Make yourself do the scary things without caring so much about the end product. If you mess it up, consider it practice that helps you learn the best way to go about it. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our fear of failure and judgment that we don’t allow ourselves to try. If you allow yourself to try without pressure, you will start to see that you are more capable of doing whatever it is that you wanted than you realized. This is known as “failing forward.” Like Edison’s ideologies, if you continue to try after failing, you’re only learning, growing, and becoming better at your task. The only true way to fail is to quit.
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 Michela Dalsing.
Michela Dalsing has kind of always been a wild child. Despite the defiant streaks throughout her life, she decided to pursue counseling to help the other wild child souls. She has served in almost every treatment setting having worked in residential treatment with at-risk youth, inpatient services, community mental health, corporate mental health, and currently co-owns her private practice and mental health business with Alyssa Johnson. Michela loves to meet people where they are at and tries to understand the person as a whole. She is especially passionate about working with nerds that feel misunderstood by most people in their life. For more information about Michela, please visit https://www.villainesteem.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?
Definitely. I was raised in Iowa in a family of six. I’m kid number two of four so I definitely have some middle child vibes at times. I was quite the handful for my parents. I was always loud, outgoing, and had the notorious redhead stubborn streak. I know I drove my mom crazy at times because I didn’t like accepting limits that were placed on me. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy on the left side of my body when I was 10 months old. The doctors originally told my mom that they weren’t sure if I would ever walk. The stubbornness came out before I knew what stubborn was. I learned how to walk shortly after that prognosis. I then went on to play multiple sports throughout my entire childhood. I’m sure my mom wanted to bubble wrap me every time I played a game, whether it was basketball, soccer, or football. She didn’t worry quite as much with swimming, but I think that’s because it wasn’t a contact sport. I did have this sense of always feeling different and out of place because of my cerebral palsy, even though none of my peers really treated me any differently. I am lucky that this was my experience as a disabled person as I know it isn’t the experience disabled individuals normally have growing up.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was raised in a household where helping others was a huge priority. So when I thought of careers I might be interested in, it always came back to the helping professions. I decided I wanted to be a Mental Health Counselor around my sophomore year of high school. When I examined the intersection between what I was good at, what I liked to do, and what would be helpful for people, counseling was the natural choice. I’ve always been fascinated by the experiences of others and love hearing their stories. Especially the stories that frequently remain untold. I love being able to sit in those dark, scary places with people and helping them to see that they don’t have to be alone in whatever they are going through.
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?
During my first practicum in clinical work, our first two to three clinical interviews were with our classmates. I remember completely bombing the first interview with one of my classmates. We video-recorded every session we did throughout our practica, and I’m pretty camera-averse at times. We started the interview, I was able to get a couple of questions in, and when I remembered the camera, I just froze. I honestly can’t tell you how long I froze for. It felt like several minutes even though it probably wasn’t actually that long. I remember my classmate looking at me like “Well, aren’t you going to say something or ask another question,” and I just stayed frozen. I’m pretty sure I had a begging look in my eyes because he eventually started talking about something to break the silence for me. When I had to watch the recording later with a professor, I remember the strong internal cringe and feeling like I would never be able to get over the embarrassment. I can look back on that now without any embarrassment because that one moment taught me several things. It gave me a strong guiding post for reading non-verbal communication regarding the appropriate length of silence for individuals. That moment also taught me the importance of improv in sessions, and that if I can’t just roll with it, to be honest about my mind going blank.
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 a couple of different projects that we are working on at Villain Esteem, PLLC. We have subscription boxes and spread awareness through our public-access blog as well as social medias in hope will help people that either do not have access to counseling services or can’t afford traditional counseling services. For people wanting to continue their growth in ways that do not require mental health counseling, we offer life coaching. We have also started partnering with schools, local businesses, and corporations to work on addressing mental health from a more systemic approach. Normally when we think of our mental health, we think of it as something we address independently but that doesn’t mean that we can’t build communities that are more supportive for different social and emotional needs. If we approach mental health from a community perspective, we can create preventative actions that will hopefully decrease the rates of mental health concerns later in life.
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?
It’s important to believe in yourself because a lack of believing in yourself will always hold you back from the things you really want to do in life. You will always find yourself haunted by the “what ifs” and the “life would be better ifs” because without believing in yourself, you’ll be paralyzed. Sometimes, we have this false belief that if others believe in us, we will magically start to believe in ourselves. While this can happen sometimes, the ability to remain resilient amidst failure is pretty contingent on that belief being internal. For instance, if a child is told that they could be a professional athlete one day, they won’t actually achieve that unless they believe it for themselves because the second they run into difficult circumstances, like a season plagued with losses, they won’t be able to see it as a bad season that can teach them. The child will see it as a sign that people were just trying to be nice by telling them they could be a pro. However, if the child thinks they can make it to the pro level, they can see a bad season as an opportunity to learn from their shortcomings, work harder, and get better.
