The current pandemic has led many people to wonder about changing careers; an not surprisingly so. Here are a few simple principles to consider when deciding on career reinvention, that can guide aspiring career-changers through the process during these hard times.
Have you been lead to believe that a career path is linear and prescribed and should be followed like a set formula; and if you don’t, the likelihood of success is marginal or is at best the luck-of-the-draw.
A non-traditional career path is not always the most comfortable approach, but it is one that can make job candidates more appealing to a smart recruiter or hiring manager. In my experience, intentionally making myself uncomfortable has helped me develop a more holistic skill set. For some, a non-traditional career path can be too challenging to handle. However, I have learned that you do not need to stifle internal anxiety about making big career changes. It is natural, and an opportunity to learn and grow personally and professionally. The key is to use that discomfort productively and ultimately master the situations that seem overwhelming at first.
There are (at least) five lessons I have learned throughout my career in which taking the “easy” route would have been perfectly acceptable, but by taking the road less travelled I gained much bigger rewards.
DON’T OBSESS OVER BIG BRANDS OR LOGOS
Early on, I threw away the notion that big employer brands matter. Choosing to focus on a lesser-known company where the learning opportunities are exponentially higher will almost always bring your the rewards you are looking for. Don’t get me wrong; I believe that working at a big company with a reputable brand can be very good for professionals especially at the beginning of your career.
Big brands have the resources to train people well. If however, you desire a career with velocity and autonomy, a big company is not where you want to spend the entirety of your career. Many people who have grand career aspirations become dependent on navigating internal politics based on their employer’s logo and become less focused on the actual work. Large companies tend to be complex, bureaucratic organizations. While they might be highly competitive and impress your friends and family, you may be unable to progress your career quickly.
For me, moving on from a well-known brand allowed me to manage a large team at a young age; something that would have taken me years to achieve had I been concerned with working my way up the corporate ladder. This is the type of intangible experience that gives a career velocity.
if you are passionate about marketing but realized you want a broader scope as an example; working for a large company can train you well for the workforce. If you know you want more, it is going to show. So make the choice and move to a smaller company that is perhaps less well-known, but where you can challenge yourself with roles and responsibilities that would have taken years to achieve elsewhere.
TACKLE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS HEAD-ON
As a woman, it’s vital to force yourself to have uncomfortable conversations with your managers about other priorities in your life, specifically if you have children and family obligations. You must set expectations both at work and at home to achieve enough balance to thrive in each environment. As a younger woman, finding your voice and setting those boundaries with your supervisors and senior managers can be challenging and intimidating. I have witnessed many young women burn out because they pretended that they did not have obligations outside of the office and instead poured the majority of their energy into their work. But that is not reality.
More recently, COVID-19 and the work-from-home culture has made having a family very apparent. You can’t hide the fact that kids are home because they are bursting into your home office, interrupting Zoom calls, and have home-school schedules that require your attention. It has brought about a reckoning. Previously, uncomfortable expectation-setting conversations about family responsibilities were mostly relegated to women, but that is starting to shift. The pandemic has democratized this aspect of work-life balance by making it more ubiquitous and gender-neutral.
FIND AND LEARN FROM ALL TYPES OF LEADERS
The truth is that no one, not even an executive, is good at everything. Some are amazing people managers and fantastic at leading a team. Others are the wicked-smart types, geniuses but genuinely terrible at managing people.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve had the chance to work for, and learn from, the full spectrum of leaders. I spent several years working for a mentor who was a great leader of people and manager of teams. Later I went to work at an organization where my manager wasn’t a particularly great people-leader. Still, they were smart and creative and I gained a lot of important functional experience.
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect leader, and often we don’t get to choose who we work for. It often comes down to taking the initiative to recognize and learn from the strengths of whoever your leaders are at a given moment and translating both their strengths and weaknesses into skills that you can use in the future.
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
Looking back, I have always taken on tasks and responsibilities that were “below my pay grade” as a way to build trust with my team. I will get into the weeds and write email copy, or go to meetings where I’m not expected. Even now, I often do things that others would consider to be their direct responsibility.
Doing the unexpected builds trust, affinity, and goodwill with your teams. It also builds credibility because you show your team members that you are a good practitioner, not just a figurehead devising strategy. It also throws ego out the door. When your team knows that if they need help with something, all they have to do is ask you and we will tackle it together. I believe this approach creates a healthy culture and establishes your role as a leader. Nobody wants to work for someone who delegates responsibility and is incapable of understanding what the real work looks like and what it takes for teams to be productive.
DO NOT LET ANXIETIES OWN YOU
Some people are very risk-averse and they do not like a lot of change inmost aspects of their lives. If your career is the antithesis of your personality and you have found that when managing the anxiety that accompanies uncomfortable situations and challenging decisions you endure throughout your career, you have to move through it and not let it own you.
For some people, the anxiety that accompanies navigating a career can be an unpleasant nagging, but it can be downright debilitating for others. By acknowledging its presence and moving through the discomfort, you learn how to manage it rather than let it manage you. Some people may view it as a weakness. I am proof that you can allow discomfort to exist and turn it into a tool to not only survive but to thrive.
When facing a challenge, do you feel like you can rise up and accomplish your goal or do you give up in defeat? Are you like the famous little train engine from the classic children’s book (“I think I can, I think I can!), or do you doubt your own abilities to rise up and overcome the difficulties that life throws your way?
Part of becoming Resilient is learning to Believe in Yourself
What Is Self-Efficacy?
Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. Psychologist Albert Bandura described these beliefs as determinants of how people think, behave, and feel.1
Self-efficacy plays a role in both how you feel about yourself, as well as whether or not you successfully achieve your goals in life. Self-efficacy is part of the self-system comprised of a person’s attitudes, abilities, and cognitive skills. This system plays a major role in how we perceive situations and how we behave in response to different situations.
Albert Bandura, suggests that self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations and belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation.
Self-efficacy can have an impact on everything from psychological states to behaviour to motivation.
Why has self-efficacy become such an important topic of discussion. As Bandura and other researchers have demonstrated, our belief in our own ability to succeed plays a role in how we think, how we act, and how we feel about our place in the world.
Self-efficacy also determines what goals we choose to pursue, how we go about accomplishing those goals, and how we reflect upon our own performance.
Virtually all people can identify goals they want to accomplish, things they would like to change, and things they would like to achieve. However, most people also realize that putting these plans into action is not quite so simple.
An individual’s self-efficacy plays a major role in how goals, tasks, and challenges are approached.
People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:
- Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate
- Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities
- Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments
- View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered
People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:
- Avoid challenging tasks
- Believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities
- Focus on personal failings and negative outcomes
- Quickly lose confidence in personal abilities
How Does Self-Efficacy Develop?
We begin to form our sense of self-efficacy in early childhood through dealing with a wide variety of experiences, tasks, and situations. However, the growth of self-efficacy does not end during youth but continues to evolve throughout life as we acquire new skills, experiences, and understanding.
There are four major sources of self-efficacy:
“The most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences,” Bandura explained. Performing a task successfully strengthens our sense of self-efficacy. However, failing to adequately deal with a task or challenge can undermine and weaken self-efficacy.
Witnessing other people successfully completing a task is another important source of self-efficacy. According to Bandura, “Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers’ beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed.”
Bandura also asserted that people could be persuaded to believe that they have the skills and capabilities to succeed. Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and instead focus on giving their best effort to the task at hand.1
Our own responses and emotional reactions to situations also play an important role in self-efficacy. Moods, emotional states, physical reactions, and stress levels can all impact how a person feels about their personal abilities in a particular situation. A person who becomes extremely nervous before speaking in public may develop a weak sense of self-efficacy in these situations.
By learning how to minimize stress and elevate mood when facing difficult or challenging tasks, we can improve our sense of self-efficacy.
Examples of High Self-Efficacy
So what exactly does high self-efficacy look like? You can probably think of some examples from your own life including areas where you feel a great deal of efficacy.
Some examples of strong self-efficacy include:
- A man who is struggling to manage his chronic illness but feels confident that he can get back on track and improve his health by working hard and following his doctor’s recommendations.
- A student who feels confident that she will be able to learn the information and do well on a test.
- A woman who has just accepted a job position in a role she has never performed before but feels that she has the ability to learn and perform her job well.
Self-efficacy can play an important role in how people manage their health, nutrition, and illness. For example, having a strong sense of self-efficacy can help people who are trying to quit smoking stick to their goals.
Maintaining a weight loss plan, managing chronic pain, giving up alcohol, sticking to an exercise schedule, and following an eating plan can all be influenced by a person’s levels of self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy can benefit a person’s sense of well-being in a number of ways. For instance, remaining optimistic and confident in your abilities, even when things become difficult.
