Take a break from whatever you’re doing and think about the last few thoughts you had about yourself. If you’re a woman, research indicates you’re far more likely to engage in negative self-talk compared to your male colleagues. For female executives and entrepreneurs, learning how to release this energy can make or break their companies–and careers. However, it’s definitely easier said than done. We asked some female leaders about the ways they learned to stop being so hard on themselves:
Look for sexist standards
Much has been written about the so-called “confidence gap” between men and women. Research has found that while men overestimate their abilities and performance, women underestimate both–but their actual output doesn’t differ. But telling women to simply pat themselves on the back and forget about their insecurities? Brianna Rader, CEO and founder of Juicebox, says it doesn’t work like that, since often, when a woman does talk about her accomplishments, it can backfire. So while a woman is expected to be both confident and modest, her male coworker can simply be confident. Is it fair? Not at all, says Rader. “I hate that the responsibility for closing this confidence gap is being placed on women. I believe the burden should be on workplaces to uplift women and create an equitable environment so that it’s normal for employees to self-promote.”
Her advice for women who struggling to find their footing is to seek inspiration in education. Look for areas where your self-esteem is lacking and be on the lookout for sexist standards within your workplace. By confronting them, you’ll be able to better pinpoint your strengths and celebrate them, rather than being fearful.
Be your greatest champion
Fran Dunaway, CEO and cofounder of clothing company TomboyX, says women are often their own worst critic, since they expect to do more and be better before launching themselves into the world. This often comes with preconceived notions of how they should conduct themselves. Dunaway encourages women to be their own greatest champion in their careers, even if that means–gasp!–coming across as confident. “The notion of being assertive, versus being perceived as aggressive, is absurd. Men get held to different standards, and we have to challenge those beliefs,” she says. “The societal constructs that define who we are cut deep, so we have to give ourselves time and patience to overcome them. Join a women’s professional group; network with like-minded women; learn to speak up and stand up for yourself. And do so unapologetically.”
Release yourself from guilt
Returning to work after having a baby can be harder for mothers than fathers. While both parents are adapting to a new normal, research shows that women experience tremendous amounts of guilt when their career takes them away from their children or their marriage. The founder and chief creative of 100 Percent Pure, Susie Wang, says this pit in the bottom of your stomach can lead to a self-sabotaging mindset, since you don’t feel like you’re giving your all to any area of your life.
Sure, it might take practice, but Wang’s advice is to remember all of the reasons your hard work in the office is paying off. Not only for your clients, but for your family–both present and future. “Your career can satisfy your professional or creative needs and passions, while also helping you provide for your children or other personal needs. When you’re at your happiest and allow yourself to enjoy your success, you can give back more,” she says.
Resist comparing yourself to others
We all have that one person on Instagram that we follow obsessively–stalking their photos, wondering how they pull it off, and why we aren’t measuring up. Social media, while a positive way to connect to others, can also cause even the most self-assured people to play the comparison game. While filters and a curation strategy can make everything appear rosy, the more you try to beat someone else, the less joy you’ll find in your own success, says Kari DePhillips, founder and CEO of The Content Factory. “Few people show the struggles they endure and overcome publicly, because it tends to get fewer Facebook likes than the ‘look at how awesome I am’ alternative,” she says. “Every one of us has our own struggles to overcome.”
Be honest and aware
Pause and think about the adjectives you use to describe yourself. Even recording them for a full day can be an eye-opening experience. It’s a practice recommended by Tracy Litt, a certified mindset coach and author of the forthcoming book Worthy Human. The first step in stopping this harmful practice is recognizing what you’re doing.
“When you notice yourself feeling low and beaten down, pause and go up into your mind and find what you were thinking to yourself. You may find something like, ‘You’re so stupid; you never get anything right,’ or ‘Who do you think you are? No one’s going to listen to you,'” she says. “From that space of awareness, you can shift and make a new choice. For example, say something kind and empowering to yourself instead, such as, ‘You did a great job. You learned so much in this experience. You’re enough and what you have to say matters.'”
Record your wins
Much like chronicling your negativity so you can reverse it, the CEO of YESS!, Sue Hawkes, says it’s equally as important to record your wins. We all go through times where we struggle to remember just how great we are. Having a Google doc or a notebook where you list your successes can provide the instant confidence boost and mental reset you need.
To begin the process, Hawkes recommends journaling a few minutes each day, detailing the positive things that happened. “You’ll be surprised at how much you have to say,” she says “We are trained to focus on the negatives and often overlook the positives. You’ll have clear evidence that you are good at your job and contribute a lot, and this will negate the mean thoughts and help you move forward with more confidence and positivity.”