Set yourself up for success: Think of a big goal that you have, maybe one that’s on the edge of your comfort zone. Break this down into doable, bite-size goals. As you follow through and accomplish these, you’ll not only be making progress towards a bigger goal, you’ll be experiencing multiple successes as you check these mini-goals off your list. This sounds like a small thing but is powerful psychologically, because you’re reinforcing your sense of mastery and the belief in your ability to do big things. This will give you the self-confidence to go for bigger, bolder goals.
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 Elisa Martínez, LMFT.
Elisa Martínez, LMFT is a psychotherapist, speaker and mentor who helps achievers overcome self-doubt, imposter syndrome and their inner critic so that they can live with confidence, passion and purpose. To learn more about Elisa and her work, visit https://www.elisamartineztherapy.com.
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 was a straight-A, high-achieving student growing up. If I got lots of external praise, high grades and validation I would feel like I was “good enough.” But when I didn’t, I beat myself up and felt horrible. My need to be a top performer came with much worry and self-doubt: “what if I fail?” This definitely influenced how I worked in my career as an adult.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Originally, I became a psychotherapist because I wanted to heal MYSELF and the anxiety, low self-worth and self-criticism that I had struggled with from a young age. By the time I hit adulthood, I was running from a lot of inner pain and turmoil and just trying to keep it together. After a life crisis, my attempts to outrun my pain came to a screeching halt, which led to a very dark period in my life. This sparked my personal journey of healing and transformation — which included studying psychology. The growth, healing and learning I gained motivated me to become a therapist so I could empower others to find their own inner confidence, clarity and peace.
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?
As a brand new therapist, I was very preoccupied with “fixing” my clients (I’m the expert, right?). When my clients made progress, I was a great therapist; when they didn’t, I was failing. One day during a therapy session, my client fell asleep. Was I doing something wrong? Wasn’t I supposed to get her to talk about her problems? I was getting caught up in what this meant about my worth as a therapist. But something told me not to wake her, and when she did awake, she thanked me, saying that she’d really needed that. She felt safe and comfortable enough with me to let her guard down enough to completely rest her mind and body. I realized that my over preoccupation with being a “good therapist” — and the rigid, narrow ideas about what that looks like — kept me from being open enough to take my cue from my clients about what they truly needed in the moment.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I host a series of live talks in which I and other psychotherapists and coaches discuss a variety of topics related to emotional growth and mental health. My guests are all specialists in their field, making this a unique opportunity for viewers to get expert information in an accessible and interactive format. People can learn more about these talks by following @creatingcalmconfidence on Instagram.
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?
Simply put, believing in yourself can help you become the most fulfilled version of yourself. When you’re not constantly sabotaged or held back by self-doubt or inner criticism, so much becomes possible. For starters, you’re more likely to go out on a limb and explore your “growing edge” — the kind of healthy risk-taking that’s a precursor for personal and professional mastery and achievement. When you encounter the roadblocks, missteps and discouragement that go along with exploring new or uncharted territory, you’re better able to maintain your forward momentum — versus staying stuck in fear or self-doubt. You see rejection and disappointment for what they truly are: normal life experiences that aren’t a direct reflection of your worth as a person. From this perspective, you can leverage all life experiences in service of your learning and self-realization. When you know your worth, you stop operating from a fear-based brain state, which helps you think more expansively and creatively: your problem-solving skills are enhanced and you can think outside the box. This sets you up to be a powerful role model and leader to others.
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 Olympian even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?
Believing in yourself means having a healthy and undistorted sense of your worth and capability. This is important, because our self-worth is heavily influenced by our “cognitive distortions” — untrue beliefs about ourselves that we unconsciously adopted as a result of painful life experiences and significant relationships earlier in life. While someone may be very talented or have great potential for developing a certain skill or aptitude, they might have the unconscious, core belief of “I’m a failure.” So they hold back from trying things they think they might fail at, in order to avoid the pain of having this painful belief confirmed.
