Feel you have to keep proving yourself? There is another way.

“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” So said Maya Angelou, American author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet and civil rights activist.

So why is it that many of us feel we have to keep proving ourselves and cannot believe that we are enough, particularly women it seems? Why instead is there a pattern of self-criticism with a risk of anxiety and overwhelm, and what can we do about it?

Rachel Simmons has studied young women for 20 years and her research shows that competence does not automatically equate to confidence. Instead, patterns of behaviour can include over thinking setbacks, feeling like a fraud, and avoiding healthy risks for fear of failure.

If these patterns seem familiar to you, read on for ideas on things to try to help build confidence and to start to believe that you really are enough.

What’s the problem?

It’s not an issue of not being able to be successful. It’s more the way in which we are encouraged to pursue success which can start in childhood. Key areas include whether we develop a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, or whether focus on accomplishments or learning.

Fixed mindset v growth mindset:

Mindset development links back to whether we are praised for intellect (e.g. ‘clever girl’) or for effort (e.g. ‘I love the way you focused on doing that’) – the first encourages a fixed mindset and the second a growth mindset (see the work of Carol Dweck). Those with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is fixed and that they are either capable of doing something or not capable. Those with a growth mindset believe that if they can’t do something it is just that they can’t do it yet. They believe that their abilities can improve with some focus and effort.

The implications of finding that you can’t do something with a fixed mindset are that you don’t want to put yourself into positions where you might fail as this only adds to the list of things that you can’t do. As a result you will find yourself increasingly avoiding healthy risk taking with the consequence that you are unlikely to reach your true potential.

Something to try:  If you find yourself telling yourself that you can’t do something, try adding the word ‘yet’ to the sentence and see if that enables you to view a challenge in a different way.


Focusing on accomplishments versus learning:        

Selecting a possible future accomplishment as a goal to motivate you can come at a cost. Once the achievement is completed, you move quickly on to the next achievement without enjoying the feeling of accomplishment which can result in unhappiness. If, however, you focus instead on learning and mastery, you will be more likely to enjoy the journey and not just reaching the destination.

Something to try: The next time you set yourself an accomplishment goal, consider what you will need to learn or master to get there and focus on enjoying that along the way.

Building confidence from there….

If you’ve tried both of the above so that you are more open to face the unknown and put yourself in a position where you might fail, as well as being more focused on the learning process rather than the accomplishment then you have given yourself a head start in overcoming self-doubt so that you can be more confident.

Simmons explains that we develop confidence when we face into the unknown and come out of the other side, whether successful or not; taking on challenges and determining what we’ve learned from them helps us to understand that it is not the outcome that defines us.

Confidence can be developed through practice and repetition in the same way as any other skill but instead of focusing directly on confidence, we need to instead take considered risks.

Something to try: Build your confidence through demonstrating  ‘microbravery’ – determine what it is that you want to build confidence in. Then work out your comfort zone, low-risk zone and high risk zone. The low risk zone may make you nervous but it shouldn’t terrify you. Managing to undertake a low risk ‘experiment’ helps you feel braver so that your high risk ceiling gradually comes closer.

Finally, if you’ve tried each of the above suggestions you are on the path to feeling that you are enough. Keep trying. If you need further motivation, and have children, consider how your role modelling can support them to believe that they are enough. I started with a quote and now end with one from Marianne Williamson: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

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