As the year comes to an end — and what a year it's been — it's only natural to take inventory of the good, the bad, and everything in between. After all, we live in a culture where listicles help us categorize information and process it on the way to becoming our best selves. As you compile your best and worst of 2016, bear in mind that you're more than a tally of your accomplishments and disappointments. I say all this not as a self-proclaimed guru, but as a woman who has spent much time being introspective. Things you realize when you learn the difference between self-reflection and self-doubt can help you live a more integrated life, and teach you how to love yourself without abandon.
Self-doubt often gets confused with low self-esteem when, in fact, the two are quite different. According to psychologist Karyl McBride, who writes for Psychology Today, self-esteem exists on a continuum and can be defined as when you have a "decent opinion of yourself without grandiosity." So, you can have high self-esteem and still be plagued by self-doubt.
From childhood, I was always questioning myself. Am I good enough? Pretty enough? Smart enough? Lovable enough? Then came the teenage years, and a slew of other questions. Am I sexy enough? Smart enough to ace my SATs and get into a respectable college? Lovable enough to be popular? By the time I was in my 20s, those questions had become integrated into my understanding of who I was as a person. Rather than evolving as I evolved, the questions of being [insert anything here] grew more and more complicated. Am I smart enough to land a publishing job? A book deal? A graduate degree? Am I lovable enough to find a partner who can make me feel seen? All of my dreams and accomplishments and even disappointments were ruined by these qualifiers. Rather than getting a chance to bask in the moment, self-doubt rained on my parade. So, when I did secure a book deal, more questions ensued. Am I going to sell well? Get good reviews? Get another book deal? Even when I didn't land a job, I wasn't able to learn from the experience because I took everything that happened to me and saw it only in relationship to the questions of self-assessment that had been ruling my existence. Life was kind of a bummer.
There was no one "epiphany moment," but this year something clicked for me. I found a way to let go of the self-doubt. As a result, I realized the following things, which came from self-reflection as opposed to striving to be "good enough" (and looking for reasons I wasn't).
You Actually Learn From Negative Patterns
Plagued by self-doubt, I would often relive moments of disappointment and perceived failure in my head until I was dizzy. This behavior, however, didn't change what had happened; it only made me feel trapped in a loop of embarrassing shame. Dizzy from shame, I became paralyzed and unable to make changes in my patterns. So, I'd relive them. Although I was aware of my shortcomings (too aware, you could argue) the awareness did nothing to change my behavior.
It was only after I stopped doubting myself that I was able to put on a "shame shield," and go from paralyzed to mobilized. When someone told me, "Why don't you just push those thoughts of your perceived failure out of your head?" I was like, "Wait. You mean that's a thing?" Yes, yes it is.
You Give Yourself Credit
It's so important to pat yourself on the back. I learned this from years of shrugging off credit for things I worked like hell to achieve. Who knows if I was trying to belittle the process of trying because I had this notion that success is more glamorous when it falls in your lap, or it was because it was hard for me to believe in myself.
But when I learned to be reflective as opposed to being a slave to self-doubt, I was able to give myself credit.
You Let Go Of The "Imposter Syndrome"
When you live a lifetime without giving yourself credit, you will develop a nasty case of the imposter syndrome, or what Psychology Today refers to as an inability to see your hard-won accomplishments.
Rather than feeling like a fraud, I finally started to accept that I slay.
You Accept Shortcomings Without Letting Them Define You
I am not good at cooking. That doesn't mean I'm not a good cook. I am not the most coordinated. That doesn't mean I can't ever learn a choreographed version of "Single Ladies." I could be better at keeping deadlines. That doesn't mean I'm a slacker. Once I started to realize that my actions don't completely define me, all this freedom to become better at cooking and dancing and freelancing opened up.
As my existentialist professor once told me, there are no absolutes in this life (except death). I take that adage to heart.
You Forgive More Easily
Part of keeping those relentless questions from creeping up in my head comes from having empathy for myself. A plus? I've found that empathy is contagious. The more forgiving I was with myself, the easier it was for me to let go of all the wrongs people did me.
It feels good to forgive; I feel a looseness in my shoulders and back that had eluded me. This isn't a metaphor. It's the strangest thing, but I really think I was physically weighed down by all the perceived wrongs people did me.
You Set Small Goals
Once I learned to give myself credit, it was easier for me to identify my strengths. Setting small goals around things I knew I could crush (and then take credit for) helped build up my self-pride.
You're Unapologetically Honest With Your Feelings
Ten years ago, I would never tell my crush I was crushing. But I did, just the other day, and my act of bravery manifested with a date with my crush. So boom. If I had stayed silent, that would never have happened. It really was as easy as a DM. (And telling self-doubt to peace out.)
Because, really, what's the worst that could happen?
You Surround Yourself With People Who Support You (And Tell Everyone Else To Go Home)
Being self-reflective is an exercise in making your life better. So, to that end, and to help banish the self-doubt, I decided to make a sweep of people who couldn't get with the better-me program. After all, naysayers have this "wonderful" habit of picking up on your insecurities and using them to make you feel nasty about yourself. If I were a psychologist, I'd call this behavior projection, but I'm not so...
Self-improvement gets a lot of slack these days. Maybe that's because we're used to living in a world where you can use a filter to make yourself prettier on the outside. But what about the inside you? In my experience, people who knock your self-reflection are riddled with self-doubt themselves. You can feel sad for them, but then let that go, and worry about yourself.