As a child I enjoyed reading fictional books. As I got older, my preference turned to non-fiction. If you were to look at my collection of books today you would never know that I loved books based on fictional characters, who lived in places that don’t exist in the real world. What I loved most about fictional books is that it was a chance for my mind to wander.
Literally as I read books, I would create images of these fake people and fake places so much so that they would sometimes become real to me. It was an opportunity for me to use my imagination.
Our imagination is highly valuable to us because it is the source of our creativity. However, our imagination can sometimes lead to self-sabotaging, self-defeating behaviors that keep us from achieving our goals and reaching our maximum potential.
This week I have had the privilege to meet with several coaching clients. I was inspired to write this blog as a result of a trend that I noticed in my interactions. When we began to talk through their wins and “stuck-points”, they each found it easier to speak about their “stuck-points” and struggled to find “wins”. But it was not until I spoke to the last client that the root of the issue hit me.
This client has been in her role for nearly a year, yet her “stuck-point” is that she feels like she still does not know everything she needs to know to be highly effective. She even took pride in telling me how she had set up time with others in her organization to fill in the gaps for her. When she finished talking, I said, “Let’s stop for a moment and make a list of all the things you still don’t know.”
When she was not able to concisely articulate anything meaningful, it created a moment for me to level set with her. My approach varies by client. To her, I simply said, “Write this down.”
“I know everything I need to know to be my most effective self and what I don’t know, I will learn.”
What was happening to this client, happens to a lot of us.
We start believing the story we are telling ourselves as truth, the worst part is we do not realize that we are even telling ourselves such a story.
She and I spent some time talking about the story she was telling herself. She kept telling herself that she did not know everything she needed to know to be effective in her role. Not only did this create anxiety within her, it affected how she showed up at work.
I remember facing this giant within myself in my early career. I read books and attended seminars about how as women we struggle with the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt in the workplace. Every time I heard that I would say, “yes, I do.”
One day (BC—before children) I was having a conversation with a person who had never worked in corporate America a day in his life. He was just a wise older person that I enjoyed talking to. He told me about the importance of maintaining my confidence in every situation. He had spent much of his life advocating for civil rights. He told me that in order to maintain confidence you must get good at not letting the things people say about you or the way they make you feel seep into your person (soul). I never forgot his advice and I always work diligently to protect my person (soul).
But what I now know about when I am experiencing feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, is that it has little to do with what others are attempting to do (to me) and everything to do with what I am doing to myself. I am making up stories in my mind that cause anxieties and slowly steal my confidence.
So, what might some of these stories sound like?
“I have only been on the team for 3 months, there is still so much more for me to learn.”
“By the way everyone looked when I spoke, I must have said something wrong.”“The silence in the room when I made my point obviously means what I think doesn’t matter.”
“I must be doing this all wrong because I should have mastered it by now.”
I learned a way to not allow those thoughts and feelings to control me. I learned to get a handle on my destructive imagination.
I developed a way to separate fact from fiction in my most anxious moments.
When I find myself in moments when I feel inadequate or lack, I stop, and check in with me.
Take three deep breaths (5 secs in, 7 secs out)
Get a pen and paper.
Find a quiet place and answer this question: What is the story I am telling myself in this moment?
In your story there will be facts and fiction. Your task is to separate them.
The facts are usually your feelings: I feel scared. Facts can also be your current situation: This is my first time presenting my business to a potential investor.
Fiction is usually judgment that you are passing on yourself: I am not ready for this. Fiction is also the worse-case scenario you are playing in your mind: If I don’t do this perfectly, I will lose my opportunity to be considered for a promotion.
Once you have separated fact from fiction, spend a few moments acknowledging the facts and affirming yourself.
It might go something like:
“Yes, I am scared but I am prepared. I know my performance. I can articulate my plan.”
When we use our positive imagination to rewrite the story (we are telling ourselves) in service of our passions, goals and aspirations, we restore our confidence. And it is OUR responsibility to restore us, not someone else’s.
WARNING: This work takes intention, time and tenacity.
So, what should you do with those fictional components of your story? My advice? Say a prayer, extend yourself grace and release them to the universe. YOU HAVE NO NEED FOR THEM.
“We all have patterns that make us feel deficient. That is not the problem. The problem is when we accept those patterns as truth.” – Kenya Dunn