Individuals with high self-efficacy tend to look at difficulties as challenges rather than threats. They tend to be more intrinsically interested in the tasks they pursue. Difficulty and failure don’t mean defeat; instead, these individuals double their efforts and look for creative and innovative new ways to overcome.
Issues with Low Self-Efficacy
People who are low in self-efficacy tend to see difficult tasks as threats they should avoid. They also tend to avoid setting goals and have low levels of commitment to the ones they do make.
When setbacks happen, they tend to give up quickly. They don’t have much confidence in their ability to achieve and they are more likely to experience feelings of failure and depression. Stressful situations can also be very hard to deal with and those with low self-efficacy are less resilient and less likely to bounce back.
Evaluating your Self-Efficacy Strength
There are a number of different scales that are used to evaluate levels of self-efficacy.
For a quick, informal assessment of your own self-efficacy levels, consider the following questions:
- Do you feel like you can handle problems if you are willing to work hard?
- Are you confident in your ability to achieve your goals?
- Do you feel like you can manage unexpected events that come up?
- Are you able to bounce back fairly quickly after stressful events?
- Do you feel like you can come up with solutions when you are facing a problem?
- Do you keep trying even when things seem difficult?
- Are you good at staying calm even in the face of chaos?
- Do you perform well even under pressure?
- Do you tend to focus on your progress rather than getting overwhelmed by all you still have to do?
- Do you believe that hard work will eventually pay off?
If you can answer yes to many or most of these questions, then chances are good that you have a fairly strong sense of self-efficacy. If you feel like your self-efficacy could use a boost, consider some of the following strategies for improving your sense of efficacy.
Fortunately, self-efficacy is a psychological skill that you can foster and strengthen. Start by looking for ways that you can incorporate these sources of self-efficacy into your own life.
Celebrate Your Success
Mastery experiences play a critical role in the establishment of self-efficacy. This is the single most effective way to create a strong sense of self-belief.
When you succeed at something, you are able to build a powerful belief in your ability. Failure, on the other hand, can undermine these feelings, particularly if you are still in the early phases of building a sense of personal efficacy. The ideal sorts of successes, however, are not necessarily those that come easily. If you experience a lot of easy success, you may find yourself giving up more readily when you finally do encounter failure. So work on setting goals that are achievable, but not necessarily easy. They will take work and perseverance, but you will emerge with a stronger belief in your own abilities once you achieve them.
Vicarious experiences obtained through peer modeling is another important means of establishing and strengthening self-efficacy. Seeing others putting in effort and succeeding, as a result, can increase your belief in your own ability to succeed. One factor that plays a key role in the effectiveness of this approach is how similar the model is to yourself. The more alike you feel you are, the more likely it is that your observations will increase your sense of self-efficacy.
Seek Positive Affirmations
Hearing positive feedback from others can also help improve your sense of self-efficacy. By that same token, try to avoid asking for feedback from people who you know are more likely to have a negative or critical view of your performance.
For example, your doctor telling you that you are doing a good job sticking to your diet plan can be encouraging. Feedback from friends, mentors, health practitioners, and people who you respect can help you feel greater confidence in your own abilities.
Positive social feedback can be helpful for strengthening your already existing sense of efficacy, but negative comments can often have a powerful undermining effect. Social feedback alone is not enough to build your self-belief, but it can be a useful tool when you need a little extra encouragement.
Pay Attention to Your Thoughts and Emotions
If you find yourself getting stressed out or nervous before a challenging event, you might feel less sure of your ability to cope with the task at hand.
Another way to boost your self-efficacy is to look for ways to manage your thoughts and emotions about what you are trying to accomplish.
Do you feel anxious? Looking for ways to ease your stress levels can help you feel more confident in your capabilities. Do you find yourself dwelling on negative thoughts? Look for ways to replace negativity with positive self-talk that promotes self-belief.
Developing a strong sense of self-efficacy can play an important role in almost every aspect of your life. Life is full of challenges and high levels of self-efficacy can help you better deal with these difficulties more effectively. Your belief in your abilities can predict how motivated you feel, how you feel about yourself, and the amount of effort you put into achieving your goals.
If you want to know about how to build your own Self Efficacy pop over to the contact page here and book a free chat with me.
You get times like that don’t you? My current blame du jour are the retrogrades, that those in the know predicted would throw all unfinished business and all that has been emotionally papered over, into deep fractures.
Change is one of life’s inevitabilities and as much as we are digging the vintage vibe or doing the ostrich thing to the stuff we can’t bear; change is the only constant. We are all having to dig deep these days. Not just profoundly into our pockets but into our psyches too, to help mend and make do and get through in these volatile and uncertain times.
Redundancy, relationship crises, health issues and financial worries are becoming an increasing life burden for all of us. When the future is foggy, we struggle to find an anchor to keep us from feeling like we are drifting aimlessly and uncontrollably. We want black and white answers when those 50 rainbow shades offer an overwhelming and altogether unsexy prospect.
So, the buzzword to hold on to is Resilience.
Simply put, it is the ability to dig deep within ourselves to find that reserve of energy and resolve we need to help us through the tough times. Resilience is a skill and it can be practiced just like practicing to play a musical instrument or a sport.
Easier said than done for many, especially when you feel like jelly and you find yourself on shaky ground. Where is that strength you need to draw upon?
It is right there at the core of your being. You must have faith in your own instincts and abilities which will help guide you along the way. Digging deep into hitherto unknown reserves of self is what Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes about in his book on spirituality, philosophy and marathons What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
Keeping the goal in mind and consistently reminding yourself that things will get better; as you take baby steps each day towards it. Coaching is great for this. Ordinarily we seldom, if ever, need to dig that deep for our everyday lives. It is however, worth creating systems which you can turn to when you feel the ground shaking and your nerve is heading for the Exit with someone else’s coat.
Here are a few coaching tips to help consolidate Resilience.
- Maintain good relationships with your family and friends. Accept their help in times of stress. Offer help to those who are less fortunate than you are – and YES there are always others in a worse situation than you are. Give generously and earnestly, especially when you feel you have little to give. We feel at our best when we are able to help those less able than ourselves. The smallest act of kindness done in earnest will open the door of abundance.
- Try to look at the big picture of life and avoid viewing difficult times as insurmountable. Take small steps toward your goals and take one day at a time. Avoid the pitfall of trying to solve tomorrow’s problems today. Deal with what you can deal with today, do it well – tomorrow is not guaranteed. Stay focused on what you can manage today, right here, right now. Remember there are things you can control and there are things you cannot. So do what you can do, manage what you can manage and keep moving forward.
- Accept that change is a part of life and acceptance of what is – is key. Keep working toward your goals every day, and keep asking yourself “What can I do today to move in the direction I need to go in? Small consistent acts in the right directly get results.
- Maintain a positive view of life and visualize what you want. When we feel like our resolve is fading, often times our energy levels tend to wax and wane as well. It is critical at these points to take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep and exercise to keep yourself healthy – even if you only do a quarter of what you would normally do. This is especially important during times of stress. There will always be an obstacle or hurdle that we will need to navigate in our lives. Learn to navigate these hurdles with confidence in your own abilities is key. Fear and anxiety will always rear their heads – it’s perfectly okay to recognise that you are fearful or anxious. The trick however is to not allow it to paralyse you into inaction.
- Make the Decision to Prevail. This too shall pass. As the Good times come and go so too, do the Bad times. Nothing is permanent – as sure as day follows night these periods of volatility and uncertainty will pass.
Being resilient does not mean that we do not experience difficulty or distress, emotional pain or sadness. Resilience involves the behaviours, thoughts and actions that we can learn and develop to navigate the emotional distress. Learn and practice self-compassion and recognize that everyone suffers. Being gentle and kind to yourself is a much more effective road to healing. If your best friend were going through a rough time you would be kind and gentle with them; NOW go and do the same thing for yourself.
Another sure-fire way of developing some psyche superglue is to hire a coach. Book your 30-minute trial telephone session today by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The past week has been an interesting one, filled with both joy and sorrow. As is want to happen the new week arrived in all its magnificence and serendipitously, I found these Four Stories that gave me pause to reflect. These are old familiar stories and you have probably read them before with slightly different people and contexts however the lessons remain the same.
Story #1: All the Difference in The World
Every Sunday morning I take a light jog around a park near my home. There’s a lake located in one corner of the park. Each time I jog by this lake, I see the same elderly woman sitting at the water’s edge with a small metal cage sitting beside her.
This past Sunday my curiosity got the best of me, so I stopped jogging and walked over to her. As I got closer, I realized that the metal cage was in fact a small trap. There were three turtles, unharmed, slowly walking around the base of the trap. She had a fourth turtle in her lap that she was carefully scrubbing with a spongy brush.
