How to Believe In Yourself

My oldest child is afraid of monsters and the dark. He races up from the basement so he won’t be the last one left down there and still struggles to fall asleep on his own.

He’s always been a bit fearful of things, but lately, it felt like his fear was growing. I wanted to provide him with the space to talk, so I sat down with him to discuss his worries.

After we warmed up a bit, I jumped into the heart of the matter.

Bringing Our Fears Into the Open

“When I was a kid, I was scared of the basement,” I told him, “but I’m not scared anymore. One day, you probably won’t feel scared either.”

He refuted this fact just as I suspected he would. Luckily, I was ready for his dismissal.

“Do you remember feeling scared before you started kindergarten?” I asked. He nodded ever so slightly. “And two days after school began, do you know what you told me?”

“No,” he said.

“You told me you loved school and didn’t want me to pick you up at the end of the day.” He laughed at that memory.

Believe in Yourself

“Can you tell me another time you overcame your fears?” I asked. He stared back at me with a blank expression on his face. He rattled off a list of worries but couldn’t come up with a single fear from his past.

“Well, I have a few,” I said, “how about…”

  • sleeping over at your grandparents
  • learning to swim
  • going to summer camp
  • presenting at the science fair
  • singing in the school play

“I don’t remember feeling scared of some of those things,” he said.

“You were,” I told him.

“I don’t remember being afraid of sleeping at Grandma’s,” he said. “But I was afraid of that science fair presentation.”

“And how did it go?” I asked. “Weren’t you one of the best presenters?”

“Not the best,” he said, “but pretty good.”

“And how will your next presentation go?” I asked.

“Probably not as scary,” he said.

We launched into a deep conversation about the intense nature of fear and phobias. When we are fearful, negative thoughts consume our attention. But, eventually, after the event passes, we tend to forget we were afraid.

When we finished talking, he copied that list of previously scary events onto bright green construction paper. A “brave list,” he called it, before convincing his brother to make one of his own.

Focus on Prior Success

Isn’t it fascinating how our minds work when faced with worry? We completely forget about all of the other times we’ve conquered our fears. Instead of focusing on past success, we center our thoughts on a long list of disastrous “what if” scenarios.

“The worst part of worrying is that those bad things never happen,” my son said. “I picture the worst events, but they never come true.” 

“I do that too,” I told him.

My oldest child is a little clone of me. He doesn’t look like me, but his brain works much the same way mine does. I often joke that he inherited 99.9% of my personality. 

We can both spend a ridiculous amount of time creating false narratives of our future, even though we know that “bad things” rarely happen.

What if we replaced those negative “what-if” scenarios with success stories? What if we could picture that “brave list” every time our minds started to spiral with worries or anxiety?

Focus on the Positive

Later that night, I walked into my husband’s office and stumbled upon a bright blue piece of construction paper on his desk. It seems my conversation with the kids ignited his desire to create a “brave list” of his own.

It included items like:

  • Started and ran a company
  • Overcame unexpected job loss
  • Got healthy and lost sixty pounds.

It made me realize we all need these lists in our lives.

Find Your Inner Confidence

“I lack confidence,” I told my life coach a few weeks ago. “I always have.” 

“That’s not true,” she said quite matter of factly. “What about all of those stories you told me about feeling confident at work and school?”

She was right. I am not always timid and fearful. I believe I lack confidence, but it isn’t universally true.

At work, I often felt more confident than everyone else around me. Despite not having a degree in computer science, I was often the most vocal software engineer in the room.

And when I was a student, I never feared debate. I raised my hand and spoke up whenever I could. I can be shy in social situations and fearful of making mistakes, but I do not lack confidence overall.

Why didn’t I realize this until my life coach pointed it out to me? Perhaps it’s time to create a “brave list” or a “confidence list” of my own.

Reflect on Your Past Success

During anxious moments we often project our thoughts into the future. What if we could push back on the timeline of anxiety? What if we could stop projecting forward and reflect on our past accomplishments? Could written reminders decrease the intensity of our fears?

It’s easy to cast light on a negative future. Could a hand-written list help us focus on the positive instead?

I think it could. When my son felt anxious this week, I reminded him to look at his list. It doesn’t make all of his worries disappear, but it does make him feel just a little bit braver. Today, he went into the basement alone.

When I felt nervous about going to the doctor this week, I reminded myself of all of the times I’ve concocted worst-case scenarios that never came true. Despite a history of medical nightmares, so far, I have always pulled through.

Perhaps we all need lists to remind us of our past success. A brave list, a confidence list, a success list, call it whatever you want. The value isn’t in the name of the list you create.

It’s in the value of looking through that list when you feel worried, anxious, uncertain, doubtful, or afraid. Use your list to remind you of your past success. Hopefully, it will help you avoid concocting worst-case scenarios and help you to believe in yourself instead.

16 thoughts on “How to Believe In Yourself”

  1. That’s interesting, I can trace a lifetime of success back to one or two youthful occasions when I overcame fear to step outside my comfort zone, and succeeded wildly. And to one time I failed spectacularly, but still carried on with no serious consequences. I didn’t write my successes down, but I still recited them to myself when those fears came to visit me, and it became a pattern in my life for me to step out past fear, and to succeed. It changed my life. Great parenting!

    • Thank you for your kind words. It’s great that you recited your success when fear came knocking. My son and I experimented with that in the car yesterday. He started feeling nervous so we talked about the list on his wall even though he wasn’t right in front of it.

  2. I was recently asked to be on a podcast and I had to write an intro of my achievements. It sounded so awesome when the podcast host read it. It is a useful exercise. I wonder why I don’t generally think of myself that way. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about how I talk to myself on a daily basis. Excellent posy- very thought provoking. You’re a good mom.

  3. What a powerful exercise in resilience. Isn’t it interesting how others are quick to see our successes while we are quick to see our failures? One small gift from a supportive social circle.

    Cheers to our social groups who support a longer and healthier life!

    • In the eyes of others my perception definitely changes. I’ve spent too much of my life being hard on myself. I don’t want my children to feel that way. I want them to believe in themselves and all that they accomplish no matter how big or small.

  4. This is great! I love how you helped your son and it is so true to adulting too. We all have success and failures, but too often we focus on the failures like they define us, when they do not.

    I have found recently that if you spell out the worst case scenario and actually visualize it, you realize it’s not that bad. And if that moment does come, you are prepared for it.

    I am going to make this list of success and perhaps one of failures too, because I want to remind myself that the failures are not all that bad, and have all ended up teaching me something that I needed at the time.

    • I love the idea of adding a list of failures that didn’t result in end-of-the-world catastrophes. You are so right! We tend to think of the worst case scenarios, but our failures can also make us wildly stronger.

  5. The Power of positivity! It can be so hard to stay positive sometimes. Having a handwritten reminders can go along way. One of the tips we learned as a pharmacist to help patients make a life change like stopping smoking or committing to improving a health condition was to have a small hand written note in your pocket. It was a note to remind you of why you decided to commit to the change. It really seemed to help some people to have a reminder they will stop smoking because of their children, or they want to improve their health to be at their daughters wedding.

    It’s the same thing we can do for our financial health too.

    I love that the kids jumped right in making their brave list. And dad followed too! Way to stay positive.

    • Thank you for your comment. Writing a note to yourself is a great idea. Years ago, I attached photographs to my wallet. Every time I wanted to buy something new I saw those visual reminders and decided not to touch my credit cards. We all need those visual reminders of our progress and our goals, and yes it was fun that my husband joined in too!


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