One foundational process to undertake in the development of greater self-confidence is to manage how you interpret events and situations. The way that we behave is dependent upon how we feel, and how we feel is dependent upon what we think. This process, as laid out by influential cognitive behavioral psychologist Judith Beck, is as follows:
At their best, people with a healthy sense of self-esteem assess situations realistically, and thus calmly manage their emotions. This process leads to behaviors and actions that are appropriate for the situation.
However, when people who have not learned to manage their insecurities enter into similar situations, they are likely to misinterpret events, leading to feelings that are out of proportion and behaviors that are either under- or over-reactions to the situation.
Oftentimes, employees are unexpectedly asked to meet with their manager. In such a situation, a person with healthy self-esteem is surprised and curious (thoughts) with mild apprehension (feelings), and walks into the manager’s office with an open mind and genuine interest in what the manager has to say. The healthy individual is confident and comfortable.
An insecure person in the same situation has exaggerated thoughts—“Am I in trouble? Will I get dressed down? What have I done wrong?”—which lead to heightened feelings (despair, anxiety, even shortness of breath).
In such a state, an individual is likely to walk into the manager’s office exhibiting behaviors that are excessive (manic, restless, or withdrawn) and generally inappropriate for the situation. The manager may just want to know the address of that great seafood restaurant where the team ate last week!
This is a simple example to demonstrate the typical levels of anxiety that plague an insecure person. Thankfully, there is a fix. It may not be possible to stop the thought, healthy or exaggerated, that comes into your mind as you assess a situation. But it is important to realize that these thoughts inevitably lead to feelings.
So before acting on your initial feelings, reassess the situation to determine if your initial thoughts were rational or perhaps a fearful product of your insecurity. The process looks like this:
There is a pause point—between feeling anxious and taking action—when it is important to take the time to determine if your thoughts are, in fact, rational and appropriate for the situation.
Once this process becomes routine, the insecure person increasingly recognizes their patterns of irrational thinking. They can learn that the exaggerated thoughts and feelings are (usually) out of proportion to the situation.
With practice, thoughts become more tempered, and inappropriate reactions and excessive feelings of anxiety begin to subside. Effectively managing behavior is one of the greatest assets an individual can possess. Furthermore, this tool generalizes to virtually any situation, and is particularly useful for those in leadership positions.
Next time you are unexpectedly called into your manager’s office, take a moment to assess your thoughts and feelings. Are they warranted? How can you adjust?
THE TAKEAWAY: By taking a pause point to interpret your own thoughts and feelings, you can survive—even thrive—in difficult situations with a healthier frame of mind.
To read more about our take on self-esteem, leadership, and building high-performing teams, order the DNA of Leadership today.
(Insecurity and the Path to Self-Confidence, Part 3)
When your boss makes a small correction or suggestion about your work, how do you react? Do you accept the suggestion and move on, or do you dwell on it for hours or even days?
While it isn’t unusual to dislike negative feedback, allowing something inconsequential to ruin your waking (and possibly non-waking) hours is a sign that you may be a Pleaser.
Insecurity manifests in the Pleaser as a need for outside reassurance in order to feel good about themself. Unlike the Sideways Glancer (discussed in Part 2 of this series) who seeks happiness through comparison to others, the Pleaser seeks happiness in the emotional acceptance by others.
This dynamic exists in business when employees attach their self-worth to the approval of those with whom they work. They have a strong need to please their manager, their peers, and even their subordinates. Critically, the Pleaser’s desire to please can diminish their ability to make independent decisions.
As a result, the Pleaser becomes dependent on the opinions of others. They live with a disproportionate amount of anxiety centered on avoiding the displeasure of coworkers instead of focusing on their actual work.
They are fearful of doing or saying anything that may be controversial, and they are most comfortable with a fixed routine. They have difficulty holding others accountable or having difficult conversations, for fear of being disliked.
This propensity to please is typically rooted in the relationship between individuals and their families of origin. Children may equate pleasing the authority figures in their lives with being loved. This leads them to become adaptive and compliant to their parents’ wishes.
The fear of disappointing others often generalizes beyond authority figures to include others in the Pleaser’s life. This desire to please may initially benefit career trajectory, but reaches a ceiling when a Pleaser is promoted to a management position, and they are required to make independent decisions and hold subordinates accountable.
