Celebrate your wins regardless of their size. This will change your thought patterns to focus on winning vs the typical negativity bias that is hardwired into us as humans. When I was at the peak of panic, It was all I could muster some days to jog a lap around my block. I often beat myself up over this as I felt like it was such a remedial task I was failing to achieve. The truth was, that no matter how small that progress was, it was progress and a self-defeating attitude about it only stifled my progress back to a normal life. When you are getting started those wins may just look like showing up or having the opportunity to fail at something. You don’t lose. You either win or have a learning experience so that you may do better next time.
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 Ryan Mason.
Ryan is an individual that comes from humble beginnings with many road bumps throughout his life. Today, Ryan is by trade a car salesman, but perceives himself as a marketer who happens to sell cars. In the last 7 years he’s gone from a complete green pea to the top 5% of all auto salesmen in the industry from a small used lot that carries no more than 45 cars at a time. Through this journey he’s produced a side business that offers these marketing services plus drone photo and video to other companies and individuals.
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’m from the “not Chicago” part of central Illinois. My hometown, Jacksonville, like many in the midwest is mostly corn, Casey’s gas stations, and some factories. We’ve got a few cool things here too. If you’ve ever been on a ferris wheel, it was most likely built right here! This town of ~20,000 also hosts Illinois College, the Illinois School For The Visually Impaired, and the Illinois School For The Deaf.
My parents were never in a serious relationship so since birth I was a two household family. In my younger years I spent all but a weekend or two at my mothers home. We lived in a cozy two story home in the country next to a small pond. I had a spacious room and an office on the second floor. She at the time was a manager at the local Walmart and my stepfather was a truck driver. Some of my most fond memories are on a dirtbike or a 4 wheeler with a couple of my neighbor kids my age or running around their property on them. The neighbor to the west was just a year older than me and the one to the east just a year younger so it worked out really well when you were looking for some fun. We did have a computer at the house, but the internet was in its infancy and the connection and capability was limited. Most of my time was spent in the real world.
My father at this time had started his own mechanic shop and lived in a trailer next to that shop in a small town outside of Jacksonville. I had my own room there too. I spent 1–2 weekends a month there. I didn’t see my father much at this time so I just didn’t have a great relationship with him, to no fault of his own. We sometimes would do Boy Scouts and other stuff together during my visits. I didn’t get close to anyone my age in this other town so I just didn’t enjoy the weekends there as much as staying “home.” I was involved in sports as well. I really took a liking to soccer and was fortunate that my parents got me into a traveling league. I think you learn a lot about handling loss and teamwork at a young age through sports and you also get to build some lifelong friendships through those interactions.
A big shift hit suddenly one random day in 7th grade. I was waiting for my mother to pick me up from school. I sat outside and watched everyone get picked up one by one as I continued to wait. Eventually it was just me on the curb by myself. A teacher leaving noticed me still waiting and got me into a phone. No answer. She was aware my mother worked only a block away and took me to her work as I assumed maybe she was there. She was not. The owner of the store and one of the other managers made a few calls to some people looking for her. Eventually my grandmother came and picked me up and told me my mother was “sick” and that’s why she hadn’t come to get me. I was dropped off at my Father’s after.
“They’re sick.” That’s what you tell a child who can’t understand the concept of addiction yet. The reality was my mother and step father had formed a habit and her missing this pickup blew the top wide open on everyone in the family and work learning about it. I still find, to this day, my concept of addiction changes and I didn’t fully grasp any of it until only a couple years ago. There was never any use in front of me that I noticed but we as children don’t know what is “normal” and what isn’t. It isn’t our job to realize this no matter our age.
Once the door was kicked open, the next few months got wild. I went from spending a few days a month with my Father to now living with him full time. As I transitioned from Jr high to High school, I felt like things became a bit more normal. I was able to continue going to the same school. My stepmother was kind enough to spend a good hour driving me back and forth daily to maintain that aspect of life for me until I was able to drive. This normalcy was a nice change in my life.
I finished high school, still heavily involved in sports, and my early 20s were spent figuring out what my purpose was and what I wanted to do. I think this question is often just answered by process of elimination and eventually by the time we pass, you’re closer to the answer but never fully knowing. We simply keep trying things to see what fits best.
At 25, I left a corporate position processing insurance claims and landed a job at a small used car lot in sales. The following 7 years I really dialed in on improving in every aspect of my life. I started working out and went from a thin 145 to a healthy 180 pounds. I married my longtime girlfriend and started ordaining weddings for others. I went from being a total green pea to one of the top producers in the industry. I also began producing a second income stream through marketing and drone services for other businesses and professionals. I started giving back by being heavily involved in the local Chamber of Commerce.
