“You can make a billion dollars”
What ran through your mind as you read this sentence? Was it any of these:
- Such money is only meant for the intelligent/risk-taking/money-minded(or any other word which describes a trait you believe you don’t possess)
- No way I can make such money in my lifetime
- I wish I could, but you won’t understand my situation
- Yet another motivational speech
Or did you hear your inner conscience say, “Of course, I can do it”?
Whether you want to make a billion dollars or not is beside the point. You can tweak the question to an audacious goal you’re interested in and your thoughts wouldn’t change by much.
“OK, I get it. But why should I be worried about my thoughts when I cannot control them?”
Two things on that.
Right thumb up, one, your mindset towards a big hairy goal directly determines how much effort you’re willing to put in to achieve it.
Index finger up, two, you can train yourself to believe any gargantuan target is within your limits. In this article, we will discuss the reasons why we lack belief in ourselves and ways to change such a mindset and learn how to believe in yourself.
- Why we lack belief in ourselves?
- How to believe in yourself:
- 1. Take the first step no matter how small
- 2. Identify and write your limiting beliefs
- 3. Build a system
- 4. Mingle with people who believe in themselves
- 5. Develop a growth mindset
- 6. Take the time to learn the skill
- 7. Explore unknown territories
- 8. Find a mentor
- 9. Set attainable goals
- 10. Use the cookie jar method
Why we lack belief in ourselves?
No disrespect to our parents here, but everyone has their own limiting beliefs. Though the mother and father do their best to instill confidence and encourage their children, their actions, words, and behavior influence how a child thinks.
A variety of research shows how a portion of a child’s mindset is shaped by how parents treat them and some carry those perceptions for the rest of their lives.
For example, when parents explain to their young child why they cannot afford an expensive car, the little one believes such luxury is beyond his reach even in the future. The parents weren’t lying. They were only explaining their circumstances with utter honesty, but the child assumes he’s limited by the same boundaries.
Society itself isn’t very keen on promoting an elite mindset. Schools, parents, elders, and many others pass the message that the bigger goals are for the extraordinary.
“No, I disagree. Schools encourage students to do their best,” you retort. I hear you. I am not saying schools verbally discourage children to chase massive goals or by any other direct means. But our society has built processes which guide pupils to chase the traditional goals – score good marks, get into a college, find a job which pays reasonably well, get married, and buy a house. By the time, children grow into adults they believe such goals are the benchmark.
You toil day and night to achieve such targets even if they don’t make you happy. Therefore, instead of putting your best effort, you put the least effort necessary to sail through. Due to your half-hearted effort, you fail in your attempts and believe that you don’t have the skills to achieve the goals you desire. Such an approach forms a loop of its own where your lack of belief causes mediocre effort which leads to poor results.
3. Past failures:
The human brain is the most powerful learning tool. A newborn baby who doesn’t understand any language manages to speak by self-learning. Could you learn German only by listening to german words without knowing what they mean? I doubt it. You’d need a book or a translator in a known language which helps you make sense of the whole vocabulary. Yet, every baby achieves such a feat without any such assistance. Such is the power of your brain.
Your brain learns from your experience whether you choose to or not. You repeat your successful moves and avoid your mistakes. If you aim for a goal and fail at achieving it, you try another approach. But, unfortunately, repeated failures can pass the wrong message to your brain. You start thinking, “This is too tough for my skills.”
How soon you allow your brain to get influenced depends on you. Some lose all the motivation after the first attempt and never try again, whereas some others persist for decades until they find a way that works.
4. Your self talk:
We constantly talk to ourselves. If you do it loudly in public, others think you’re bananas. But when you do it in silence in your head, we call them “thoughts.”
Your thinking wavers through various areas like planning, brainstorming, improvement, worry, anger, and whatnot. Amidst all those, you spend a good time talking to yourself whether you realize it or not.
As surprising as it sounds, your mind believes what you tell yourself. For example, if you repeatedly think that you won’t grow in your career because others are more talented than you, over time, you put in lesser effort. “What’s the point of working hard when it won’t yield any results”, you tell yourself as you lie on the couch with a bag of chips.
As a result, the pessimism about yourself turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy where you fail to grow in your career. This further strengthens your belief about others being better than you, but in reality, it was your lack of effort which caused poor results.
5. Fear of Failure:
The fear of failure is the tendency to do nothing due to the worry of failing. This fear stands like a tall wall between you and your goals preventing you from taking any action. Psychology calls it atychiphobia.
As a human being, your brain worries about what could happen if things fell apart. For example, if you want to start a new business, you visualize your business failing, people mocking you, the struggle to find a new job, possible bankruptcy, and more. The horrific images paint a picture so terrifying that you never even try.
You worry more about the pain of failure than the joy of success. While taking a risk, you give more weight to the consequences of failure than the results of success.
