Challenge Your Private Voice Our private voice can be a very powerful inner critic that sabotages our efforts to do or achieve something or believe in ourselves. Tune in to your inner private voice, and when it tells you that you are not good enough or that you will fail at what you are doing, ask yourself these challenging questions: What is the tone of this voice and where is it coming from? Is this the voice I want to take me through the most important challenges in my life? What evidence do I have that I will not be successful? What are the true facts? What is the worst that could happen? How would I coach a loved one in this situation?
Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Caren Kenney, Evolve Leadership.
Caren is the CEO and founder of Evolve Leadership, a global organization focused on executive coaching and wellbeing and human performance training which takes a holistic approach to developing some of the most admired leaders in companies around the world. She has been working in the health and wellbeing space since 2001, when she co-founded a company that created the world’s first direct-to-consumer digital behavioral health coaching programs. Prior to starting Evolve, she spent 12 years at Johnson & Johnson and was on the leadership team at the J&J Human Performance Institute, where she led an executive development program focused on building higher levels of physical wellbeing, mental and emotional resilience, and character-centered leadership for C-suite executives in some of the world’s leading companies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio, as the middle of five children. My parents were incredible role models and taught us that we could be and do anything we wanted if we worked hard. I was shy and more of an introvert, however, especially in crowds, so did my best not to stand out or step out of my comfort zone. My parents sent all of us through private Catholic schools from first grade through high school as values and a good education were a high priority for them. I remember the nuns and other teachers being fairly strict and a couple would even rap your knuckles with a ruler if you were the least bit disruptive or disrespectful. We did get a good education and I like the fact that we all wore uniforms so there was no pressure to have nicer clothes in a family where hand-me-downs were a necessity. But while we were all similar in dress, I had buck teeth, a chipped front tooth, believed I was ugly, and was the last one in my class to develop and reach puberty, so confidence was not a trait I came even close to possessing!
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My career has evolved over time and continues to be shaped by my life experiences. The person who had the greatest impact on my career was my husband who was a good and kind man who struggled with an increasingly debilitating mental illness and eventually passed away as a result. Back then, there was little support available and significant stigma associated with mental illness. Since then, helping people who struggle with mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing has been at the core of my passion and purpose. This began in 2001 as a co-founder of a company that developed the world’s first direct-to-consumer digital health coaching programs for people struggling with challenges such as depression, stress, insomnia, eating disorders, and other behavioral health issues. After going through an acquisition, our programs were ultimately acquired by Johnson & Johnson, where I helped to launch the Health and Wellness business within J&J, In 2016 I moved into a leadership role at the Human Performance Institute (HPI), which J&J also acquired, and was responsible for creating and leading a new business focused on holistic C-suite executive coaching and development. When J&J closed the HPI commercial business, I founded Evolve Leadership, which leverages many of the same executive and performance coaches to deliver specialized executive coaching and performance and resilience training for leaders, teams, and organizations.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I ever made was driving to my first job interview and stopping to get gas in my new blue linen suit and having the nozzle backfire and soak the front of my jacket and skirt with gas. There was no time to go back and change and when I walked into a conference room with the two men who were going to interview me, the fumes were still intense. They moved to the other end of the table and made a couple lighthearted jokes, but I was devastated and embarrassed. I didn’t get the job and attributed it to the gas incident. In retrospect, I realized that if I was a great fit for the role, it wouldn’t have mattered and that even in situations where you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, leveraging strategies that can help you demonstrate greater confidence can help you through these uncomfortable and unexpected situations which are all part of life!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people? There are two areas I am very excited about. The first is a deeper and more immersive client experience within our Peak Performance energy management and resilience training and workshops through the use of in-home blood testing, Whoop® fitness tracking, and onsite coaching with our physiologists and dietitians which enable us to gain greater insights and deliver more personalized and meaningful results for our clients. The second area is a coaching program we developed for leaders who are contemplating or moving into retirement. We are helping these leaders develop a plan to finish strong, leave a meaningful leadership legacy, and create a next-phase action plan that enables them to evolve their purpose to amplify their impact and ultimate life legacy.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?
I think there are a couple reasons. First, this is an important topic because everyone struggles with self-confidence at some point in their lives — and many people struggle with it on a regular basis. The problem is that they are often suffering silently, as they don’t want to expose their vulnerability or feelings of imposter syndrome. People need to know they are not alone, and this is normal — and more importantly, that they can do something about it! I always encourage the CEOs and other leaders that I coach to share their vulnerability — mistakes, perceived failures, lack of confidence, feelings of imposter syndrome, etc. — with their teams and broader organizations so that they can create an environment of psychological safety where others feel safe sharing and addressing their insecurities and feel more comfortable taking risks and trying new things.
The second reason is that we each have one life to live and limited time on this earth. Building confidence is a skill that anyone can master and the sooner you start working on this, the better and more fulfilling your life will be as you break down a barrier to becoming your best self and living your best life. The most rewarding and interesting roles and experiences in life are usually those that did not come easy and that required us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, which enables continued growth.
What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?