Things weren’t all sunshines and rainbows in closerland though. I let the stresses from work and baggage from things in my past build up until they poured over one day into a panic attack. At the time, I was convinced it was something more and several ER visits later, convinced that I was dying, I had developed a full blown panic disorder. My body became super sensitized and any changes in heart rate or other bodily sensations that mimicked a panic attack could send me into a full spiral towards one.
The last year and a half, I have been correcting this panic disorder. This has been done through many different forms and through the process I’ve learned a massive amount of information on how the brain works and different methods to help one move forward through any roadblock they may come across.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I think my biggest inspiration to get into sales/entrepreneurship was my father. Growing up, he ran his own mechanic shop that I spent a lot of time in. It made me see that you are capable of producing on your own and a guaranteed paycheck isn’t because when you are great at what you do, it gives back tenfold.
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?
I find it a little funny now, but at the time it seemed concerning; When I first started running ads for the dealership on Facebook I was split testing a lot of things. I was running multiple ads at one time with just one thing changed between them to see what would perform best.
Through setting a few of these up at one time and changing the photo on one, and word copy on another, I accidentally changed the budget and that 200 budget for the week now was set to run 200 daily. I went to check back in and freaked out because I saw I’d spent about 250 bucks on this ad and rushed to correct it. Upon doing so I followed the metrics and saw that it actually produced 10 leads to our website and one was a credit application that later sold which profited the dealership around 1800 dollars. My cost per lead is less now, but for a mistake to pay off into a sale sure felt good.
It taught me to not shy away from trying things on a larger scale and trusting if the process works at a small scale, it will most likely work scaling up.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
As I mentioned before this last year and a half I’ve really been focusing on myself more and part of that is sharing my whole story, and the processes used to get myself out of this newfound anxiety/panic disorder through writing a book. In America currently, especially for men, it’s still very tabo to speak about mental health. I want others to know that they aren’t alone in something that is only human to feel at some level, but others have walked through the extremes and came back. There is hope and you aren’t broken.
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?
One of my favorite quotes naturally comes from a great car guy. Henry Ford once said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” I think this bleeds through to every aspect of your life. If you can’t break the mental cycle of self doubt, you’re never going to take the next step, which is doing.
The second part of inaction is something most people fear much more than the original what if’s circling in their head. Regret. If you don’t want to look back on your life periodically when you reach 40,60, 80 years old and regret being in the same position you were when you started. If you’re having the same problems that never got solved, living paycheck to paycheck, or perhaps never losing that weight and now facing the health ramifications you are going to have to muster up the courage to just get started and let that bloom into your new life.
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 doesn’t necessarily mean that you think you are the best at something as in the example of being a gold medalist, yet it means you know you have the ability to try and with enough effort you are capable of achieving at that high level.
The reality is that anytime you start something, you’re going to not be that great at it; You’ve got no experience and little knowledge. Maybe you have some natural ability and are decent, but to perform as a master, research shows that you need to have 10,000 hours of intensive practice and is often referred to as the “10,000 hour rule.” It’s important to not compare your starting level with someone who is at this level and get discouraged.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
Essentially this is the very essence of a panic disorder. You start looking inward at every sensation your body creates, maybe you notice your heartrate up, worry, fight or flight response starts ramping up with adrenaline and cortisol and sudden you’ve brought yourself into a cycle of that until your body can’t physically produce anymore and it resets or you break the thought cycle. You typically fall into three main categories as you start to stop doing things due to the acute panic attacks seemingly randomly dropped into your lap.
-Loss of control/ Insanity
The first two simply are imagined and it is entirely possible to experience a moment of shame or embarrassment, but this isn’t going to harm you. You lose the belief in yourself to do even the simplest of tasks like being in a public place for fear of having one, and not being able to get out, driving and losing control of the vehicle, etc.
The next natural progression of this is where most, as myself, land and that’s agoraphobia. Agoraphobia involves fearing and avoiding places or situations that might cause panic and feelings of being trapped, helpless or embarrassed. This normally ends with a person being stuck in the confines of their own home or a single room still fearing the outcome of what happens if they were to leave. Letting this fear take over, I started to dedicate what I would do, where I would go, and for how long.
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 hit a breaking point last year after having sensations so strong I went to the ER two days in a row begging for answers. After being told for the third time that I was ok, it was “just anxiety” and being sent on my way I went home and sheltered from the outside world. The following day I decided in the afternoon I should try and be productive and headed towards work. It’s a pretty short stretch from my house, a 4 to 5 minute drive. On the way I’d hit a traffic light and while sitting there a cocktail of emotions and physical sensations poured through my body, once again, for seemingly no reason. The same fears rushed over me as before and I turned around and went home. The sensations lowered once again but lingered as the fear did. I’d sat there a mess as I tried to figure out why I couldn’t just go back to normal. How was I supposed to live if I can’t even make a short drive to work without going into a full blown panic attack? This was truly my breaking point.
