Has anybody ever told you that you are not good at something or you cannot achieve something? What happens if you hear this lack of belief in your abilities over and over again?

This post is for all such people who were told that they cannot do something as good as somebody else. The post is for the people like you and me who were often compared with others, and that comparison is stuck in their minds.

I am sharing with you today the one thing that I never quite believed I can do. Positive thinking and confidence are a part of my DNA but not when it comes to this one thing because I was told so many times that I am not good at it, that I started believing others more than I believed myself.

Then I came across this TED talk by Professor Carol Dweck – “The Power Of Believing That You Can Improve”.

What Professor Dweck says and supports through scientific evidence stuck with me. It made me think about a recent encounter and discussion with my brother and a close friend. Both of them were talking about the same issue they had from their teachers – comparison with their siblings.

The main point of the discussion was that teachers always compared them to their sibling who was performing better at school than them. Even though the children showed inclination and aptitude to be better at something else than their siblings, just because it was not about grades and study, their talent was not acknowledged.

Even worse, teachers made them feel that they are less competent in general. In their innocent and formative minds, these children started believing that they are never going to be as “good” as their sibling or other “model” students that teachers compare them to.

Fortunately, both my brother and my friend turned out to be just fine as individuals. They found their strengths and continue to work to hone them, and are making a big difference in the world around them.

But the only reason this happened is because they rebelled. My friend told her teachers firmly not to compare her with her sister. My brother dealt with a it a little differently where he acted up in the class to show his frustration and that “he could care less”, but worked hard at finding what his strengths and passions are. Once he found them, he excelled at everything he did. The confidence that he had lost started building up.

I went through the similar comparison. Just as my brother’s grades were compared to mine, my sports skills (or lack thereof) was compared to that of his. He has always been quite good at it. The difference was, unlike my brother or my friend, I could never get out of the shadow of these comparisons and labels. I still lack the confidence to even exercise, forget sports. I am afraid that somebody will laugh at me or tease me.

My way of dealing with such comparison not to take it on at all. Straight out saying “No” to any sports or physical activity was my way of tackling the fear of failure. I did not even try because I didn’t have the courage to believe that “I can improve with effort.” It was much more convenient to just accept the defeat and say “I am never going to be good at it, then why bother!”

My lack of belief in my ‘ability to improve with effort’ keeps me away from stretching myself out of my comfort zone because I am ashamed that even my stretched out zone is far smaller than what many others are naturally capable of doing.

As I have written in an earlier post, we allow our teachers, parents, friends, and many others to define what we cannot do, in many cases, even without giving ourselves a fair shot at it. We start believing that if they say it enough, it must be right.

But you know the irony? This is not even true in many cases! For example, flexibility. I am so darn flexible right from my childhood, and even now. But my mind fails to acknowledge that, and instead focuses on what I lack – stamina or ability to climb mountains.

The problem is, this lack of belief is hurting me now. Thankfully, I am pretty healthy. But I know that in order to remain that way, I must get into regular exercise. This sense of urgency has finally pushed me to challenge my belief – “I, too, will improve with practice and effort.”

After watching that video, I gave myself the grade of “Not yet” instead of an “F” as I used to. I am not going to compare myself to others but only to my next incremental goal.

Are you with me on this journey? Then stop reading right here. Take 1 minute, just 1 minute to write down what it is that people told you for a long time you cannot do or achieve as good as somebody else. Did you start believing it, too? Does it bother you when it comes up?

If yes, then, NOW is the time to start retraining your mind. I am sharing with you my journey as I live it, and what I have learned so far in the hope that it helps you shatter your own limiting believes.

Nobody is expecting us to be a pro over night. But all I want for me and for you is that such limiting believes do not turn into unproductive habits which keep us away from reaching our full potential, and living our best life.

These 4 simple but important steps, are helping me in breaking off my non-believer’s mindset. I hope they help you, too. It’s all about building confidence slowly but surely.

1. Set very, very small goals.

It takes time to get into the discipline of believing that you can do it, and then doing it. Starting small is always the best way to remain motivated. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself by setting high expectations right off the bat. It can easily overwhelm you to the point of quitting even before you give it a chance become a habit.

I try to skip rope every day. I was inspired by a friend who jumps 1000 jumps a day. She made it look so easy that when I first started 1000 was my goal as well. It did not take me more than 5 minutes of skipping to realize how difficult it was for me. So I reduced my goal to 300. Seems doable, right? But the problem occurred on the 3rd or 4th day after starting. It would seem like such a big deal that I would dread it from the moment I woke up. Needless to say I procrastinated getting it done, skipped multiple days, and slowly the motivation fizzled out.

Just recently, I came across the interesting experiments and ideas on habit forming by Nir Eyal. After learning that, and knowing my previous experience, I decided to start slow – jump only 50 jumps per day. When I feel comfortable with it, I will increase it by say 5 or 10 more. Within just a week, I had started jumping 200 without much hesitation. The week later, I had already surpassed my goal of 300. Now I jump 350 – 400 jumps every day.

