"I'm too busy to reach inbox zero."
"Sorry, but I'm terrible at remembering names."
"I'll never be great at presentations."
Have you ever heard something like this from the voice in your head? Or actually said it out loud to someone? Chances are, you probably have. You may have even gotten the advice to simply accept the things you are bad at and move on.
Early in my career, I discovered my own proclivity toward taking on only projects that would make me look good, versus those that would push me out of my comfort zone and move the organization forward. The voice in my head kept saying, "You can't take on a project like that. What happens when you fail? You could be fired. It's not worth the risk."
My fear of failing (or simply being seen as a failure) forced me to play it safe and keep myself small for a long time. Studies of the brain have proved this isn't necessarily the best strategy--and there's something you can do to change it.
Expectations Form Reality
You see, your brain gets what it expects. In a 2008 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, conducted by researchers from Stanford and MIT, participants were introduced to a pain reliever similar to codeine. While in the waiting room, individuals were surrounded by brochures for the drug. Some touted it as being $2.50 per pill, while others said it was only 10 cents.
It was actually a placebo. Do you think people rated them equally when they went through the pain testing part, which was a series of mild electric shocks? Of course not. Those given the more expensive pill said it worked better than those who had the cheaper option.
The way you experience life is shaped by what you expect. Your brain is constantly looking for data to support its beliefs. If you constantly say you're too busy to keep up with email, your brain will make darn sure that you are, in fact, too busy for email. It will do everything it can to keep you stuck in this limiting belief.
It would be nice to say the positive statement once and have it change your life. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way.
Think of how many times you've said, either out loud or in your head, that you are "bad" at something you're trying to fix. It's probably in the hundreds or thousands. Undoing the damage caused by your self-doubt and bringing a new truth into the mix requires a little discipline. Don't worry--it's not too much.
In 1977, a study in the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior introduced the illusory truth effect: The amount of times you hear something will influence your likelihood to believe it as true. Subjects were told a series of statements--some true and others false--and reminded of those statements over a two-week period. Participants were more likely to mark the statements they were familiar with as true and the ones they were unfamiliar with as false.
Say your new truth to yourself enough times that it comes easily to your brain. It's why mantras are so effective.
Does Word Choice Matter?
You may be wondering if the new words you choose matter, or if you can choose any old positive statement. The short answer is, yes, it matters.
Is saying "John is not guilty" the same as saying "John is innocent"? A 2004 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found the simple shift in words makes a significant difference on whether John is seen as innocent or guilty. Associating "John" and "guilty" suggests guilt; the word "not" before it is basically ignored by our brains.
Switching your old statement of "I am bad at presentations" to "I am not bad at presentations" will not have the same impact as "I'm a great presenter" or "I give presentations people enjoy watching."
In my own case, I realized that looking my best was not the same as doing my best. I couldn't do my best work if I was unwilling to take risks. At the time, I was working with archetypes--so my personal mantra became, "I am an architect."
Those exact words may mean nothing to you, but they were meaningful for me. They helped me change my entire outlook, which resulted in my leading my company through a very successful rebrand instead of simply accepting the status quo.
Your words will be different and unique to you--no one else needs to know or "get" them.
Overcoming your own negative self-talk and banishing self-doubt is possible, and it really is this easy. If you don't believe me, try telling yourself that it's true. You'll be amazed at what is possible.