I think a lot of my clients and listeners think I was just born confident—like I came out of the womb like this. However, the truth is my brain used to be the opposite of how it is now. It was totally out of control! I was insecure and anxious about everything in my life. I thought I was failing at everything—work, romance, family, friendships, my body, and anything else you can think of.
If you’d transcribed my thoughts, my favorites were thoughts like:
• I’m lazy and should be working-out more.
• I’m not good enough.
• I’m too fat and gross.
• I’m not pretty enough.
• I’m too loud and intense—just too much.
• There’s something wrong with me.
• I don’t have that mystery other women have that make men love them.
• I’m not smart enough, but too smart to be happy.
• Someone is going to find out I’m not qualified.
• I should be eating less.
• I’m disgusting.
And that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg, my awful self-talk soundtrack. In other words, I didn’t like myself too much and had a negative self-regard. When I thought about myself, the thoughts were always negative. I didn’t think I was valuable or worthwhile, and, no matter what the area, I was sure I was inadequate.
Obviously, thinking this way wasn’t pleasant and produced a lot of negative emotions for me every day—guilt, fear, anxiety, insecurity, and, most of all, shame. So. Much. Shame.
When I started doing thought work, I focused a lot on trying to get to a neutral vision of myself. I wasn’t going for positive-affirmation, blissed-out love for myself—I just wanted to not hate myself! I wanted to feel 40% less self-loathing, and that was a big enough goal.
Then during my Master Coach Training, at a retreat dinner with my teacher, she asked me how I felt about myself. “I feel fine about myself,” I said, and she responded, “Just fine?” I looked at her blankly. Fine was a big accomplishment! I was ok, I felt neutral—what else was I supposed to feel? She then asked, “What if you thought you were AMAZING?”
I quite honestly didn’t even understand what she was saying. My brain was so resistant to the idea that it just went blank, but over time, I kept thinking about it. What would it mean to think I was awesome? What would it mean to be kind of in love with myself?
Today I can actually say I think I’m amazing. I enjoy and appreciate myself, and I’m a little bit in love with how fabulous I am. If I wanted to say that in a more professional way, you’d say I have a positive self-regard.
Positive self-regard is seeing yourself in a positive light. You have positive self-regard when you think of yourself the way you think about someone you think is awesome. Have you ever had a type of crush on a new friend because you think they are just so amazing? Having that feeling about yourself is the pinnacle of positive self-regard.
It means seeing all your best qualities. You give yourself the benefit of the doubt, take your own side, and have your own back. You see all the things that are great about you, while being compassionate about your shortcomings and not thinking they outweigh your positive attributes.
Most of you reading this DO NOT feel this way about yourselves. In fact, it’s probably hard to imagine, but it is possible if you work on changing your thoughts.
Here’s a place to start: Martha Beck, another Harvard-trained life coach (there can’t be that many of us), teaches that “if you spot it, you got it.” This means that if you see something you like or admire in someone else, then you have a tiny glimmer of that thing in yourself, too—or at least the potential to develop that characteristic.
So pick someone you love/admire/crush on and make a list of 5 things you think are amazing about them. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Now rewrite those same sentences in the first person. If one of your items was, “She’s super confident,” write it as, “I’m super confident.”
You probably don’t believe these thoughts about yourself yet, but if you spotted them in someone else, you have the capacity to develop them yourself. Start with a baby-step version, something like, “Sometimes I feel confident,” or “I’m open to feeling confident some day.”
Practice these baby-step thoughts about yourself and start building the bridge to self-love, one thought at a time.