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“We’re not all extroverts”, my friend and former co-worker said to me once. “We’re not?”, I sarcastically replied. Too often we forget that the lens through which we see the world is not the only one, and this is a topic I often neglect for that exact reason.
We often find that online entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, freelancers, writers, and bloggers are actually introverted by nature. And whether we’re extroverted or introverted, there are a few mental myths that most of us subscribe to. That’s where Katrina Razavi comes in.
Katrina first reached out to me as a reader of the site, and shared her mission of wanting to help self-described nerds improve their communication skills and confidence. Of course I told her to pursue the path, and she has.
Note: This is a guest post on tackling the mental myths that are holding you back from living your best life, written by Katrina Razavi. If you’d like to write a similar guest post for the site and reach a highly engaged audience, see our guidelines here.
Do you have control over that voice in your head?
The overwhelming majority of us do not.
I have interviewed dozens of successful business people who struggle with social anxiety and confidence. The common theme they always bring up is this constant self-analysis:
- How did that conversation go again?
- What is that person thinking right after I said a silly remark?
- Geez, I guess I’m not wired to be an [entrepreneur, businessman, engineer]
- I wish I could do that but… [insert lame excuse]
I want to address the four mental myths that are holding you back from living your best life, and show you how to get over them.
This can apply to social skills, your business, or making a change in your life. I want to share some of my personal experiences and also give you some strategies on how you can begin tackling some of these mental obstacles.
Mental Myth #1: Impostor Syndrome
In a nutshell, this is when you think you are a fake.
Wikipedia describes it as:
A psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds…Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
This myth really hits home for me because this is something I struggled with for a while (and still do to a certain degree). It also happens to be common amongst high-achieving women.
I have spoken to dozens of entrepreneurs who struggle with social anxiety or awkwardness and this always comes up. We are talking about smart, ambitious people who work hard and believe in what they’re doing. They’ve accomplished awesome stuff and have the guts to take the entrepreneurial leap, but they still don’t feel like they’re a success—crazy.
You may feel this way if you’re constantly attributing your success to things outside of your control, or you’re worried that you will be found out one day.
I tackled a lot of my personal struggles with social skills and communication by starting my own business. The number one thing holding me back from approaching people and talking about my idea was that I had told myself I was a fake for no good reason.
It wasn’t until I seriously thought about what was holding me back and identified it as impostor syndrome (although at the time I didn’t even know this was a thing) that I started changing my perspective.
Impostor syndrome is harmful for many reasons, but it impacted me severely because I was constantly operating from this place of fear. A constant fear that I’d be found out, even though I wasn’t faking anything.
Don’t fall into that trap. Here’s how you can begin tackling impostor syndrome:
1. Take credit where credit is due
A telltale sign of impostor syndrome is perceiving your success as luck or chance rather than crediting your own efforts. I like to tackle this in two ways: the first one is to take about an hour to reflect on things that you have accomplished and write them down. It could be something from high school up until today, big or small.
Writing down your success will help create a neural connection in your brain so you can relive that feeling of achievement. The act of recalling and writing down these important moments will jog your memory to think of what you did to make this happen.
The next step is to figure out what personal characteristics led you to success. Was it persistence? Deep focus and drive? Learning a new skill you didn’t think was possible when you started?
Try to identify what got you to success.
Moving forward, be sure to start taking note of things you have achieved in all areas of life. I keep a journal and at the end of each week, I’ll note down the things that I’ve accomplished both at work and personally [Arman’s note: I do a thorough weekly review. I feel superhuman when I do it, and awful when I don’t. You can see the full post and even download a summary guide and template here].
Doing this helps me link what I’ve done to my own natural skills and hard work. It also makes me feel good that I spent the week working on things that I perceive to be high-value and high-impact. Finally, when I track the items that lead me to progress I can replicate them to come up with more positive results in other areas of my life.
2. Don’t let fear take you over
When I launched my online startup I was constantly in fear. I was fearful that we’d never raise capital, fearful of pitching my idea and approaching potential investors. This fear constantly led to stress and a constant state of feeling overwhelmed. When I spoke to a mentor, he advised me to stop operating from a place of fear. I was taken aback. I didn’t even realize that’s how I was acting because it became the norm.