“Hello,” I said. “I see you here every Sunday morning. If you don’t mind my nosiness, I’d love to know what you’re doing with these turtles.”
She smiled. “I’m cleaning off their shells,” she replied. “Anything on a turtle’s shell, like algae or scum, reduces the turtle’s ability to absorb heat and impedes its ability to swim. It can also corrode and weaken the shell over time.”
“Wow! That’s really nice of you!” I exclaimed.
She went on: “I spend a couple of hours each Sunday morning, relaxing by this lake and helping these little guys out. It’s my own strange way of making a difference.”
“But don’t most freshwater turtles live their whole lives with algae and scum hanging from their shells?” I asked.
“Yep, sadly, they do,” she replied.
I scratched my head. “Well then, don’t you think your time could be better spent? I mean, I think your efforts are kind and all, but there are freshwater turtles living in lakes all around the world. And 99% of these turtles don’t have kind people like you to help them clean off their shells. So, no offense… but how exactly are your localized efforts here truly making a difference?”
The woman giggled aloud. She then looked down at the turtle in her lap, scrubbed off the last piece of algae from its shell, and said, “Sweetie, if this little guy could talk, he’d tell you I just made all the difference in the world.”
The moral: You can change the world – maybe not all at once, but one person, one animal, and one good deed at a time. Wake up every morning and pretend like what you do makes a difference. It does. (Read 29 Gifts.)
Story #2: The Weight of the Glass
Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”
Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.
She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter. It all depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light. If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little. If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”
As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little. Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”
The moral: It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses and worries. No matter what happens during the day, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the night and into the next day with you. If you still feel the weight of yesterday’s stress, it’s a strong sign that it’s time to put the glass down. (Angel and I discuss this process of letting go in the Adversity and Self-Love chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Story #3: Shark Bait
During a research experiment a marine biologist placed a shark into a large holding tank and then released several small bait fish into the tank.
As you would expect, the shark quickly swam around the tank, attacked and ate the smaller fish.
The marine biologist then inserted a strong piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate partitions. She then put the shark on one side of the fiberglass and a new set of bait fish on the other.
Again, the shark quickly attacked. This time, however, the shark slammed into the fiberglass divider and bounced off. Undeterred, the shark kept repeating this behavior every few minutes to no avail. Meanwhile, the bait fish swam around unharmed in the second partition. Eventually, about an hour into the experiment, the shark gave up.
This experiment was repeated several dozen times over the next few weeks. Each time, the shark got less aggressive and made fewer attempts to attack the bait fish, until eventually the shark got tired of hitting the fiberglass divider and simply stopped attacking altogether.
The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass divider, but the shark didn’t attack. The shark was trained to believe a barrier existed between it and the bait fish, so the bait fish swam wherever they wished, free from harm.
The moral: Many of us, after experiencing setbacks and failures, emotionally give up and stop trying. Like the shark in the story, we believe that because we were unsuccessful in the past, we will always be unsuccessful. In other words, we continue to see a barrier in our heads, even when no ‘real’ barrier exists between where we are and where we want to go. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
Story #4: Being and Breathing
One warm evening many years ago…
After spending nearly every waking minute with Angel for eight straight days, I knew that I had to tell her just one thing. So late at night, just before she fell asleep, I whispered it in her ear. She smiled – the kind of smile that makes me smile back –and she said, “When I’m seventy-five and I think about my life and what it was like to be young, I hope that I can remember this very moment.”
A few seconds later she closed her eyes and fell asleep. The room was peaceful – almost silent. All I could hear was the soft purr of her breathing. I stayed awake thinking about the time we’d spent together and all the choices in our lives that made this moment possible. And at some point, I realized that it didn’t matter what we’d done or where we’d gone. Nor did the future hold any significance.
All that mattered was the serenity of the moment.
Just being with her and breathing with her.
The moral: We must not allow the clock, the calendar, and external pressures to rule our lives and blind us to the fact that each individual moment of our lives is a beautiful mystery and a miracle – especially those moments we spend in the presence of a loved one.
How do you think differently today, than you once did? What life experience or realization brought on a significant change in your way of thinking? Please leave a comment below and share your story with us.
So I am not saying that goals are bad things and you should avoid them. If goals work for you then go for it
For a lot of us, a goal can be the tool that sets our direction and inspires us to keep going.
But when I look back at the way my career change actually unfolded, it didn’t happen in a series of big tick-boxes.
It happened in micro-moments of consistent actions.
You could call them systems, or you could call them habits.
Here’s why they worked so well:
Habits have a ‘how’
“Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” – Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Have you ever thought to yourself: “I could make a career change in no time, if only I knew what steps to take”?
It’s the classic career change conundrum – you know the high-level result you want, but you do not know what each specific little step is or looks like, nor do you know the actions you need that is going to get you there.
So you end up with these gloriously intangible goals, much like the ones I listed out in my book, and then you sit and stare at them, and feel bad that you haven’t got there yet, and beat yourself up for not knowing how.
But you can get your hands on a Habit.
Because if it’s a habit, you know what it is and how to do it.
So we tend to get into the Habit of doing things, rather than just setting a goal.
If there’s only so much you can do, you can at least do a lot of that.
We have already established that you are not the boss of everything.
You can not control results, but you can control your actions.
So shifting your attention away from the lofty, the far-off and the at-least-50%-out-of-your-hands and toward the tangible, the manageable, the consistent and the completely-under-your-control is probably a smart move.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Steven Covey has a great way of explaining this.
Picture a circle.
Inside it, cram everything you care about: your declining eyesight, the refugee crisis, climate change, the housing market, whether your kid is having a good day at school, what the recruitment agent is going to say in your meeting tomorrow, how good your hair looks today, the location of your car keys, whether or not you’re happy in your future career… there’s a LOT in this circle.
Covey calls it your Circle of Concern.
Inside your Circle of Concern is another circle.
This one is called your Circle of Influence.
And inside your Circle of Influence are only the concerns you can directly impact or control.
Goals tend to live inside your Circle of Concern and outside your Circle of Influence. They rely on factors that are only partly in your control. And they are focused on outputs (what happens next) rather than inputs (what you actually do).
But your hairstyle? The house you choose to buy? The skills you develop or what you spend your Thursday evenings doing? Whether or not you try that new recipe that’s been rolling around in the back of your head for months?
In these matters, you are the boss.
When you operate within your Circle of Influence, you will make the biggest impact.
And the more time you spend working and playing inside of this circle, the larger it grows.
It’s hard to pick a fight with a mouse
Goals can tend to feel high-stakes and paralysing, habits can be as small as you need them to be. A Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg recommends starting with ‘tiny habits’, actions so small that they are almost laughable. Instead of trying to start a habit of flossing twice a day, for example, he suggests just starting by flossing one tooth.
You can find a lot of good reasons why the goal of quitting your job in 3 months’ time, regardless of what happens between now and then, might not be the best idea. You can argue your way in and out of that for hours.
It is much harder to argue with a habit of putting whatever coins you have in your pockets into a savings jar every day when you get home.
Insignificant though actions like this might sound, they are actually incredibly powerful. The hardest part of anything is just getting started, and once you have started getting into action with a habit, they have the capacity to snowball.
Maybe you want to write a novel. You decide to set up a tiny habit of writing just 300 words a day. You figure, to complete a book at that rate, it will take about 300 days. Except… it turns out that writing 300 words is really easy, and even on your busiest days, you are getting it done. In fact, on a lot of days, you find yourself overshooting the 300 word mark and just continuing to tap away, writing 800, 1,000, 2,000 words in a day.
You can’t argue with small.
Slow consistent progress is permanent Progress
Goals can set you up for a jerky journey with little traction.
You create a goal, circle it for a while, make a big leap forward, and then, once you have achieved it, you have to come up with the next one. If you don’t achieve it, you then have to deal with the emotional fallout. Mapped onto a piece of paper, your forward movement looks like a game of leapfrog with a very nervous teammate.
Habits on the other hand are by their very nature ongoing and consistent. They tell you what to do and when, and are active regardless of output. Small steps, taken consistently, move you forward faster.
“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.” – James Clear, author of Atomic Habits
And good news for your achy willpower muscle: once you have formed them, habits pretty much operate automatically.
In fact, once we have got going with a habit, our brains actually adapt to make it easier to complete. After about 30 days of practice, carrying out a habit becomes easier than not doing so.
As Charles Duhigg wrote in The Power Of Habit:
“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realise – they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”
The nature of your life is dependent on the nature of your habits
Philosopher William James described habits in this way:
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organised for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
Habits, not goals, shape your daily experience of the world.
The time of day you wake up. The way you brush your teeth. How you get to work, the turns of phrase you use, the way you automatically respond to certain events.
Goals are interruptions to your status quo.