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?
To me, believing in yourself is believing in your capacity to grow or change in any way that you want. It really comes down to challenging your mindset to make it a growth mentality. With a growth mindset, you don’t necessarily see yourself as having a set amount of talents and capacities. You are able to acknowledge your ability to grow any proficiency you want; it just depends on how much time and effort you are willing to put into it. There are things that you may naturally excel at or learn faster, but you don’t have to be limited to those aspects.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
Any time I step into doing something new, there is an associated experience of not believing in my ability. I take a significant amount of time building toward feeling proficient before I am willing to let others know I’m doing something new. Because of this, I normally take an extensive amount of time before I take action. A blatant example of this is my private practice. While I believe I’m an excellent clinician, I doubted my ability to be organized enough to have my own practice. Because of that doubt, I took several years longer to switch to private practice than I would have if I had believed in myself sooner.
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?
I think there comes a point in time where a person has to recognize just how much control they have over their lives if they are willing to take it. As weird as it sounds, I think roller derby was the agent of change for my mentality. I had grown up as an athlete, but I also have cerebral palsy on the left side of my body. I never thought that I could be a “competitive athlete” as a result of my disability. I actually had a swim coach in high school that would yell at us if we said “I can’t.” When I was in high school, it made no sense to me because I thought there were a lot of things I “couldn’t do” because of my disability. When I joined roller derby, I didn’t know how to roller skate. I wasn’t really sure if I could ever pass the minimal skills to play in bouts (games). I realized that I had to challenge everything I thought about how my disability defined my life if I wanted to be successful. I spent over a year trying to pass those minimum skills. Most people can pass in 3–6 months.
I actually had the last skill waived because I was so stuck on it. It was a timed skate where you have to skate 27 laps in 5 minutes. I’m terrible at timed tests. They still make me anxious to this day. All of my teammates and my coaches thought I could pass the skill, but I wasn’t so sure. The ironic part of the story is that I literally completed the skill the practice after I was told it would be waived. That moment was definitive of how much my mentality and belief in myself could impact my capabilities. It finally clicked as to why my high school swim coach would yell at us for using the words “I can’t.” I realized then that I had held myself back in so many ways and made a commitment to myself to really try to work “I can’t” out of my vocabulary. With that shift in mentality, I actually trained and improved to the point where I played for a D2 roller derby league (for those that are unfamiliar with roller derby, D2 is equivalent to a college league and D1 is equivalent to a professional league). I’ve worked on carrying that mentality over to anything new that I’m wanting to do or anything I’m wanting to challenge myself to get better at.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Make yourself do the scary things without caring so much about the end product. If you mess it up, consider it practice that helps you learn the best way to go about it. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our fear of failure and judgment that we don’t allow ourselves to try. If you allow yourself to try without pressure, you will start to see that you are more capable of doing whatever it is that you wanted than you realized. This is known as “failing forward.” Like Edison’s ideologies, if you continue to try after failing, you’re only learning, growing, and becoming better at your task. The only true way to fail is to quit.
2 . Restructure your thought processes in a way that works for you. We all have a tiny voice inside our head that loves to berate us for doing things “wrong,” for the little things we forgot (like turning off the stove), and occasionally reassuring us that we are on the right path. Generally, the voice has a negative undertone that tries to tell you you’re destined to fail, that you aren’t “worth it” or are simultaneously “too much” while being “not enough”. One way to challenge defeating beliefs is to switch shoes with someone you love and care about. Say they came to you and presented your problem to you, and told you what they were feeling and thinking inside. What would you say to them? Would you be ok with the way they’re talking to themselves, or would you challenge their thought processes? Would you point out ways they’re competent, worthy, enough, and not too much?
3 . Create a “Feel Good” box that’s full of any past accomplishments, written compliments/love letters, any positive reviews from previous employers. This is a regular assignment I give to clients to help them build self-esteem. A lot of us struggle with such a huge negativity bias in our minds that we forget that we have ever accomplished anything or received positive praise from others. By collecting all of these things and putting them in one spot, we have easy access to the exact information that will help us believe in ourselves. External influences can be reassuring in the times we doubt ourselves most, take advantage of having access to items that make you feel that reassurance from the people around you, without having to worry about imposition into their lives, or disruption to their routines.
