How often is there an opportunity which becomes available and you talk yourself out of it? I know if you are like me that has certainly happened before, but hopefully we can prevent it from happening in the future. It is natural that you are going to judge yourself more harshly than others. You know what you are capable of, and also whether you truly gave 100% effort at that particular task. If you didn’t give as much as you know is possible, then perhaps a little reminder to dig deeper and give a little more is justified. But what if your own criticism is paralyzing you into inaction?
I am going to deviate away from science for a moment to give you an example. I dance both salsa and tango. At my dance studio where I take lessons, I am in the most advanced class for salsa, however I never thought I was any good at it! I know I have issues with balance, dizziness, timing and following a lead, therefore it was natural for me to assume that I was indeed one of the worst, if not the worst, female there. However one of the other students told me otherwise, and it shocked me beyond belief. As we were dancing in class, he commented on how light I was to lead, how my turns were graceful and smooth, and that I always danced to his timing.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t take the complements and pointed out my flaws as I see them. He was equally surprised that I could think otherwise and asserted that my self perception was actually flawed and not my dancing. Following conversations with a few other males in the class, I have come to realize that, while not great by any means, I am certainly not as awful as I believed I am. Of course, that self doubt does push me to try harder in class, but it also means that I take criticism to heart and also can’t enjoy myself fully as I worry about my performance.
Does that sound familiar to any of you? A more relevant example is that I hate public speaking! When I mention this to people who have witnessed a presentation I have given, they usually have a very hard time believing me. Apparently I appear calm and confident when I present, while in actual fact the exact opposite is true! Usually, before a presentation, I would give anything to postpone or cancel, and then for the first few minutes it feels like my heart may literally explode out of my chest while I am very obviously shaking! I would avoid giving presentations during graduate school unless I absolutely had to, and I never publically asked questions during a seminar.
The eureka moment was when I attended a course during my graduate studies on presentation skills. For 2 days we gave presentations, were videoed, and then watched the play back. Once I had removed my exceedingly obvious nervous ticks (flicking my hair around like a show pony being the worst!), it became apparent that no matter how I felt during the presentation, the audience was oblivious. I had psyched myself out of doing something I was actually reasonably good at! Since that moment, I have accepted every public speaking opportunity I have received so that I can practice the skill. Eventually, I hope that when I move to the front of the audience I will feel as calm as I appear. Until then, I will take comfort in the knowledge that, while I feel like a deer in the headlights, I don’t appear like that to anyone else.
I am sure there are things in your life which you don’t believe that you are good at, and I am equally sure that your self perception is as wrong as mine. If you have doubts about your ability, ask a close friend or colleague (who you can rely upon to speak the truth) how your performance is. You may be pleasantly surprised. Once you realize that there are a multitude of things you previously thought you did badly, and are in fact quite good at, you can turn your attention to learning new things and enhancing other skills. You will be ready to jump at those new opportunities once they come along as you will have fresh confidence in yourself and your abilities.