Habits, on the other hand, build, shape and create the form and direction of your life.
And if that is true, then whether or not you shift into fulfilling work is entirely dependent on the habits and consistent behaviours you choose to cultivate.
On other words, choosing and building a powerful set of habits can help you move into fulfilling work inevitable.
Now that sounds pretty good, no?
How to build helpful habits in career change
Create opportunities to be gloriously surprised
All you can control is what you do, not what happens next.
So, as you start designing some new habits and behaviours, let go of any thought of whether or not it will ‘work’ or be ‘worth it’.
Perhaps you consider starting a new habit of going to one new, interesting event per week.
But then the doubts come in: By the way these are also know as Limiting Beliefs
“There probably won’t be anyone interesting there.”
“You don’t WANT to work at the circus – why go to a workshop?”
“You’ve had a tiring week – no point going if it’s just going to be a waste of time.”
Your job is not to make it worth it.
Your job is not to know the outcome.
Your job is just to keep opening the door to the possibility of something fantastic that you didn’t see coming.
You can’t control whether it happens or not.
But one thing is for sure: without an open door, it ain’t coming in.
Choose pleasure, not pride
Intrinsic motivation is far more effective than extrinsic rewards.
In her book Better Than Before, author Gretchen Rubin uses this example:
“If I tell [my daughter] that she can watch an hour of TV if she reads for an hour, I don’t build her habit of reading. I teach her that watching TV is more fun than reading.”
So where possible, set up habits that will feel good to do and give you a sense of accomplishment when completed.
This does not mean it won’t take any effort to get started with them. Setting up a new habit involves some change, and it will take willpower to get the ball rolling.
Perhaps you know that talking to new people often feels a bit awkward to start with.
But once you’ve opened a dialogue, you always enjoy the conversation, and you are thrilled to have made a new friend you can learn from.
It will take some effort to push past the initial hump of always reaching out to people you encounter who do interesting work. But the more you do it, the smoother that initial hump will become, and the more enjoyment (and great conversations, and new insights) will follow.
Following a pleasurable feeling and setting up a system to do more of it, is always going to reap greater rewards than fighting against an unpleasant one. Besides, if you want to find fulfilling work, doing a lot of things that feel unfulfilling is unlikely to get you there.
Follow the hints and the feelings that tell you what you love, what comes naturally, what elicits a sense of flow.
Do more of what works
Often times, habits are pitched as things to be changed, to quit, or to fix.
You are giving up your smoking habit.
You start running every morning (to fix your low fitness levels).
You stop drinking coffee in the mornings.
However, when you are trying to create a habit in order to fix or stop something, it takes more effort, and reminds you of the negative element you are trying to get away from.
Stopping something gives you the sense of having less of something in your life, but it does not necessarily replace it with anything else. You want the good stuff, and more of it.
The most effective habits start with the questions:
“What do I know works well for me?” and then: “How can I do more of it?”
So take a look at the things you have done in the past that have given you more clarity or more progress when it comes to your career change.
When have you found new insights to explore, and how did you find them?
What was different about that conversation that led to a new opportunity, from the other conversations that fizzled out?
Sure, you know that for extroverts, going to networking events works brilliantly. But you are way better in 1-1 environments. So how do you have more 1-1 interactions with people in your day-to-day?
Look for what works, and then focus on building a habit that has you do more of it.
If in doubt, change your environment
Stanford behaviour scientist BJ Fogg says he has learnt that only three things will change your life in the long term.
Option A. Have an epiphany
Option B. Change your environment (what surrounds you)
Option C. Take baby steps
Epiphanies are hard to come by, and they are out of your control.
Baby steps are the mouse-sized micro-habits you can build with very little effort over time.
And if you are not sure what baby steps to take, create the habit of taking them into new environments. If you are struggling for ideas on your future career, or struggling to find the right steps to take, remember one of the simplest principles of systems theory:
New inputs = new outputs.
If you want new ideas, new insights, new possibilities, build the habit of filling your environment with new experiences.
Widen your social circle by adding new people with new perspectives into your social circle.
Take yourself into new places and surroundings.
Giving yourself new experiences.
Build habits that change what surrounds you, and you will watch your perspective on the world, and the opportunities you can see, change along with it.
One thing at a time, and one thing only
Set yourself up for success.
Overcommitting to a whole bunch of new habits has the same impact as setting yourself a scary goal. It feels overwhelming, paralysing, and invites fear of failure and procrastination.
Get into the habit of just one small, consistent new behaviour.
Get curious about it.
A tiny drip of water, over time, can crack open a whole boulder.
Do not underestimate the power of one thing done consistently over time.
“The best thing I ever did was to commit to one small action each day (less than five minutes). Sometimes this lead to further leaps, other times that was all I did. This might have been making a list, sending an email, commenting on a post, a bit of research, etc. When I combined that with trying to make the small action something that was slightly out of my comfort zone as well, good things started to happen.” – Amy G.
New habits are often difficult to get going because they require Two things #1 that you change your behaviours, #2. that you remember to do them.
According to Zen Habits writer Leo Babauta, the often-overlooked key to building a new habit is to tie it to a trigger – an event that will remind you (eventually automatically) to carry out your habit:
“Habits become automatic after we have created a bond between the trigger and the habit. The stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.”
Babauta recommends finding an action or event that is already ingrained into your routines in life.
For example, if you need to remember to take a daily medication, keeping the box on top of your toothbrush will help you tie the action of taking your pill to your already-automatic (we would hope) routine of brushing your teeth.
If you want to build a habit of staying in touch with old friends, use an already-ingrained habit (opening your email client for the first time in the morning, checking social media on your commute) to act as a trigger to send one checking-in message to someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while.
Need to start injecting your weekly routine with something fresh and new, to inspire new ideas and broaden your experience of the world? Every time you see a vaguely interesting event coming up in your local area, put it into your calendar.
Consistent triggers make new habits feel natural, faster.
Work with the way you work
A habit is an expectation you have set for yourself (or, sometimes, that someone else / society expects of you).
Gretchen Rubin suggests there are four primary ways, or ‘tendencies’ with which people respond to those expectations.
Knowing your ‘tendency’ (Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel), you can pre-empt the ways in which you might get stuck building or maintaining your habits, and set up systems and approaches that help you get things done.
You might, for example, need to rely on accountability more than others, and tell multiple people about the habits you are trying to build.
Reminding yourself of the greater good you are trying to achieve might be the primary kick you need.
Or perhaps deadlines are the only thing that will get you out of analysis paralysis and moving forward.
Take the Four Tendencies Test here, and use the results to craft your approach to habits in the way that works for you.
Finding fulfilling work is a revelatory process
It is what makes it magical. It is what makes it nerve-wracking, too.
If only a career you love was the output of a nice, neat algebraic formula, setting goals and project-managing, the whole thing would be smart and simple.
But it’s not.
It’s messy, and full of surprises, and it requires you to be in a space of not-knowing for far longer than most human beings are comfortable with.
What will anchor you, keep you grounded and making forward progress, are habits and systems.
Consistent, forward nudges that you actually do, that keep you feeling proud and motivated, and that opens the door, over and over again, to the possibility of being gloriously surprised, to the unexpected and the new.
What habit could you start cultivating in your own career change? Let me know in the comments below.
This is Part 1 of 2
Goal-setting seems like a smart thing to do in a career change. However, this might actually be exactly what is keeping you stuck. Renata explains why big targets can be a false friend. Here is what she recommends doing to start making progress towards that Ideal Career instead.
Let me tell you a short story
A little while ago I was doing a cupboard purge something I had not done in a while.
I found a black hard cover notebook. I immediately recognise this old faithful companion that contain hundreds of lines of my handwriting and doodles, in different colours of ink and pencil.
Journal entries, to-do lists, thoughts I had jotted down. Pages and pages of confused, frustrated outpourings about my work, my life, my future. I took a moment to read those words and I was transported back to that year in a deeply visceral way that I haven’t felt for a long time. The desperate awkwardness of feeling like a fundamental misfit in a career and a life that was not for mine. The sense of being caged in and stuck, trapped by the very life choices I myself had made in the years before. The dark emptiness ahead of me when I tried to imagine what else I could do.
As I flipped through the pages of that old book one page in particular hit me hard.
It was a list of goals.
Big, ambitious, hopeful goals. The only kind I had, back then.
And then next to them, in a different pen, clearly written later in a fit of irritation, a series of scrawled, pointy, sarcastic flippant questions…
- “Have three reasonable career options I’m truly excited about.” LOVELY. HOW, EXACTLY?
- “Start a side line income to make extra cash” WHICH YOU’LL DO IN WHAT SPARE TIME?
- “Have ($6000) saved by June.” WHAT FOR, GENIUS?
- “Hand in my notice by September” YEAH, RIGHT!!