On the flip side, having a super optimistic view of one’s capability or talent can be helpful, provided they’re willing and able to (a) identify and follow through with the actions needed to translate their aspirations into reality and (b) work constructively with outer and inner obstacles in this pursuit — including making creative adjustments to their goals, expectations and ideas of what “success” looks like. This involves a lot of personal growth work as a part of the journey and isn’t always a linear, predictable path. So a non-athletic person who believes that they can be a gold medal Olympian certainly would have a lot of inner and outer work ahead of them if their goal was to turn this aspiration into a reality — even if they end up redefining this goal.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
Absolutely! My belief that I wasn’t good enough and that I would be judged negatively were so strong that it often kept me from pursuing new career opportunities beyond my familiar comfort zone. I didn’t constructively confront or explore these erroneous beliefs — instead, I played it safe by holding myself back from trying new things professionally in order to avoid failure and rejection. It kept my life much smaller, I wasn’t tapping into my potential and I certainly wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I felt disconnected from the part of me that dreamed about what could be possible for myself. For several years I was in a holding pattern, not pursuing a professional path that would have been much more gratifying and rewarding.
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?
At that time in my life I was early on in my therapist career. I wasn’t enjoying my work and was burning out. I saw “rock star” colleagues who were putting themselves out there professionally in exciting ways with an energy and enthusiasm that I lacked. I was plagued by self-doubt and inner negativity and feared that I didn’t have what it takes to be as highly-accomplished as my peers. Yet I knew I wasn’t doing myself any favors by holding myself back out of fear and playing small. So with lots of support — professional and personal — I dived in and did the inner work of confronting my self-doubt, while simultaneously taking actionable steps to become the professional I wanted to be. It’s been hard work, but I’m much more fulfilled and am doing things professionally now that I never imagined would be possible.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Set yourself up for success: Think of a big goal that you have, maybe one that’s on the edge of your comfort zone. Break this down into doable, bite-size goals. As you follow through and accomplish these, you’ll not only be making progress towards a bigger goal, you’ll be experiencing multiple successes as you check these mini-goals off your list. This sounds like a small thing but is powerful psychologically, because you’re reinforcing your sense of mastery and the belief in your ability to do big things. This will give you the self-confidence to go for bigger, bolder goals.
2 . Who are your people? We are highly influenced by the people we surround ourselves with. So think of people you know (or know of!) who believe in themselves and have that self-confidence that you want. Then make a conscious effort to cultivate and maintain relationships with people who share these traits. They’ll be an invaluable source of learning, inspiration and support as you develop your own self-confidence.
3 . Take a survey: Ask people who you know and admire, and whose judgment you trust, about what strengths and positive qualities they see in you. These could be close friends, trusted colleagues or supportive mentors. Write this feedback down and keep it somewhere visible as an important reminder to yourself, especially during times when you’re not believing in yourself.
4 . Tap into your brainpower! When you’re spinning out in self-doubt, take a moment and write down the negative thoughts and beliefs that you’re having about yourself, right then and there. Then visualize a future, confident version of yourself — just let your imagination go wild. Then imagine: how would that person respond to the negative thoughts and beliefs on your list? What advice or guidance would they give you? This kind of visualization taps into a powerful part of your brain that you can put to work for yourself!
5 . Get outside of yourself! What are you good at? What do you already know? You can reinforce and strengthen your confidence in yourself and your abilities by mentoring, teaching and directly supporting others in these areas. You’ll be continually reminded of your own skills, capability and how far you’ve come.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
Start thinking about your self-criticism as a part of you, not all of you. This “self-criticism part” can get very loud and uncomfortable; however you are more than these thoughts and beliefs. Try this helpful exercise to redirect the negative stream of self-criticism:
- If your “self-criticism part” were a person or object, what would it look like? Give it a color, shape or form. Let your imagination flesh it out, as if this were something or someone that you could see projected up onto a movie screen.
