Let’s talk about insecurities for a second: pessimistic beliefs that hold us back from setting bigger goals more than anything else.
Insecurities range from occasional and passing, to firmly-rooted, lifelong thoughts and ideas about who we are. Some appear instantaneously, from a single event. Others develop over time, encouraged by multiple experiences, external influence and ‘evidence’ that seems to confirm the validity of the beliefs. And a hard truth is that no one is immune. No matter how confident some people appear, uncertainties about ourselves and our abilities are an inescapable part of the human experience.
Because of this, insecurity forms a key part of social dialogue. Think of marketing techniques that allude to ‘flaws’ and problems, before offering a product or service as a solution. Think ‘personal development’, both a multi-million industry and our deeper instincts to fix the bad habits holding us back from becoming a stellar version of ourselves. The way both open and covert talk of common insecurities crops up everywhere in turn pushes our self-consciousness to a new level.
Then we have various movements promoting confidence and acceptance as a cure, oftentimes with a great amount of success. Some fundamentally question the importance of supposedly desirable characteristics and teach us to embrace our flaws instead of fighting them, therefore coming to terms with who we are. Others seek a happy medium. They argue that while perfection may be unattainable and no human being on planet Earth is flawless, we can take sustainable, actionable steps to improve ourselves without swinging to extremes.
However, the mere existence of our insecurities can prevent us from stepping out of our comfort zones. That’s why they’re often referred to as limiting beliefs: conclusions about what you can achieve that you’ve reached from incorrect assumptions. Even before we can procrastinate on action, we use our insecurities as excuses for not setting goals in the first place. For instance:
- ‘I don’t want to sign up for a gym membership because I’m out of shape (and people may laugh at me).’
- ‘I’m too stupid to get a good grade, so what’s the point in studying harder?’
- ‘I won’t go to this social event because I’m too awkward and will embarrass myself.’
As you can see, there’s a bit of a self-perpetuating cycle: the more you avoid setting a goal and make the same excuses, the more insecure you feel, until you reach the point where any initiative feels pointless.
In other words, our insecurities are arguably some of the biggest factors in the way of a well-rounded, purposeful life. Just think for a second: what would you do differently if every single negative thought you have about yourself disappeared?
I get just how nuanced the whole process can be. Take the last point from the above as an example. I know that the only way I can feel more at ease in social situations is through practice. Aka, turning up to events and interacting as much as possible (not hiding in the spare room with the host’s pets). But as they often do, my insecurities have grown from experience. Entering a room full of people, I remember every time I made a joke and no one laughed, politely excused myself to solve an awkward silence or, in the worst cases, had an actual panic attack. Then there’s societal influence. I see natural extroverts all around and question what’s wrong with me. On a logical level, I understand the ‘fake it ’till you make it’ principle – that you can imitate or learn extroversion. I’ve done the imitating part myself. Nonetheless, I convince myself I’m too ‘awkward’ and ‘shy’ for many situations.
I’m not suggesting it’s possible to overcome and disprove all of our insecurities, but they 100% don’t have to stand between you and your goals. The most realistic path? Using them to encourage growth. To do so, I’ve put together a list of reminders to help you look at yourself and your supposed shortfalls from a new perspective. After all, progress often starts from a single thought.
1. Not everything we believe about ourselves is true.
Sure, some insecurities have evidence to back them up. When perfectionism and outside influence enter the mix, things get a big complicated.
Ask: do you set unattainable standards for yourself? Have you decided you’re a bad writer and therefore don’t write, because nothing you produce is ever ‘perfect’? You must remember that even the best are rarely satisfied with the quality of their work. Or, do you compare yourself to experts when just starting out?
Oftentimes we don’t want to appear complacent – both to ourselves and to others. We would rather be safe than sorry. We downplay our strengths and choose not to attempt something at all rather than jumping in and risking failure. A good example is a student setting a moderate target for themselves to avoid the disappointment of missing top marks. We settle for modesty and forego the results aiming higher would have obtained.