Reading the contents of that page was like watching a snippet of the perpetual state of the inside of my head – the never-ending back-and-forth of a hopeful, fierce optimist and an angry, hurt cynic.
I made a lot of lists like that.
I remember how painful and pointless those felt, once their initial balm wore off.
Unrealistic, hollow-feeling goals, created mostly because I didn’t know what else to do.
They sounded nice, but I rarely did much about them.
It wasn’t a question of what I wanted on a grand scale.
It was the specifics I had no clue about. I still did not know the steps to take to get there.
Goals are not very helpful in the day-to-day logistics of a career change.
YES goals can feel productive, and make yo feel good in the beginning. Perhaps these goals even feel good the day after you write them down.
But beyond that initial feel-good sensation you have initially it can actually have the opposite effect on you making any meaningful change.
Fulfilment isn’t SMART
Anyone who has ever done any goal-setting has come into contact with the idea of SMART goals at some point:
We are told Goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based.
This is Fair enough however finding fulfilling work is not quite so neat.
Setting SMART goals is an organisational task – finding the logical pieces, breaking them into chunks, and putting them together in a way that leads you forward, step by step.
Finding fulfilling work however feels more like trying to jump off a jellyfish into an ocean you are not convinced actually exists.
You do not really know where you are going, so being specific i.t.o goals setting is laughable.
You are not sure how exactly to measure fulfilment (beyond ‘Makes me want to poke myself in the eye / Doesn’t make me want to poke myself in the eye’), so that’s a shaky one too.
You do not even completely believe it’s possible, so how can it be achievable or realistic?
And time-based… if ONLY a deadline could fix this mess.
So sitting down to write some goals for your career change… eerr if it feels ridiculous, that’s probably because it is, a little.
Extrinsic motivation is not effective
Imagine you have set yourself a goal to lose 10 kilos.
You start going to the gym every day, because someone told you that gym exercise gets faster weight-loss results than anything else.
You hate the gym. You hate the smell of the changing rooms, you hate the perky gym bunny types who take up all the machines, you hate the music they play, and you hate running towards your own reflection in a mirror for half an hour and traveling precisely nowhere.
You start taking a salad and a Thermos of cabbage soup to work every day. You hate salad. You hate cabbage soup. You are starting to hate your life.
But you would love to loose those 10 kilos.
So you put up with it. You eat the soup, holding your nose and visualising your life once you’ve hit your goal. You endure the gym, wishing you could just hit your goal and never have to go back there again.
What are the chances of you hitting your 10-kilo target – and, more importantly, maintaining it afterward? I would say Pretty low, no?
Goals that do not inspire you or give you that “hell yeah” feeling or rely on extrinsic motivation such as an external, tangible result or outcome you need to achieve will not be achieved.
These goals feel heavy, looming over you menacingly until you have hit them. The process of working toward them often doesn’t feel enjoyable and takes a lot of effort despite the rewards at the end.
So you’re less likely to take the steps you need to take to achieve them.
Extrinsic motivation has repeatedly been shown to be less effective than Intrinsic motivation, which is driven by enjoying the activity itself.
Extrinsic motivation: “If I walk five miles today, I can have that piece of chocolate cake.”
Intrinsic motivation: “I love dancing – I’m going to dance in the kitchen just because it feels great.”
Extrinsic motivation: “If I spend the next month learning about the political system in Uzbekistan I’ll look really smart at the university dinner party.”
Intrinsic motivation: “How DOES the inside of my remote control work? This is fascinating…”
In other words, given the choice between rewards or enjoyment, you are far more likely to do things you enjoy.
So, ironically, you are more likely to lose 10 kilos by throwing the scales in the bin and going dancing every weekend than you are by trying to haul yourself to the gym every day if going to the gym is not your thing.
In your career change, you are more likely to find fulfilling work (albeit counter-intuitively) by doing things you enjoy than you are by setting yourself a goal to change career.
Pressure encourages procrastination
There is a fair amount of pressure involved in goal-setting.
Either you hit your goal, or you don’t.
There is no room for the grey area on the way.
And if you don’t hit it, you’ve ‘failed’. Unpleasant. Scary. Dunce hat. Ugh.
Procrastination is based in fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of change: all fears that grow from an attachment to a specific outcome… otherwise known as ‘a goal’.
In career change, this often looks like vacillation, over-thinking, endlessly weighing up options, researching things to death…
What if you get it wrong? What if you don’t hit your target? What if it never happens?
High stakes creates high tension – and the higher the tension, the less likely you are to act.
So if you have set yourself a goal and you are getting stuck in procrastination-whirlpools, this might be why.
You are not the boss of everything
Unfortunate, but true.
No matter how hard you try, or how much effort you put in to achieving a goal, sometimes the world just gets in the way. Life happens.
Maybe you twist an ankle and can’t train for the marathon.
Maybe the taxman slings you an unexpected curveball and your savings goal hits the deck.
Maybe your company withdraws its plans to offer a round of voluntary redundancies next month, like you were expecting.
Maybe your kid gets sick and you spend your week curled up on the bathroom floor mopping brows and blowing noses and you don’t get your LinkedIn profile up to date like you said you would.
These moments hurt. Partly because they throw a spanner in the works and we have to deal with the possibility of failure.
Partly because it forces you to realise that you can’t control results.
You can ONLY control what you do, but not what happens next.
- You can create a perfectly written LinkedIn profile, but you can’t control whether or not people will read it.
- You can reach out to someone you admire, but you can’t control whether or not they will respond.
- You can go to an event you have never been to before, but you can’t control whether or not it will spark a new career idea.
Trying to consistently hit your goals when you are only responsible for part of the process is a pretty heavy expectation.
Don’t just set goals, build habits.
Looking back at my notebook, I’m pretty proud to say that I have achieved pretty much all l the goals I set back then and am working on achieving the new ones I have set.
I found a way to visit amazing places met some truly amazing people and do work I am completely in love with.
That wouldn’t have happened without giving myself the space to dream ridiculously big and commit to consistently doing things I had no idea how to do BUT learnt that it was possible and I could them.
Read part 2 next
Staying mentally healthy as the country begins going back into workplaces.
Life as we knew it has changed and our reality is very different today than it was 100+ days ago. Many of us were in various stages of lockdown for extended periods of time. and even as many of the initial restrictions were lifted , many have still remained and will remain for the foreseeable future.
As we begin to emerge from what felt like hibernation for many, we are all to aware that life is very different and things will never go back to the way they were.
As we start to return to work, and our children return to school there is a lot to think about. Lockdown has affected us all in different ways, and it is normal to feel uncertain about what the future holds.
Many people feel confused, worried and apprehensive about going back to the workplace and even more feel anxious about sending children back to school. Amid this worry there is also the harsh realisation that indefinite lockdown is not sustainable and life still needs to carry on.
Organisations are considering a range of adjustments to the way work is done, to comply with government recommendations. These adjustments will depend on your job, and your individual circumstances.
Everyone’s situation is unique. However, as you return to work, there are some general principles that will give you the best chance of getting back to work and staying mentally healthy over the coming months.
Talk and connect
It is important to keep in touch with colleagues and your line manager. You don’t need to talk about work, but a quick check-in will help you feel connected. We have all been impacted by the coronavirus in different ways. You may have been bereaved, felt overwhelmed or isolated, or been unwell. If you share this with others they will be better able to help you in the months ahead.
Plan and prepare
Think about your job and your situation. Does anything need to change to help you do your job well? If you haven’t been told what to expect, ask what provisions have been made to create a safe work environment. It can be helpful to think through what will happen on the first day back:
- How will you get to work?
- Will anything be different as you enter the building?
- Who will be there?
- Will you need to do things differently to get your job done?
- Are you on a rotation schedule?
Have a return-to-work conversation with your line manager
If you have not received a return-to-work briefing from your line manager ask for one.
This is a chance to identify your work priorities and raise any concerns or questions that you have. If you have something important you want to talk about, make a note of it for when you have a briefing or perhaps drop your manager and email with your concerns. This is an unprecedented time for all of us and we are all trying to figure things out as we go along. NO one person has all the answers so raise your concerns and ask your questions – chances are you are not the only one who has the same concern.
Try not to panic and slip into a paranoid space
Take things one step at a time
The way we all work is likely to keep changing in the coming weeks and months so we will need to keep adjusting. Don’t expect everything to quickly return to normal. The life you knew and were familiar with prior to lockdown is gone and will very likely never return. We have a long journey ahead. We may never be able to go back to our old ways of working so this could give us an opportunity to do things very differently, and even better. Look out for yourself, look out for others and take one day at a time.
