“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T. S. Eliot
Do you have big dreams? I hope you do! If you don’t, stop reading this text right now and start thinking about what your audacious goals and dreams are! Come back when you have them ready.
Ok, big dreams, check. But do you sometimes feel like there is no way on earth that you can achieve them? There is self-doubt crawling down your spine, telling you all kinds of reasons why you cannot achieve what you set out to do. There is fear that you will fail and make a fool out of yourself. (If you don’t know these feelings, please write me an email. I want to know your secret! And put you in a museum as a world wonder!)
It’s all about believing
The secret to achieving those big dreams is taking action – one step at a time. But easier said than done. With lots of self-doubt or fear racing around in our brains we tend to become immobilized, procrastinate and make ourselves busy with our daily lives or tasks that have nothing to do with our dreams.
So if you want to take action you need to believe that it is possible, that you can achieve what you set out to do. You must be almost certain of success. It’s like doing a mundane task: they are easy! Why? Because you believe that you can finish them successfully. Few people ever doubted their ability to successfully read their emails or to take the trash out so they don’t usually procrastinate on these easy tasks.
That leaves the question: how can you make yourself believe in your ability to achieve great things? Should you hypnotize yourself? Or mumble endless positive incantations along the lines of “Yes, I can!”?
The Mary Kay Method of beating self-doubt
I recently came across a short story about the success of Mary Kay, founder of Mary Kay cosmetics with over 250,000 beauty consultants worldwide. She was portrayed in a new edition of the classic success book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. Mary Kay attributed her success to the development of self-confidence and faith in herself. One of her ways of building up this self-confidence struck me as particularly helpful and pragmatic.
Reflect on your past successes
When we look back on our lives there are many things that we were once afraid of but we still managed to overcome our self-doubts and make them happen. The weird thing is that afterwards we tend to forget how afraid we were once and take these successes for granted. But we shouldn’t do that! Because looking back at these successes shows us that we are capable of big things and that we have enormous potential.
So, take a sheet of paper and write down all your past successes that you were once very doubtful of achieving. You can do this in 10 minutes! Let me give you some examples:
- Learnt a new language
- Finished university with good grades
- Lived in a foreign country where they don’t speak your native language
- Found your dream partner, got engaged / married
- Secured a job at company XYZ
- Delivered a great presentation
- Ran a half-marathon
- Quit your job to found a company
The list goes on and on – there are so many things you will find that you already accomplished! But seriously, let’s consider one personal example of mine: I quit my corporate job and founded my own company. At the time, I was scared as hell if it would work out or what would happen. I did it and it worked out. And now, it feels like the most normal thing in the world. I forgot all about those sleepless nights trying to get courageous enough to hand in my resignation. Instead, I tend to think ‘It’s not that big of a deal. Anyone could do it.’ Why on earth are we wired to sabotage ourselves like that??? Each of your successes took some bold and/or continued action to make it happen and you should celebrate yourself for that! And it shows you the potential that lies inside of you!
So what I want you to do is to come up with your own list of past successes. Anything goes, big or small. Try to come up with things that seemed daunting in the beginning, tasks that you were afraid of or that you thought you could never do.
Use this list as a reference when you doubt yourself. Even better: Review it every morning before you go to work. It’ll help you so much to become aware of how much you can achieve!
Find out your success patterns
Okay, one thing is to reflect on your past successes in order to believe that you can do great things! A great addition is to review your list and think about what your key success patterns are for these successes. You will find out a lot about what makes you succeed!
There are some common patterns that emerge again and again:
- Commitment: You had committed to something and there was no way to back out (e.g., registering for a competition)
- Accountability: You told other people that you were going to do something and you didn’t want to appear as a fluke so you did what you had to do (e.g., announcing something on Facebook or betting with your friends)
- Partnering: You were not alone. You had other people to push you or who went on the same journey with you (e.g., finding a workout or studying buddy)
- Deadlines: There was a fixed end date and you had to finish something by then (e.g., handing in a paper or studying for an exam).
- Decoupling decision from action: When you made the decision you didn’t have to take the action immediately. So you could force your self-doubting future self to do something that your rational present self had decided (e.g., throwing away unhealthy food at home)
- Great state: You were in a great state, healthy, energetic when you made your decisions or took your action (e.g., making a decision after a great run)
- Habits: You formed success habits to achieve your goals, such as daily rituals to move you closer to your dreams (e.g., getting up early to study).
- Planning: You formed a plan, and broke it down into small action steps (e.g., writing 500 words per day to finish your 20,000 words paper).
Some of these will appear again and again in your list – those are the ones that really work for you! So have a look – what are the commonalities?
Your game plan (takes less than 20 minutes)
- If you haven’t done it yet, write down your list of successes. (10 minutes!) Come up with at least 10 successes!
- Decide how often you will review your list. Every morning? Every week?
- Review your list of successes. What makes you tick? What do your successes have in common? (another 10 minutes)
- Use your new-found belief in yourself to form a plan on how you will achieve your audacious goals. Use your favorite success habits to set yourself up for success. Get an accountability partner, publicly announce a deadline or form a plan consisting of small daily steps. Whatever it is for you go ahead and set yourself up for success!
And all of a sudden, your unrealistic goals are not so unrealistic anymore!
All the best,
and keep learning!
PS: What are your success patterns? Please share in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
Hi Johannes, great article! I ll start now and write down my list! Regina
Awesome, and thanks! Let me know if you have any questions!
I found that writing my resume’ helped me to remember what I have accomplished. But its not something I want to read everyday. :) Positive Psychology calls this remembering that you so nicely write about Johannes, ‘Savoring’. Instead of always obsessing about our to-do lists and scaring ourselves into procrastination, we can savor. Savor who we are. Savor what we have accomplished. Savor good memories. Savor the people we love. Savor simply the moment. It is closely related to gratitude and remembering what we have to be grateful for, is one of the very best ways to feel better and move out of negative thinking and feeling habits. It has been rigorously researched how gratitude can pull us out of the dark. We can even be grateful for our struggles because when it comes down to it, they can be viewed as a fruitful learning experience.
Finding our Success Patterns in our past accomplishments is a great idea. Since we do them over and over and it is what comes naturally, they reflect a part of our Signature Strengths. Knowing, really knowing what strengths we naturally have and then finding new ways to apply them makes moving forward on our big dreams much easier.
Another exercise that I like is to give your Inner Critic total floor space and to write down all the mean things that he/she says about you to you. Then take another piece of paper and write what your Inner Wisdom knows. She/he knows your inner truth. Starting your day by reading what your Inner Wisdom knows puts us in a much better space than listening to the louder and mean Inner Critic.
I’m convinced that there are many great ways to shift our mind-set but that whatever way we choose needs to become a practice or habit. We are building new neural pathways and this takes a bit of time just as Johannes wrote about – that after a while something that used to worry us or that felt overwhelming becomes an easy activity and second nature.
Oshikan, thanks for this super insightful comment! I love the exercise that you are proposing, will definitely try it!
It seems positive psychology has a lot to offer, I will also try and learn more about it!