Starting small gives you the confidence that you can do it! Confidence motivates. And motivation keeps you going.

As Confucius has said,

“It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop”.

2. Aim for effort, and not an outcome.

This practice is so important while tackling the long term mind-blocks that others have set on us, and we have accepted to be true. It is only natural to doubt your capability, if you were told you can never be good at exercising, or you should not try painting because you don’t know how to use colors, or that you are horrible in maths.

No matter what your mind-block is, I am finding out that the only effective way out of it, is to just to do it. No matter how bad the outcome is, simply by applying that skill, you are going to get better over time.

Marie Forleo puts it the best:

“It’s about progress, not perfection.”

Once you see that progress is possible, you gain confidence which is the key to slowly forget all those words spoken to you by the naysayers which are crippling your self-belief.

When I told myself I would walk 4 miles a day, there were days when I didn’t feel like walking that last mile. Rather than feeling good about the 3 miles I have already done, I felt defeated over that one last mile I couldn’t do. The next day in that negative feeling, I ended up walking 0 miles instead of 3, 2 or just 1 mile that I could have walked otherwise.

But these days, my only goal is to take one action every day that leads me to a healthier me. This goal of conscious effort feels like something I can easily handle. I don’t judge what I have done, but make sure I do something. Counter intuitive to me, I am doing more exercise than ever before with this shifted focus from outcome to effort.

3. Celebrate small wins.

This is something I was so not good at. I was brought up thinking only big victories are worth celebrating. Culturally in India, we learn that the only focus one should have until you get to your goal, is to diligently work at it. While this is important to do, you also need to take actions that keep you motivated to continue working.

Celebration doesn’t have to big. It just has to be memorable. You have to “feel” the accomplishment. Because let’s be honest, when you are a novice, every new step counts in building your belief that you, too, can do it.

This is a picture of me after my 3 mile hike in the Grand Canyon, while it was snowing a little and raining.

Grand Canyon May8-1

(I also did a happy dance but too bad I didn’t record it. 😉 ) Every time, I look at this picture, I instantly feel, “I did that! And in the cold! If I could do it then, who is to say I cannot do this new thing I am going to try next?”

My fellow hikers commented that even the people who did rim-to-rim-to-rim hike at the canyon are not celebrating as much as I did. That’s exactly the point! The hikers who dare to hike from one end of the canyon to the other and back in a single day, are such masters already, that they may not feel such a hike is anything special. But for a girl who believes that she cannot even climb up and down a hill for 2 miles at a stretch, finishing 3 mile hike in 3 hours is a HUGE deal. Rather than undermining my excitement by comparing it to the pros, I am going to save the memory as a confidence booster for the next time I doubt my ability.

The celebration can be small, but the memory of it is powerful. Allow yourself to feel the power in breaking your own limitations by acknowledging the awesomeness of that moment. Don’t deprive your mind of this powerful motivation. Celebrate your win, no matter how small it feels to you or to others.

4. Now is NOT the time to prune.

In order for a tree to grow the best it can, you have to prune it from time to time. Just the other day, a wise friend compared introspection and criticism (even the constructive kind) as tools to prune humans. She pointed out that there is a time and place for such pruning.

As I think more about it, I realize that when you are trying to shatter the barriers and doubts in your mind, pruning is definitely NOT what is required. You have just planted the seed. Let it grow now – in whichever direction you wish. Let the roots solidify first.

It is only after you have set some foundation that your introspection, and others’ constructive criticism will prove useful in shaping you. But until then, pruning is not in your best interest.

Do not be too harsh on yourself. Don’t judge your actions, apparent failures, and outcomes. You are just starting out, and that, too, with a baggage since your childhood.

Now is the time to pat your back for taking the first step.
Now is the time to acknowledge how hard it is to make an effort in the right direction.
Now is the perfect time to tell yourself that as long as you keep going, there will be plenty of opportunities to hone the craft later.

The sentiments cannot be put in better words than these by legendary Maya Angelou.

Quote by Maya Angelou

The skills that we learn (or are supposed to learn) in a school, serve much bigger purpose than getting good grades or giving an excellent performance in talent competitions or races. They become habits which we use to shape our lives. They can build a productive and happy life or turn into detrimental practices which keep us from being our best.

My hope today in sharing my journey is that you, too, feel that you can shatter the old believes that are holding you back. It is not an overnight transformation for sure. It is going to take time and diligence. But just start with one small step, and the powerful belief that you can improve.

And remember if you have any children around you, never compare them to others or give them a grade of “F”. Let that “F” always be labelled as “Not yet”. 🙂

Now it’s your turn.

What old belief do you have that is holding you back?
Share in the comments:What is that first very, very small goal you are going to set for yourself which will get you started on the journey of improvement?

Wishing you and me all the best on this journey! As a bonus, read these 7 habits as you get started. They will help you along the way.

How to Develop Confidence – 7 Habits to Cultivate

Image credits:
Varun Kakde of Aperture Adventures for the featured image “Fire in the Sky
HabitBull for the quote by Maya Angelou