A freelancing friend texted me the other day, “So much on my to-do list, but I’m wallowing in my own inadequacies again!” Like me, she’s had a lot of trouble maintaining a positive mindset as she pursues bigger goals with her business. So we contact each other when we hit a mental block and offer each other support.
The thing is that taking on big goals is scary as hell. Especially when thought gremlins start telling you that everyone else has it figured out while you’re lagging behind. Broken and woefully inadequate.
But you don’t have to be consumed by negative thoughts. I should know. After years of struggling with self-advocacy and self-esteem, I’ve developed several strategies to change my mindset and get things done.
Below, I outling six tips I use to cut down on wallowing time and even avoid the wallow altogether.
Accept where you are right now
The first step to real change is to start where you are. Accept that everything is a process. Whether you’re at the start or in the middle of trying to accomplish a goal, you need to embrace that nothing happens overnight. Success happens because of a series of actions you take to get you closer to your goal.
If you haven’t already, identify your goal. Maybe you want to get out of debt, make new friends, or change careers. Maybe you feel “fine” but you want more from your life. You may want to change a negative behavior or build a new skill or make it to the next level.
Now, ask yourself where you are right now in relation to that goal. This isn’t the time to rage with harsh self-criticism. This is the time to be open with yourself. If hard numbers are involved, be sure to write them down.
Be honest, but stay emotionally neutral. Refrain as best you can from taking your findings and turning them into your self-worth. The point of this exercise is to assess where you are so that you can create a game plan to get to the next place.
If you already have a plan in place, your reflections will help you tend to that plan and make adjustments if necessary.
Put self-care at the top of your priority list
When I started writing full time, I quickly realized that there are absolute physical limitations on my ability to write. And I don’t mean words per minute.
I found that if I was sleepy, my writing process slowed to a trickle. If my body hurt from sitting too much or bad posture, I was unable to concentrate for longer than a few minutes at a time. If I wasn’t mentally calm, I couldn’t focus on anything.
I needed to bump sleeping, exercise/stretching, and nutrition to higher priority levels. My brother, a tanker in the military, likes to quote a cavalry proverb, “feed your horse first.”
In this case, my brain and body were the horse. Sure, I could sleep like shit and eat like shit, but then I’d write like shit. So I set boundaries. If I am tired, I rest. When my body starts to hurt, I get up and stretch. I stretch before bed as well, and I make sure I get a full night’s rest.
I promise that if you make your self-care a top priority, there will be a trickle-down benefits for you. But again, when approaching how to set yourself up for success, refrain from turning your findings into reasons why you’re not enough.
Imagine your success in full color
Success doesn’t come by chance. People who reach their goals get them by accepting the hard work has to be done, and they are the one to do it. But to understand what tasks lie ahead, they also need to understand what the end of the road actually looks like.
If you can see the destination, you can find the road map.
Additionally, if you can visualize yourself in that successful place, you can combat the negative voices telling you that you don’t belong there. Just be careful not to get too carried away by the fantasy. This is for motivational purposes, not to distract you from taking chances.
Change the inner narrative
What inner dialogue is holding you back? How do you treat yourself within the confines of your mind? If you’re reading this, then I’m going to imagine it’s similar to me. Here are some common, but problematic inner narratives:
I’m not worth it.
I’m such a poser and everyone will know.
When I inevitably fail, I’ll never recover.
No one will want to be my friend after this.
I don’t deserve to get what I want.
No one wants to hear/see/work with me.
These kinds of thoughts don’t go away overnight. They’re a habit our minds engage with because, even if it hurts us, these beliefs keep us “safe.”
Now, I’m not saying that they actually keep us out of harm’s way. In fact, they harm us a lot more than they help. However, the reason we hold onto them is that we are trying to avoid pain altogether.
When you feel a breakdown of spirit coming on, pretend you’re on fire.
Stop: pause all self-flagellating thoughts for at least a minute. Just set a timer, breath, and politely dismiss all thoughts that aren’t “in 2,3,4 out 2,3,4”
Drop: give yourself permission to let go of those ideas. If this is an acute problem, you may want to actually give yourself permission to think those things for 2 minutes, setting a timer, and at the sound of a bell, let it go. However you have to do it, get to a point where you can let those thoughts go.
Roll: Reframe your negative thoughts into something helpful and roll with it.
Get your support network together
It’s hard to offer yourself encouragement during a setback or a period of wallowing. You’ll need to get your cheerleaders and your mentors together to offer you support and encouragement when you can’t do so. Your parent, teachers, bosses, besties, and even strangers on the internet can offer support.
Reach out to your network regularly. This will help you stay motivated, and the inevitable giving back you will do will give you a sense of purpose and community. Win/Win.
I also want to note that if any of these sources of support are actually not sources of support — if your mom is the kind who might subtly put you down, your friend’s blame their problems on others, your facebook group is full of spammy self-promoters, and you don’t have a mentor.
You need to find someone else. Join a different facebook group. Attend networking events. Get out there like your life depends on it. Because in many ways it does. If you’re on the fence about whether or not a loved one is supportive ask yourself this question:
After speaking with X do I feel:
Energized and ready to push further.
More informed and clear about what I’m trying to do.
Like the goals I wanted to achieve are actually kind of stupid.
Like I don’t have the X to achieve my goals.
If your answer is A or B, your loved one is a source of support. If your answer is C or D, your loved one is not a source of support. Whether you want to continue a relationship with an unsupportive person is up to you. But I advise that, if you can, cut ties with people who actively undermine your sense of self.
That also goes for people so wrapped up in their own lives that you’re constantly offering them support without getting any support in return. Life isn’t tit-for-tat, and sometimes your loved one is going to need your support waaaaay more than you will need there's. But, if their life is always in shambles, proceed with extreme caution.
Okay? Okay. End of rant.
(Re)Frame the Game
Lastly, it’s time to check back in with your goal planning. (Again) if you haven’t actually explored what goals you’re focusing on and how you will accomplish them, then you need to add that task to the top of your to-do list. If you have a plan in place, now is a great time to assess your plan.
A word of caution, though. While goals to occasionally need a good tweaking,they also need to be worked through. If you are in a trap of constantly altering your goals, you need to address that. I’ve been known to work toward something for a few days, only to abandon the strategy in the middle of its process.
You can’t get anywhere if you keep stopping.
However, you may need to assess if your goal planning is getting you the results you want. That’s why it’s so important to think in the long and short term. I break my goals down to the daily actions I need to make. This way, I actually have something to assess when looking at my progress.
If I’m coming up short, chances are something about my daily to-do list needs to change.
For many of us, fear and shame seem to rule our lives. I know that these two ruled my career for years. I know so many people who have refrained from asking for that promotion, refrained from moving somewhere they love, even refrained from dating due to the self-limiting behavior of wallowing in their own inadequacy.
But none of us have to be chained by negative self-talk. And none of us deserve that sort of treatment.
In fact, if we can approach our wallowing with positive coping, we can cut our wallowing time in half. And someday, eliminate it altogether.