Choose your focus point. This is another of the four main points in the book. We do have the ability to choose what we focus on. The title of chapter 32 is: “We choose what to focus on. What we focus on, in part, determines how we feel.” Each chapter has a “do,” and a “don’t.” The do for this chapter is suggested to be “focus on realistic positives.” The don’t for the chapter is suggested to be “focus on negatives.” Ask yourself: can I deflate the negative automatic thoughts I might have today with a purposeful focus on something that is working well, even in a bad situation? Though we do need to be realistic can we wonder what would happen if we choose to focus on the positives?
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 Chris Gazdik, LCSW.
Chris is a mental health and substance abuse therapist, podcaster: “Through a Therapist’s Eyes”, Amazon best-selling: published book author: “Through a Therapist’s Eyes: Re understanding Emotions and Becoming Your Best Self”, and public speaker. He is an energetic and passionate therapist and speaker with an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker.) Chris is originally from the Wild and Wonderful State of West Virginia where he graduated Magna Cum Laude from WVU. He is now married for 25 years with two children. He has been busy in the counseling field for over 25 years and founded two companies of which is still the sole founder of one: Metrolina Psychotherapy Associates. Chris’ podcast has over 200 episodes published internationally and has his book out as well (with a second on the way this year on marriage.)
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 realized when reviewing my answers in this interview that I did not answer this first question. Now I only mention this because it is so ironic to me that the following question delivers a lot of my childhood backstory. In order to set that up, I will tell you that I enjoy claiming that I am a proud mountaineer. People often see my home state of West Virginia as a place where hillbillies reside with little to no teeth. You have probably heard of the famous story of the Hatfields and McCoys, well, that is where I am from. I have heard of every West Virginia joke and laugh at them all.
My dad worked in an aluminum factory and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. My older brother and younger sister enjoyed an average American upbringing until things changed when I was around the age of 10.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was one of those weird kids in high school that knew exactly what I wanted to do in my life. As it turns out it was exactly what I am doing today… 25 years later. I suppose to an extent popular TV shows contributed to this direction such as Growing Pains and the guy named Frasier in Cheers. However, this direction in my life was certainly cemented when I watched my mom do what she did. She is without a doubt, my life hero! She suddenly became a single mom of three kids with one disabled and struggling child, my sister, in midlife. She had not held employment which resulted in our time of financial distress as a family. I did love the government cheese we got from the food banks of the time though.
I watched my mom struggle emotionally intently, enter her own therapy experience, go back to school, gain employment, and managed to deal with my brother and I who didn’t make it easy I am sure, with, as I said, a disabled sister. This came to a climax of the struggle prior to launching her career in therapy when she held down three part-time jobs and commuted two hours to graduate school while completing the task of raising and ultimately launching two of the three kids. This began my own college experience at the same school: WVU, ultimately with success graduating Magna Cum Laude with a graduate degree in social work. My professional life began knowing intimately the emotional struggle that we all have in one form or another. I didn’t know it then but as my life’s work started to form what I now say at every start of a podcast show: “the human emotional experience… Let’s figure this out together,” began, just like my mom’s career did.
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?
Of course, I have made many mistakes in my time, and usually, they are not exactly funny; however, if we don’t learn to laugh at ourselves then this life is much tougher to live right. I think as a business owner, I would say that a mistake in attitude that I had was that my employees would feel the agency and culture I created would be one they would wish to retire from. Well, I guess my naivete is laughable, as I have certainly found out that oftentimes people have other objectives for their professional endeavors. Several people have come and gone from Metrolina Psychotherapy Associates that I would not think they would have. This has taught me to respect and honor the wishes of people such that I have become more supportive actually of their goals which may include moving on to their own projects or practices as a therapist. It is a bit ironic to me that I wanted (and still do) to be a supportive employer years ago, and found a completely different way to do so.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am very active in my therapy practice but have a lot more creative things going on with Through a Therapist’s Eyes. This is a platform I have created to engage on a larger scale in my life’s work in mental health and substance abuse. We are working to grow the podcast in this year of 2023, and are adding a few new things. For instance, my second book on marriage is being written now, and we are working on a video experience that I am super excited about. This is entitled: “This Will Not Defeat Me… After Sexual Abuse.” This is a dynamic video where my friend Chis Davios shares his story of abuse that was tough for him in isolation for many years including the many of the years that he was an officer in law enforcement for 25 years prior to getting well from his trauma. He shares his story, while I share a process to recover from the abuse history that you might have, even if from so many years ago as was his experience.
It is my hope that we may make a dent in the terrible struggle we all have especially while emerging from the Covid environment we all have struggled with. Mental Health is something that finally has been getting its necessary attention, at least I know in the United States, but also around the world. I believe that we can, as I say on the podcast: “The human emotional experience, we endeavor to figure this thing out together!”