Monitor and review how you are getting on
It is important to have regular check-ins with yourself (How am I coping? Could I do more to help stay mentally healthy?) and check-ins with your team members and manager (How are we working? Is there anything we could do differently to work better together?). This way you can address issues as they come up and start to plan and prepare for the journey through COVID-19 together.
Be mindful of those who may have been directedly affected or infected by this virus. Be supportive and check-in if a team member has had to deal with the illness or loss of a family member due to COVID-19. many of those in essential services have has to deal with unimaginable conditions from and emotional and psychological perspective. Many of them have brought these traumas home and family have had to deal as best they could. so be gentle and be kind with those who are struggling you may not know what they have has to deal with on the home front.
Everyone is finding their own path and things might not always go to plan. It is important to be kind to yourself and to be kind to others as we all find our way. Returning to work is not always easy, but having support can make a huge difference. If you are finding it difficult, ask a trusted colleague or friend to help you work through the questions and identify some concrete actions that you, or they, can take to help you.
It is not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life, it is what you whisper to yourself that has the most power! – Robert Kiyosaki
What is a Self-Image?
A self-image in its most basic form is an internalized mental picture an idea you have of yourself. It is how you think and feel about yourself based on your appearance, performance, and relationships that consistently impact your outlook on life as well as your level of happiness and fulfilment.
Whenever you ask:
How do I look?
How am I doing?
How important am I?
These are all examples of the internalized mental picture/idea you create of yourself that builds the foundations of your self-image. However, this does not provide us with nearly enough information about what this “self-image” thing is all about. So let us break this down even further.
Your self-image is the impression you have of yourself that forms a collective representation of your assets and liabilities. In other words, your self-image is how you see yourself based on your strengths and weaknesses.
These assets and liabilities often are evident through the labels you give yourself that describe your qualities and characteristics.
For instance, you might say:
I am intelligent… therefore I can…
I am loser… therefore I believe I can’t…
I am outgoing… therefore I am able to…
I am shy… therefore I am unable to…
I am a late bloomer… therefore I take longer…
These are just some examples of the many labels you potentially give yourself and the inevitable conclusions you may reach as a result. It is these conclusions you make about yourself that either form the foundations of a healthy self-image or an unhealthy self-image. Moreover, these labels form the foundations of your belief systems.
Your self-image is not something that is based on reality. In actuality, your self-image is built upon your perception of reality and that is influenced by how you believe you are being viewed by society and other people.
Your self-image is something that gradually develops over a lifetime of experience through learning and societal influence. It is, however, something that is constantly changing over time as you gain more life experience, as you think and reflect, as you learn, and as you interact with other people.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Self-Image
So what does a healthy self-image look like? What does an unhealthy self-image? What is the difference? And what impact do both have on your life?
Let us answer these questions by breaking down what it means to live with a healthy and an unhealthy self-image. As you read through these two examples, take inventory of yourself and identify whether your self-image borders more to the healthy or toward the unhealthy side of the scale.
An Unhealthy Self-Image
A person with an unhealthy self-image tends to consistently focus on their flaws and limitations. They persistently criticize themselves and tend to judge most of their decisions and actions:
What was I thinking?
That was such a stupid decision.
I can’t believe I just did that.
I am so useless.
I can’t do anything right.
This constant critical judgment tends to distort their imperfections making these seem larger than life. In fact, everything on the negative side tends to be exaggerated and blown out of proportion. This often happens because they are heavily influenced by other people’s opinions of them; to their own detriment.
In fact, these peoples’ lives are very much defined by societal views, opinions, standards, norms, and expectations. As a result, they are consistently comparing themselves to others and trying to live up to other people’s expectations. When they notice that they just don’t measure up, this sends their emotions into a tailspin which triggers doubt, pessimism, insecurity and eventually leads to discouragement and potentially depression.
Whenever a person builds their self-image upon external factors, there will always be drawbacks. People’s opinions change and societal expectations constantly shift. When these opinions and expectations are weighed in our favour this leads to a positive outlook and greater fulfilment. However, when they flip and become unfavourable or unhelpful in respect of the outcomes we would like to achieve, this causes upheaval by sending our emotions into a tailspin. Why? because suddenly the perfect mental picture/idea we had of ourselves has been thrown out the door. It is certainly not a healthy way to live. Inevitably these people find themselves on a constant see-saw of feeling good about themselves and feeling terrible about themselves.
A Healthy Self-Image
A healthy self-image is primarily based on an individual’s personal feelings and perspectives. Here individuals are no longer influenced by other people’s opinions of them or by societal expectations. They instead make up their own minds about the internalized mental picture/idea they have of themselves. As a result, these people often have a more optimistic outlook on life and thereby more confidence in themselves and in their own ability. Why? Because they feel a greater sense of control over themselves and over their life.
A person with a healthy self-image doesn’t deny that they have flaws. In fact, they are realistic and clearly understand and accept the fact that they have their personal shortcomings. However, there is no critical judgment here. They acknowledge who they are and how they are in this very moment and they do the best they can with what they have.
A healthy self-image is of course built upon a high level of self-worth. These work together to help shape a healthy personality, which effectively builds the foundation of an empowered life. An empowered life in turn allows us to incrementally improve those areas of our life we believe requires improvement.
How to Build a Healthy Self-Image
Here is a four-step process that will help you build a healthy self-image. This process is closely tied to the process we used for building more self-worth. Because these two are related, there will be some crossover. Having said that, there are some variations here that will help you dig a little deeper in this area.
Step 1: Explore Yourself
Your first step is to explore who you are and what that means to you. This is an important first step because unless you clearly define who you are, you will never really develop a clear and accurate picture/idea of “you”.
Who am I?
How am I?
What defines who I am?
How do I see myself?
How accurate is this view?
Is this who I really am? Is it really?
Is this my true self? Or is there something more below the surface?
It is important that you keep digging deeper and deeper using these questions. It is very much like peeling back the layers of an onion. The surface layers will reveal a fuzzy picture of who you are. However, as you dig deeper and deeper by peeling off more layers you begin to get a clearer picture/idea of yourself. This is why it is important to periodically question the accuracy of your view. Your goal is to get to the core of who you really are without the need for all those external layers.
Step 2: Take a Personal Inventory
It is time to take a personal inventory by listing your positive qualities, goals, passions, and purpose.
What are my positive qualities? I am… therefore I can…
What do other people say are my positive qualities?
What personal strengths do I have? I am… therefore I am able to…
What goals would I like to achieve?
How could I live with more meaning and purpose?
What does all this mean to me?
Why is all this important?
The purpose of this step is to unlock all the good things you feel about yourself; to unlock all the things you have going for yourself that will now add layers back onto that onion to help form a strong personal impression of who you are today from a bigger picture perspective.
In the previous step, you were removing unnecessary layers to get to the core of yourself. Within this step, you are adding layers to that core to form a definitive and comprehensive picture/idea of yourself at this very moment. And it is, of course, that very picture that forms the foundations of your self-image.
Step 3: Analyze Your Struggles
A little earlier I mentioned how a healthy self-image is primarily based on our own personal feelings and perspectives. In other words, how we think about ourselves as well as the opinions and labels we create are all critical components that go into building a healthy self-image.
A person with a healthy self-image does not rely on outside opinions or circumstances to define who they are. They must instead rely on internal resources for this purpose. It is therefore absolutely critical that we take personal control of our internal world because it is the only thing that really matters when it comes to building a healthy self-image.
To get an understanding of this internal world we need to take a look at four key areas. These areas include your critical voice, your unhelpful thoughts, beliefs in the form of labels, as well as incorrect assumptions you might be making about yourself.
Here are some questions to help stimulate your thoughts in these areas:
How do I tend to talk to myself throughout the day?
When things go wrong, what is my internal dialogue like?
Am I mostly critical or encouraging?
Given the outcomes I would like to achieve are my thoughts mostly helpful or unhelpful?
How do my thoughts tend to distort my reality?
How do I tend to label myself?
Are my labels helpful or unhelpful?
Are these labels rational? Does it even make sense for me to label myself in this way?
What assumptions do I tend to make about myself?
How are these assumptions potentially hurting me?
Working through these questions will effectively help you get a better understanding of how your critical voice, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions are shaping the picture/idea you have of yourself that builds your self-image.
If you discover that you tend to be overly critical of yourself; that your thoughts tend to be unhelpful; that your labels are negative; and that you tend to make assumptions that lead you astray, then it is important to work through these areas one by one in order to solidify your self-image.
If you are constantly being critical of yourself, then this is an indication that your self-image is not as healthy as it could be. It is therefore important to silence that critical voice and begin using more encouraging words.
Changing your language patterns in this way will help settle your thoughts and help you think more clearly and effectively. This subsequently means that you will be less likely to make negative assumptions or label yourself in unhelpful ways.
