How can I beat my negative thoughts?

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How I Cured My Impostor Syndrome…with a Foot Rub

“Fraud. Fraud. Fraud. You’re a fraud. What do you know? Nothing! Literally nothing.”

Hi, my name is Jess. It looks like you’ve already met my inner dialogue – you know, those little voices in my head that are constantly commenting on everything that happens (and doesn’t happen) in my life. The ones that criticize me, squash my dreams, and make excuses for what isn’t working. If I let them have their way, they might take over this blog and make both you and me believe they are true.

I mean, what do I know?

I only recently completed my doctorate in biotechnology, and I’m only a postdoctoral fellow at one of the country’s top schools of medicine, where I conduct research on Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not like I’m actually smart or earned my success by spending decades at school. I’m a fake. A sham. A total impostor.

At least that’s how I felt until I met my coach.

Starting Inner.U STUDENT, I was asked what primary area of my life I wanted to work on. I had no idea when I picked “Relationship to Self” what that would mean – beyond my hope of “magically” becoming more confident, self-assured, and self-loving. I lacked the knowledge and tools to actually make changes to improve my relationship with myself.

I couldn’t even imagine where to start.

So, after I wrote my dream for that area, my coach had me begin keeping a thought log (Module 4 in Inner.U STUDENT). I started to write down my inner dialogue, as it was occurring, and in its own voice. Why?

Because it turns out that what we think and don’t say is very telling.

I began to log my thoughts in Inner.U during my morning and night train commutes, and to write them into the notes app on my phone other times when I was on the fly. Here’s an example of one of my negative thought trains (no pun intended!), after I received the bill for a business dinner I was in charge of planning:

“Holy f’ing CRAP!!!!!!! What did I do? How did I let this happen? I was supposed to be in charge and responsible and I blew it. Don’t cry. There’s nothing you can do. And she suggested we just split the extra amount spent? I don’t even have that kind of money extra hanging around. Things are tight. That’s like almost an anniversary dinner for me AND my husband. Horrified. And now I’ll be untrustworthy. A fool who just spends someone else’s money willy nilly. I can’t afford this life. I can’t.”

Charming, right? Pass the salt(y).

By logging my thoughts, I was able to identify a number of different patterns about how I talk to myself, namely: I speak to myself negatively…a lot. A lot more than I was aware. And it turns out I’m not alone. National Science Foundation research shows that at least 80% of ALL humans’ day-to-day thoughts are negative (yep, yours too), and those thoughts can be pretty powerful. Worse, 95% of those thoughts are not even original. They’re from the day before.

My “smile on the outside/mean to myself on the inside” character trait that I’ve come to call my “Impostor Syndrome” trait was very talkative during the day. No wonder it was hard for me to believe in myself and my dream of self-confidence and self-love.

On the inside, according to my thoughts, I barely liked myself.

It was time for me to take the lead and get my head under new management. How? By working on my Personal Integrity® – known at Handel Group as the ability to keep a promise to yourself and the secret to happiness, self-confidence, and pride.

What if the real reason I wasn’t so proud of myself – no matter how much I accomplished – is not what my head wants me to believe it is or because of some expensive dinner, BUT from not doing actions that are consistent with my dreams?

How it works: I design a promise that is aligned with my dream (in this case, feeling like a REAL BOSS). The promise has to be specific and realistic – a stretch but doable.

How do I keep the promise? I design an annoying (preferably funny) consequence if I don’t keep it. Because the truth is, that humans (me included) will fight harder for our vices than our dreams.

Here are two sets of promises and consequences I came up with to beat my inner impostor:

1. Promise – once per week, I call a friend during my evening commute.
Consequence – no Netflix until the call has been made.

Why this particular promise? This promise has me maintain and strengthen bonds with my friends – it reminds me that I am not alone and that I have a significant support network.

2. Promise – once per week, I give myself a foot rub (hello, self care!).
Consequence – no chocolate the following week.

This promise reminds me to give myself a small break in appreciation for all the things that I actually do accomplish.

I feel empowered by keeping my promises, and when I fall short, (as much as I miss my chocolate!) I still feel proud for keeping my consequences. I’m building my Personal Integrity either way and, in turn, my belief and trust in myself.

My whole self, that is, inside AND out.

As much as this framework is currently helping me build towards the confident, boss status I want to embody, I’m even more excited that I can apply this technique to challenges that arise in other areas of life I want to work on, such as my health, relationships, and finances.

By learning to manage my mind and build the muscle of Personal Integrity, I have not only become a better boss for my team, I have become a better boss for my entire life!

Exciting, right? Want to talk about it over dinner? Your treat.