One of my favorite strategies from Tony Robbins is the power of asking questions. He advises us to ask empowering questions. These types of questions lead to solutions rather than directing our focus towards more problems. For example, the types of questions I used to ask were things like:
- How can this business go wrong?
- What will happen if we can’t raise money?
- Am I really smart enough to make this work?
- Will this VIP think my startup idea is stupid?
Contrast this with the types of questions I should have been asking:
- How can I make this the most impactful business on the web?
- How can I exceed customer’s expectations?
- What would extreme success look like?
- How can I start approaching VIP’s with more confidence?
Start analyzing the types of questions that you’re asking yourself. Ask yourself questions that drive you towards solutions rather than ones that shift your focus to the negative. The power of questions is that it directs our focus—instantly. Changing a few habitual questions can become a game changer.
If you struggle with social confidence, stop asking yourself debilitating questions and start asking questions like:
- What would my life look like if I improved this area in my life?
- What’s the best person I think I can be?
- What does success look like?
- How can I start taking action today?
3. Create your own definition of success
Personally, I felt like an impostor because my definition of success was distorted. Taking cues from the media, I started confusing success to only mean superficial things like making a ton of money or knowing the right people.
I felt like I was a phony if I didn’t raise a ton of money or make millions of dollars. What I should have been focusing on was providing value and having fun while doing it. I should have been enjoying the journey and not the destination.
You don’t have to learn the hard way. By honestly identifying your strengths and your areas for growth you can create more realistic expectations of who you are and what you truly want to achieve. Don’t limit yourself by any means, but don’t paint a picture of success that is solely superficial.
Go deeper. Think about the types of values that are important to you. Allow taking the journey to be part of what you perceive as success rather than just the destination.
For example, I just started a blog. Rather than falling into the same traps I did before, I’m now focusing on the value of helping people. Helping people is what encourages me to write posts that take me hours and hours to write, but knowing I can provide a ton of value to my readers is success enough, regardless of where I live or what type of car I drive. I feel better, I work happier, and I work harder. Try it out.
Mental Myth #2: Others have more [blank] than I do
Someone, somewhere in the world will always have more IQ points, money, charisma, skills or knowledge than you—and that’s fine. This is what makes the world an interesting place.
In the same vein, there’s someone else somewhere in this world who would die to have the things that you take for granted like clean water, a functioning car, a good job, etc.
Do you ever compare yourself to either of these groups of people?
In psychology this is called upward and downward social comparing.
- Upward social comparisons – are when we compare ourselves to people who we perceive to be better off than us. This may cause frustration and jealousy, but it can also serve as a motivator like when you put a picture of a fit person on your fridge to encourage you to eat better and exercise
- Downward social comparisons – are when you compare yourself to someone worse off than you. They may have fewer resources than you or may be going through tougher times. Generally, doing this will increase your self-regard and make you feel better.
Knowing this, we may be tempted to compare ourselves to those who we perceive as worse off than ourselves, but I urge you to do your best to stop comparing altogether.
Here are some ways to stop comparing yourself to others:
1. Love what you got
Like Sheryl Crow says “It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got.”
Studies have proven that expressing gratitude leads to more positive benefits in other aspects of life like exercising, mood, goal attainment and more:
In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.
These studies prove that expressing gratitude is a keystone habit. Charles Duhigg defines a keystone habit as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”
Developing the habit of gratitude can create positive ripple effects in other areas of your life, like sleeping, mood, and energy levels. It also forces you to focus on yourself and the things that you have rather than trying to analyze what others have.
If you want a few ideas of how to cultivate gratitude, try these tips:
Journal – On a daily or weekly basis take just ten minutes to write down the things you’re grateful for. I find that writing things down is more effective than just thinking about it, because it strengthens your neural connections to those thoughts, and writing makes it 30% more likely that you’ll remember what you wrote down. It’s also fun to look back on past entries from a year or a few months ago to see what you jotted down.
Meditate – Arman has written about the importance of meditation in a morning ritual and Tony Robbins explains here that he also takes a few minutes out of every morning to meditate. One of the things he meditates about are the things that he’s grateful for, and he always makes it a point to be grateful for one tiny but significant thing—like the sun or a bird chirping.
