It turns out my negative thoughts create my imposter syndrome.
They are nurtured by two mighty powers that are closely related.
My super high expectations from myself.
And my fear of failure.
Failing hasn’t been an option.
As a result —
I compare myself to others
To the people I know — my close friends.
To the people I don’t know — the entrepreneurs, book authors, and conference speakers.
In short, to pretty much anyone and everyone I consider successful, especially if they are more successful than me in at least one domain.
Sometimes every day, sometimes a dozen of times a day, I tell myself —
“I don’t earn as much as my friend X.”
“I don’t own a home yet.”
“I’m not married yet.”
“I don’t have kids yet.”
This is somewhat manageable. Not easy! But manageable. I question if my definition of success is the same others have.
Do I actually want kids now, like this year?
Mmm, no. I’m living on my own in my own apartment for the very first time. I have so much freedom, it’s still new and it’s great and important to explore it.
Do I want to have kids some day? Yes, most definitely.
Maybe I would give birth or adopt or both. Will see.
It only took me.. 12 months to work through the “I don’t have kids yet” thought.
I also compare myself to.. myself
This one is trickier.
“I haven’t doubled our MRR in 6 months.” (MRR stands for the Monthly Recurring Revenue of a company)
“I haven’t written an article a week. I published my last one 2 weeks ago. Maybe writing is not for me.”
“I haven’t exercised enough this week.”
We can argue if those negative thoughts are healthy or not. If they push me to grow, to get better, or discourage me and put me down.
They are the fruit of my ambition and expectations from myself.
I have to be exceptional.
I have to achieve, to conquer, to rejoice.
But my “favorite” thought is —
“They probably think I don’t know what I’m doing.”
It usually pops up on the days when I’m already putting myself under the pressure for being behind on babies, marriage, morning yoga, writing for my blog, and growing our revenue.
On a Tuesday a few weeks ago, I had a call with one of my colleagues who asked me about the strategy and focus for our next 6 week, while I was still figuring it out.
I don’t mind saying “I don’t know”.
But the previous negative thoughts had created a cozy environment for this particular one to stick.
“They probably think I don’t know what I’m doing.”
it quickly transformed into
“I probably don’t know what I’m doing”
And I started to feel like
“I don’t know what I’m doing”.
Then, the feeling turned into a belief.
A brief negative thought popped, grew, and developed into a full-grown breathing and living imposter syndrome in minutes.
I had to go home after that call.
My eyes were red from the head pressure to find out the answer.
I woke up the next day still struggling with that question.
“I don’t know what I’m doing” was echoing during the day at work again.
It was spiralling even deeper. And then it spread everywhere.
“I don’t know what I’m doing at work” started to feel more like
“I don’t know what I’m doing in life.”
It felt like I didn’t know what I was doing in all aspects of my life.
“My friends are not interested in staying in touch with me.”
“My friends never call me.”
“My friends don’t text me back.”
It was affecting my self-esteem, my self-image.
Everything I had achieved through “me” dates over the last year was gone.
A few days later, on the Friday, I was walking with a friend through Trinity College.
As we stopped in the middle of the courtyard to enjoy the sun, she looked at me straight in the eyes and said:
“Vessy, are you okay?”
I couldn’t answer. I started crying.
She gave me a hug and held me for a long time.
On the next morning, I was relieved it was finally the weekend.
I struggled with the fact that it wouldn’t be a cozy, cuddly weekend that was much needed. My girlfriend was to be away for a few days.
That meant I would have to deal with myself and all my negative thoughts on my own.
It was another sunny day, yet windy, so I pushed myself to go out, to cycle.
I got on my green mountain bike and headed north on my favorite route along Clontarf and towards Howth. I knew cycling would be a good use of my time, feel positive, and balance my internal struggle and constant negative thoughts.
20min into the cycle, the negative thoughts started popping up.
I felt physically tired from them. They had quite accumulated over the last week.
I was hungry and sleepy, so I stopped.
I sat on the grass, hidden behind a few trees stopping the wind, so it felt warm and comfortable to relax there.
Luckily, I had brought some of my all-time favourite walnut bread and olives, so I could have a snack.