I didn’t go back to work that week, but I doubled down and took massive action towards getting this mess fixed. The easiest way to eat an elephant is still a bite at a time so I organized some actions that needed to happen and fully committed to the idea that there wasn’t anything physically wrong with me and I wasn’t dying mysteriously. I knew at this point I had to start believing in my ability to do these things or I’d be trapped to a life inside my home, still worrying and losing everything I spent the last few years working so hard to build up.
The panic attacks didn’t go away initially, but everytime I did something and showed my brain it wasn’t dangerous by not reacting in fear, they lessened until I was able to go about normal life without them being an issue. I went on to clear last year’s income by over 15,000 dollars in the midst of working through this. Stepping into that fear was the only way to achieve getting past it. Without believing that I could, I’d surely be in an entirely different place in life.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Many times when we doubt our abilities it’s simply labels we’ve put on ourselves speaking louder than reality and we need to dive into it at a personal level to see if there’s a real reason we have doubt or simply some barrier we’ve produced in our own mind. Here’s an exercise of exploration I encourage you to try. The exercise is this, the next time you find yourself in a moment where you have told yourself you aren’t worthy of something or not capable of doing it instead of accepting that as fact ask why. Then why to that question and do so until you’ve found the root cause of this assumption and then redecide if it is true or not. Let’s run through an example. You are sitting at lunch with your coworker and he talks about how he has almost 50,000 dollars saved up for a downpayment on his first home. You think to yourself, man I wish I could save 50k, but I can’t. Boom, trigger the whys.
Why do I think that I’m not capable of saving 50,000 dollars? Well for starters the most I’ve ever had in my account is a few grand. My parents never had that type of savings either, this is just who I am. Why is that? Well in the beginning I only had a few hundred and I was doing well to be able to save just a few thousand. You were able to go from a few hundred to a few thousand weren’t you? Wow, I guess you’re right. I’ve subconsciously set this limiting belief in my brain that I’m not capable of saving more when the same steps I’ve taken already prove I can, I’ve just set a mental limit at 3,000 instead of 50,000. I’ll follow the process that took me from 300 to 3,000 and stop capping myself there!
Realize that most limits are set internally not externally and ask why till you find that limit!
2 . One of my favorite acronyms to help with any situation anxiety or doubt may arise is the D.A.R.E. response.
D — Diffuse: This involves diffusing the situation by reminding yourself that what you are feeling is just a temporary physical response to anxiety or self doubt, and that it will pass.
A — Allow: This involves allowing the anxiety to be present without fighting against it or trying to suppress it. Instead, you accept the anxiety and observe it without judgment.
R — Run towards: This involves running towards the anxiety and facing it head-on, rather than avoiding or running away from it. By confronting the anxiety, you can take control of it and reduce its power over you.
E — Engage: This involves engaging in an activity that distracts you from the anxiety, such as exercise or socializing, to shift your focus away from the anxiety and onto something positive.
During the height of my panic disorder this looked like getting in a car and driving until the sensations and racing thoughts of danger started to dump, then instead of turning around like I had in the past I’d remind myself I wasn’t in danger and was capable. I’d allow the sensations to come and go as they please and even ask for more of it. If I truly was in danger, please give me some more adrenaline to use brain! It’s an impossible task and the sensation would lessen as the fear of them dissolved as well. Then I’d simply get back to what I was doing, the radio or work when I arrived.
Today that looks a little different. When I get in front of a crowd to give a presentation or speech some of those same sensations we all feel come back. I use the same response in just a short sequence in my head to jam the fear in its tracks and get back to the presentation. With each successful use confidence increases and the feeling may not even arise next time as it’s been buried in the trust that I will achieve what I set out to do.
3 . Set increments to what you’re trying to achieve instead of trying to do it all immediately. Desmond Tutu once said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” What he meant by this is that everything in life that seems impossible can be accomplished gradually by taking on just a little at a time. This is a great thing to do when you are building your confidence to achieve. Let’s say your goal is to own your own business selling shoes, but right now you’re living paycheck to paycheck at a 9–5 type job.
Sure you could just up and quit and try to open the doors of your business the next day, but you’ve got no income flow, no capital to work with, and no awareness of your brand. Instead of diving in feet first,shoe company pun, you adjust your budget to start buying some inventory and you start selling them online from your garage in the evenings as you continue your day job for stability. Bite number one and two.
You then do this several months and things start going well. People start leaving reviews for your online store and you even get a site running for those to come buy your stuff at instead of peddling them through Facebook marketplace. You’ve eaten quite a bit of that elephant now.
Now that you’ve got some working capital and a brand you decide to open a local storefront and quit your day job to do so. Congrats, you’ve just eaten a full elephant that you thought was impossible to swallow while staring at it originally.
