Creating a life that makes us happy and is fulfilling takes a lot of courage, dedication, introspection, perseverance and fortitude. We thrive when we are aligned with our passions, strengths and values, find challenging work, and build meaningful relationships. Deliberately designing such a life requires a lot of effort, but the results are worth it. The starting point of this journey is to examine your mindset. It’s important to scrutinize and question your thoughts and beliefs, are they helping or hindering you, and weed out the ineffective ones. Five qualities of a constructive mindset are: self-acceptance, a belief in yourself, optimism, resourcefulness and curiosity.
In I Know I’m in There Somewhere, Helene G. Brenner Ph.D. writes, “I believe that living a fulfilled life comes from learning how to listen to your inner voice, to the truth of your inner being in all of the ways that it speaks to you and live from it.”
According to Brenner (my own journey mirrors it), many women don’t live from their genuine self. We let other people’s desires, expectations and opinions govern us, finding fault and constantly reminding us we aren’t “enough.” When we listen to our authentic voice, we realize that we don’t have to fix, change or improve anything to be happy. There is no test to pass, conditions to meet, or anything to prove in order to pursue the life we want.
I spent most of my life as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. When I failed, instead of thinking “This is not the right hole for me, I need to try a different one,” I thought, “Something’s wrong with me, I don’t fit in this hole.” I got stuck trying to “fix” myself to fit into the round hole. In my journal, I wrote:
“I had this mindset that square was ‘wrong’ and round was ‘right.’ No wonder I had a lack of confidence in myself. I didn’t trust, believe in or accept myself. I thought I had to be ‘fixed.’ There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve ourselves. Learning from our experiences and striving to be better is a positive and energizing experience as you try to fulfill your potential. You are aligned with your strengths, values and passions. I was trying to fix myself which implied that there was something inherently wrong with me. I followed external standards because I didn’t value own my wants, values, passions and lacked faith in my abilities. I was constantly at war with myself.”
It was a shocking revelation. My pattern in relationships was no better. I dated men because they liked me (like I should be grateful to have the attention since I was so lacking). One day I thought, “I should be asking myself if I like them.” Change happened quickly when I started listening to and trusting my voice, honoring and respecting my desires and values. I finally found self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance isn’t about sugarcoating your faults or a “this is how I am, I can never change,” defeatist type of attitude. You have a realistic picture of your strengths and weaknesses. You don’t minimize your successes or blow your mistakes out of proportion. You accept yourself as you are; a perfectly imperfect human being. It’s called “being human” for a reason. You accept who you are, trust your instincts, are guided by your values, allow yourself to be vulnerable so you can ask for help when you need it and most importantly, stick up for yourself. Your needs are no less important than anyone else’s. You’re not trying to measure up to anyone’s standards but your own.
Practice self-acceptance by being compassionate and forgiving yourself. Beating yourself up isn’t going to fix anything. Ask yourself, “What if a friend came to me and told me she did this? Would I beat her up for it?” Often, we are harder on ourselves than we would be with a total stranger! We make mistakes, we say stupid things, we act inappropriately at times, we get angry, depressed, lonely, etc. Make amends where needed, forgive yourself and move on.
Les Brown said it eloquently, “Forgive yourself first. Release the need to replay a negative situation over and over again in your mind. Don’t become a hostage to your past by always reviewing and reliving your mistakes. Don’t remind yourself of what should have, could have or would have been. Release it, let it go and move on.”
A Belief in yourself
One of the tenets of coaching is we believe everyone is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. They have the answers, we just help them uncover them. We aren’t here to tell our clients what to do, we guide. When you believe in yourself, you have the confidence and faith that you are capable of doing what you need to do. You believe you have control over your life and you accept the responsibility and consequences of your actions.
We all have varying degrees of confidence depending on our interests and experiences. I’m a confident public speaker but not so confident in my computer skills. Competence breeds confidence, the more practice you’ve had doing something, the more confident you’ll be.
Here are several ways to boost your confidence:
- Make a list of your accomplishments – everything from “made the cashier smile” to the big stuff, like getting a degree or landing a big sale. We take some of our biggest achievements for granted, like learning how to speak, read and write. Language is complex, and we mastered it at a very young age.
- Be prepared. If you have to give a speech or take a test, the best way to be confident is to practice and study.
- Finish a project. There is nothing like crossing something off your to-do list.
- Focus on how you can be of service to others. Humans are self-centered. We get wrapped up in wondering what other people think of us, and that creates anxiety and stress. Not good for our confidence. When I am at an event where I don’t know anyone, I focus on how I can be of service to them. It can be as simple as smiling at someone, opening the door or sincerely listening and acknowledging them. Another tactic I use is to see everyone as my teacher. What fascinating thing can I learn by striking up a conversation with someone? By taking the focus off of myself (“will they like me?”), I am able to relax and genuinely connect with others.
