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Trust Yourself

How to take charge of your self-doubt

Maybe I should start with a confession.

By nature, I’m actually a fairly nervous, cautious and uncertain person. People who know me well get this, and they also know that:

  1. I don’t mind people knowing it, because I’m very happy to be messily human and to live with all the flaws and imperfections that come with life; &
  2. I’m really, really good at managing my nerves, fears and uncertainties.

People who don’t know me that well tend to assume that I’m extremely confident because I choose to trust my instincts, I don’t let anything stop me, and I’ll take appropriately-managed risks in pursuit of what’s important.

But this is all learned behaviour for me.

I’ve written before about imposter-syndrome, about dealing with your gremlins and about other related topics. Explore my blog and you’ll see that this is an important area for me. Not just because it’s something I need to consciously and consistently manage myself but because it comes up again and again in my clients. Often people who are attracted to work with me because of the perceived confidence they see.


Helping people to trust themselves is a core part of my purpose.

I’m especially interested in helping those people to whom others look for inspiration. Call them leaders if you want (they rarely tend to use that term themselves, even when it’s on a nameplate outside their door). It’s just that there’s something extra about the need and responsibility to take charge of your own self-doubts when other people are depending on you. If you don’t do this, people will unconsciously sense it. They’ll be puzzled by inconsistencies in your behaviour, they’ll hesitate when you ask them to do something stretching, and they’ll be less compelling in their interactions with your clients, customers and colleagues.


If I could conjure up some kind of holy-trinity of ways to take charge of your own self-doubt, it would be the three, deceptively simple things I’ve set-out for you below. Of course there are other techniques and tools and ways of dealing with what is a natural part of the human experience, but if you can get on board with these three, nothing need ever hold you back again.

Also, I’ve set these out fairly simply, without much exposition or argument because I really want them to stand out as self-evident truths.

What I’d most like is for you to test them out in real life.

Take a couple of weeks to monitor the level and kind of self-doubt you’re experiencing. Score your self-doubts on a 1-10 scale, keep a simple journal or log, and see if your experience changes once you adopt these ideas.


Rule One: Self-Doubt has an important purpose; it’s meant to keep you safe

Your experience of self-doubt is a perfectly natural part of being human that evolved with us for a very good reason. It’s meant to keep you safe. To stop you from doing stuff that might get you killed or injured; or to stop you being ostracised from the support network of your friends, colleagues and family.

You are not wrong, stupid, weak or inadequate for experiencing self-doubt.


Rule Two: Self-Doubt is largely physiological and your body is the best tool for dealing with it

There are brain chemicals that mediate the functioning of our guts, our perceptions of the resources available to us and our moods – all at the same time. Each element of our mind-body system interacts with the others. The food we’ve eaten (or not eaten), the amount of sleep we’ve had (or not had), the movement of our bodies, the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream. It’s all in a complex and largely self-regulating system. Because of this, very simple physical changes on our part can shift our self-doubts extremely quickly. A brisk walk. A glass of water. Lifting the head. Looking at the sky. A simple meal. A few deep and controlled breaths. A chat with a friend.

If you’re experiencing self-doubt and want it to change, always, always, always start by shifting something physically.


Rule Three: Self-Doubt doesn’t go away, so learn to walk alongside it

I’ve heard people say stuff like: “You have to kill your doubts”, “You have to get rid of them, once and for all”. But if you understand the origins of this process (see Rule One, above), you’ll know that killing your self-doubts or trying to permanently get rid of them is pointless and even counter-productive. I believe it’s much better to treat your self-doubts like a kind of nervous friend. Someone who really has your best interests at heart, but maybe doesn’t quite understand everything that you want to do or achieve in your life and work.

I sometimes imagine I’m out on a hike with this friend and they’ll often point out where we might get lost, or where we might slip over. And because of them I’ll see the bit of tricky navigation, or notice the rough ground when I might not have seen or noticed that before. Then we can choose to carry on with the hike if we want to. Just helping each other out as we go.


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Choice Not Control

Whether you feel in or out of control, it’s probably an illusion. What you choose is what really counts

 

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Leading with Motivational Source

How do you know when you or your staff do or don’t need recognition? And what tactics should you use?

Think about something that’s important to you in your work.

How do you know when you’ve done a good job at that?

Did you answer something like: “I just know” or “I can feel it in here“; or did you do something like touch your chest, head or stomach to show where in your body you know how you’ve done? If so, chances are that you’re Internally Referenced.

