Sometimes, when it comes to achievement, our biggest enemy is ourselves.
"We have an infinite capacity as human beings to tell ourselves stories, and the most important one we tell ourselves is about ourselves," says performance coach Jennifer Lea, director of client relations at Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute. She says there are differences between the skills that we just haven’t developed yet and the self-imposed limitations we place on ourselves through uncertainty and fear.
But how do you know the difference between a genuine (and possibly temporary) limitation and a bogus story you’re telling yourself? How do you get rid of self-imposed boundaries and break through to greater achievement? Here are eight steps to getting there.
When your beliefs refer to an ambiguous "they," there’s a good sign that they’re manufactured and not real. Statements like, "They’ll never give me a shot," or, "They’re going to know I’m too young/old/inexperienced," are good examples.
We give "them" a lot of power, says speaking and sales consultant Terri Sjodin, author of [i]Scrappy: A Little Book about Choosing to Play Big[/i]. Don’t assume what’s going on in others’ heads—especially of those "others" who haven’t told you directly that you’ve got a limitation, she says.
At the Human Performance Institute, the team helps people get in touch with their purpose for being by asking a series of questions:
- What helps you find meaning in life?
- What’s your purpose statement?
- What brings you joy?
Then, she helps clients examine where they are now and where they want to be to feel fulfilled. That gives them a general direction in which to move forward, she says. She likens the process to using a GPS system. "The action is the route and, sometimes, the route is not always a straight line," she says.
Pushing forward to meet your goals is an exercise that can be filled with discomfort, Sjodin says. Avoidance because you don’t want to feel vulnerable or are afraid of rejection is simply denying yourself the potential to succeed, she says.
"Your brain is programmed for safety. As long as you’re breathing, alive, and healthy, it’s going to try to keep you that way," she says. Once you accept—and even expect—that you’ll feel discomfort in stretching yourself and taking risks, the fear of those feelings diminishes, she says.
Begin to set small goals and action items to get you toward the accomplishment you’re seeking and celebrate those small accomplishments along the way, Lea says. If you mastered a new skill, nailed a big presentation, or wrote a proposal for your next promotion, reward yourself and recognize the work you’re doing to overcome the limitations you previously put on yourself. Celebrating the small wins is critical because, even when you get to the finish line, you’re going to have new goals and aspirations, so it may never feel like enough, she says.
To gain confidence, you may need outside perspectives, training, or mentorship. Seek out the help you need to make yourself feel more confident, says coach Cathy Salit, CEO of Performance of a Lifetime and the author of Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work.
You may also find it useful to create a small community of people who support you in your goal quest and believe in your ability. Such a group can be immensely helpful in making you more resilient and committed, especially when you’re feeling nervous, discouraged, or vulnerable.
Some people advise faking it until you make it. Salit says it’s better to find a role model and engage in some healthy imitation. That’s not to say you should start dressing and acting like that person. But notice how your role model acts in meetings or how they negotiate a deal. Pick up the successful habits they have and try them on for size, Salit suggests. Eventually, you’ll adapt them to your own style, but imitation done well can help you feel more confident, she says.
When you’re making a move to overcome your limitations, you will likely experience a failure or two along the way, Lea says. Scour those missteps and setbacks for lessons. What could you have done differently? What did you learn? What are the lessons you can take from the losses to make yourself better at your job and ensure they don’t happen again?
When you’re working hard at overcoming such beliefs, you also need to give yourself periods for resting and thinking, Lea says. By creating some "mental space," you’ll be better able to come up with solutions to challenges and perform, she says. If you’re constantly charging through to the next thing, that determination could eventually work against you.
"It can be helpful to shift our understanding of stress as ‘training stress,’ where we stress the system for short intervals for growth. But if we can’t ever escape it, it becomes overwhelming and adds to our self-limiting beliefs," she says.