Know your accomplishments. We all lived life, tried new things, succeeded, and failed. Remembering our accomplishments might sound trivial, however, you will be surprised how many of our own achievements we do not remember. In one of the exercises I do with my clients, we make a list of 100 accomplishments — our 100 top achievements.
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 Dr. Harel Papikian.
Dr. Harel is a licensed clinical psychologist and a couples therapist with flourishing private practice in Los Angeles, CA. He is the founder of West Hollywood Couples clinic and the author of the ARC method of couples therapy. Dr. Harel is known for his brief approach to therapy and his focus on delivering the desired results to his therapy clients.
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, actually, was a very shy and introverted kid. It was very challenging for me to connect with my peers, and I remember favoring the company of my parents’ friends and adults in general. There were two major changes in my earlier life that shaped my experience of the world. The first one was moving at the age of 7 from Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, where I was born, to Yalta, Ukraine. We spent the next 7 years in Yalta, on the beautiful shores of the Black Sea. The first move did not shake me up nearly as much as the following one.
When I was 13 my family immigrated to Israel. This was a huge shock to the system. Different language, very different culture, and parents fully immersed in surviving and establishing themselves in the new world. I remember immigration being the key moment that finally woke me up to realization that this is a “sink or swim” situation and if I am to thrive here, I have to be the one to make it happen. I threw myself into studying Hebrew and within 6 months was placed in a public school with all of the classes being taught in Hebrew. I got a lot of support from my Israeli teachers and within 2 years, ironically, I was scoring higher in language and literature classes than my native peers. Academics felt like “my thing.” I studied diligently and had something to show for it.
However, despite the many life transitions and change I experienced as a kid, there was one core theme throughout my earlier years. I have always been an outsider. As a shy quiet kid, as an immigrant, and later on as a gay man, I have always looked at the world from a bit of distance, more often the observer than participant. I feel like this part is significant for both my way in the world today as well as the choice of my profession.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Well, as strange as it might sound, I knew I want to be a psychologist quite early on. By the age of 15 this desire and intent have been crystalized and I remember having a conversation with my dad about my career choice. My dad pointed out that this is not an easy path, since becoming an established psychologist and psychotherapist is a life-long endeavor. I still remember this conversation. Obviously, it did not deter me. I was motivated by the desire to understand our inner experience and our psyche. It felt like a mystery I must solve, so I ventured on a journey, worked my butt off in High School to have the grades to get into the Tel-Aviv University Psychology program. My ongoing inspiration were quite obvious. I read Freud and Jung, envisioning myself sitting in my office and working with my own patients. If I could not become a psychologist, I am not sure what career path I would follow. Till this day it feels like the only thing I am pretty good at.
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?
Oh, that’s a funny story. As an intern I attended one of many psychotherapy conferences, working on advancing my psychotherapeutic understanding and skill. The focus of one of the lectures was the importance of obtaining sexual history as a part of overall developmental and personal history of a client. The presenter was very convincing, and I took it to heart, deciding to implement the sexual history questions as part of my intake process with new clients. My next new client was a girl in her mid-teens, struggling with depression and anxiety. I marched along asking questions about her sexual history and experiences, making her so uncomfortable that she asked to be paired with a different clinician. I totally freaked her out, neglecting to consider the fact that I am an adult male, working with teenage female client. These were good and important sexual history questions that might have led to significant insights when working with adult clients. However, context is everything. In this specific case I totally destroyed our rapport and made my client run. The obvious lesson was that a fork is good with a salad, and not with a soup.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
After more than a decade in my private practice, working with gay, straight, transgender, as well as racially and culturally diverse couples, I wanted to come up with a more immersive and intensive experience for couples wanting to strengthen their bond and deepen their connection. My husband is an avid nature lover, hiker and travel guide. He is one of these people that will know every plant and animal you point your finger at while hiking. One day he turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and said that he had an idea for a new project involving both of us. He offered to create a weekend couples retreat that will combine relationship work with shared and boding nature experience. I loved the idea, and we are ready to host our first couples retreat (we call it Couples Bootcamp) in the late summer 2023.
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?
The importance of believing in ourselves and our ability to create and bring about change in our lives, I am sure, is intuitive and self-explanatory to most of us. After all, if we do not believe we can, why even try? Whatever we believe to be true, will absolutely be true for us. As the famous quote by Henry Ford goes — Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right. Believing in ourselves is the key to creating the life that we want.
For example, I was a chubby kid that was so un-athletic that every PE class in elementary school felt like torture. When other boys in the class could get 10+ pull-ups, yours truly could do exactly zero. It did not prevent my PE teacher from making me get up on the pull bar and hang there, trying to squeeze out at least half a pull up, to great amusement of my peers. As long as I believed I can’t, I couldn’t.