4 . Celebrate tiny victories. Every time you celebrate, you’re giving your brain permission to release endorphins. That’s the “feel-good” hormone you get when exercising, or during intimacy. When you give yourself little doses of endorphins by acknowledging the little things you do right, it helps push you forward in your next task. If you continue from one task to another utilizing the endorphin releases to gain momentum, you might experience increased motivation. The ever elusive emotion we all want, but never seem to be able to hold onto. Don’t wait to celebrate until you achieve something big because you might just keep moving your goal post and never allow yourself to celebrate. You might talk yourself out of your worthiness of the achievement, and only focus on the ways you could have done better, which will result in decreased motivation, because you will be fearful to mess up in the future. Find a way to congratulate yourself in a way that fits for your life, set goals, then follow through with whatever reward you deemed appropriate.
5 . Reflect on everything you’ve ever had to overcome in your life. Who doesn’t like a good underdog story? We’ve all had barriers that we’ve had to overcome to achieve what we wanted to. I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes thinking of doing my own Rocky montage is motivating in itself. If you think about the conglomeration of issues you’ve had to face in the past, your current situation might not seem so daunting. If you concentrate on a feat much bigger than this current one, it not only increases your confidence, but it also gives you space to gain clarity on past actions that helped you succeed before, which could influence your current circumstance.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
Most importantly, set yourself up with some realistic expectations. It is rare that we do something new and we do it phenomenally the first time. Even if others view us as performing well at something new, we rarely see that ourselves because one common struggle is wanting to be perfect when we are starting new things. We really shy away from the learning process and want to be experts immediately. Yet, everyone has to start at ground zero. So first and foremost, expect that you won’t be great or feel proficient at whatever you are trying to grow in.
It is common for people to have distorted automatic thoughts of overgeneralization, all-or-nothing thinking, and personalization. They tell us how things “must” or “should“ be. Challenging these thoughts can help you return to a more balanced view where you can see the world as safe (within limits), you can see events as controllable, and predictable, and see yourself as competent enough to handle whatever hits the fan. Cognitive restructuring (or changing the way you think about something) is a therapeutic technique that helps people notice and change their negative thinking patterns. When thought patterns become destructive and self-defeating, it’s a good idea to explore ways to interrupt and redirect them. That’s what cognitive restructuring can do.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
I frequently have clients that are worried that if they start to believe in themselves and display confidence, that they will become full of themselves. They are so worried about developing arrogance that they won’t allow themselves to feel any sense of pride and self-confidence. I reassure them that I’m not in the business of creating narcissists and that there’s nothing I can do therapeutically that would cause them to do a complete 180 when it comes to their confidence. Developing confidence after having low self-esteem rarely creates arrogance. Most of the time, even if someone is able to develop confidence, they remember what they felt like when they didn’t have confidence and that memory is enough to maintain humility.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
Most of the time, our struggles with imposter syndrome are for aspects of our life that we’ve already achieved. One of the common examples is when we get a new job or a new promotion. We spend those first couple of months feeling like it is only a matter of time until someone finds out that we are a fraud. However, we wouldn’t have gotten the job or promotion if we were that much of an imposter. So the advice I would give is if you can’t trust yourself and your abilities quite yet, trust that those around you wouldn’t have put their faith in you if they didn’t see something worthy. Interviews are more and more extensive nowadays. It is pretty difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of every person who interviews you (or recommended you for the position). We are all our own worst critics, so it is safe to say that no one is being as hard on you as you are on yourself.
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.
It is Villain Esteem’s vision to create a world that promotes resilience and empowerment of individuals by helping establish a more inviting, relatable informational platform that increases accessibility for all people. It is important to me that equality is a prevalent aspect of accessibility. No person should be left behind because of systematic oppression. All humans, regardless of age, race, gender identity, social status, disability, or sexual preferences deserve access to mental health resources and knowledge. With an egalitarian perspective Villain Esteem has established an open-access blog which often includes free therapy worksheets to the public, a budget-friendly subscription box with physical items that tie mental health to the real world as well as counseling resources. I also have a podcast I post on when time allows where I discuss commonly asked questions about the world of counseling in an effort to demystify therapy. Villain Esteem meets people where they are at, by offering both counseling and life coaching. While both with intent to help you grow and become a better version of yourself, counseling focuses on repairing issues and traumas in one’s life whereas life coaching focuses on future goals and behavioral changes for productive improvement.
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 🙂
That’s a hard question to answer. I would probably have to say RuPaul. I definitely admire him for everything he has done in terms of visibility and advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community. I also love how much he focuses on mental health by helping people to combat their inner saboteur and improve their self-acceptance. I believe I could learn a lot from RuPaul about how to make a long-lasting cultural impact in the direction of inclusivity.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can find more mental health content on my website including free therapy resources, villainesteem.com and can follow my business Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Spotify profiles. @villainesteem
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.