But here’s the kicker. You’re not alone. Statistics have shown that fear of failure is twice the fear of ghosts. Unbelievable, right?
How to believe in yourself:
1. Take the first step no matter how small
When you look at a goal as an end result, you feel overwhelmed. “How do I get there? I don’t even know where to begin,” you say as you pull your hair.
But, the best antidote to the fear of achieving a difficult goal is to take the first step, no matter how small.
I wanted to write a book for a long time, but my fear had always stopped me one way or the other. “I don’t know how to make it Kindle-friendly. I’m not good at marketing. What if all reviews are bad?” Those were only a few of my worries.
But one day, I sat down to complete the overall concept of my book. The next thing I know, I was drafting a skeleton for different chapters. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, …. Not long after, my first chapter was taking shape. Fast forward 4 months, I self-published my first book ‘The Magic of 2 Seconds.’ None of my worries came true.
As per a study, 80% of US people want to write a book, but only a handful do. The rest don’t even begin.
Once you take your little first step, you will get a dopamine rush that motivates you to keep going. So, you take another step. Then another. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Before you realize it, you’d have come a long way.
One of the most powerful ways to believe in yourself is to get started and build momentum. The rest will follow.
2. Identify and write your limiting beliefs
If you have a limiting belief, sit down in silence by yourself and write it down. For example, let’s say you want to save money, but you’re unable to.
Write down what’s stopping you from saving money. Maybe unexpected expenses come up each month. Maybe you buy stuff on impulse from Amazon. Maybe you don’t earn enough to save. Maybe you have a debt to pay off.
Make a list of all your reasons even if they don’t make logical sense. Don’t be shy. You don’t have to print those in the newspaper after all. The purpose is to help you overcome the problems you’re facing.
Once you have your list, identify one solution to each of them without evaluating the practicality of implementation. For example:
- For unexpected expenses coming up, set aside a buffer amount
- If you don’t earn enough to save, shortlist other job opportunities to earn more
- If you have a debt to pay off, make up your mind to live a conservative lifestyle for the upcoming months
Once you’ve identified a possible solution to your limiting belief, go back to the previous tip – ‘Take the first step, no matter how small.’ Sooner or later, you’ll see that the problem takes care of itself.
You often fail to find a solution to your existing problems because of the limiting beliefs in your head than the circumstances causing the problem.
3. Build a system
When you have a difficult goal to chase, you begin with the thought, “OK, how am I going to achieve that?” The moment you ask yourself that question, you’ll realize you have to go through a series of difficult steps over an extended period of time. You feel overwhelmed and don’t take any action. You either procrastinate your goal or give up assuming it’s too difficult.
In the book, The Motivation Myth, the author Jeff Haden suggests a unique tip to fix such a mindset. Instead of looking at the result, once you’ve decided on a goal, forget about it completely. Simply focus on a system where you put in consistent effort without considering the final target.
For example, when Arnold Schwarzenneger set his eyes on Mr. Olympia, he did not think of different ways to achieve that goal every day. Instead, when he stepped into the gym, all he thought about was reps and reps alone. He did not worry about winning the bodybuilding championship while working out. Yes, he wanted to win Mr. Olympia, but on a daily basis, he stuck to his system.
No matter what your goal is and what your circumstances are, build a system. Will you come up with a perfect plan? No. Will you know all the details beforehand to build the right system? No. Is your system guaranteed to achieve the results you desire? No.
Yet, using your system you will make mistakes, improvise, and inch closer towards your goals. Isn’t that far better than aiming for a goal and doing nothing about it?
4. Mingle with people who believe in themselves
The power of belief is contagious, but it applies to both positive and negative thoughts.
Walk into a room full of successful people and you’ll feel an adrenaline rush to achieve great things. Hang out with a bunch of complainers and you’ll leave with the feeling that the world is a horrific place.
Pause for a moment and think.
The reality remains as is. Your emotions do not change the world around you. They only change you.
Do you feel positive and energized each day? That’s on you. Do you feel helpless and incapable of achieving your goals? That’s on you too.
How you feel about your situation is a choice you make. That choice influences your actions. Those actions influence your results.
Who you mingle with has a direct influence on your mindset and therefore your actions.
5. Develop a growth mindset
A person with a fixed mindset believes skills and abilities are fixed. For example, he assumes his intelligence is constant and he can only reach a certain level of success with what he has. He believes he cannot grow beyond that point because his talent limits him from doing so.
A person with a growth mindset believes that by putting in the effort to learn and practice, he can grow better at any skill. His opinion is that any person can achieve unlimited success and that the scale of achievement depends on how much work one is willing to put in.
Developing a growth mindset is a separate topic on its own which is closely related to believing in yourself. Here is a detailed guide.