Identifying and overcoming such false beliefs requires hard work. Therefore, try looking for sound evidence to back up the flaws you assign to yourself – in many cases, this is harder than you think.
2. Postponing simply worsens the insecurity.
This is the ‘self-perpetuating’ issue I mentioned in the introduction: the more you avoid changing your life, the more your insecurities grow in their strength over you.
Conscious of your dwindling strength and endurance, you avoid the gym and see them plummet further still. Convinced you’re a terrible writer, you never start a blog that would’ve allowed you to improve your skills. Assured that you’re not naturally gifted, you go your whole life without unlocking a hidden talent.
If you have a genuine passion, if you think moving towards a particular goal – whether that’s getting fit, bettering your grades or landing an internship – will positively impact the quality of your life, the best solution is to start. Use your insecurities to motivate self-improvement. Then, set smaller goals to pave the way for bigger, long-term achievements. Trial and error, after all, is far better than staying in the same place.
3. Everyone has them.
Yes, even the confidence gurus you follow on social media. Even your biggest role models. On the outside, their happiness and success seems infinite. But I think most of us know that the full picture is seldom the same. No one moves forward without bad days and moments of self-doubt, when the desire to push onwards just isn’t there. Many of the people you look up to have deep-held beliefs only others can dismiss as untrue. For example, I’ve personally spoken to numerous people with enviable presentation skills who consider themselves uncharismatic. They developed a skill everyone thinks they were born with through years of practice, consistency and pushing through setbacks.
Mindset makes all the difference. Successful people don’t allow insecurities to become limits. They do what they must to achieve their goals, regardless of how counterproductive it may seem. Next time an insecurity crosses your thoughts, remember that your role models most likely believed the exact same thing before they started!
4. You can’t improve without trying.
Following up from the above: the people who are successful regardless of their insecurities have a growth, as opposed to a fixed, mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe characteristics such as creativity and intelligence are fixed. Unless we display natural aptitude in something from a young age, working to develop that skill is a waste of time. What’s true now must be true forever: ‘I’m terrible with numbers, so why take maths classes?’, ‘I’m not imaginative enough to write’, ‘I won’t bother networking because I’m naturally bad in large groups of people’, etc.
To have a growth mindset, however, you must remember that persistence and effort can fix shortfalls. Inaction either does nothing or sets you back. Sure, we have different ‘starting points’, and having natural attributes puts people at an advantage in certain industries. For instance, few people will become Olympic gold medalists or top the iTunes charts (although I won’t discourage you from trying!). But we can become more charismatic. We can learn to think creatively. Most importantly, we do these things by doing, failing and getting feedback from others along the way.
So, replace ‘I can’t do x because I’m too y’ with ‘what steps can I take to gradually improve my skills and make x a reality? What habits do I need to build, and how should I adjust my thought patterns to make the change easier?’
5. The past is a learning opportunity. It doesn’t have to repeat itself.
Perhaps, your insecurities have come from previous setbacks, failure and experiences. You fear a repeat of these events and see them as ‘proof’ of your inadequacies. But the key to leaving the past in the past is learning from failure and tweaking your methods to achieve better results. Evaluate and write down what went wrong: was it a mistake on your part, someone else’s, or an uncertainty beyond your control?
Change your mindset around failure, and you’ll begin to see it in circumstance. In other words, it’s not a portrayal of you as a person, and your ability to do better after trying again with new lessons in mind.
6. You have many positive characteristics and previous achievements
Unfortunately, we’re more likely to focus on shortfalls and failure than what we’re good at. Few people celebrate success. However, we can teach ourselves a different way of thinking. The first step you should take is recognise failure as a learning opportunity. Subsequently, you should allow your strengths and existing achievements to encourage new goals and pursuits as much as insecurity holds you back.
Let’s go back to my ‘social awkwardness’ example. When deciding whether to go to a large social occasion, speak in public and the like, previous situations of when something didn’t go to plan or I made a fool of myself race through my thoughts. Then, however, I consciously force myself to recall numerous instances when nothing bad happened and on the opposite, I ended up having a great time. From that adjustment in the way I think, I come to terms with the fact that the chances of disaster are far smaller than a better, or even optimal, outcome.
