Everyone has fears. It’s how we’re biologically wired. Some of us have a fear of failure, a fear of public speaking, a fear of not being good enough (hello, impostor syndrome!), or a fear of being judged for who we are. And while there is nothing wrong with having fears, the problem arises when our fears start to hold us back.
Fear can grip us in many ways. It causes us to self-censor, to push down our authenticity, to hesitate in reaching for opportunities, and more. Speaking from personal experience, fear can have a powerful impact on how we behave, but the good news is that these moments of fear are perfect opportunities to practice the power of self-coaching.
Self-coaching is the practice of pre-selecting words of affirmation, encouragement, and guidance that you can tell yourself when the gremlin in your head wants you to hold back. It’s a form of mental rehearsal, which we know is a clinically proven strategy for reducing stress. Essentially, it’s a strategic way of giving yourself a pep talk when you need it most.
Self-coaching is a great tool for building your confidence and overcoming your fears, because it’s all about taking your power back. You don’t need to rely on anyone or anything else to support you — you have all the tools you need to help yourself!
Here are three ways you can get started with self-coaching.
As with many (if not all!) other forms of self-work, mindfulness is essential for knowing when to self-coach. Mindfulness is the practice of tuning into the present moment to gain awareness of what you’re thinking, feeling, and sensing — all in a non-judgmental way.
When we experience moments of fear or panic, our nervous system is activated, and we enter into a fight, flight, or freeze response. When this happens, the physical symptoms of stress can impair aspects of our cognition and decision-making. By practicing mindfulness, we can slow down, hear what’s happening in our mind, and be in greater control of how we speak and behave.
After practicing mindful awareness of your thoughts for a while, you’ll have a better idea of the kinds of situations in which you’re likely to experience negative narratives. It’s in those situations that you’ll want to have self-coaching on standby.
Then, whether your fear is caused by a negative narrative you’ve internalized (“You’re not good enough”), a self-limiting belief that you hold about yourself (“I can’t do this”), or feeling pressure to behave like someone you’re not (“Don’t show your true feelings”), self-coaching can help you to behave or speak in a way that will serve you better and is in alignment with your Authentic Self.
A mantra or positive affirmation is a statement of reinforcement that you can use strategically to keep you grounded, rooted, and calm during moments of stress. You can choose something simple to practice and call upon when you need it most. For example, during tough moments I use the mantra “I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m great, I’m great.”
You can also use mantras or affirmations during vulnerable moments. For example, the first time I said “I love you” to my partner, self-coaching really helped me! Firstly, I was terrified, because one of my own negative narratives is a fear of being unlovable. Secondly, when the moment arrived and I knew I had to tell him, my body was telling me to run far, far away (which I clocked using mindfulness)! Eventually, I called on the power of self-coaching to push through the nerves, and using the mantra, “I am love, I can do this!” to encourage myself, I was able to push through and express my true feelings. And I can tell you, it was a very rewarding feeling.
You don’t have to use these exact affirmations, and in fact, I encourage you to come up with your own! Choose something unique to you that will help make you feel more grounded during moments of fear or stress.
When it comes to challenging negative narratives and long-held fears, sometimes a positive statement isn’t enough. In these cases, it’s important to focus on giving yourself concrete evidence of the positive truth you want to be thinking instead.
For example, if you suffer from impostor syndrome (like I occasionally do when I present to audiences), your negative narrative might sound something like, “I can’t believe I’m up on a stage in front of 500 people right now. What if they think I’m stupid?” This negative narrative is hard to overcome with a simple, “You got this, girl!”
It can be more powerful to take stock of your accomplishments and use them as evidence to unlearn your negative narratives and instead start to internalize a positive truth about yourself. In the example above, I would beef up a positive, encouraging thought by adding evidence of my worthiness, for example: “I am qualified to be on this stage. I have presented over 1,000 times in my career. I’ve got this!”
Sometimes this kind of reality check is what we need to ground us and make us feel stronger, and the more often we do it, the more powerful and worthy we feel! It may not come naturally to you at first, but by practicing this essential self-coaching tool, soon you’ll learn to recognize the negative thought patterns that are fueling your fears and have the tools at your disposal to quickly disrupt them.
Feeling confident and self-assured in the face of our fears is something that everyone struggles with, but these techniques will help you to self-coach the next time the gremlin in your head makes an appearance. By practicing mindfulness, using personal affirmations and mantras, and focusing on positive truths, you’ll soon find that your fears are encouraging you instead of holding you back.
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