliments are wonderful to receive, of course, but the next step is ... you’ve actually gotta believe them. And that idea—of believing in yourself and your own worth—is easier said than done.

I personally struggle with it. Just last week, I Instagrammed the spreadsheet of all my work assignments, and a friend replied, “Wow, you’re so organized! I could never do what you do!” But instead of thinking, “You know, she’s right—this color-coded Excel doc is a wonder to behold,” I responded “LOL are you kidding?! I’m the least organized person on the planet.”

Was she right? Or was I?

You might feel the same way when someone praises your work ethic, your strength, or even how you effortlessly throw a party for a dozen people on a whim—complete with your killer homemade guacamole. You’re grateful for the kindness and the praise, but might still think on the inside, “If only they knew the truth ... I sure don’t feel that way.”

The same feelings of inadequacy can arise when we try to prop ourselves up with mantras and positive self-talk. These affirmations might work for a few minutes or even hours, but they can still mask an intrinsic emotion of not feeling worthy.

There are actual reasons for these modes of thought—it's not just you.

How We Mess With Our Worth

Negativity bias is partly to blame. Our brains react more strongly to negative feelings—say, a hurtful comment from a friend or a criticism from a boss—than positive feelings, and we remember those moments more. Ever replay a nasty comment over and over in your head until you’re driven crazy? That’s negativity bias at work.

Compliments just don’t stick in our brains in quite the same way, and that's why it's often harder to believe in ourselves—we literally forget about all the wonderful skills we have and what we’re capable of.

Our brains react more strongly to negative feelings than positive feelings, and we remember those moments more.

Then this “not good enough” train of thought starts chugging along the same track, over and over again, and we latch on to the ways that we prove our insecurities right—say, a time we slip up on a work assignment or don't follow through for a friend. It's called "confirmation bias," and it keeps us believing that we're constantly coming up short.

I've experienced it firsthand. I’ve probably been telling myself I’m not a particularly organized person since high school. Years later, this story is perpetuating itself, and I keep looking for examples that prove this story to be true. Even a sloppy pile of papers on my desk can communicate the same story to my brain: Well, wouldn’t an organized person have a color-coded filing cabinet?!

But there are ways to beat the bias. If you’re feeling inadequate, and that everyone else is telling you a story that you can’t quite believe, turn to these tips. Soon you might be on your way to believing them.

1. Give Yourself Some New Labels

Despite shoving my feet into my Sauconys and sweating through the miles three times a week, I didn’t call myself a runner for years. Sometimes things take time, but change can also be ushered in when you do begin to label yourself with what you want to be. Confirmation bias—of the positive sort—kicks in.

If you tell yourself, “I’m a creative person!” you will start to notice examples in your life of your creative spirit. Suddenly, you’ll notice the little doodle on your notepad or the quick ideas you jotted down, and value them for proving you right.

2. Remind Yourself of When You Excelled

It’s easy to stew in uncomfortable feelings when things go poorly. But there are definitely examples in your life when everything, well, came up roses.

When you feel like you’re not up to a task—whether it’s giving a presentation to the boss or going on a first date—instead of thinking about all the ways the event could go wrong, think about all the ways a similar experience has gone right in the past.

Reminding yourself of positive circumstances is your sneaky little way of countering negativity bias.

3. Keep Track of Your Wins

Feeling inadequate doesn’t have to seem like you’re fighting through the dark without a flashlight. Make it as easy as possible on yourself to remember the wins.

Some people like to write in a gratitude journal—why not start a “win” journal of all the instances where you felt like you met your own expectations? They don’t have to be crazy big or grandiose. Waking up without hitting the snooze button 14 times can be your big accomplishment (and if it is, tweet at me and let me know your trick!).

4. Look at Your Expectations

Often we feel inadequate because we’re not meeting some sort of standard we’ve set for ourselves—or that someone has set for us. When these negative feelings crop up, work backwards. Are these feelings rooted in your action and actual performance? Or can you trace them back to how you think you should be acting and performing?

Perhaps you’re being too hard on yourself because your expectations are sky-high and seem impossible to reach. Or, perhaps your expectations aren’t challenging you enough.

One of the magical things about our great big beautiful brains: We have the ability to change and tweak how we’re thinking, so you can adjust your expectations accordingly.

Only you have the ability to make you feel like you are enough. And while no one is ever going to feel perfect at every moment of the day, we can each make peace with our thoughts and who we are—in all of our unique glory.


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This Mental Health Month, join Shine as we highlight All the Feels and share how others like you have embraced or coped with their feelings.

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Read next: 6 Ways to Define and Own Your Power