If anyone knew what he wanted, it was Steve Jobs. A real steady Eddie. But for the rest of us mortals, getting sidetracked — and not even knowing it — comes much easier. That’s when we get stuck acting like a Drifter, allowing someone else’s agenda to become our own. If you think you’ve gotten off track, try these exercises to figure out what you really want.
Meg Jay, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in adult development, and twentysomethings in particular. She is an assistant clinical professor at the University of Virginia, and maintains a private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia. Dr. Jay earned a doctorate in clinical psychology, and in gender studies, from the University of California, Berkeley. The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter — and how to make the most of them now is her first book. She shared her insights at the 2013 TED conference, and contributed to our post “Confidence crushed? 4 do’s and don’ts to get back in the game.”
Photo by Jen Fariello
It’s your first day as a TV news anchor. The show starts and you’re heard saying the F-word (accidentally). You get fired the same day.
Our work and relationship blunders may not be as publicly humiliating as AJ Clemente’s this past April, but they still have the potential to rock our confidence. Our first instinct is to hide and seek comfort. That’s okay — for a little while. But if we keep retreating, that’s when we get stuck.
Hanging onto feeling hurt or wronged limits our chances of bouncing back. Our emotions focus on the negative, and feed us weak advice like “This sucks! Get out!” Or “Love isn’t worth the pain.” Or “I’ll start my own business. I’ll show them!”
Instead, it helps to step back and see things more rationally. If we look at it from the point of view of others, and from our own long-term goals, it removes some of the sting, so we’re less inclined to bail out. And by sticking with it, we rebuild confidence, which lets us see that we can handle more than we thought.
So how do we regain confidence in a time of hurt? It comes down to the kind of messages we get from others and from ourselves.
#1 DON’T take criticism as a final judgment
Let’s say you sent a work email that, in hindsight, you probably shouldn’t have. When your boss says you’ve permanently damaged her relationship with a difficult colleague, it feels damning, like your job, possibly your career, is in jeopardy. “The hardest part,” says Dr. Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade (Twelve, 2012) “is people take it as an objective judgment, like an Olympic score. But on the other side, these are just people. They have their own needs and agendas and issues and dysfunctions. It is not a judgment about your worth.”
DO see it as a single moment in time
Remind yourself, again and again, that this is not a statement about your future. It is a statement about the present, and it’s not forever. “You need to work the muscle of rational thinking and talk back to that irrational part of the brain,” says Dr. Jay.
#2 DON’T just rely on others to boost you up
It’s natural for friends and parents to remind us how smart or attractive we are when we get a blow to our confidence. But if we only rely on others to get us through the day, then, says Dr. Jay, we’re borrowing someone else’s ego rather than strengthening our own. “We let someone else’s frontal lobe do the work so we don’t learn how to handle it ourselves,” she says. “We don’t learn how to calm ourselves down, and this in and of itself undermines confidence.”
DO count on yourself
This is a time to get resourceful. How will I get through today? Can I distract myself with a project until this feeling passes? Can I do something, like go to yoga or to a dinner with friends, so I can stop ruminating on this bad thing that happened? Can I remind myself of what went well today? You may feel like you’re faking it, even with yourself, but you’re really exercising coping skills. Because not all bad days can be fixed, and some just have to be tolerated or coped with, you may want to learn more about mindfulness. Dr. Jay recommends the book, Full Catastrophe Living (Bantam, 2013) by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
#3 DON’T revel in others’ shortcomings
We’ve all participated in the group sport of tearing down someone to make ourselves feel better. “I see this a lot,” says Dr. Jay. “You get together with friends and rip up a boyfriend or boss, spending a lot of time seeing the negative and the drama. People underestimate how much that drags them down. It might be funny, but it limits your ability to grow.”
DO focus on what’s next
You can stop the negative swirl by asking yourself What do I want to do next? “It’s a much scarier question,” says Dr. Jay, “and not a conversation you can have with just any friend.” She recommends working through it with a trusted source: a forward-thinking friend, a therapist, a helpful mentor, or on your own perhaps by journaling. You may want to try a couple of Unstuck tools as well, such as “Get Your Game On” to come up with a plan, or “Obstacle Course” to figure out how to overcome barriers.
#4 DON’T see it as black or white
When we feel like we’re failing, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we can’t, or we don’t have what it takes. This kind of fixed mindset, says Dr. Jay, will limit your prospects, because in your mind, you’ve decided that your current status (not succeeding) is your permanent status.
DO believe in the possibility of change
Give yourself a new rule: That you can change. You can work and learn and achieve something you weren’t previously good at. Believe that success is earned, rather than granted. This shift to a growth mind-set will give you the stamina to hang in there, to prove to yourself that you have what it takes.
At the end of every day, confidence is “trust that you can do something,” says Dr. Jay. “And confidence is only going to come from doing it, from getting through the day and then doing it again.”
Learn more about Dr. Meg Jay here.
Photo by Jen Fariello
Knowing what we want, like, need, or aspire to are positive forces that push us to push ourselves. To make our lives better.
But we also can stand in our own way by creating rules of won’t and don’t. “I won’t consider anything that involves doing math. “I don’t like that.” “I won’t ask her for help.” “I don’t think I’ll get a good response.” The more we won’t and don’t, the narrower our world becomes.
When we limit our possibilities like this, we can get stuck acting like a Tunnel Visionary. One of the best antidotes we know is to look at the situation differently. If you’re feeling judged, what does forgiveness look like? If you’re overwhelmed with work, what does success look like? Try these 9 ways to get a fresh perspective.
We don’t believe in instant success (despite so-called insta-sensations like Justin Bieber). Hardly anything happens overnight.
We do believe in pushing yourself forward, preferably with a string of bite-size efforts so you don’t get overwhelmed. But first you need to admit there’s something to push for, that you might be stuck in some way. And that’s easier to do when you look at being stuck as a good thing. Think of it as a chance to make your life better instead of some kind of failing.
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