Step 4: Create an Accurate View of Yourself
The final step is to create a more accurate view of yourself that you can use as the foundation for building a healthy self-image. This view of yourself must be built upon all the positive qualities and strengths you outlined in Step 2 of this process.
Take those positive qualities and strengths and ask yourself one simple question:
How would I ideally like to be?
Take time to really have a good-long-hard think about this question and answer honestly how you would like to “be” starting today. There is, no one right answer, but rather a variety of answers that go into building your self-image. You will still have flaws and things that you might be struggling with. Accept these things. They are a part of you in the moment. You can work on improving these areas as you go along.
What is important here is that you are honest, genuine, authentic and real. This is who you are and this is how you see yourself with warts and all. In the end, building a healthy self-image is all about you. It is all about HOW you alone without external influences see yourself. It is this picture/idea of “you” that is what matters above all else. You are in the driver’s seat here; you alone define how you see yourself, and that is what counts in the end.
How to Strengthen Your Self-Image
Within this final section let us discuss some ideas to help you strengthen your self-image. Some of these suggestions are quite self-explanatory. In fact, many of them are simply decisions you make or slight shifts in the way you think about yourself, think about your life, or how you approach circumstances. Other suggestions will require a little conscious effort and self-discipline. So all-in-all there is nothing complex here. Strengthening your self-image is simply about doing small things consistently over time that will make a big difference in the long-run.
Do not Allow Society to Define You
Many people walk through life as a passive bystander. They accept how things are and allow society to influence/manipulate them into thinking and doing things in a specific way. They may have an opinion, but they rarely stand up for what they believe in, and instead allow society to shape their attitudes and opinions. As a result these people are at the mercy of the society.
They experience a roller-coaster ride of emotions because their internalized mental picture/idea of themselves shifts and changes depending on what is happening around them. They are therefore rarely satisfied and never completely fulfilled because they are always comparing themselves to others and trying to live up to societal expectations, opinions or views.
We often get stuck in this scenario because we regrettably take responsibility for other people’s problems. This is harmful because, for the most part, we are unable to control or influence these problems, and yet we lay the burden on our own shoulders. At times this is not even of our own doing. Other people place the burden of their problems on our shoulders and we suffer as a result.
It really should not be this way. Everyone should take responsibility for their own problems. In fact, you must be the one to take responsibility for your own choices, health, happiness, finances, relationships and life. Do not burden others with these things. You and you alone shape your life with purpose, and only in this way will you gain the personal power you need to develop a healthy and empowered self-image.
It is important to begin primarily living through our own internalized representation of ourselves and not relying on society to define us. This of course, starts with fully understanding and accepting who you are and then taking charge of the mental processes that are running your life.
Don’t Indulge in Self-Judgement or Self-Criticism
When you judge and overly criticize yourself, that is a clear indication that your internal voice is taking over your life. What I am talking about is that type of judgment and criticism that leaves you feeling helpless and deflated. That is the self-talk that it hurting your self-image and depleting your reservoirs of self-confidence.
While constructive criticism can be helpful, constructive criticism does not leave you with a foul taste in your mouth. It is rather something that leaves you feeling hopeful, optimistic and motivated that you can do better next time.
Instead of judging and/or criticizing yourself, choose to give yourself feedback. Feedback will provide you with an avenue for improvement and will help you to progressively develop the self-confidence you need to build a healthy self-image that allows you to be the best you can possibly be in every situation. After all you are not perfect, and you will make mistakes and fail miserably at times. That’s just part of life.
Actually, it’s just part of being human. You are not perfect and you will never be. Accept yourself with warts and all because a healthy self-image always comes through self-acceptance, which of course stems from self-understanding.
Don’t Expect Others to Complete You
When you rely on other people to complete you, you are at that very moment giving away your personal power. You are building your self-image on external factors (people). This might initially make you feel great about yourself and will undoubtedly help you boost your levels of confidence, however, the problem with this is your self-image is now at the mercy of other people.
If one day they tell you they do not love you anymore, then suddenly you feel unlovable. Or if suddenly they vanish from your life, then all of a sudden there is this empty hole inside that makes you feel incomplete.
You are not this other person, and they are not you. You are your own individual self and you certainly do not need other people to complete you. All you need is to gain a deep sense of understanding of who you are. Get to know your strengths and weaknesses. Then take full responsibility and control of your internal habitual patterns, and finally, fully accept that you are complete in your own right.
Other people can add value to your life, but in-and-of-itself you are complete in every way. This does not mean you are a finished product. You are not. There is much room to grow, develop and evolve in the coming years. However, this growth comes from within and then expresses itself outward in everything you do. That is the key to developing an empowering mental picture/idea of “you”. It starts from within. It starts with how you see yourself. It starts with building a healthy self-image.
Always Follow-through with Your Word
Your word must become your law. In other words, the promises you make to yourself you must keep. Promises kept help you create consistency, and you need consistency to build a healthy self-image.
Consistency is important when it comes to building a healthy self-image because a healthy self-image is not something that suddenly fluctuates with changing opinions. It is something that is steady and steadfast. I am not suggesting that your self-image does not change over time. Of course, it does. You certainly do not see yourself the same way today as you saw yourself a few years ago.
In fact, you might see yourself very differently in a variety of roles and/or situations. Your self-image is fluid, however, it requires consistency and consistency come from your ability to keep your word to follow through and do things a certain way.
A person who does not keep their word (the promises they make to themselves) is often the person who is heavily influenced/swayed by other people and their opinions. When you keep your word you are sending a strong message that you are running your life based on your own feelings and perspectives. You are not swayed by outside circumstances. This, does not mean you can’t change your mind. But that “change of mind” must come from a decision you make from within that is not primarily based on external factors.
When you reach this point you know that you are the one in the driver’s seat of your life. This is when you know you are the captain of your own ship.
Build Your Self-Image Upon Strong Foundations of Self-Worth
Finally, a healthy self-image is built upon the strong foundations of a high level of self-worth. Self-worth is of course all about how much you value and regard yourself despite what others might say and/or despite unfavourable circumstances. When you have a high level of self-worth nothing shakes or phases you. Likewise, when you have a healthy self-image you don’t look to outside sources to define who you are.
You alone create your own definition of who you are. You create the impression you have of yourself in each and every situation. You alone mould and shape the person you are today, and the person you become tomorrow.
Was this article helpful? Please leave a comment and let me know how you have built on your self image, I would love to hear from you.
What is Self-Esteem?
Any discussion about how to build our self-worth must start with a definition of self-esteem. The two are, of course, related. Your self-esteem is undoubtedly influenced by your self-worth. However, they are not the same.
Self-esteem is primarily built upon sources outside of yourself that you don’t actually control.
Self-esteem encapsulates the thoughts and feelings you experience at each moment. These thoughts and feelings have a direct impact on your results, your behaviour, and your performance.
Self-esteem is primarily built upon the value derived from doing the things that get your desired outcomes. But it’s more than just about “doing” something. It is a direct outcropping of how you feel about yourself at any given moment. This is based purely on your actions.
How you feel about yourself is heavily influenced by how you think you are fairing compared to others. In other words, your self-esteem is derived from what you think others “think” of you, based on your results and actions.
Given all this, it is quite clear that self-esteem is not something that comes from within ourselves, but rather something that comes from outside of ourselves and subsequently influences how we feel at any given moment.
How we feel at any given time has nothing to do with reality, but instead, it is purely based on our perspective and interpretation of that reality. Given all this, it’s quite clear to see that self-esteem is very fickle and can shift with changing opinions and circumstances. However, this isn’t true for people who have a high level of self-worth.
A high degree of self-worth naturally enhances our self-esteem, thereby providing us with the self-confidence needed to follow through with our chosen decisions and actions.
What is Self-Worth?
Self-worth is an internal state of being that comes from self-understanding, self-love, and self-acceptance.
It is a state that is somewhat timeless and unchanging because it is a direct measure of how you value and regard yourself in spite of what others may say or do. It is therefore, something that does not quickly or easily change when external factors or circumstances change. Self-worth is steady and unflinching, and therefore, holds power to radically transform your life for the better.
This is, all well and good, but what does it actually mean to have a high level of self-worth?
A high level of self-worth means having a favourable opinion or estimate of yourself. It means having unshakable faith in yourself and in your ability to follow through and get things done.
Having a high degree of self-worth means feeling worthy of good things. It means feeling deserving of happiness, health, wealth, success, and love — irrespective of the difficulties you face, the disappointments you experience, or of people’s opinions. It is unflinching.
To have a high level of self-worth means accepting yourself wholeheartedly at all times despite your flaws, weaknesses, and limitations. It is about recognizing the real value of who you are at this present moment.
To have a high level of self-worth means never allowing yourself to be defined by outside forces, including people’s opinions. It means never allowing outcomes to shake your confidence, faith or resolve.
