How do we get the most out of life and achieve our goals and dreams? It’s a straightforward question, but answering it is something that many of us find to be a challenging, on-going process. Surely we just need to decide what we want and go for it? “Ha!” I hear you scoff. “If only it were that easy!” Well, whisper it, I actually think it can be. BUT, it depends on us being able to overcome one of our biggest barriers to success – ourselves – and our own limiting beliefs.
Many of us struggle with negativity and uncertainty. You’ve often heard me talk about Imposter Syndrome and how this is more likely to affect those who are, in fact, the most capable (I’m looking at you high-achieving female lawyers!). The world can be a big and scary place and sometimes the primitive part of our brains over-compensates by making us fearful of new situations. Add to that the limiting belief systems we may have learned from childhood or absorbed from our backgrounds and surroundings and we have a potent cocktail of self-doubt to interrupt our progress.
But challenging our negative assumptions and learning to harness a positive belief system is vital for achieving our goals. Scientific research has proven that positive thinking expands the mind and in turn, fosters more positive experiences and emotions. When we achieve a small goal, the brain releases endorphins and we feel rewarded, which then makes us feel more uplifted and dynamic. The better we feel, the more active we become, the more we achieve, and the more positive we feel. It’s an upward spiral of positivity and achievement. We don’t need to be perfect or superhuman to reach for the stars, then, we just need to believe positively in the talents and potential we do have. Here’s how:
- Explore your negative beliefs.
What’s your current internal narrative about your life and career? Were you the first in your family to go to University or is there perhaps a lack of belief in female career success in your family background? As a female lawyer, do you sometimes have nagging doubts, for example about the possibility of being a career-ambitious mum? Do you remember a happy childhood with a stay-at-home mum and therefore worry about doing it differently? Do you have a negative outlook on how far you can progress in your company? Is this affected by the number (or lack of) successful senior female figures you see around you, or by what you read in the press? Our beliefs are shaped by our culture (what we are told and see around us growing up), our personal experiences, and the media. The first step to believing in yourself is understanding and identifying where your current attitudes and feelings about your life and career are coming from.
- Overcome your confirmation bias.
Once you have identified your beliefs, understand that they are just that, beliefs, and not facts. We all tend to notice and focus on information that reinforces what we already believe to be true. Make a point of noticing and challenging yourself when you are doing this – and also, consciously seek out evidence that refutes your assumptions. If your nagging belief is that a female lawyer (and mum) can’t reach the top in your company, find examples of women who have achieved success in other law firms (or even business generally). Find a role model who is already doing what you would secretly aspire to do, if only you believed you could do it. (I look further at the importance of role models in this blog). Use their qualities and successes to inspire your own belief. Look up studies and media articles that show positive outcomes and case-studies of people in your position.
- Question everything.
In this era of social media and misinformation, this has become more important than ever. When you hear that familiar inner voice whispering negative messages, or people around you or the media putting out negative stories, start by questioning: Is this completely true? What and where is the evidence for this? How can I find out more? What is my/the speaker’s/the article’s agenda? If you’re someone who is easily swayed by headlines and rumour, read Bad Science by Ben Goldacre to help you get a better perspective on what you are hearing or reading.
- Research the science.
If you need hard evidence – the science proves it. Renowned social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s ground-breaking work studies the broaden and build theory of positive emotions which we touched on earlier. Her findings suggest that positive thinking broadens and expands your mind and sense of possibility, which in turn leads to more adventurous behaviour. Over time, more exploratory and adventurous actions lead to the growth of meaningful, long-term skills, which in turn foster more positive emotions. Check out her book on Positivity here.
- Repeat affirmations.
Make a choice to have positive beliefs about your life and career by creating and repeating (preferably out loud, every day) powerful affirmations – short positive statements written in the first person and present tense that express your goal as if it were already true. The more you say them, the more your brain starts to deepen pathways and reinforce the positive beliefs. Here are some of mine – “I am living the dream of having and enjoying it all.” “The happier and more fulfilled I am, the more I have to give to my family.” “There is no right or wrong way to achieve my goals. There is only my way.”
Have a go at creating your own personal affirmations and do let me know what they are! Good luck!