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?
There are so many reasons why it is essential to believe in yourself. The first thing that comes to my mind: if you do not first believe in yourself, then others will certainly not as well. Don’t you want to be believed by others; I certainly do. We recently did a podcast show on empowerment. Believing in yourself enables us to have a sense of being empowered. Just hear some thoughts we discussed what this is really like to live out. When feeling empowered we feel like we are involved in decision-making, we feel valued and honored with recognition, we have autonomy, have positive communication with others, enjoy flexibility, and have coveted “wow moments” where we develop new understandings. Furthermore, we feel like we have the ability to change our own circumstances, and contribute value to others. Lastly, when believing in ourselves we tend to feel like we can make a difference! Now that is living your best life. This is a concept many works toward these days. I would say this starts by believing in yourself for sure.
In addition to all the rest of these concepts, the desire we all have to be good to others starts with a positive belief in yourself. Generally, it is accepted that there is an order of priority that we need to follow. This starts with God. If God or a certain faith tradition is not active in your life, I would suggest that the first priority needs to be something greater than yourself such that our men and women learn in the military that the cause greater than themselves is their fellow countrymen. So the order is quickly followed by self! The full order is God, self, spouse, children, family, friends, and work, in that order. Being good to others starts with being good to yourself. This is why I have said a thousand times: “self-care is the cornerstone of mental health.”
I have so many powerful stories in my mind that people have shared with me in therapy, but instead of focusing on a client, I will mention a friend of mine: Chris Davios, who shared his story of sexual abuse in our new video experience entitled: “This Will Not Defeat me… After sexual abuse. His story of sexual abuse (which was rather extensive) was told to no one for most of his life. He endured the pain alone through 25 years of being a police officer. Suffice it to say, he likely did not fully believe in himself due to the terrible hurt he felt while being completely alone in the world with the knowledge of what happened to him. This filled him with anger, hurt, sadness, and despair. He has transformed his life dramatically since. This transformation has not only led him to believe in himself but further to share his story with the world helping to transform many of us walking around with the same injuries. What an inspiration my friend is. He now experiences emotional freedom from the bounds of captivity that trauma created for him. How about that for EMPOWERMENT?
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 a significant component of living an Empowered Life, as we have discussed. Believing in ourselves to me simply can mean knowing what you know and valuing what you are. When we believe in ourselves and feel empowered, we know that we have choices to make and we can execute these choices into the best next action we can take. Believing in yourself also means to me that you feel powerful. I see this as a major part of empowerment as well. We work to develop the sense that we are the “captain of our own ship,” as they say.
Now, it does need to be mentioned here, that I believe you cannot lie to yourself. If you are not an athlete, then it is hard to believe that you can compete in the Olympics. Sometimes, we do fall prey to believing things that are not realistic for us. For instance, I am a part of a Mastermind group. A few of the members decided to do a 20x event. Now, this is an event where you go to California to work with Navy Seals for 12 hours of intense training. They have requirements such as doing fifty pull-ups and running a mile in boots and full gear in like three minutes. Now, I struggled with the decision to attend with them or not. I am not in the best physical shape. I knew that doing 150 burpees would be very difficult for me, and I struggle to do just one pull up let alone fifty of them. I could not lie to myself and suggest this would be no problem for me. If I had tried to maintain that, I believe I would have been anxious for the five months we had to train for the event, knowing that it was far beyond my current limits. Now, in contrast, I do believe in myself and thus I believe that should I choose to do this event, I would have to train for more than a year to improve my ability. For the record, I choose not to do this and feel secure in my decision, but my belief in myself does not change.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
In short, yes! I did not believe in myself when my mastermind brothers suggested we should do that 20x I just spoke about, lol. I already explained how that affected my choices in that event recently in my life. In other times of my life as well shoot yes, I had a period of not believing in myself. Those times in life I shared when I was a teenager, and experienced the emotional pain of a divorced family and subsequent financial struggle. My self-esteem and confidence took several hits. I certainly did not feel empowered, or like I had choices or even a big influence in my life. My family was being torn apart in front of my very eyes. This was terrible stress that occurred over several months and even a couple of years. I felt very much powerless and at times very much hopeless. It took a while and consistent growth on my part to recover. This started I believe when someone made the crazy choice to put me in an honors biology class. I was suddenly in the class with “the smart people!” Well, I am proud to say, I really buckled down and ACED that class. This built my confidence which grew steadily over time. Finally, I began to peak in college. This is why I feel some level of pride in graduating with Magna Cum Laude honors. For me, this was quite an accomplishment because I did not see myself as the smart kid maybe others felt I was in my college class. I still laugh to myself when I think of finishing second in my college class to Lauren who bested me (by just a little, lol)
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?
