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Challenging the Negativity in Your Head

One of the Lifework assignments for those in Leadershift last week was to listen to the famous “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. Most people have heard this speech at least once- or at the very least have heard that phrase… “I have a dream!” As students began sharing their take on re-listening to that speech, some of their comments stood out to me:

“Dr. King seemed fed up!”

“He had incredible courage to say what he said.”

“It emphasized the urgency of now. To strike while the iron is hot! It’s a message of hope.”

“Now is the time to do what you need to do. This speech is filled with passion.”

There are so many powerful takeaways from this speech, but the point these students made was that when we see something that needs to be changed, we need to have the courage to stand up with haste and do what needs to be done.

That takes confidence, doesn’t it? Confidence and conviction.

When I personally listened through the speech earlier this week, I had to stop and ask myself, “How confident am I in pursuing my dreams?” My answer- “Not confident enough.” Self-esteem can be a touchy subject, because everyone can have a different idea of what that looks like- in fact, self-esteem can be portrayed entirely different from one person to the next. What is true for everyone though, is that at the root of self-esteem is what one thinks of him or herself. To know yourself is one thing, but what you really think about yourself is always going to influence your behavior. Someone may say that they are a “people person” and a major extrovert and that they’re all about the social scene. This same person may deep down always be comparing themselves to those they are surrounded by, living in a constant state of “striving” – striving to earn the attention and popularity they so desperately believe they need. Or there may be someone who works in the automotive industry. He knows he’s a “car guy” and the go-to person for any automotive related question. He knows himself, but perhaps what he thinks about himself drastically feeds his ego- “I’m the best there is.”

There is danger in both low and high self-esteem—both possessing the ability to do a whole lot of damage. With high self-esteem, you’re in the clouds. You may often times feel untouchable because you are just “that” good. If you think so highly of yourself that you’re unable to learn from others, you’re treading on thin ice. One way to keep yourself in check is to ask yourself, your colleagues, and your loved ones if you are teachable. If you aren’t teachable, you’ll never grow, and if you don’t grow, you’ll never be able to lead well.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, and the one I’m going to hone in on, is low self-esteem. As Mike says, “Low self-esteem comes from how we spend time in our heads.” What are the messages you keep running through your head? Are they filled with doubts?

  • I’m not good enough.

  • I haven’t been trained well enough.

  • I’m not equipped.

  • Someone else could do it better.

  • I don’t deserve this.

  • I’ll never actually succeed.

  • I won’t be able to finish what I start.

  • I’m a failure.

  • I’m stupid.

  • I’ll be replaced.

  • My past is too messy.

The list could go on, and I’m sure everyone could add another bullet point to this. Negative thoughts and beliefs will run rampant through our minds if we are not intentional to take captive our thoughts and challenge them with the truth. One of our Leadershifters mentioned on the call that she is careful to remind herself throughout every single day, “Adapt and overcome.” If you have the belief that you can adapt to whatever hiccup interrupts your day and you are determined to not just overcome it but do so excellently, the running doubts and lies in your head will begin to suffocate.

Another student stated, “My day is solely dictated by my attitude from the time I wake up through my 12-minute drive to work.” Isn’t it interesting how our attitude truly influences our entire day?

When it comes down to it, self-esteem is a choice you make about yourself. Mike reminded us on the Thursday call, “You are not as bad as you think you are, and on the other side- you’re not as good as you think you are…We can do very few things in a positive way if we feel negative about ourselves.” You know, I was having a conversation with my husband just last night about a potential opportunity I could take. We did research, discussed the pros and cons, and then, as if I could no longer hold it back, the negative thoughts erupted and I said, “Forget it. I’m stupid. I can’t do this.” I started telling my husband this opportunity would be too hard, take too much commitment, and I was just too stupid to do well at it. Jerry immediately challenged those statements and told me to stop talking that way. Clearly, I haven’t mastered this topic.

Often times it is easier to believe a lie than to cling to the truth. And often times, these negative thoughts, or “lies” as I like to call them, are simply excuses because we are afraid. Fear isn’t an excuse to not do something though. Last Fall I wrote a post called Celebrate the Small Victories, and I want to reiterate something I said then: “I don’t believe one can lead well if they walk in a mindset of defeat. When it starts becoming habitual to celebrate the small things, recognizing that small things can still be hard things and each victory matters, we will then be able to better celebrate those around us.” I bring this up because sometimes the biggest victories in our life are the ones that appear minuscule to others. But friends, when you challenge those negative thoughts running through your head – when you make the choice to believe that you are valuable and you have great things to offer the world – that is a major victory.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a little gift a good friend of mine gave me a few years back. It was a coffee sleeve that says, “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.” I’m using it right now, and I can’t help but laugh. The mind can feel overwhelming at times. The thoughts that seem out of control, the lies that somehow slither in unnoticed at first- it can feel at times, at least for me, that I am trapped in my head. Here’s a truth though: no matter what you are thinking and what you are believing about yourself, you don’t have to be brilliant; you don’t have to be the best, and you certainly don’t have to have it all together. You just have to be determined, motivated, and focused.

A quote from Mike that has stuck with me since Thursday is this: “It’s impossible to consistently behave in a way that isn’t consistent with the way we talk about ourselves.” As a woman, a wife, a friend, an employee, and all the other roles I fill in my life- if I am clinging tighter to my negative beliefs and continually undermining my self-image, I am not going to be able to consistently and confidently fulfill each of my roles. What’s on the inside will come out, in one way or another. What you say to yourself is 100% correlated to what you feel about yourself. Change your self-talk, and you’ll begin to see a shift.

Your negative beliefs must be addressed or you will never reach your fullest potential. You place a lid on your potential when you accept your limiting, false, and negative beliefs. There is no quick fix, no “snap of the fingers” and suddenly all the negativity is replaced with positivity. However, there are four steps that you can take to transform your limiting beliefs.

  1. Identify a limiting belief you want to change.

  2. Determine how the belief limits you.

  3. Decide how you want to be, act, or feel.

  4. Create a turnaround statement that affirms or gives you permission to be, act, or feel this new way.

This isn’t a one-time fix. It is going to take work to chip away at these lies you’ve held as truths in your mind. It will be uncomfortable at first, but in time, it will be the only thing that makes sense. I struggled with poor self-esteem for a very long time. I believed almost all the lies I gave as examples above, and it was hard for me to see that there was anything worthwhile in me. I tried a lot of different tricks and tactics suggested to me by friends and therapists, and those provided temporary relief, but it wasn’t until I started taking these lies and comparing them to Scripture and what God said about me that I began to see a permanent shift take place in my mind. It doesn’t mean those thoughts don’t occasionally come back (like last night), but they don’t cripple me anymore.

As we said at the beginning, when we see something that needs to be changed, we need to have the courage to stand up with haste and do what needs to be done. Change begins in the heart and mind. Start there, and start right now.

So here’s to growth. Our growth.

Amy Davidson

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