Her look said it all.  She checked me out with a quick up and down glance that would kill anyone’s confidence. She was tall, thin, and blonde and very accomplished in her field. She wished me luck before I went on stage to deliver my keynote. “I’m sure you’ll be great”, she said, but somehow her words didn’t ring true.

Isolated young business woman not listening

The experience triggered something in me and suddenly my confidence crumbled. I heard my own nasty inner voice question my competence.  What happened? I know I’m OK. In fact, I’m more than OK! How could I let her look and words sabotage me? Or was I sabotaging myself? After all, if I had a thick skin, none of this would affect me at all, right?

The answer to that question is complicated. If I had more of a thick skin, then most likely I would lose some of my sensitivity and humbleness. What really happened was this woman triggered my limiting beliefs about not being good enough and not being pretty enough. These negative messages, grounded in my unending quest for perfectionism, were awakened. And the result, although not paralyzing, was significant.

How do you keep the negative self-talk and limiting beliefs from throwing you off guard?

Here are 5 things that help me:

Identify the feeling

It’s important to do this first step. Ask yourself what just happened and how you feel. After my encounter, I knew immediately I felt lousy. But I did take the time to acknowledge specifically what I was feeling. Her quick once over glance triggered feelings that I wasn’t pretty and my wardrobe choice was poor. Her words made me question my competence to deliver a keynote address.

Understand the difference between my feelings and reality.

A reality check is critical in order to dismiss the negative self-talk. This is extremely helpful to put things in perspective.

When I got dressed in the morning and looked in the mirror, I was satisfied with how I looked. (Truth be told, never 100% satisfied, but satisfied enough.)

I was hired to speak at the conference from a pool of many candidates, and after much preparation, I was confident that the presentation would resonate with the audience. That was reality, and if fact, it did go well.

Understand the root cause of the issue and own it.

I own this issue. This feeling of inadequacy stems from my perfectionism; where my expectations are so high that I can never measure up. But what’s important to note is that it’s not her issue, it’s mine. Blaming her for her condescending words and “look” is counterproductive.

As a child I was given full support. My Dad especially had me on a pedestal and told me I could be anything I chose to be. This led to my belief that I needed to be perfect. The benefit is that perfectionism drives me to excel. That’s the upside. But the downside is that I never can relax my sometimes unrealistic standards for myself.

Understanding the root cause helps me to put the situation in perspective.

Get support.

It’s extremely helpful to share these limiting beliefs with your family, friends, and colleagues. You will quickly discover that you are not alone, especially if you are a high-achiever. Research in this area has taught me that Madeline Albright, Sheryl Sandberg, Maya Angelou, Oprah, and many other highly successful women suffer the same limiting beliefs.

Keep a success journal.

It’s no secret that we tend to take our accomplishments for granted. We don’t internalize our past or present success. We over internalize our failures.

What I have found to be especially helpful is to keep a daily journal of my successes and review them periodically. Then I ask myself what does this say about me? It’s a powerful exercise to keep the negative self-talk at bay.

The point is that we cannot let our limiting beliefs take over and drown out our potential. These messages will never totally disappear. They are a part of who we are. But taking the time to acknowledge and understand your negative self-talk gives you the power to move forward with confidence.