While I wasn’t hungry anymore, the emotional tiredness was still there.
Power naps help me when I burn out from emotions.
I used my bag pack as a pillow and laid my head on it.
I slept for over an hour in the sun.
I woke up feeling a bit lost, but energised and positive.
Got up on the bike to conquer the northern part of the coastline.
As soon as I was out of the shelter of the trees, I could feel the cold wind again.
I’m usually prepared and have a Buff scarf, wind jacket, and rain pants in my bag pack when I go out to cycle. But I didn’t that day.
I could feel the wind reaching my neck and going through my whole body.
I started hearing the negative thoughts again.
“It’s too cold to enjoy leaving in Ireland. It’s spring everywhere else already..”
“This might be the only sunny day this summer. And it’s cold..”
I kept cycling along the seaside, heading north.
“The wind is too strong and cold.”
“This was meant to be enjoyable.”
“I don’t have the energy to keep cycling.”
I couldn’t do this.
I made a U-turn.
When I turned, I saw the happy faces of the other cyclists.
“I wish I could finish this cycle.”
I had a destination that I wanted to reach. It would have felt great to accomplish that. It would have felt like I have control over how I feel..
“But it’s too cold.”
“I will get sick again.”
I decided to give it a try, did another U-turn and faced north again.
As soon as I started cycling and felt the wind —
“This wind is too strong. There’s no point in doing this.”
In 10 seconds I U-turned again.
I gave up and was to cycle south, straight to my home.
A random thought popped out of nowhere —
“What would I do if someone else was struggling in this situation?”
I didn’t know what to do about my situation, but I knew what I would tell someone else.
I’d encourage them, empower them, energize them, get them excited and they will do their best.
So why wasn’t I doing the same for myself?
Over the years, I had been empowering, mentoring, and coaching from founders/C-level execs to junior people.
“What’s stopping me to coach myself?”
I decided to do exactly what I would do for anyone else.
I did a U-turn, I was facing north again.
So I told myself about all of the great things I had accomplished in the last week, month, and year. I told myself how proud I was of myself for those things. I told myself that I believed in myself and I could do it.
I nodded to myself.
The inner dialogue felt energizing.
A negative thought about the cold wind showed up, as my neck was getting cold.
I didn’t U turn.
I didn’t contemplate on not having a scarf.
Instead, I folded the hood of my jumper to turn it into a multi-layer scarf around my neck. It was keeping me warm enough to keep cycling.
I realized I could do the same with any future negative thought.
I can work with the negative thoughts by coaching myself
I reached the north destination I was aiming for.
The inner dialogue between “coach Vessy” and “negative Vessy” was getting more positive and constructive over the weekend.
And life felt light, free, and easy.
“I feel like myself again!”
Since that windy cycle I’ve introduced a few changes to how I do things —
1. I work on my attitude, daily
I remind myself negative thoughts pop up every day. They come and go. They will always be there. I recognize their presence.
2. I work with the negative thoughts, daily, through self-coaching
I focus on achieving things within my control, learning, and enjoying the process.
3. I take myself out for a “me” date, at least once a week, to avoid emotional burnout
While I can recover from a physical burnout by taking some time off, I’ve found the emotional and psychological ones much harder to deal with. And prevention through “me” dates is key.
4. I give myself some slack, almost every day
I don’t push myself to have productive evenings or mornings all the time.
Yes, that means you won’t get a new blog post every week, but every 2 or 3 weeks.
Instead, I’m probably chilling on the couch at home, meditating on the fireplace or mindfully “reading” my book with Lisbon tiles.
5. I remind myself to be present and enjoy it, a few times a day
It’s less of a reminder and more of a question that prompts me to reflect if I actually enjoy the present moment.
Am I present?
Does it feel enjoyable?
It’s not about stopping, controlling, fighting, or letting go your negative thoughts.
Work with them every single day.
Engage them in a constructive, positive, inner dialogue.
Allow yourself to enjoy the present!
VessyTash is a new initiative
I write articles with practical advice on how to overcome your daily struggles, reconnect with yourself, and create a meaningful life. It’s about enjoying and being present, but not just going with the flow.
Originally published at medium.com