Believing in yourself is simply having confidence in your abilities to do or achieve something. We all have certain talents, traits, and abilities — some of them are genetic and others acquired. If you are not athletic and you do not train to be an athlete, then it would not be reasonable to believe you could be an Olympic athlete. But if that is your goal, there are no unchangeable barriers, and if you employ the right strategies and training, anything is possible. The growth however comes not from the actual achievement (winning the medal), but from identifying WHY it is so important to you, and from the learning and experience throughout your journey.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
There have been several times I did not believe in myself throughout my life — from school to sports to some of the roles in my career. A lack of confidence typically led me to choose the easier, safer path (a course or position that was less challenging, a role or project that I knew I could easily accomplish, failure to speak up when I had a unique idea or point of view but was afraid of being wrong or challenged, etc.). These easy choices kept me safe and comfortable but not fulfilled, which is why I needed to challenge myself and move out of my comfort zone.
At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?
Sure, but for me it wasn’t so important to get to the “next level” — such as climbing the corporate ladder — but rather to challenge myself and take risks in order to continue to stretch and grow myself, do something I am truly passionate about, and contribute in a bigger and more impactful way. I came to this realization when I was working at Johnson & Johnson, the largest healthcare company in the world. If I didn’t believe in myself, challenge others who were in a higher position than I was and find a way to be different and make a difference, I would be lost in a sea of 140,000 employees — doing my job vs. fulfilling my passion and purpose. While it was in an environment that allowed for and supported innovation, it wasn’t something handed to me on a platter, and no one else was going to figure this out for me. I needed to be the one to take initiative.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Challenge Your Private Voice Our private voice can be a very powerful inner critic that sabotages our efforts to do or achieve something or believe in ourselves. Tune in to your inner private voice, and when it tells you that you are not good enough or that you will fail at what you are doing, ask yourself these challenging questions: What is the tone of this voice and where is it coming from? Is this the voice I want to take me through the most important challenges in my life? What evidence do I have that I will not be successful? What are the true facts? What is the worst that could happen? How would I coach a loved one in this situation?
2 . Journal Daily Journaling can help us change our perceptions as well as our stories about why we are not good enough or why we cannot do something. We often dwell on our shortcomings or perceived barriers, but journaling can help us intentionally focus on our strengths and capabilities. One way to do this is by writing down one thing we accomplished or are proud of each day. It can be as simple as completing a task or being proud of how we handled a situation.
3 . Establish a Self-Confidence “Toolkit” Create a toolkit you can access when you are feeling nervous, self-conscious, or insecure. This can include anything from a motivational song to a photo of a loved one or mentor, to an inspirational quote. When I feel anxious before running a race, I listen to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. When I am nervous before delivering a speech or keynote, I listen to a voice mail recording I saved on my phone from my mentor, Dr. Jim Loehr, telling me how amazing he thinks I am.
4 . Push Out of Your Comfort Zone Take on challenges in every area of your life that make you feel a little uncomfortable. The more you do this, the more comfortable you will be in trying new things and more confident you will be in your abilities. Just make sure you build in strategic recovery in between these challenges. When we do something difficult, we need to give ourselves time to rest, recovery, and re-energize, which can come in the form of taking a walk, listening to music, calling a loved one, meditating, etc. When balanced with recovery, stress is the impetus from growth, and taking on any challenge will help you build confidence in all areas of your life.
5 . Remove or Minimize Exposure to Negative Inputs We often have “gremlins” or negative forces in our lives that can chip away at our confidence. This can be in the form of negative people (colleagues, well-intentioned family members or friends), or unrealistic media portrayals that do not reflect real life. For me it’s about limiting my engagement with social media, recognizing that the perfect lives and stories that others post often more closely represent fairy tales that do not reflect the full reality of their lives, which are usually not as perfect as they are portrayed. Life is messy!
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
This really comes down to loving and believing in yourself. It goes back to the concept of retraining and coaching your private voice that tries to keep you safe and holds you back from being great and achieving great things.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
It’s a misconception to believe that there is anyone out there who is confident all the time — and quite frankly, it’s not realistic to believe you will ever be confident all the time — even if you employ all of these strategies. This is especially true if you push out of your comfort zone and try new and challenging things. It’s more about what you do and how you respond to those feelings when you lack self-confidence. This is why having strategies is so important — so that you can more quickly and easily shift your thinking and feelings when they are holding you back from moving forward.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
First, identify and challenge your critical inner voice, and create a new story about your ability to do something or achieve your goals. Remind yourself of your past successes and achievements. It can be helpful to imagine you are speaking with a child, friend or loved one who is experiencing the same feelings. What would you say to them? Second, ensure you are managing your energy and taking care of your wellbeing. When we are not sleeping well, eating right, exercising, or moving throughout the day, we often experience challenges with our mood, thinking, and confidence. Finally, as noted above, get more comfortable with being uncomfortable, and be more proactive in intentionally pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would propose a global initiative that asks people to disconnect from technology one-hour per week (for example, every Sunday from 4:00–5:00). While technology has enabled great advances, it often isolates us and consumes an inordinate amount of our time and energy. The former U.S. Surgeon General has just called the loneliness epidemic the largest public health crisis. I would initiate a weekly, one-hour global technology disconnect and recovery break — 60 minutes where people commit to disconnecting from all electronics (phone, television, social media etc.) and focus on investing in either themselves (journaling, meditating, enjoying nature, etc.) or their relationships (taking a walk, playing a game, or enjoying an uninterrupted meal with a loved one).
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to meet Reshma Saujani, CEO and founder of Girls Who Code. She is a courageous, inspiring, and purpose-driven leader who created a global movement and closed the gender gap for girls and women in technology. In addition to creating more opportunities for women in this space, she challenged girls to be bold, take risks, and seek jobs in an industry where they had previously been overlooked.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can reach out to me on LinkedIn or through the Evolve website: www.evolveleadership.com.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.