All this essentially means that no matter what happens you are steadfast. Nothing outside of your “being” influences how you feel about yourself. Your influence alone is the only thing that matters.
You alone are the most significant factor in how you feel about yourself, about your life, and about your circumstances. And that is essentially where your personal power comes from.
How to Build Your Self-Worth
Having a high level of self-worth is no doubt of tremendous value. So, the question still remains, how do we go about building our self-worth? How do we create enough self-worth to empower our daily decisions and actions in a way that will help us achieve our desired outcomes?
What I would like to share with you is a five-step process for doing exactly that step-by-step.
This is not something that you can do just once and then forget about. It is something that you must consistently work on. That is the only way you will build anything of real value. Placing one single stone down on the ground doesn’t build a fortress. However, over time, as you lay down more stones on top of each other an impenetrable fortress begins to take shape. This takes time. Building a high level of self-worth will take time.
This is a long-term process that you need to work on consistently over time. The same as you would work out at a gym to get that ripped and toned body. Slow consistent daily work will get the fortress built and will grow more impenetrable and substantial until it becomes almost unbreakable. No matter what life throws at you, because you put in place a solid foundation that you consistently built over time, you will be able to withstand some of the toughest storms life has. That is the strength of the fortress. And that’s precisely where the power of your self-worth comes from as well.
With that in mind, let us jump into the five-step process to build your self-worth.
Step 1: The Self-Understanding Stage
Your first step involves getting to know yourself at a deeper and more profound level.
Imagine for a moment that you woke you one morning to find that absolutely everything you had was suddenly taken away. I mean literally everything including your possessions, career, money, relationships, friendships, accomplishments, and anything else that is physical and tangible. Ask yourself:
What if absolutely everything I have was suddenly taken away from me?
What if all I had left was just myself?
How would that make me feel?
What would I actually have that would be of value?
This is an interesting scenario. It is a scenario that many people probably never really take the time to imagine. It is interesting because how you feel about yourself after everything has been taken away is the measure of your self-worth.
If you have a high level of self-worth, then having everything taken away from you won’t change who you are as a person. Furthermore, it won’t shake your self-confidence because you do not measure your value by external circumstances. Instead, your value comes from within.
This is why it is absolutely critical to take the time to think long and hard about that question and answer it with genuine honesty.
What would I actually have left that would be of value?
The deeper you dig into this question, the more you will discover within yourself what you do actually value.
You must seriously take the time to ponder this question. The more time you take to consider the answer to this question, the more you will find, that this is where self-worth is comes from. It comes from understanding that…
No matter what happens externally and no matter what is taken away from me, I am not affected internally.
And that is what matters most when you begin to build your self-worth.
So let us look deeper into your true value by posing another set of questions that will help unlock how you see yourself with no masks or inhibitions.
Who am I? I am… I am not…
How am I?
How am I in the world?
How do others see me?
How do others speak about me?
What key life moments define who I am today?
What brings me the most passion, fulfilment, and joy?
Who you are and how you see yourself are keys to understanding your true value. How others see you and how they speak about you, is also, important. This is not so much about them but rather about how you feel about yourself as a result of how others see or speak about you. That is another measure of your self-worth.
Then there are those key life moments that bring you the most joy, passion, and fulfilment. These are the things that help you unlock the value you bring to the world.
However, this is not about pretty little rose petals and rainbows. This process involves being genuinely real with yourself.
Given this, let’s be real for a moment and take a look at your weaknesses and struggles.
Where do I struggle most?
Where do I need to improve?
What fears often hold me back?
What habitual emotions hurt me?
What mistakes do I tend to make?
Where do I tend to consistently let myself down?
Let us get real and accept the fact that we are only human. And as a human being, we all have our weaknesses and face our own personal struggles. We must be real and honest with our assessment of ourselves.
Only then will you be able to build a high degree of self-worth over time. And only then will you get the depth of understanding you need about yourself to move forward through this process.
And since we are being honest, let’s take a look at your strengths.
What abilities do I have?
What am I really good at?
Your strengths are the things that help build your self-confidence. They are the things that allow you to move forward with greater self-assurance. However, true strengths are only strengths by your own measure.
If you are relying on other people to tell you whether or not you are good at something, then that is not a true strength that comes from a sense of personal power.
People could very well change their minds then abruptly your strength turns into an afterthought. However, this does not need to be the case if you truly believe in your own personal value. That is what counts, and that is what truly matters when it comes to building your self-worth.
Step 2: The Self-Acceptance Stage
At this stage you presumably understand how you see yourself within the world around you. You probably also have a pretty clear picture of your current level of self-worth.
There will naturally be good things, neutral things, and things that you might not be too proud to admit. However, to build genuine self-worth, we must be real and authentic with ourselves at all times. This requires wholeheartedly acknowledging your true nature including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We are all human and therefore none of us are perfect. Yes, you have flaws, you’ve made mistakes and failed miserably time and again. However, this is you. This is the true you. It is who you are. Perfectly imperfect.
Forgive yourself for everything you have done or not done in the past and accept yourself unconditionally without judgment or excuses.
This is you. This is who you are. Accept that by acknowledging that…
I accept the good, the bad and the ugly.
I fully accept every part of myself including my flaws, fears, behaviours, and qualities I might not be too proud of.
This is how I am, and I am at peace with that.
Fully accepting yourself in spite of all your flaws, weaknesses, and limitations is absolutely critical for developing a high level of self-worth.
This is you. You are being vulnerable, authentic, and real. Embrace who you are fully and completely. Embrace the fact that you will no longer allow outside forces to define you. Only in this way will you finally let go of everything that has been holding you back all these years.
Step 3: The Self-Love Stage
Having fully accepted yourself, it is now time to acknowledge your true value. To do this, it is important to begin practicing a little self-love. Which basically means treating yourself with kindness, tolerance, generosity, and compassion.
Yes, you have flaws. Yes, you have so many limitations and weaknesses, but so does the rest of humanity. That is part of being human. It is time to let all that go and begin to practice being compassionate with yourself.
Compassion, of course, comes through self-love, which comes from self-acceptance, which stems from self-understanding. Ironically these are the steps we went through as we moved through this process.
One simple method to begin practicing self-love is to get into the habit of speaking to yourself and about yourself in a positive and supportive way.
I feel valued and special…
I love myself completely…
I am a worthy and capable person…
Talking to yourself in this way brings your focus and attention to the beauty hidden within you.
You are no longer looking at outside circumstances or people for approval or acknowledgment. You are instead searching for that approval within yourself. And that is one of the biggest steps you can take toward building your self-worth.
Step 4: The Recognition Stage
When you have an understanding of yourself. When you have fully accepted yourself and when you reach a stage where you practice self-love and self-compassion, that is when people, events, and circumstances no longer define you. You instead begin to define yourself.
Given this, it is helpful to acknowledge and recognize that you no longer need to please other people. Other people have their own opinions, and they have their own life. You also have your own opinions and your own life. No matter what people do or say and irrespective of what happens outside of you, you alone control your own perspective and attitude.
You, hold the power to respond to events and circumstances of your life based on your internal sources, resources, and on your resourcefulness, which are all a reflection of your true value.
It is important to recognize your true value regardless of your earnings, career, possessions, social rank, relationship status, etc. Your true value is no longer measured by these things. It comes from an internal measure that you have set for yourself. That is where true personal power comes from.
Step 5: The Responsibility Stage
The final step in this process involves taking full responsibility for your life, for your circumstances, and for your problems. Now it is worth mentioning that I am not saying that you should be a martyr. What I am saying is to taking full responsibility for everything that happens to you is about owning your contribution to where you are without giving away your personal power.
To take responsibility means to acknowledge that YOU have the personal power to change and influence the events and circumstances of YOUR life.
When you have a high level of self-worth, you are no longer relying on other people to make decisions for you. You alone hold yourself accountable, and you alone hold the power to make positive changes in your life.
You now hold the power…
Today is not a good day
- Because you fully trust yourself and trust your ability to make decisions that put you in the driver’s seat of your life.
- Furthermore, you are no longer are you swayed by the changing winds.
- You are steady and self-assured.
- You understand who you are, you accept yourself fully, love yourself unconditionally, and recognize that you are the captain of your ship.
- Regardless of the circumstances happening around you and in spite of the rumours of mutiny, you are focused and able to stay the course.
- You make adjustments on the fly, and you take charge of your ship.
- You are not rattled or phased by external circumstances.
- Yes, the outside world is a crazy mess, however, your inner world is as steady as can be; and that is what makes all the difference.
These are the things that keep you safe and it is all because you took the time to build your self-worth.
Did you gain value from this article? Is it important that you know and understand this topic? Leave a comment below I would love to hear from you.🙂