- If it could somehow communicate with you, what would this self-criticism part say to or about you?
- What does your self-criticism want for you?
- What is self-criticism’s job description: in other words, how does it work at achieving what it wants for you?
This can help you get some space between you and your self-criticism, lower its intensity and give you some perspective. “Dialoguing” with your self-critical part can actually be a surprisingly helpful practice to do regularly. You’ll find that as you approach it with curiosity, you might even “negotiate” with it and see if there’s another way it can try to help you, instead of harshly criticizing you.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
“Being self-confident and believing in oneself is arrogant, selfish — even narcissistic.” While selfish, arrogant people can often appear self-confident, this is very different from a healthier confidence in oneself. When you believe in yourself while simultaneously acknowledging and working on your growth areas, you’re more likely to have a more healthy and balanced view of yourself.
“Some people are just naturally self-confident — it’s genetics!” Genetics certainly plays a role in our personality, however the degree to which we believe in ourselves is largely influenced by our earlier life and upbringing. These experiences form the “map” of how we see ourselves, how we view our ability to learn and be successful at new or hard things, how we value ourselves and perceive our self-worth. But no matter our “map,” we all have a tremendous capacity to develop a healthy self-confidence — regardless of where we’re starting from. We can all become aware of and transform the incorrect, self-limiting beliefs we have into self-confidence and an ability to believe in ourselves.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
Your self-doubt and feeling not “enough” makes you think YOU are the problem. However, work cultures play a huge role in fostering imposter syndrome. Proving your worth in environments that normalize uber-productivity, intense peer competition, extraversion and “being the best ‘’ at the expense of work-life balance, mental health and honoring one’s individual work style/needs is a tough place to be. It can be especially challenging for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, the disabled and others to conform neatly to standards largely informed by patriarchal, heteronormative, ableist and White-dominated cultural norms. So be aware of the larger contexts you’re in when you notice yourself struggling with imposter syndrome.
Also, notice your self-beliefs. Do you believe you are worthy and valuable, just as you are? Do you believe you must earn approval through perfect performance? These are challenging but important questions to reflect on and may motivate you to delve more deeply into healing what may be long-standing patterns within yourself.
Talk to other trusted people about how you’re feeling; when you’re alone with your negative thoughts it’s easy to get caught up in erroneous thinking. Support others who might also struggle with imposter syndrome. How can you direct that same attitude of support to yourself?
Take an inventory of your abilities and accomplishments. Keep in mind the ways that you uniquely contribute your skills and gifts — after all, there’s only one you! Ask someone whose judgment you trust to share what they see as your gifts and contributions.
Practice letting go of the need to do things perfectly — instead, what’s it like to do things in a way that’s “good enough”? When you lower the pressure you put on yourself, you’ll be surprised at how this can free up your creative thinking, problem-solving and other capabilities — which in turn will reinforce your belief in yourself.
Finally, working with a therapist or coach who specializes in helping people overcome imposter syndrome and self-doubt is a great way to turbocharge your growth and sense of self-worth!
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.
Bringing more education about psychological health to families and youth — and ensure that they have access to mental health care and other social, occupational, educational, healthcare, financial and other resources that they need to thrive mentally and emotionally. Human beings are our most precious resource. When they can be the healthiest versions of themselves, so much is possible for 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 🙂
I’d love to meet Keanu Reeves! Besides being a fan, I’m impressed by the way he approaches his career and celebrity status. In an industry that’s hyper-focused on image, persona and often pretense, I admire his choice to do his own thing and pursue the projects he truly enjoys, while not getting caught up in the celebrity circus. I also admire the life philosophy and sense of spirituality that he seems to have. He strikes me as a genuinely kind, grounded and down-to-earth person — just a good human to know.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can learn more about me at https://www.elisamartineztherapy.com, as well as on Instagram (@creatingcalmconfidence) and LinkedIn (Elisa Martinez, MA, LMFT).
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.