Finally, puberty hit, and with it, a bit more spirited attitude toward life on my part. I decided — enough is enough. I am going to master these damn pull ups or die trying. On the summer of 1992 I spent 3 months training every morning, and by the first day of class I was able to do 10 clean pullups. I was so done being the laughingstock of the PE class. I made a firm decision to get stronger and I did.
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 ourselves and entertaining wishful thinking have nothing in common. The foundation of confidence and believing in ourselves is self-knowledge. We have to be aware of our strengths, our passions, our shortcomings, and areas in which we are rather mediocre. Here the serenity prayer comes to mind — accepting the things we cannot change, having courage to change the things we can change, and being wise enough to know the difference. The areas in our life that marry our talents and our passion are the ones with a great promise. Passion is that fire in our belly that makes us hungry for success and mastery. When combined with a bit of talent, sky is the limit.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
You know, as an individual, I always go for what I want to achieve, even if I feel nervous about it and have some doubts. I would rather fail, than regret never trying. I do have stories of, shall I say, believing in myself a bit too much, though. I remember graduating middle school with a brilliant score in math and enrolling in High School advanced math classes. I knew I had no mathematical talent, but felt like with some work and dedication, I can make it. Initially, I did pretty well. My first quiz score was nice and round 100%. My second quiz I got 90%, then 80%, then 70%. Eventually, in my end of the first semester exam I got 10%. Ten out of 100%, mind you. That was a rude awakening. I dropped the advanced math, and settled for the regular math classes, in which I was back to scoring 100%. Math was neither my passion nor my purpose, so I allowed this failure in advanced math class to stay a failure on my part. Sometimes this is just not our thing, and we have to accept it.
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?
After graduating Tel-Aviv University with BA in Psychology and Sociology, I got accepted to my doctoral program in US. I had no idea what to expect and once I was here, working my way through my first semester, I realized that I bit more than I could chew. My English was marginally adequate, and the amount of literature we had to get through was overwhelming. I was not sure I could do it.
Here I learned the importance of surrounding yourself with people who support you and trust in your ability. I had my parents in my corner, along with my amazing new friends I met in US. Having the support of important people in our life makes all the difference. First year of grad school was brutal, but I made it. I had a new sense of accomplishment to drive me through the rest of the grad school and on.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Know your accomplishments. We all lived life, tried new things, succeeded, and failed. Remembering our accomplishments might sound trivial, however, you will be surprised how many of our own achievements we do not remember. In one of the exercises I do with my clients, we make a list of 100 accomplishments — our 100 top achievements.
The first time I sat to do this exercise myself, I could barely get to 10. These 10 were the biggest and the most recent ones. Then, I decided to go back in time, to my first memories, and trail my life experiences and achievements all the way back to now. These do not need to be grand things. Having the courage to get on the bike and learn to ride is an achievement. Mastering handwriting in the first grade is an achievement. Having the courage to ask your crush for a date is an achievement. Getting up and delivering a speech despite the anxiety is an achievement. Standing by your friend or taking care of a family member in time of need is an achievement. Being able to maintain peace and connection in your family despite your own challenges is an achievement. These do not have to be neither external nor huge things. Graduating second in class, being drafted to a national sport league or selling a start-up for 8 figures are awesome achievements, but I encourage you to look deeper and find small and meaningful things in your life that are your important successes. Our belief in ourselves today stands on the foundation of our past accomplishments that teach us that we can.
2 . Respect your failures. Every failure is feedback. Triumph is only possible if we work through some hardships. Challenges teach us determination and resilience. Not every failure has to be turned into success. Sometimes we are going to suck in some things, and that’s ok. Unless it is something that is truly important to you. Important things are those that define our passion and purpose. When we fail in those, we have to devise a new strategy and go at it again, until we succeed. Knowing our past failures teach us not only about our strength and weaknesses, but also about our fortitude and gumption.
I opened my private practice in 2010. For the first three years I had barely any clients. Los Angeles is a big city with many talented and established professionals. Getting a foot in the door took a lot of work. I tried many different things — social media, professional organizations, networking, online presence etc. There was a lot of trial and error, and it was not until 2013 that my practice took off. I knew this was my passion and my purpose and giving up was not an option. I believed I can make it happen and every failure was feedback to adjust strategy and try again. The process I have used is G-SAC: set a Goal, implement Strategy, Assess results, make Corrections. Do it over and over again, until you make it.
3 . Confront the negative voice in your head. Fear is a natural response to the unknown. When we take a leap of faith, anxiety is likely to be our companion. I think the wisdom is being able to differentiate between self-doubt and intuition. Self-doubt is the critical voice in our head. It might sound like someone we know — our parent, our ex, our past. In case of this kind of self-doubt, the moto is — be afraid and do it anyway. The rewards here are likely to be greater than the risk. However, sometimes we get a gut feeling urging us to change course. Perhaps the timing or the direction we chose require revision. This is our deep mind nudging us in the right direction. I am definitely a proponent of trusting your gut. Intuition is important information to consider.
