I am sure you have heard the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. But what does that even mean? For many of us, change is one big thing, a moment, an event, a decision—it is Rome as we imagine it, an immense empire. Yet, as I discuss in this week’s blog and podcast with master coach and top podcast presenter Kara Loewentheil, true change takes time and effort, whether you are trying to forgive someone who has hurt you, overcome your self-doubt or deal with perfectionism.Just as Rome was built and re-built over centuries, the life well-lived is a process that lasts a lifetime.
Kara has made it her life’s work to teach people, and especially women, how to liberate themselves from the inside out, and how to change their thinking to change their lives. So many people tend to work on the external without first changing the way they see and understand themselves and their place in the world. Yet, as Kara points out, if we don’t change our thinking, whatever we do won’t make that much of a difference.
This is true for both big and small goals. We must first believe we can do something, while, at the same time, accepting failure as part of the journey. We need to be willing to keep trying, and change our expectations from an “all in or nothing” perfectionist mindset to one that pushes through challenges and allows us to get up again when we fall. For many people, this is hard to do, as they are so focused on the results that they forget about the journey. They think “if I can just do this one thing” or “if I can just look a certain way” they will be happy, but we have to fall in love with the non-glamourous bits too: the hard work we all have to do daily to really get anywhere and achieve anything.
This may seem like an impossible task, especially if you have a loud inner critic that keeps telling you that you are not good enough, or if you put too much weight on achieving your goal. As I have mentioned many times before, many of us have this false conception that we need to be happy all the time, that if we just do this one thing then we will get to this place where normal human emotions and experience don’t exist—a place where we will just love ourselves and be content. But, I am sorry to say, there is no exit route from humanity. In fact, if we were happy all the time, we wouldn’t know what true happiness was! Therefore, it is so important to practice dealing with our negative emotions, rather than trying to escape them or beating ourselves up mentally for being human.
You cannot ignore how you feel. As Kara notes, there is no such thing as “faking it until you make it”. This will only lead to imposter syndrome, where you feel like a fraud just being you and don’t deserve what you have, and will dramatically impact your self-confidence and mental health. Either you will constantly feel the need to fake how you feel, which will lead to burnout, or you will cover up your negative feelings and discomfort with positive affirmations that will, at the end of the day, only feel like empty promises. Over time this will lead to cognitive dissonance, when your beliefs do not match your words and actions, which, in turn, can lead to brain damage over time, because you have not built the mental scaffolding needed to support your goals and dreams. Essentially, you have gone from zero to 100 in a small amount of time, and your brain and body are not prepared for it.
This is particularly the case with women, who are often told from young that they are not good enough, that they should look and act in a certain way, and that they should live according to a series of norms that make them feel less than men. Women, in many cases, are conditioned to be terrified of failure. As Kara points out, we are often taught to have a fixed mindset, which tells us that we should stick with what we are naturally good at and cannot learn new skills, as opposed to a growth mindset, which embraces challenges and sees failures as a learning experience.
Of course, this is not just the case with women. Many of us have a “shame or blame” mentality when it comes to our failures. We have certain expectations, and when reality doesn’t live up to these expectations, we feel ashamed that we failed, or we blame someone or something, saying things like “it shouldn’t be this hard” or “this is not working.” Kara calls this results entitlement, or the unconscious belief that things should be a certain way. But reality is far messier, and often things require a lot more work and time than we anticipate. If you find yourself in this kind of situation, it is best to stop and ask yourself if you really want the thing you are trying to achieve. If not, then stop doing what you are doing. If yes, then stop complaining! There is no use wasting mental energy on the messiness of life and the ups and downs of the human experience, because this is life. It never goes exactly according to plan.
Rather, we should focus that mental energy on reconceptualizing our thinking. This process involves, at its core, downloading our thoughts so that we can work on changing them, one step at a time. This is not an instant transformation. It is hard work, and doesn’t just stop, but it is worth it. As Kara says, awareness is only half the battle. We all need to put in the daily work it takes to change our minds.
One way of doing this is by using what Kara calls neutral thoughts. Basically, you focus on the smallest thing you can believe right now—something that is neutral and a fact. Say, for example, you battle with your body image. You see yourself in the mirror and think “yuck, I have a terrible stomach.” You can’t just replace that thought with the positive affirmation that you are a beautiful goddess. You can, however, look for a more neutral thought that will occupy your brain and give you some relief. You can say something like “that’s a human stomach” or “many women have stomachs like this”. This does not make everything better but, as Kara points out, it does make the situation “10% less horrible”. You are essentially giving your brain something to do, a little relief or reward, and over time this way of thinking becomes your default mode, and then move onto the next little step, or the next neutral thought.
This process is like a thought ladder. Each rung brings you towards a better self-image, without overwhelming you and shutting down the healing process. You essentially stand outside yourself and observe and interact with your thinking, breaking down how you feel and what you are really thinking, and changing that. You are re-training your brain, and you will find that, with practice, your brain will start doing this without conscious effort. This is deprogramming or self-regulation at its best, one of the best gifts of human consciousness!
This way of thinking can be applied to every area of your life, including forgiveness. For many of us, we tend to think of forgiveness as an abstract principle, something that is not concrete. This can keep us locked in, as we cannot deal with a concept. We need to be specific if we want to overcome the past and forgive, for our own sake more than anything else.
You have limited mental energy, as was mentioned above, and if you use this on something that has passed and you cannot change, you will be consumed by your anger and pain—the more you think about it, the more it will become part of your identity and define who you are. The past is the past; the only thing that exists now is your thoughts of the past, and this is what you can change by:
1. Knowing your story:
Ask yourself “how do I change the thoughts I have about this thing that happened to me?” Be as specific as possible, thinking about both what happened and how you view what has happened. This means asking yourself questions like “what does it mean to me now?” or “this happened, so what?”. Ask yourself why it is so painful right now. What are you re-experiencing as you think about it? What power does it have over your life?
2. Shifting your thoughts:
What story can you tell? First, write down the story the way you always tell it. This can be as long or as short as you want. Then, just write it with neutral facts (this may take a few tries). As you do this, you are shifting to neutral version of the event, which you can practice thinking about. As you do this, you can try find some more productive meaning out of what happened, or a different way of telling the story. You are not just finding someone to blame or feeling shame. You are learning more about who you are; for example, how you were resilient during this time, how you did the best you could, and so on. This is not a matter of hating the person who hurt you or hating yourself, nor does it invalidate your experience. Rather, it is a way of managing your story and redefining it in a way that does not take over your mind and your life.
For more information on forgiveness, overcoming self-doubt and the imposter syndrome, listen to my podcast with Kara (episode #133), check out her website and podcast, as well as her Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. If you enjoy listening to my podcast please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family, and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
Podcast Time Highlights:
2:45 How Kara went from practicing law to deprogramming the patriarchy
5:40 How perfectionism stops us from reaching our goals
7:51 Shutting up your inner critic
11:55 Why faking it till you make it is fake news
15:00 How to make your thinking 10% less worse
20:00, 22:51 How women are taught to have imposter syndrome about almost everything
34:20 Why forgiveness is necessary for your mental health
46:34 Are you results entitled?
51:55 Why we overestimate how change works, and underestimate the power of true change
If you would like to learn more about how to deal with imposter syndrome, perfectionism and improve your mental health, join me at my Mental Health Solutions Summit in Dallas, TX December 3-5, 2020! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click. Early bird special pricing ends 3/31!
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