During the time I shared earlier today in this interview when I realized that people were leaving my company. Remember, I had the goal of making Metrolina Psychotherapy Associates, a place where employees would join and stay until they retired. I naively believed that I had created a place and agency culture where clinicians, especially, younger therapists would arrive and feel encouraged and empowered to enjoy essentially their dream: operating in their own practice. This turned out to be not the case at all. Several clinicians, and one whom I had known for a long time, and even supervised earlier in our career left to pursue their own endeavors.
I realize now, in hindsight that I was in what is called in business ownership circles: “the valley of despair.” I learned of a cycle that occurs when you engage in owning and operating as a founder of a company. In a book entitled: “The 12 Week Year by: Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington” I learned of this cycle that business owners go through. I can attest it is something of a big truth. They explain that first, an owner enters a phase of uninformed optimism, followed by a phase of informed pessimism. This leads to the state I was in called the valley of despair. I experienced this when my friend and well-known to me clinician decided to leave the company. If she didn’t wish to stay, who would be is what went through my mind. I certainly lost a bit of confidence and didn’t fully believe in myself and what I had created. Thankfully and with effort in the examination of myself and the agency I created I experienced the final two phases they described: informed optimism and now success and fulfillment. Metrolina Psychotherapy Associates is now 23 years old and thriving. This has parlayed over to the new creation of Through a Therapist’s Eyes which we are building and I believe helping many!
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Celebrate yourself. I have led in my therapy experience with many an activity that engaged this goal of celebrating yourself. We start with one and only one characteristic that we like about ourselves. We also identify one and only one characteristic you don’t like about yourself. We work with a plan to actively change this characteristic while celebrating the one you do like. This leads to two traits you enjoy and celebrate while choosing an additional one and only one characteristic you have that is not desirable. We work to change this one with an active plan resulting in three we like and so on we go. Can you imagine if you are celebrating eleven traits you like and enjoy while focusing on only one you do not like? The process may take years but I find it to be terribly rewarding. This represents emotional growth!
2 . Self-care. I identify this as fun, relaxing, and enjoyable activities you do that are sort of like hobbies. They are not self-destructive in any way and do not include working ourselves hard. As you now know, I call this the cornerstone of mental health. We need to be good to ourselves first so we have the energy to be great parents/friends/ and countrymen and women. I find for myself that when I am in a good movie or book the stress of the world goes away. I enjoy sporting events and walking on trails in the woods among other things. Destructive things like buying things we can’t afford, or substance use are examples of activities that make us forget about stress but cause more harm in some ways. It is also harmful to be what might be referred to as a “workaholic.” These activities drain us when we need to commit ourselves to the provision of activity that builds our energy for life up to a high level, thus we can be high performers.
3 . Learn to Value yourself. In my book: “Through a Therapist’s Eyes… Re understanding Emotions and Becoming Your Best Self” several chapters focus on learning to value yourself. Chapter 30, entitled: “When our critical selves come out, it wears us out and wears others down,” we examine how to accept ourselves rather than allow the critical thinking self to rule the day. I believe the first sentence of the chapter says a lot: “Happiness comes from the inside, not the outside world.” We all have those critical statements we make of ourselves. This almost seems to come naturally. The ability to praise ourselves does not seem to come naturally, probably for many reasons. It might seem unnatural, but why not allow ourselves to sing praises of things we do well? The fear may be that others might see us as pompous, or arrogant, or nowadays the term narcissistic is often used. These do not have to be the case. Developing the allowance to offer ourselves praise is a skill development issue. In the book, I quote a guy named Shawn that taught me early in my career that sandwiching a negative statement with two positive statements is a good place to start. This works when helping others we care about seeing something important about themselves but also works well when we do this in our own self-talk.
4 . Choose your focus point. This is another of the four main points in the book. We do have the ability to choose what we focus on. The title of chapter 32 is: “We choose what to focus on. What we focus on, in part, determines how we feel.” Each chapter has a “do,” and a “don’t.” The do for this chapter is suggested to be “focus on realistic positives.” The don’t for the chapter is suggested to be “focus on negatives.” Ask yourself: can I deflate the negative automatic thoughts I might have today with a purposeful focus on something that is working well, even in a bad situation? Though we do need to be realistic can we wonder what would happen if we choose to focus on the positives?