On the other hand, if you answered something like: “The results show that…” or “People tell me…” or you pointed towards some facts or figures, then you are likely Externally Referenced.

When you’re leading other people and want to be able to motivate them, or just need to understand more about your own needs for recognition (or not), then Motivation Source can be a really helpful tool.

For example, if you have a colleague who is strongly Internally Referenced, telling them “You did a great job with X” may mean very little to them and may even seem false or trite. Much better to just ask them to apply their own standards – “How do you reckon you did with X?” and then be prepared to explore that if their internal perception doesn’t match yours.

In these days of very wide and flat organisational structures, where people rarely get to see their boss, I often find myself with clients who are Externally Referenced and are really struggling with a lack of feedback. If you’re leading others who are Externally Referenced they either need to know from you how they’re doing, or they’ll need some regular data to show them.

People who are strongly Internally Referenced and able to keep it in balance can seem very self-confident. Unless they are extremely inflexible and never take into account other people’s points of view – at the far end of that spectrum is sociopathy.

People who are strongly Externally Referenced and able to keep it in balance will seem highly compassionate. Unless they are unable to be flexible and can’t ever make decisions based solely on their own views  – in which case they may become co-dependent.

If you can operate the right amount of choice and flexibility around being Internally Referenced or Externally Referenced in a particular situation, then you’re likely to have both self confidence and the ability to take into account the feelings and points of view of others. Which is not bad if you’re aiming at being a great leader!


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Motivation: Towards Pleasure and Away From Pain

Keep an eye out over the next few days to observe and discover something new about your own motivations and those of the people around you. Here’s how.

Did you know that people tend to operate either a Towards or an Away-From motivation pattern? And that this can change from one context to another?

Motivation Towards tends to show up as positive, goal-seeking reward-based behaviour; focusing on what could go right.
Motivation Away-From tends to focus on avoiding problems and pain; on what might go wrong.

Both are useful in different contexts. When I’m chairing the audit committee in a hospital, it really helps to have people around who can focus on what can go wrong, or on what’s not working. When I’m looking to win a new contract, it really helps that my business partner is a positive, can-do person.

It used to be thought that these “Meta-programmes” (thought processes that guide and direct the sorting of our perceptions) were fixed and unchangeable. We now know that this isn’t true and that it is possible to choose.

As with almost everything, being aware is what counts. Being aware of what habits we are operating ourselves and of whether other people are in Towards or Away-From mode. Only then can we choose which is actually most helpful for ourselves and for our influence with others.

Men, Leadership & Teaching

The social pressures that get in the way of men choosing teaching as a career

Three men I know chose to become teachers recently. To university, to secondary education and with young kids in primary education. For each of them teaching is a second career.

All faced versions of the inevitable questions:

  • “Teaching is a bit of an escape from the rat race isn’t it?”
  • “How will you earn enough to support a family?”

The social pressures behind those questions explain why men are increasingly absent from taking a real, hands-on lead in how education is delivered.
I don’t mean in policy-making, where some of the wrong ‘old’ men continue to cling to power, but at grass-roots level, actually directly influencing young minds.

Studies show that boys and young men are outperformed by girls and women at all levels of education and that these differences are reinforced by teachers’ expectations. The impact of low male educational achievement is a real ticking time-bomb in the west and continues to have a negative impact in the workplace and the dole queue. Education should have a balanced approach so that the needs of boys are better understood and better represented. And both boys and girls need men as positive role-models in the classroom.

Personally, I’m really proud to know those three men. Wouldn’t it be great if more were to follow their examples? And I’d love it if we would stop expecting men to prioritise earning-prowess above the choice of a career with meaning and soul.

And we need to pay teachers what they’re worth.

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Having Purpose

Most people seem to want an answer to the “why am I here” question – what’s my purpose in life?

It makes sense that we would want there to be some meaning to what we’re doing with our limited time and effort. It helps when the going is tough to know that there is a purpose. And it gives direction so we can choose the right path when we have options available.

For some people, their purpose seems to have always been there, and they slip into it naturally. For most of us, I think that purpose is actually a choice.

There’s no magic answer to why you’re here, you actually have to decide for yourself.

You may even find there are several options to choose from – don’t get hung-up on picking the right one. If you want purpose, then purposefully choose to have it.

“A hero is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself”
Joseph Campbell.