4 . Surround yourself with others that are going where you want to be in life or are already there. “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” a quote attributed most often to motivational speaker Jim Rohn and he’s right. The people you spend the most time with shape who you are. They determine what conversations dominate your attention. Do you think surrounding yourself with friends who get pumped for Friday night to hook up and only talk about the club scene will serve you better or worse than surrounding yourself with 5 business owners who regularly get together Friday evenings and go over marketing with each other? Do you think that someone always finding a way around the problems in their life might be better to spend more time with than the one always claiming to be a victim of adversity? and. Eventually you start to think like they think and behave like they behave. Make sure those behaviors are congruent with where you’d like to be in five years.
5 . Celebrate your wins regardless of their size. This will change your thought patterns to focus on winning vs the typical negativity bias that is hardwired into us as humans. When I was at the peak of panic, It was all I could muster some days to jog a lap around my block. I often beat myself up over this as I felt like it was such a remedial task I was failing to achieve. The truth was, that no matter how small that progress was, it was progress and a self-defeating attitude about it only stifled my progress back to a normal life. When you are getting started those wins may just look like showing up or having the opportunity to fail at something. You don’t lose. You either win or have a learning experience so that you may do better next time.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
In practice, essentially this is the loop of all anxiety and panic disorder is self doubt or self criticism. I’ll explain this process as though you’re on the top scale with panic disorder, but know that breaking the cycle for generally anxiety or self doubt works the same. It’s just at a lesser level.
We experience symptoms like an elevated heart rate. It can come as the result of exercise or some other means like poor sleep or dehydration, etc. This symptom doesn’t have to be physical either. It can be a thought perhaps you think is obscene. For example, you’re driving your car and as you pass a group of people walking, a thought flashes about your car leaving the road and hitting them.
Our emotional brain, the part we actually have control over, creates a suggestive thought about the symptom. Is this dangerous? Is there some negative outcome that can come from this thought? And it becomes jumpy.
We then weigh the benefits of worrying about this symptom, like preventing a heart attack or is hitting these people an actual possibility vs the costs of not thinking about it. If we think it may benefit us, like safety, we worry.
This worrying sends signals to the amygdala that a situation may be dangerous causing our body to start kicking in that adrenaline dump. In a panic disorder this now even more elevated heart rate brings us back to step one and the cycle repeats ramping each time. For general anxiety this loop isn’t fearing the cycle and typically the scale won’t peg at 10, but you will still start ramping your body’s response so long as you continue to perpetually worry about whatever thought may be occuring.
I encourage you to stop the cycle. Now that you know the worry cycle in our brain you understand these negative thoughts are just a scared brain trying to protect us or keep us comfortable. You have no power over the initial thought, but you do have the power to challenge it after and stop the worry cycle. Everytime you find this flash of doubt landing in any form, tell your brain thank you for trying to keep you safe or keep you comfortable, but you are capable and don’t need the doubt. Break the cycle. Each time you do you’re literally building a neural pathway in your mind that is bypassing the highway of self doubt you used to ride on.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
I think most people think that those who are extremely confident must not have the same fears, self doubts, and worries as them. People with low confidence often reason in their mind that they are special or somehow in a situation that no one else is in. The reality is that as much as we like to believe it, we aren’t special and the human brain works very similarly for everyone. You aren’t some special case that is doomed to the life you’re living now. Action is the only thing that is reality. Follow the strategies listed above to break the limiting belief you’ve set in your mind.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give once again is realizing you’re not alone. Imposter syndrome is a common experience nearly everyone struggles with when they start breaking the self labels and boxes they’ve put themselves in. Take time to recognize your accomplishments and the hard work you have put in to get where you are. Use previous wins as proof you belong where you are today and remind yourself that you do deserve to be great. Self love is often hard to come by, but you are deserving of loving yourself and achieving.
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 think one of the biggest movements we could bring is to end much of the stigma that comes with mental health. I think that once everyone realizes how normal and non special their problems, emotions, and struggles were, the better they’d feel about seeking help to resolve them if we treated mental health with more education instead of writing it off as “just anxiety” and offering a pill to numb the problem instead of correct the thought patterns we’d see massive change in suicide rates, happiness, and success as a whole.
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 really love Elon Musk’s journey. Coming into America as an immigrant and then founding not one, but numerous extremely successful businesses while still speaking as an everyday person and standing up for individual rights is amazing to me. The knowledge you could gain both in personal and business aspects has to be so vast.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Stay tuned in the next coming months for my drop of a book over mindset and my life experiences! The easiest way to connect with me is my personal facebook here. Reach out through a dm if you’d like notified when book drops or if there’s anything I can help with: https://www.facebook.com/ItsRyanMason/
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.