Believe in Yourself

Articles like “How to Belief in Yourself: 8 steps” offer “steps” with some helpful insight, yet bother me for their simplicity, particularly upon reaching the eighth step that says, “Believe in yourself!” (Creating a circular problem, in which one must be capable of believing in one’s self in order to complete the 8 steps to believe in one’s self.) People struggling with depression can live in this void of feeling eternally defeated, hopeless, and overwhelmed. Being told to believe in one’s self is not going to get the job done. Believe what?

We can start by identifying what we actually believe about ourselves. We might live with core messages like, “I am a failure,” “I am worthless,” “I don’t deserve anything I want,” or “My life sucks but it’s not my fault, it’s all these other people’s.” These shape the way we see life. Everything we encounter seems to confirm these core stories in some way. We might avoid doing something we truly want for fear of taking a risk, failing, and validating the core story. Many of us develop these core stories from real messages we receive during our lives, sometimes explicitly, often implicitly. For example, children from minority cultural, sexual, or ethnic groups might never be told overtly that society doesn’t value them, but the message is clear enough if they never see positive depictions of people like themselves in the media.

Simply being told to believe in yourself can feel like a dismissive, superficial feel-good sort of solution. Believing in one’s self does not seem related to finding affordable childcare so one can get to work and finish a degree, or trying to make a small amount of money work to feed and clothe the family while trying to manage bills and debt. Responding to those problems with “believe in yourself” can seem dismissive of the internal and external difficulties of our lives, or even saying that we are the primary cause of our problems and would not suffer so much if we only believed more.

In times of hardship, however, I think believing in one’s self is not a luxury but a necessity. I believe that human life is not about mere struggle for survival, but creating a life of depth and meaning. As with everything, I think this starts by looking inward.

One thing I have found tremendously helpful is identifying core values. Take a sheet of paper, and on one side write down everything on which you spend your time, money or energy during an average month. Doing this in phases may be helpful, but the more honest you are with yourself, the more useful insight you will accrue. Write down the two hours of video games, the $100 spent on overdraft fees, the half hour making dinner. On the other side, write down what you would be doing if you had time, money, and energy to spare. Later, review the list and ask, “What does this tell me about what I value in my life today? What does this tell me about what I want to value in my life?”

If I notice that I spend hours of my time doing cleaning chores, I might wonder — does this mean that I value cleanliness? Does that feel true to me? Do I do it because I’m afraid my mother will complain if she stops by and sees it’s dirty? Does that mean I value family or harmonious relationships? Are there other ways I could spend my time that would promote those values that feels better to me? If I truly don’t care about having a clean house and do all this work to please someone else, does that mean I’ve taken on someone else’s work? Can I let that go and do something that feeds me?

If I spend hundreds of dollars on overdraft fees, what does that point toward? Perhaps I only do it for fear of worse consequences, so I could see it as valuing responsibility and freedom. Why do I have so many fees? Do I value the feeling of freedom I get from spending money without thinking about my limitations? Could keeping better track of my spending help me to become free of these wasteful fees, thus having more money available to spend as I need?

This is a simple but challenging process that can take time. This requires us to take ourselves and our lives seriously, to consider our actions as choices, to identify what is important to us, and to begin to see all of these things as worthy of attention and energy. For some people it can feel terrifying to discover having values and preferences. As we discover our values, we might begin to formulate a sense of the life that is meaningful.

If I can identify 5 core values and begin to measure my choices against those values, I might begin to make different choices. I might begin to act as though my values matter, which is a step toward believing in myself. If I cannot believe anything else, I can still act as if my values are important and make choices that better fit those values. This runs right against those core messages that want to say “Nothing matters” or “My wants are unimportant.” Having those thoughts and feelings is okay. Being afraid is okay. Take yourself seriously, acknowledge that part, and acknowledge also the part of you that does have values, that does want something.

If we can begin to make choices in accord with values, we still have to contend with issues of success and failure. Here’s where believing in one’s self can be a radical reorientation of one’s inner story. When something doesn’t happen the way I hoped it would, my core story wants to say, “That’s because I’m worthless and can’t do it.” Here is a time when I can take up another sheet of paper and think this through. I can ask, “If this core story is true, what are the implications?”

Then I can experiment with another approach. What if my core story was, “I am worthy of what I want, and I am capable of having it.” I don’t have to believe this, but can I spend five minutes writing or thinking about the implications of this story? If I am worthy and capable, then perhaps I did not get what I wanted because of bad timing, because the circumstances weren’t right, because I put too many conditions on what I wanted, because I do not have certain skills, resources, knowledge, or insight that I need. Keep brainstorming, don’t settle for the first obvious answers, make a list of possibilities. Then I might consider what I could do to help me prepare for the next time.

Here is where I think believing in yourself can be life-affirming and transformative. If I act as though I am capable and worthy of what I want, I am freer to consider other possibilities of making things work better. Perhaps my solution is to ask someone for help, advise, or critical feedback. Perhaps I will take time for exercise so that I feel more energized and confident. Perhaps my solution is to agitate for paid child support from my work so that I can better balance my responsibilities.

Believing in myself means I do not blame myself or the world for my problems. Believing in myself means seeking creative solutions within the conditions of my life as they are right now to move toward the life I truly want.

That’s what I think. What do you think?