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When I was seventeen years old, my dad had won from the insurance company he worked for. So, he packed up our family and we took a road trip to Colorado.
During our first day, our gang boarded the resort bus. A man overheard our family talking and jokingly turned to me and said, “What planet are you from?”
He was referring to how we talked.
Yes, I grew up in the Deep South where the accents are thicker than molasses.
While I know this man was trying to be funny, he had no idea how his words stung a young girl’s heart.
Between my accent, the stigma of being from the South (and a blonde), and being raised without a lot of money, I held a very painful belief about myself.
I wasn’t smart enough.
No one wants to feel stupid, so I got to work.
I needed to prove to the world that I was an intelligent woman.
And, I worked hard to be smart.
I was a member of the Beta Club. I was nominated “most likely to succeed” in middle school. I graduated nursing school with honors and became a critical care nurse. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Boston University and had a wall full of certificates and awards. I even lost that thick Southern drawl (which is charming, by the way).
Yet, none of those things changed how I felt about myself.
It’s like the time I lost a ton of weight and still felt fat.
When you’ve thought something about yourself for a long time, you fail to realize that it’s a bunch of words in your head that you’re now believing.
How you see yourself is shaping your choices and life. Shape it beautifully and well.
Thinking I wasn’t smart led me to do some stupid things.
The irony, right? But, that’s how it works. We’ll always prove what we believe to be true.
For example, I’d never speak up in class, so I never gave myself the experience of sharing my ideas with others.
I felt intimidated around people who I believed to be smarter than myself (which was basically everyone), so I didn’t give myself the opportunity to surround myself with incredible people.
Then, to prove myself to others, I read books and took courses that I wasn’t interested in but I thought would make me appear “smarter.” What it did was make me miserable.
I even dragged my 8-year-old daughter to a physics lecture about the black hole theory because at least I could make her smart, right? So crazy. Looking back, we’d had a much better time seeing a great movie and getting ice cream.
As you can see, in my effort to gain outside validation and impress the world, I was moving further and further away from the woman I wanted to be.
My mentor, Martha Beck, said something that blew my mind.
Have you ever had someone come along and say something that challenges your entire world? That’s what happened the day I heard Martha Beck say this:
“You get to decide what you believe about yourself.”
A lightbulb moment.
A grand epiphany.
The beginning of a whole new chapter.
All these years, I had wanted the world to tell me I was smart, but even when I was recognized for my intellectual abilities, it wasn’t enough.
So, as soon as I heard her say this, I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down what I believed about myself.
I’m not as smart as others.
I’m a hard worker.
I’ll always have to deal with my weight.
I’m a people pleaser.
I’m not organized.
I don’t know how to manage money.
I’ll always struggle with money.
I’m not that beautiful.
I filled a whole page with my self-opinion.
It was a mixed bag of beliefs— some were good, most were terrible.
When I looked at the negative opinions I held about myself, I asked,
Would I choose to believe this?
The answer was “hell no.”
If it was a choice (and it is), I wanted to choose wisely.
I wanted to cultivate a strong self-opinion that I aspired to see within myself.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing over the past decade: deciding on purpose how I want to think about myself.
What do you want to believe about you?
When you look at your life, you can decide that it’s rich or poor, beautiful or terrible, joyful or full of sadness.
You also get to decide what you believe about yourself.
Think about that.
When you think about yourself, you get to decide things like:
If you’re beautiful or not.
If you’re capable or not.
If you’re lovable or not.
If you’re abundant or not.
If you belong or not.
If you’re confident or not.
Why does this matter?
Because how you see yourself depicts how you behave.
And, how you behave is shaping your entire life.
So, it’s important to understand what your current self-opinion is and whether you want to keep it or not.
Look for and create evidence for what you want to believe.
When I think about myself, I want to believe things like:
I can do whatever I put my mind to.
I’m beautiful and kind.
I am strong and capable.
I know what I want..
I am loved and loving.
I’m a great mom.
I am in control of myself.
I’m a great businesswoman.
I am rich.
I am a great writer.
Some people may agree with these statements and some may not.
It doesn’t matter what other people think. I get to decide what I want to believe.
So, each day, I look for all the ways these are true and take action to create more evidence for what I want to see in myself.
The more evidence I create, the more deeply rooted the belief becomes.
However, because we’re human beings, we will make mistakes and things won’t always go as planned.
So, let’s talk about how to look at this in relationship to how you see yourself.
Interpret life to your benefit.
When I make mistakes, I no longer use it as a reason to think I’m not smart or to support any limiting belief.
In fact, last week, a reader called me out for using “bear it all” instead of “bare it all.”
Of course, I know the difference.
But, I didn’t catch the mistake, and at the moment I was writing, I must have had those furry big creatures in my mind.
The old me that believed I wasn’t smart enough would have crawled into a hole of shame over a four-letter word and used it as evidence for “I’m not smart enough.”
But, that’s now how I roll now.
Instead, I consoled myself and thought:
I’m so lucky to have readers who catch my mistakes.
I don’t let perfectionism stop me.
Brilliant people make a lot of mistakes.
The creative mind is messy and that’s ok.
I’m learning and growing every day.
Some will argue that I’m being delusional.
We all are.
Every day, we’re interpreting the facts of our lives through our belief system.
So, since we’re all delusional, use delusion in your favor.
Here’s my invitation to you:
Decide on purpose what you want to think about yourself.
If you no longer want to be overweight, stop holding a “fat” opinion of yourself.
If you don’t want to struggle with money, stop thinking of yourself as poor.
If you don’t want to be lonely, decide to see yourself as loveable.
If you don’t want to be stuck in life, see yourself as a creative and resourceful person.
Of course, changing how you see yourself takes practice, but it’s your life.
Decide and practice a self-opinion that will make your 90-year old self-proud.
An FKL ASSIGNMENT: Think about a painful belief you’ve been holding about yourself. How does this belief impact your behavior? What would you rather believe? Imagine holding this new belief about yourself? How would you show up differently?