6. Take the time to learn the skill
As human beings, we want to achieve our goals as soon as possible. As per Brian Tracy, the best-selling author, most people don’t have the patience to wait due to the expediency factor. When we look at the hanging grapes like the wolf did, we want them right away. We jump a few times and give up.
That’s because we tend to look for the fastest and easiest path to reach our goal. Unfortunately, such an approach rarely helps us achieve the target.
If you want to achieve a difficult goal, take the time to master the skills necessary to get there.
- To become an entrepreneur, read books and talk to other successful businessmen. Don’t start with a random idea in your head and hope to make a million dollars in 3 months.
- To start a blog, take up a course. Don’t buy a domain, set up WordPress, and wait for people to flow onto your website
- To become a successful sales executive, attend training, and practice various techniques. Don’t hope that people will buy because you can communicate well.
7. Explore unknown territories
If you lack self-belief, little boosts of confidence can transform your mindset over time. Therefore, you must look for every opportunity to do so.
At first, you’ll be hesitant about stepping into an unknown area due to the fear of failure. It’s like looking at a mountain with a pair of binoculars. From a distance, everything looks scary and it probably is. But, the only way to overcome the fear is to experience it. Even if you’re capable enough, your brain creates anxiety which stops you from trying. The only way you can free your mind from such thoughts is by succeeding.
Explore the unknown and put yourself in situations that you don’t know everything about. Will you make mistakes? Yes, you will. But, you’ll learn from them and come out stronger.
The next time you face a challenge, your brain will remind you, “Look, we dealt with an obstacle before and came out victorious. We can do it again.”
A minor shift in your mindset can make a major shift in your actions.
8. Find a mentor
If you have trouble believing in yourself, find a mentor who can share wisdom and guide you on the right path. Lack of confidence only gets worse when you suffer in silence. If you share your challenges with the right mentor, you’ll hear examples where other people endured similar difficulties and managed to find a way through.
You’ll feel more confident about yourself when another person has your back. Besides that, your mentor will help you avoid mistakes. When you’re on a journey on an unknown path towards your destination, two perspectives will yield better results than one. A mentor is the appropriate person to offer the second line of thought.
9. Set attainable goals
One of the most common motivational advice you hear is “Dream big”. Even I advise the same and I have written blog posts on the same topic.
But, when you dream big, keep the duration long enough to get there. Setting massive short-term goals is a recipe for disaster. Not only will you fail to achieve the goal, but also demotivate yourself in the process. You also end up chasing different goals hoping to succeed at one.
Every failure dents your self-confidence and with enough repetitions, you stop believing in yourself. On the other extreme, you might even resort to unethical practices just to reach your target.
- You can aim for a billion dollars if you give yourself a decade or two. If you aim to do so in six months, you’ll consider extremely risky investments or even criminal activity to get there.
- If you just started your professional career in a large organization, you can aim to reach an executive position in 5-10 years. If you want to get there by the next appraisal, you’ll disappoint yourself and annoy those around you.
The above two are extreme examples to convey the point. In real life, many people set one unattainable goal, try and give up, and then chase another. After 5-10 such attempts, they give up trying. Don’t be that person.
Your dream can be unrealistic as far as your plan to get there is realistic.
David Goggins, the man who ran a 100-mile ultra-marathon without running a 25-mile marathon ever before, devised the cookie jar method. His technique involves recalling a past victory or a situation where you overcame an obstacle.
By instinct, we tend to recall all our failures first when we face adversity. The cookie jar reverses that approach by reminding yourself of your victories instead. When you look at your prior wins, no matter how small, your brain starts thinking, “OK, I can do this. I’m not that bad.”
For example, if you are on a trek and cannot muster the energy to proceed, you have to recall a past challenge you successfully completed. Such a thought will motivate you to push your body to the limits.
A small dose of confidence is all that you need to overcome the barrier in your head.
Your lack of confidence starts and ends in your mind. It takes effort to begin, but once you’ve gotten started, the momentum will keep you going. It’s no different than rolling a large boulder. You need to put in a lot of energy to make it budge the first time, but once you do, you need far less effort to keep it rolling. Likewise, once you start believing in yourself, your mindset changes and so do you.
Chris. (2015, March 31). Expediency Factor – Why most of us Never get Anywhere. Where it all Starts. https://cristivlad.com/expediency-factor-why-most-of-us-never-get-anywhere/.
Maccoby, E. E., & Psychology, E. E. M. D. of. (n.d.). Parenting and its Effects on Children: On Reading and Misreading Behavior Genetics. Annual Reviews. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.1.
Sciences, N. A. of, Engineering, & Medicine, and. (2016, November 21). Parenting Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices. Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK402020/.
Haden, J. (2018). The motivation myth: how high achievers really set themselves up to win. Portfolio/Penguin.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.