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Entrepreneurs and businesses can’t afford to have negative, unhealthy self-perceptions. What the world needs more of is people believing in themselves and believing in their businesses, but also showing that their businesses are authentically committed to a greater purpose than self-serving interests and sizeable profit margins. Research is showing customers want to experience authentic relationships with businesses that know what they stand for, why they exist, who they are and what their long-term purpose is for the betterment of humanity.
When they surveyed 30,000 consumers globally, Accenture’s research found that companies with a grander purpose beyond what they sell were more likely to attract consumers and influence their purchasing decisions. This requires healthy levels of self-belief and self-perceptions. The problem is, while we never prepare table settings for impostor syndrome, self-doubt or unhelpful negative self-evaluations, they constantly show up for dinner without an invitation.
So what can we do to curb negative self-perceptions, unhelpful narratives and self-doubt that derail us, delay us and stall our progress, even when we have customers waiting? We can learn how to separate from those which don’t serve us or make friends with and recognize how the unhelpful narrative inadvertently serves a purpose. When you develop these mental skills, your self-perception becomes almost impervious.
1. Learn to recognize and detach from others’ projections
Conventionally seen as a psychological construct, projection is something we all do. Mostly, we do it unconsciously. We can be on the receiving end of it unconsciously, too.
We all have aspects of ourselves we consider to be flaws. Some we’re aware of, others we are not. Where the pain and discomfort of admitting these inadequacies are too great, our perspectives are filtered to attribute these flaws to be held by others and even pass judgment because it feels emotionally and mentally safer to do so.
Think of the friend who complains about the paucity of deep bonds in her relationships but who doesn’t invest the effort and energy required for bonds to deepen in the first place. Or the self-proclaiming perfectionist who always struggles to meet deadlines and concludes your work will always be substandard because you prioritize meeting deadlines and client briefs above showcasing your best efforts.
What others are telling you is how they see the world and what they value. Inadvertently, they are also telling you what they see as flaws and that they fear possessing these flaws within themselves.
Just because someone passes an assessment based on how they see you doesn’t mean how they perceive you is true or valid. You get to decide if you feel considering their opinion is helpful to you.
If you find yourself feeling less capable, less competent and less deserving of the success you are aiming for, you know your ultimate response: “I respect and thank you for the gift of your perspective, but I don’t feel it’s one I’d like to accept today.”
2. Learn how even negative self-perceptions serve a purpose
Internal family systems (IFS) is a psychotherapy framework becoming increasingly popular in business leadership development because of the powerful self-mastery it helps individuals develop. Psychotherapist Richard Schwartz developed IFS when he was increasingly hearing how clients would talk about inner “parts” of themselves.
In similar fashion to how we are born into families where different members have different roles, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, IFS proposes we all also have a family tree of sub-personas, or “parts,” within our own individual psyche, with their own characteristics and narratives.
Have you ever felt you should decide one way, but another voice inside tells you to do the opposite? An inner critic? The IFS framework helps you to recognize your own parts, the different roles they carry out and their defining characteristics and behaviors. Through developing a stronger understanding of your parts, you learn how to communicate and collaborate with the parts so they can gradually work in harmony for the benefit of your whole psyche’s system.
IFS is particularly effective in helping to tame highly critical narratives and uncover how they are actually valuable allies, underneath. Schwartz coined three main parts: managers, exiles and firefighters.
Managers tend to have controlling natures. They tend to carry strong, negative and highly critical opinions. Narrative tones are often harsh, restrictive and punitive. Despite this, their inadvertent purpose is to guard and protect us. The part that fiercely tells we’re stupid to think outside the box, try something no one has done before is actually trying to warn us: “Don’t take the risk or you’ll get hurt.”
Exiles often are deemed to be vulnerable parts of our psyche. They have been hurt, feel pain, fear and are often scared to trust and step into uncertainty again. They tell us where and why we need healing.
Firefighter parts jump in to help stop exiles feeling greater intensity of their emotions. Sometimes they resort to short-term measures to soothe intense situations but which don’t have long-lasting effects, like emotional eating, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol or buying a piece of clothing to try and make ourselves feel better.
All these parts are implicitly acting to protect you and keep you safe. Through recognizing and thanking the parts for how they have tried to serve you so far, negative self-perceptions weaken. Through collaboratively communicating with the parts instead of trying to silence them, you can teach them to create powerful, healthier self-perceptions. The self-doubting narratives now work for you, instead of against you.
3. Deliberately practice healthier self-perceptions
Those mental muscles reinforcing negative self-perceptions have had their fair share of weights training. It’s time to strengthen the neurocircuitry which creates and builds healthier self-perceptions. This means deliberately practicing your skills to identify self-preserving, healthier self-perceptions that will help you move toward your goals — professional and personal.
When you next review the targets you are aiming for, ask yourself the following questions:
What qualities do I already have that could and would help that goal being met?
What do I already know that could help me progress toward this target?
How can I position myself to gain the skills and knowledge that would help me achieve this goal?
What choice/s along the way would give me opportunities to experience satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment in ways that matter to me?
Even if I don’t meet this goal, will I still feel good about myself throughout the efforts I make to do so?
Deliberately and regularly practicing asking yourself such questions will increase neuroplasticity that supports such helpful thought patterns becoming more mainstream in your waking consciousness. The more you practice asking yourself these questions, your brain will also realize the need is stronger to find answers to these. Unhelpful self-perceptions may not be blown to oblivion but you’ll masterfully be able to park them in the waiting area when you need to.