I pushed myself out of the brown leather chair and hung up the phone. I'd just finished a conversation with the corporate executive of a global chemical company. I'd been invited to make a presentation for their new employee development initiative, and I was feeling a bit like I'd just arrived in a new city for the first time. After dark.
It was a fantastic opportunity, one I'd been working on for months. The program was a collaborative effort, and if chosen, I would be teaming with some industry giants.
I should've been thrilled. I'd been months working my way through various gate-keepers, investing a lot of energy to get here.
This one contract would be a game-changer for my small business. Many talented and experienced folks had been turned down, and yet they called me. The giants invited me.
And I panicked.
As the date for my meeting drew nearer, I grew more and more antsy. More irritated. Blaming it on the need to choreograph a stellar presentation, I was short-tempered. With everyone. I even found fault with the very people I'd been excited to partner with.
I started drowning in the back and forth of it all.
But the problem wasn't anyone else--it was me. I lost faith in my ability to execute my plan and without knowing it, I started self-sabotaging.
That's the sort of thing that can happen when we lose our focus while we're chasing greater things. We feel a little out of control so we get in our own way, dismissing our former successes, discounting our value, worth, and competence.
Here are some of the more common reasons we sometimes live below our potential and a few things we can do to address them:
1. Diversions and distractions.
With all the passion a new project breeds, we race to compose our to-do lists--but we overshoot. It balloons into a giant list, with ancillary lists. Then we either get overwhelmed and trash the list and start to flounder without a plan, or we start multitasking like a mad person. But both of these waste valuable time.
My neuropsychologist friend, Dr. Michelle Bengtson, has taught me how multi-tasking is physiologically impossible because it actually forces your brain to repeatedly shift attention from one task to another. Attempting too many things at once eventually compromises the quality of the whole project.
Set goals on that to-do list, yes, and make them bold. But make sure they're realistic. Then set up a timeline with small, smart, and specific measurable steps.
2. Lack of belief.
We question if we can really pull this off. What if we fail? What would others think?
Or if we do meet some degree of success, we wonder if we'll be able to sustain it.
Like weeds in a garden, these doubts start choking our dreams. Because if my worth is determined by success, what am I if I fail?
Consider how you're measuring yourself. Realistically review your strengths, talents, and progress. Don't discount your accomplishments, degrading them to luck or timing. Concentrate on how far you've come; ground yourself there.
3. The discomfort of change.
Even a positive change can be stressful. The old way is predictable and can feel easier, while not knowing what to expect often stirs a little anxiety. Some resistance is understandable.
But to succeed in today's world, sometimes we have to do things differently.
If we want to speed up our readiness to change, Psychology Today suggests we ask ourselves a question about our future behavior. Instead of giving those negative doubts undeserved bandwidth, ask yourself a direct yes or no question that forces you to focus.
Will this be the year I double my income? If you offer a committed "yes," your mind grabs that declaration and defaults to it, centering your thoughts on those days you're tempted to lose focus.
4. Past failures.
Have you ever had this brilliant idea that you sacrificed everything for, sleep, relationships, finances, only to have it fall apart? (Me too.)
But we can't hang our identity on the fact that we've failed at something. We can't make it personal. As Susan Tardanico explains in an article for Forbes magazine, the failure is not who we are.
There are lessons to be learned, indeed. But refuse to entertain the negative that tempts to take you out. Learn the necessary lessons and move forward. Be brave. Try again.
We see all these people doing wonderful world-changing things, and sometimes we hold ourselves to unrealistic standards. We tend to compare our worst with their best, and we walk away feeling like we can never measure up.
You're right: you can't. Because you're not them--you're you.
Be yourself. Celebrate who you are. Study the other successes, yes. Use them to inspire you. But add your own uniqueness to the mix; that's the thing that makes you stand out. It's easier to invest the sort of energy and passion that lead to success when you're being true to your natural bent.
Going to a new place, a new level, can be both exhilarating and frightening. We need our eyes open wide, watching for any limiting beliefs that attempt to squash our creativity and productivity.
So the next time you start doubting, writing off your former successes, I'll challenge you to ask yourself, "Is there another way I can see this?" (And yes, there is.)
Photo: Flickr/Ed Yourdon