During the first years of my practice, I occasionally doubted my skills as a therapist. The doubting voice in my head told me that I have no clients, because I am just not that great at what I do. I took this self-doubt into consideration and worked hard to get better. I was not sure if the self-doubting voice in my head was right, so I made sure it was not.
4 . Surround yourself with people who believe in you. This is so important. Here the issue not only having the supportive and encouraging people close to you, but also keeping the critical and doubting people at a safe distance. For example, many of us have well-meaning family members who tend to clip the wings of our aspirations and dreams. Sometimes these are our own parents. I think here the issue boils down to boundaries. Consider what you share about your current projects, future aspirations and dreams, and who you share it with. Create a bit of a distance between you and the less supportive people in your life. We don’t have to cut them off. We just have to develop a bit of finesse in navigating our relationships.
I tend to be an over-sharer, and many times I regretted divulging some of my projects and initiatives to loved ones who were not convinced in my ability to pull through. I had to learn the hard way to be intentional in my sharing and only share those things that were on a solid footing. All the delicate new beginnings, especially those in the stage of gestation, I usually keep to myself or share it with my husband.
5 . Take action. Confidence in our ability is nothing without exercising this ability, which, of course, requires action. Think of what you want to achieve, break it down into small and manageable steps and apply daily action in this direction. An excellent exercise to keep us accountable on our path toward our goals is the Chief Aim Journal. On the first page you write out your desired achievement, driven by your passion and purpose. In detail describe what is it that you want to accomplish. Every morning, read through your chief aim and write down at least one thing you will do today, to get closer to your aim. Every evening, read the chief aim and write down what you have actually done today to move yourself closer to your desired goal. This is a powerful process to try out.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
You can’t. Our mind operates through addition and multiplication and lacks the ability of subtraction or division. For example, when I tell you “Don’t think of a Pink Elephant,” I know that you are thinking of a pink elephant, despite me asking you not to. We cannot “remove” thoughts from our mind. That would be subtraction and our mind does not do that. Instead, we can add a positive, affirming thought or belief, to counter the negative one. For example, when I was working through my own limiting beliefs around money, the belief that came up was “I don’t have the skills to manage lots of money.” Instead I offered an affirming belief — “I am a quick learner.” Another example was “If I have a lot, I have a lot to lose.” A countering positive thought can be “Things are always working out for me.” You can list the negative thoughts about yourself that come up and offer and affirming ones to counter each one. Having completed our accomplishment exercises (see #1) makes coming up with affirming thoughts easy.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
One that comes up is the binary idea of self-confidence. Many think of it as an on/off switch — whether we have it or we do not. However, I think it is important to note context. We can have an amazing level of self-confidence in the kitchen, and lack any self-confidence in public speaking situations. We can have great self-confidence in one sport, and not at all in another. Self-confidence is context specific.
I want to differentiate 2 kinds of self-confidence or belief in ourselves. One is about our skills and another is about our self-worth. Self-worth is the very foundation of our experience. We tend to equate our worth with either our achievements and performance, or with the relationships we have in our life. Instead, the personal growth work has to focus on us reconnecting with our intrinsic self-worth, which is unconditional. When we bring a baby home, the baby is not required to do anything to be worthy of our love. If her basic needs are met, the baby feels worthy and whole. Conditions to our sense of self-worth are internalized later in life. As adults, it is our work to release these conditions and remember who we truly are — intrinsically worthy and beautiful motif in the tapestry of Life.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
There is no advice to be given here. Welcome to the club. Any significant success in our life comes with new demands and new horizons to grow toward, which can be anxiety provoking. Part of the process is occasional self-doubt. I think instead of pushing against it, we could just embrace it from a place of humility. We don’t always know what we are doing, we don’t always have all the answers, and this is ok. Occasionally I find myself sitting with my clients in silence, witnessing their pain, holding the space for their experience. In this moments I occasionally have a vivid sense that there is nothing I can do to change their experience in this moment. Sometimes there is nothing we can do to change things, no brilliant interpretation to share and no magical intervention to fix everything. We just sit. Honesty and authenticity are very powerful.
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.
In order to transform the world, we have to transform ourselves. We have to create peace and wellbeing within, in order to enjoy peace and harmony without. Meditation is a powerful tool of creating inner peace and balance. I think it could be so powerful and transformative if folks around the globe would join daily meditation at the same time, focusing on global peace and prosperity for all. It could truly change our world.
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 🙂
My professional idol is Esther Perel. I learned so much from her books and her podcast “Where Should We Begin.” She is not only an incredibly insightful and masterful psychotherapist, but also a brilliant intellectual, who has inspired me over and over again.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website is probably the best way to follow my blogs and to contact me — WestHollywoodCouples.com
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.