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What if I told you that there is an invaluable tool at your disposal 24 hours a day, 7 days a week which can improve your happiness, support your well-being and fuel your success? What I am referring to is your internal dialogue. That inner voice we all have that can either propel us forward or keep us stuck. Those stories and beliefs that we carry with us like an invisible backpack, influencing our feelings, our behaviors, our work and our lives. While our inner dialogue has the potential to be an incredible ally, it also has the potential to be a bit of a bully.
Beliefs and internal stories like: “I am not good enough.” “I am bad at this.” “I don’t belong here.” Those are a few examples of restrictive stories that could be holding you back from true happiness and success in your personal and professional life. Throughout my time practicing in healthcare and in Integrative Psychiatry, I talked with many patients who were unhappy due to unhealthy internal stories. These stories kept them from taking action to create better lives for themselves. I have also talked with many successful individuals and top leaders amid my speaking engagements and my Live Greatly podcast, and I have found that all people, even those who appear extremely confident and self-assured, experience fear, moments of self-doubt and uncertainty.
According to Indeed’s Working on well-being 2022 report, where 2522 adults in the UK were surveyed, 1 in 5 senior managers/human resources leaders and over 1 in 10 employees said they “always” or “very frequently” feel like a fraud. A 2020 KPMG study of 750 women showed that 75% of female executives have experienced imposter syndrome. While many people experience some of these feelings, a key thing that I have noticed for people who are happy and successful is that they have learned how to navigate their self-talk and those moments when limiting beliefs surface. They don’t let those feelings stop them from positive action and moving in the direction of their mission.
Related: Me, Myself and I: 4 Ways to Harness That Nagging Voice in Your Head
How to reframe your internal story
So, how can you start to embrace a more empowering internal story? Well, it begins with self-awareness. How can you actively change something that you don’t even know exists? One way you can work on building self-awareness is with mindfulness. Mindfulness can be a helpful way to expand your awareness around your internal dialogue and your beliefs. You can begin to non-judgmentally notice your thoughts, feelings and responses by bringing your attention to the present moment and getting curious.
You will likely notice some habitual thought patterns and behaviors. You may find that if things are going well or if you have gotten positive feedback, your inner voice may be cheering you on and telling you how great of a job you’re doing. However, if setbacks occur, if you make a mistake, if you are nervous or trying something new, then what happens?
There is a powerful connection and interplay between our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and a key thing to recognize is that a lot of your thoughts are simply not true. Some of your thoughts may be opinions or interpretations. Many thoughts are not facts, and some may be outright lies. We all have limiting beliefs that drive our behaviors, and if you are able to build awareness around these limitations, you can recognize that you don’t have to continue to live your life acting like they are true.
You can intentionally choose a new path. You can choose a new response. You can choose to question the validity of your limiting beliefs and present yourself with more empowering possibilities that you can reinforce with new mindful actions. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular therapeutic tool that expands on this and can be helpful in navigating limiting beliefs and patterns.
Related: A Guide To Mindfulness: Why You Need To Start Training Your Mind (And How You Can Begin)
How I overcame my own limiting beliefs
I remember back when I was in college, and I had to partake in a mandatory communications class on public speaking. At the time, I saw no use for the class because I was terrified of public speaking. Based on where I was then and the beliefs I had about myself at that time, I could not have predicted that I would now be a keynote speaker speaking to large audiences on a regular basis and absolutely loving it.
I was 18 years old at the time, and all I knew was that I didn’t like the feeling of being judged and I wanted to avoid being embarrassed at all costs. I ended up getting a good grade in the class, but based on how uncomfortable I felt speaking to the group, I left that communications class with a new limiting belief. “I am bad at public speaking.” That belief stuck with me pretty tightly for some time. It was by my side when I had to give speeches at weddings, and it popped up years later when I had an opportunity to start guest lecturing at a University.
So, how did I overcome it? The first step was realizing that the limiting belief was there. The second was deciding that I wasn’t going to let it stop me. I knew that I had an important message I wanted to share that could really help the students I would be speaking to, so I leaned into the mission. When I left my first day of guest lecturing, I had a huge “aha” moment. I felt great, and I had absolutely loved talking to the group. The nerves faded away moments after I started, and I found myself excited to do it again. I realized that the belief that I had about me being bad at public speaking wasn’t true. Public speaking had just made me uncomfortable, which is part of doing something new.
Since that time, there has been a question that I use if I find limiting beliefs or restrictive stories surfacing, and it is: “How can I view this in a way that is more empowering for me?” If you are looking to create more empowering stories for yourself, it can be helpful to choose approachable goals and small actions that can propel you forward toward a new, more empowering belief. Self-doubt and fear will likely still be there, but the key is not letting them stop you from becoming who you aspire to be.
Related: Eight Ways Entrepreneurs Can Master Negative Internal Dialogue
Disclaimer: This content purely represents the opinion of the author and is not medical advice or treatment recommendations. Always talk to your healthcare provider about recommendations specific to you.