5 . Choose friends and surroundings wisely. I understand that a speaker by the name of Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I believe he gave us a gift in understanding this concept. I once had a close friend that just often saw the problems that might develop with a plan of action almost exclusively. Whatever the proposed activity might be he tended very much to see the potential negative outcome. You might call him a pessimist. It was as if fear ruled his every thought almost to the point that very little action was taken. Procrastination often was the result. When I began to notice this, I began to distance myself a bit because I tend to be a person of action. Sometimes it may not be the best choice but taking an action is certainly likely to make something different and usually, this is necessary when we want to improve or grow. Try something different. When you have negative people around you a lot of the time this becomes difficult at best. The company we choose to associate with if positive can be so enabling to engage growth. Supportive friends and family tend to be a bit of an antidote to disbelieving in ourselves, therefore, with positive people, feeling not alone, and feeling supported, we are free to believe in ourselves, our choices, and our growth.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
One of the biggest skill sets here revolves around developing the ability to accept ourselves. The negative self-talk that can be so strong does accompany us from day to day. Criticism tends to block acceptance which can come from ourselves but also from other people in our life. Using friendships for objective feedback about ourselves can be an important source of reason. It is also a good idea to keep what I call a feel-good file. I have had one for years and reflected on its contents as a self-uplifting activity when needed. Its contents include a letter I was provided years ago when a lady I spoke to on a crisis hotline I was working at the time claimed that I actually saved her life that night. This was so humbling to read that I have re-read it several times over the years as a reminder when I become critical that I have also had good moments and several accomplishments. Learning to forgive ourselves also comes to mind. We try to be perfect many times but the reality is this is impossible, so practicing self-forgiveness becomes important. In addition, we often hear people talking these days about mindfulness. Simply put this is developing the ability to stay present with what we are experiencing at the moment as fully as possible. There are many ways to begin practicing this but in short, the benefit becomes having the ability to defeat the fear that often can arise with what may happen around the corner rather than begin to focus on only what is happening exactly now, at the moment. We can focus on any one of these ideas for some time but to take a deeper dive into the concept of accepting ourselves we did a show on Through a Therapist’s Eyes published 11/16/2022 entitled: “How to accept yourself.”
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
I would love to dispel the belief that somehow in your life probably developed that we need to strive towards being perfect. This, of course, is an unrealistic goal, but one I find we do fall prey to believing we can be. We do at a minimum tend to fear making a mistake of some kind. Self-confidence does not create any type of goal that involves perfection or avoiding a mistake. Grace is such a powerful tool to use here, especially with ourselves. Ask yourself if you have the tendency to give yourself grace. If you do you will find that this creates a strong sense of confidence because you know that if you take an action and allow for grace the action becomes free from fear. Acting fearlessly enables us to move forward trying new things and allowing mistakes to happen naturally.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
I guess it might be because the idea of working towards believing in yourself is central to my life’s work in therapy that we have done shows on several of these topics. We did one exclusively on the imposter syndrome dated 8/7/2019 in episode 51. We all have a tendency to fear the thought that others will find out that we might not be exactly like the mask or presentation we put on to the world. For instance, we only post on Facebook the good things that happen and the successful moments we have. There is a natural fear that if people knew how my life “really is” then we will be discovered to be otherwise.
The real question to ask with any type of Imposter Syndrome is how do I manage anxiety? We must learn to acknowledge our doubt openly in order to deflate the effects of anxiety. What follows is allowing ourselves to ask for help. Doing things alone though desirable at times really limits us. I love the thought of “together we can do what we cannot do alone.” I see lots of wisdom in this sentiment. Having all the answers or as we discussed trying to be perfect will surely create the type of anxiety described with Imposter Syndrome. Humility is golden.
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.
Boy, I am so glad to be asked this question. I have been pondering a movement I would like to create for some time. I don’t know if it is a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest number of people but a specific issue that I don’t hear mentioned at all is Male sexual abuse. I heard someone just the other day say on TV that now we are in the Me-Too era. I would love to create the HE TOO Movement. This is such a terrible affliction men suffer completely alone. I can’t tell you how many times in a therapy relationship I have had men share for the first time in their lives that they have experienced some type of sexual abuse. It is almost like there is no permission in society to openly claim for men that a man has been sexually offended. I would like to make the bold statement that this needs to change.
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 🙂
Well, first, I feel a desire to say, Joe Rogan, mostly because I feel like we can do a whole lot of good given the platform he has created in podcasting which is close to my heart having created one. Instead, I think I will say, Dave Ramsey. This is because I love his work with Financial Peace University because of the marital help he gave me on the topic of finances. I have had for some time a burning desire to ask Mr. Ramsey if he realizes how parallel his concept of the “free spirit,” and the “nerd” in his work with couples mirror Dr. Gottman’s work in couples therapy which I believe has dramatically improved my ability to work with couples.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best and simplest way to check things out is to navigate to the website: throughatherapistseyes.com
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.