Reach out to friends – Whenever I’m in a crappy mood I force myself to call a close friend. I don’t overthink it, I quickly just dial a good friend and get into a conversation with them. Human relationships are the cornerstone to a meaningful life and reminding yourself that you have those connections is sometimes enough to feel grounded and appreciative. It can be a friend, family member, or anyone you’re close to.
2. Reduce unnecessary time on social media
To kick the comparison habit try decreasing time spent on social networks.
We all have those friends on our feed who are partying around the world, jumping off cliffs in Hawaii or driving a Ferrari. Passively following people who have these lavish lives has been proven to lower people’s life-satisfaction levels.
This study showed that more than one-third of respondents reported predominantly negative feelings after using Facebook. They were also more likely to feel envious and experience lower levels of life satisfaction.
Researchers said, “Passive following triggers invidious emotions, with users mainly envying happiness of others, the way others spend their vacations and socialize.
Social media is a fantastic tool, but it can also be a tool that tempts you to compare yourself to others. If you find it hard to kick the social media habit there are some awesome tools to curb your use like RescueTime or MinutesPlease.
3. Realize that we are small
The world is a huge place with problems that are way bigger than us. Keeping this in mind is a great way to stay grounded and stop worrying about what other people have. When you get caught up in your own bubble, do your best to get out of it.
Try encompassing yourself within nature. Go find a body of water, mountains, trees or anywhere where you can look around and gain a perspective of being tiny. Sometimes all we need is a new way of looking at things to get out of these negative mental habits.
Mental Myth #3: Analysis Paralysis
Analysis paralysis is the concept that over-analyzing decisions leads to no decision. In essence, the opportunity cost of not making a decision is worse than taking no action. Have you ever analyzed a simple decision more than you needed to?
Some things do deserve a mulling over to decide, but when we over-analyze a situation it can turn into a negative experience because you associate negative feelings towards it.
Here are a few ways you can fight analysis paralysis:
1. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your feelings
When we are analyzing decisions, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re doing so from a totally rational perspective. Modern neuroscience has proven that wrong.
Thomas Damasio, a well-known University of Iowa neurologist, has shown that decision-making happens in more than one part of your brain. Prior to his research, most neuroscientists believed that decision-making only occurred in the rational and most highly evolved part of our brains, the prefrontal cortex.
Damasio acknowledges that the prefrontal cortex is involved in decision-making, but so is the limbic system, which is a much older part of our brain responsible for emotions. It’s the part of our brain where we make value judgments as to experiences, memories, and if they’re pleasurable or not. These various parts of the brain work together to make decisions.
Decision-making can be difficult, especially when it comes to business decisions, where we tend to only focus on the data and the rational side of things. But don’t discount your emotions, they’re an essential and natural part of decision making, so try embracing them.
2. Understand your limits
Humans have limited willpower. In a classic experiment by Baba Shiv, a Stanford professor asked a group of people to remember a two-digit number, and another group to remember a seven-digit number. They were then walked down the hall into a room with two choices of snacks: either cake or fruit. Those who had to remember a seven-digit number chose cake 63% of the time, rather than the two-digit group who chose cake 42% of the time.
The experiment showed that it’s harder for people to make better decisions when cognition and willpower is used up. What can we take away from this?
Try to make decisions earlier in the day when you have ample willpower, after you have slept well and feel satiated. The point is not that you shouldn’t analyze, but that you should do it effectively and efficiently, which leads us to the next tip.
3. Timebox it
Give yourself a deadline to make the decision. Get accountable by asking a friend or colleague to enforce the date you choose, and put it on your calendar so it’s staring you in the face every day. This will force you to make a decision rather than procrastinate and not take any action at all.
4. Always take action
This is another action item I took from Tony Robbins who says, “never leave the scene of a decision without taking an action to make it a reality.
The decisions we make may be right or wrong, but whatever you decide go full force! You can do this by taking at least one action step to make it happen. Make sure it is in line with your decision, makes an impact, and has a deadline. It doesn’t have to be a huge step, just one in the right direction.
Remember, when we make the wrong decision we can always course-correct, but not taking any action at all can lead to stagnation. Many times it’s better to make the wrong decision than to not make a decision at all.
Mental Myth #4: You think that people and/or the world “sucks”
I’ve done a lot of digging around in different forums, namely around social confidence and anxiety, and a common theme I come across is complaints about how people or the world sucks.