Use this technique when insecurity creeps up on you and you start putting together excuses. Think of creative ways to apply your existing skills to tackle your new problems. Most importantly, remember the times when big, scary decisions to go for something despite the risks ended in something worthwhile.
7. The future is better filled with lessons, not regrets.
With hindsight, we’re able to see our previous selves from a fresh angle. Some of our old beliefs – what we once thought to be logical and true – appear laughable. Our past decisions seem at odds with the values we hold in the present day. Those can be anything from not attending more special occasions because of the way you look, to deeming yourself too incompetent to take up opportunities.
I often look back at my old insecurities and sigh at how much I missed out on because of things that were either untrue or insignificant. By now, I’ve recognised that it’s far better to try, fail and apply the lessons you learnt (whether to the same endeavour or an entirely different one). Nobody likes seeing a few years go by before wondering what could have happened, or wishing they’d started sooner.
The key point to remember is that many insecurities are temporary. They will come and go, appearing silly as you grow older and wiser. The consequences of action, however, will stay with you forever, whether as lessons or achievements.
8. Your flaws could matter much less than you think
Most likely, you attach a lot of importance to your flaws, whether real or imagined: they’re the deciding factor between success and failure. If ‘happiness’ is your goal of all goals, they stand between you and your best life. Yet they may play into the bigger picture to a far lesser extent than you think.
Challenging such beliefs is tricky, particularly when society at large confirms and perpetuates them. But if facts and evidence show a different side of the story, we must avoid thinking in ‘all or nothing’ terms.
In other words: question the extent to which being a certain way or being good at a particular thing would help you reach your goals. Imagine, for instance, someone who decides they won’t bother studying hard, ‘because they’re not ‘smart’ anyway’. The underlying assumption here is that you need to be naturally intelligent to succeed in exams. A high IQ helps throughout education, but you don’t need to be a genius in the top percentile to get the best grades. Hard work and a strong support system matter just as much, if not more. Similarly, plenty of introverted people are successful in competitive industries. And you absolutely did not have to be athletic in your childhood to fall in love with exercise and healthy eating later in life.
So, question the propositions (i.e., the underlying arguments) of your limiting beliefs as much as possible. Some of your insecurities may be objectively true. But, are they a tangible barrier between you and your goals, or something you can work around in light of your resources, other skills and commitment?
9. We don’t have to pay attention to what others think
Underlying many insecurities is the fear of judgement. Not caring what others think or say is easier said than done, because it’s in our nature to seek approval and avoid rejection, worsened if you’ve had pas experiences of others damaging your self-esteem. Nasty comments, bullying or even destructive criticism can stick with us for years and shape our entire perception of ourselves. The other person says what they want, moves on with their life and leaves us with an insecurity for years to come.
We should, of course, account for constructive criticism. But if someone else’s remark concerns you as a person, if it can’t be justified and implemented, it’s reasonable to let their comments go. Once again, train yourself to remember that most people we encounter are either neutral or supportive – most are too caught up in their own insecurities and goals to worry about yours. Yet when someone deliberately channels negativity, practice not taking their remarks personally. Ultimately, you decide the influence other people have over your perception of yourself.
Having insecurities is both natural and expected. They reflect everything from our personal experiences to our broader social environment. But often getting in the way of us building our best lives, these beliefs can become problematic. Some insecurities are mislead or exaggerated, arising from perfectionism and rhetoric arguing that you must look or act or think a particular way to be successful. We must identify and challenge these. And even if true, they need not hold us in the same place.
Most importantly, adopt a growth mindset. Use the insecurities not as excuses, but incentives. Many of the traits we believe to be fixed (such as intelligence, creativity and confidence) can be worked on and developed. We must be brave enough to set reasonable goals, lay down plans and take the needed steps, regardless of the limits we throw upon ourselves.