Appreciating yourself as an antidote to self-doubt

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As a coach I am privileged to hold a space for my clients where they can truly open up and share their inner narrative. One of the most common themes I hear from people in all walks of life is some version of “I’m not good enough”. Human beings are far better at self-judgment than they are at self-appreciation.

I’m naturally curious, so I’ve thought a lot about why this might be. Each person’s story is different, but there does seem to be a pattern. As we grow up, we all get more messages about what we are doing wrong, than what we are doing right – from parents, teachers and eventually bosses. Also, our biology is wired to take these inputs as a threat, which inhibits our ability to see the positives. Of course, we need to know where we can improve. But if we aren’t aware of what’s already working, we end up feeling insufficient, anxious, or doubting.

I see this in my own story. In February, for LGBT+ History Month, I shared that growing up gay in the 1970s and 80s gave me plenty of messages that I should be ashamed of who I was and hide it. And yet right now we’re in June, which is Pride Month here in the UK – a celebration of the LGBT+ community and all it has to offer the world! The modern idea of ‘gay pride’ has its origins in the activism of the 1970s and the liberation movements that sprang from it. I attended my first Gay Pride March and Festival in the early 90s – it was amazing to feel part of a community, to be free to express a previously hidden part of myself.

However, I think it’s taken a lot longer to truly turn shame into pride. For me the daily experience used to be one of self-doubt, like a heavy knot sat on my chest, weighing me down and holding me back. Coaching helped me to understand the knot and where it came from more clearly and gradually to challenge its validity and unpick the threads. The critical change for me was to develop the antidote to self-doubt, which is the emotional state of self-appreciation. For me, and in my experience for most people, this is an elusive, fleeting emotion, rarely if ever felt and only for a moment.

So, how do you cultivate self-appreciation and make it more present in your life to redress the balance of how you see yourself?  There are three steps:

1. Reflection. Make a list of the things that you appreciate about yourself. Pick things that are true regardless of the situation you are in. Keep your list appreciative – don’t diminish it by flipping into judgment. Look at different parts of yourself, for example, professional, cognitive, emotional, social, physical and spiritual. Aim for at least 10 items in total. Be patient and kind to yourself if this takes some time. If you get input from others, make sure that you appreciate that too.

2. Feeling. From your list of things you appreciate about yourself, notice what three or four items resonate with you most. Sit with them in your mind and hold them as true for a few minutes.  Notice how the energy of self-appreciation emerges and how it feels in your body. Write down the description of how self-appreciation feels. What is its location, size, and shape? How does it move around your body? What about the intensity, temperature, colour or even the sound of it? Hold the energetic pattern of the feeling of self-appreciation – bathe in it!

3. Rehearsal. Find a regular time in your daily routine to practice generating the feeling of self-appreciation. A quiet space with some regular, even breathing and a comfortable resting heart rate will help. You could try is as you enjoy your breakfast coffee, or just after your evening meal – whenever works for you. Use the list of items and description of the feeling you’ve already created as a prompt.  Aim to feel it, not just think about it. Add more detail to the description as you notice more features of how self-appreciation feels.

Eventually the rehearsal becomes easier and ultimately you can switch on self-appreciation whenever you need it without the written prompts. I remember the day I woke up and immediately noticed that the knot of self-doubt had unravelled. I felt completely different – lighter and more energised. A colleague noticed that I was actually standing taller! I had finally learnt to appreciate myself and unapologetically claim my space. My confidence increased and I became more courageous at work as a coach and in my life generally. I still have doubts, but they don’t get knotted up and weigh on me like before. They just help me to pay attention to areas to improve.

I believe we can all have a more constant sense of appreciation in our lives. It can become a gentle hum of energy flowing in the background, ever present and able to support you every day, even when life is tough. I encourage you to cultivate your own self-appreciation. And given my innate curiosity (which is what I appreciate the most about myself!) – please let me know what you discover.

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