There’s a lot of crappy stuff that happens in this world, I won’t deny that. But the question is: what you do with those experiences? Do you replay those experiences in your mind over and over again? Do you blame those experiences for your shortcomings?
One of my students had a really negative experience at a networking event and she kept replaying the experience in her mind. It decreased her social confidence and stopped her from attending more events and meeting more people, which was essential to her startup business. She associated those types of negative experiences with all networking events.
Don’t let those types of experiences hold you back.
It’s easy to do, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Think about ways to come up with solutions rather than focusing on your problems. Realize that replaying these experiences in your mind only holds you back.
1. Change your lens for just one day
If your typical state of mind is that the world is sh*tty, try changing that lens for just one day. It will be extremely difficult if you’re used to telling yourself the world is a mess, but give it a go.
Every time you catch yourself going into a negative frame of mind, force yourself to snap out of it and re-affirm that the world is a great place. You may want to say a phrase out loud when you catch yourself doing it, something to interrupt your pattern like, “wait a minute, let me reframe!”. You can even whisper it to yourself if you prefer, this will force yourself to interrupt your normal mental habits.
Another solution is to change your body language. Try smiling more than you usually do. When something pisses you off, send your body a totally different signal than you’re used to. Instead of frowning…smile! Sometimes extreme attitudes need to be combated with the opposite extreme attitude. Your physiology and facial expressions can deeply affect your mood, so take advantage of it.
After doing this for a full day, take some time at the end of it to identify how you feel.
- How was your day different?
- How did you treat people?
- How did people treat you?
2. Focus on the now
The popular book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle explores the importance of being present in the now. This means leaving the past behind and only using the past for practical, present matters—to inform the now. This will help you from reliving traumatic experiences that never serve you.
Tolle distinguishes what he calls clock time and psychological time.
- Clock time – is the practical matter of time including learning from the past, goal setting and doing our best to predict our future based on our experiences
- Psychological time – is the psychological construct of time that gets in the way of being in the now and turns into negative self-talk.
His advice is so important I will quote from him directly:
…if you made a mistake in the past and learn from it now, you are using clock time. On the other hand, if you dwell on it mentally and self-criticism, remorse, or guilt come up, then you are making the mistake into me and mine: You make it part of your sense of self…which is always linked to a false sense of identity.
The point is that you don’t have to identify your sense of self with your past mistakes or experiences. You can use them to inform your present, but you don’t have to overanalyze them and berate yourself.
Focus on being in the moment and feeling the real presence of even the tiniest tasks, like washing the dishes or cleaning your house.
3. Don’t be selfish
Instead of focusing on how the world is treating you, why don’t you think about how you’re treating the world? Rather than making yourself the center of the world, think about how you can serve the world around you.
A negative perspective is contagious and can spread to those around you via emotional contagion and mirror neurons. By accusing the world of rallying against you you’re making yourself a victim rather than taking control of your life.
Put your ego aside. Stop judging other people and the world around you. Approach the world by offering up value you can provide. How can you make the world a better place? What are you excited about?
I recently interviewed Jason Comely, inventor of rejection therapy. He struggled with social anxiety and rejection his entire life, and recently got over a lot of these obstacles. One thing he mentioned was that he wished “he was more focused on being useful and charitable to others and less focused on (his own) struggle. A person who is charitable and useful to others will always have friends and social opportunities.”
By focusing outwards and providing value to the world you move away from an egocentric view of the world and this permeates to those around you. Remember, winners want to hang out with winners. So, make yourself a winner. It’s within you.
Many times the greatest thing standing in our way is ourselves. If you’re suffering from impostor, syndrome start taking credit for what you’ve achieved, operate from a place of security, and make sure you’re defining your own version of success.
If you are always comparing yourself to others, start being grateful for what you already have, try cutting back on unnecessary social media, and gain some new perspective. By proactively changing the way you view the world and make decisions, you can combat these negative mental myths and start living your best life.
This is a guest post by Katrina Razavi, founder of CommunicationforNerds.com. If you found this post helpful, visit her site and get your free eBook: 5 Ways to Avoid Awkward Conversations NOW!
Katrina helps people who struggle with social anxiety and social confidence by sharing strategies using change psychology, confidence building and habit transformation.
- Robbins, Tony. Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny! Free Press: 1992.
- Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Namaste Publishing: 2004.
Photo credit: Anxiety—CC license