In addition to the long-term workplace challenges that Pleasers face, the desire to please can lead to personal misery. Falling into an emotional spiral at the slightest sign of disapproval is unhealthy and unfortunate. But, there is hope for the Pleaser!
THE TAKEAWAY: Placing your self-worth in the hands of others diverts from long-term success and happiness.
In Part 4 of this series, we will discuss the tools for building healthy self-esteem. Be sure to follow Beard Executive Consulting on LinkedIn to get blog updates.
(Insecurity and the Path to Self-Confidence, Part 2)
How often do you find yourself viewing the profile of a friend or colleague on social media? Do you linger on pictures of their new house, their new car, their bright shining smile? Today—more than ever—it is easy to fall prey to the temptation of comparing ourselves to others.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the Imposter, someone whose self-esteem has not kept pace with their accomplishments. This week, we will discuss the Imposter’s cousin, the Sideways Glancer.
Judging your interior by others’ exteriors is always a losing proposition. This occurs when you use the perceived successes of others to measure your own feelings of worth. There will always be someone wealthier or better looking. It may surprise you to hear that I once had a client with a seven-figure salary admit to envying colleagues in his industry!
There are infinite ways to feel less than (or more than) others. Once you begin the process of comparing yourself in this way, you start scratching an itch for which there is no satisfaction.
This desire to compare ourselves to our peers is further complicated by the many layers of self-projection and self-branding propagated online. When others project a false sense of happiness, it can make you feel even worse by comparison.
Comparing ourselves to others is rooted in our desire to feel comfortable with where we are in life, and silence our anxieties about not being good enough. We seek a metric by which to measure our happiness. For example, “I will be good enough when I earn enough money, status, position, respect, and on and on…”
However, once we achieve those milestones that we believed would mark our success, we simply move the goalposts and push our measure of success further away.
We live in a competitive culture that encourages comparisons and is hyperfocused on winning. Taking a sideways glance is a constant temptation even for healthy people. Believe it or not, it’s possible to be an Imposter and a Sideways Glancer at the same time; indeed, most people have multiple causes for their insecurities.
However, those with healthy self-esteem can put these comparisons in perspective and focus on what is important to them, not what is important to their peer group or the rest of the world. They have an internal locus of control that serves them well.
THE TAKEAWAY: Comparing yourself to others can be unhealthy. Building your own self-esteem lessens the anxiety that comes from a sideways glance.
(Insecurity and the Path to Self-Confidence, Part 1)
[In this four-part series, we will outline common sources of insecurity and give you the tools to help.]
Do you ever feel like your triumphs can all be chalked up to luck? Instead of enjoying your accomplishments, do you suspect that your latest success might be your last? If so, don’t worry—you are not alone!
We regularly interview mid-career leaders who have risen quickly in their companies and have a history of impressive accomplishments. Our conversations inevitably lead to their aspirations and career desires and what it will take to achieve those.
As these talented leaders review their record and begin mentally laying a foundation on which to build future successes, they often hit a stumbling block. Has their performance really been due to their unique abilities…or simply the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time?
Such leaders modestly ascribe their accomplishments to external factors, such as having a good team, a good boss, or a particularly beneficial set of circumstances. They have difficulty taking credit for their successes and owning their achievements. In fact, there is a name for this: Imposter syndrome.
Virtually all of these Imposter leaders share the same character flaw. Their view of themselves has not kept pace with the positive outcomes they have achieved and the skills they have developed. Essentially, they think less of themselves than their achievements warrant.
Developmentally, the way that we view ourselves is largely formed in the first ten years of our lives. Psychological traits are developed at that time; for example, a sense of personal competence, willingness to take risks, and comfort interacting with others.
People who have a lower sense of self-esteem often retain an arrested view of themselves. Although they are fully grown, they are stuck with the self-perception they had as a child. In psychologically healthy people, self-esteem and self-perception continue to adjust with experience as one ages.
The self-perception of healthy leaders is commensurate with their growing mastery of life skills. In exploring the apprehensions of insecure individuals, we have consistently found that their feelings about themselves are out of date. Here’s the good news: with effort, you can correct this situation. Don’t despair!
THE TAKEAWAY: One of the leading causes of insecurity is a poor self-image developed in childhood. With the proper tools, adults can work toward creating a more positive self-image.