A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference for high school girls. The idea was to bring these girls together and help them to start developing their leadership skills through exercises designed to build up their confidence, explore their visions for the future and set concrete goals for themselves. As you can imagine, it was a very fun and inspiring afternoon.
One of the exercises stood out to me because it was so relevant to my own skill development. We each took a large sheet of paper and wrote down the self-limiting things we tell ourselves on a daily basis; the things that hold us back from fulfilling our true potential. While it’s true that there are systemic challenges that women and people of color face that make it more difficult for them to advance, the dialogue we have with ourselves can be as influential to our success as any external factor.
As I sat down to think about the negative chatter in my head, I realized that I had far more self-limiting thoughts than I even realized. I often tell myself that: I am smart, but not particularly strategic. I don’t take risks. I can execute ideas, but I don’t have the vision to create them myself. I am not driven enough. I’m too shy. I don’t know enough.
Although I rarely express these thoughts out loud, I would be lying if I said they didn’t influence me. I have had moments where I’ve shied away from difficult projects because I’ve doubted my ability to complete them. I’ve looked at job descriptions and thought they looked too intimidating and didn’t apply for roles I was probably qualified to fill. I’ve had ideas I haven’t followed up on or told anyone about, usually because I think they’re not good enough, not developed enough, not interesting enough.
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I replaced that negative internal dialogue with more positive, self-affirming talk. What if I told myself that my ideas were actually GREAT and used that enthusiasm to explain and sell my vision to others? What if I told myself that those hard projects are the ones that are going to take me to the next level, and that even if I don’t get it all right, I will learn so much from the process? What if I submitted my application for a job even if I didn’t meet every single one of the criteria? How different would my life be? How much further could I go?
The point is that the way we speak to ourselves matters. The running tape inside our heads affects us in important ways. If we tell ourselves that the things we want are outside of our reach, then they probably will be. Of course, it’s important to be self-aware enough to understand our true weaknesses. We all have them, and being able to identify them is the first step toward self-improvement and growth. But, more often than not, we let our inner critic get away with discouraging us from doing the things that deep down we suspect we can do; the things that we long to do.
So, for those of you who share this struggle with me, I present a challenge. Let’s make it a point to police our thoughts. When we feel the self-defeating chatter creeping in, let’s ask ourselves, where is this coming from? Is this really true? When the answer is no, let’s replace that negative tape with a positive one. Let’s use our inner voices to build ourselves up. Let’s be our own hype women. Because when we truly believe in ourselves, and when we radiate confidence in our abilities and ideas, it’s contagious. Those around us won’t be able to help but believe in us as well. And while our inner confidence won’t solve all of our problems, it’s really a great first step.