- “Act as if…” If you don’t feel confident, act as if you are. Think of someone you know who exudes confidence and model their behavior. Watch their body language, notice how they stand up tall, offer a firm handshake, etc.
- Set and achieve small goals. Little wins make us feel competent.
- Groom yourself. Looking and feeling good about ourselves makes us feel more confident.
Being hopeful about the future is important. It doesn’t mean ignoring the harsh realities of life; it means you choose to remain confident that things will work out. As Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Studies show that optimists live longer, are healthier, and are more committed to and likely to achieve their goals. Dreaming about a better future motivates you to work towards it. This is why it’s important to make your goals positive. Let’s say your doctor recommends that you lose 30 pounds. Say each sentence aloud and notice how each makes you feel.
- I need to lose 30 pounds because I don’t want to be fat.
- I want to have more energy, be fit and feel better.
In the first sentence, you’re trying to avoid being fat, yet fat is what you’re focusing on. In the second one, you are working towards and focusing on health and vitality. Which one is motivating? Most people would say the second one. Don’t make your goal a chore. Give yourself something positive to focus on and move towards instead of something you want to avoid. While fear may be a powerful motivator, it’s a negative one and often results in paralysis (Chapter 7 talks more about dealing with fear).
Be more optimistic by:
- Practicing gratitude. Every night before going to bed, write down at least five things you are grateful for or that made you happy. Put down everything, no matter how little.
- Looking for the lessons in difficult situations. What did you learn? Was there anything positive that came out of it? Look for the silver lining.
- Giving up the blame game. Things will go wrong. Accept responsibility where needed and focus on what you can do to correct the situation. Blame is unproductive, if not downright destructive. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Hang out with optimistic people; it will rub off.
The ability to skillfully and imaginatively deal with difficult situations or life in general is a valuable skill. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. A person’s mettle isn’t tested when things are good, it’s when the shit hits the fan. So many dreams have died a premature death, not because of a lack of money, but a lack of resourcefulness and creativity. They put all their eggs in one basket and hope it works. People who succeed will always have a plan B, C…Z, if needed. They may not have a contingency plan for every scenario, but they are proactive, open minded, persistent and optimistic. They don’t focus on the problem or the limitations. They focus on what they want and how they can accomplish it. It’s about making do with what you have, as the U.S. Marine Corp says – improvise, adapt, overcome.
The benefits of being resourceful are:
- It builds resilience. Resourceful people don’t let failure stop them or take it personally. They keep going until they find something that works. Their creativity gives them the confidence to keep moving forward.
- It saves money. Throwing money at a problem is easy, but most of us don’t have deep pockets. Resourceful people find a way to work around the money issue.
- It strengthens problem solving skills.
- It gives us a sense of control over our life.
- It gives us a sense of confidence, fulfillment and growth. When you create something, not only is it extremely satisfying – “I made this” – but what you learn helps you grow and gives you confidence in your abilities.
I think resourcefulness and creativity go hand in hand. Creativity is a skill that can be practiced. It’s about seeing things in a new light or coming up with connections you wouldn’t normally make. You build your creative muscle by:
- Asking if there is another way you could accomplish what you want.
- Asking if there is a better way.
- Asking “What if…” questions.
- Brainstorming or making a list. The only rules are: don’t censor your answers, and go for quantity – aim for a 100 or more ideas. Usually you have to get the banal ideas out before you hit real gold.
- Read – about creativity, creative people, as well as a diverse assortment of subjects that have nothing to do with your topic. Creative people are curious. That’s how connections are made.
Resourceful people are inquisitive. They want to learn about everything. They’ll take things apart to see how they work, ask lots of questions and like to explore and investigate. They have an open mind and are willing to see other perspectives.
Beware of the curiosity killers:
- Assumptions. When you assume you know something, not only do you cut yourself off from possibilities because you stop asking questions, but, what if you’re wrong? Question your assumptions. I kept assuming I had to have a journalism or communication degree to be a writer, like a diploma is a magical piece of paper that will make you an instant expert. Yet, I worked for several magazines and was offered a job, unsolicited, as a copywriter for the catalog of a major retail company. Never was there a discussion about my college education. Everything I learned about writing and the magazine business I learned on the job or through books. Don’t make assumptions.
- Value judgments. We tend to label things as “good” or “bad”/”right” or “wrong” because it (or they) don’t match our beliefs, when in reality, it’s just different. It’s easier to satisfy your needs when you view the world as different rather than bad. Labeling things as “bad” or “wrong” limits your options and wastes valuable energy in unproductive behavior (arguing, preaching, etc.), which may satisfy your need for power but won’t provide results.
- Jumping to Conclusions. Language can be imprecise, and unless you ask questions or get clarification, it could lead to you judging or deciding something without having all the facts.