Our inner narrative is sneaky. It creates stories about our character, abilities and worth—and often, we blindly accept these stories as truth. In turn, false tales can easily slip through the cracks, ultimately messing with our self-esteem.
If you're feeling stuck or discouraged, it may be time to check in with your internal narrative. Ahead, mental health experts share six common misconceptions we have about ourselves and offer tips on how to kick them to the curb for good.
1. That person has it easier than me.
First thing's first: "The concept of 'easier' is your perception," says Eric Bedell, C.P.C., life coach and founder of Strength and Life Coach. Plus, when you attribute your current situation to a person's lack of obvious roadblocks, you're essentially "giving yourself permission to not [pursue] the things you want or need," notes Bedell.
To shake off this narrative, remember that all humans are both flawed and gifted, Bedell advises. "Look within yourself to determine where you need to grow and where you're capable, instead of pitting yourself against someone [else] or something external," he says.
2. I'll do it when I'm ready.
Often, we hit pause on pursuits, waiting until we feel 100 percent ready to make a move. But there's a catch: Readiness doesn't just happen. Instead, being "ready" stems from the confidence you gain after actually doing something. As Bedell explains, readiness is when we can rationalize taking a step because the possibility of success is higher than failure.
That said, the key is to take a small, actionable step (any small, actionable step!) that presents high chances of success. This way, you'll create a realistic steppingstone and foster a sense of readiness—instead of waiting for it to come to you.
3. I'm not unique.
At its core, this misconception assumes that other people are intrinsically more valuable than us. It also significantly "hinders progress, as it [compares] our circumstances, experiences, thoughts and feelings with others," says therapist Kristin L. Miller, L.C.S.W. The thought pattern paves the way for negative self-talk, ultimately stopping us from exploring our abilities and seeking new opportunities.
Sound familiar? If so, Laura Beth Cooper, Ph.D., psychologist and owner of Connections Counseling, has a simple piece of advice: "Take time to learn more about yourself." This can help increase your confidence and renew your sense of purpose, she says. Make it happen by journaling, acknowledging your achievements and "[consulting] a therapist who can help you identify strengths and characteristics that make you special," adds Cooper.
4. I'd be happy if only I could…
This belief can hamper self-esteem, as it drastically narrows your definition of happiness. It also clouds the positive experiences of an average day, making it difficult to acknowledge the beauty of steady personal growth. Besides, feeling happy is a work in progress—not a single event. As Cooper reminds us, "there is no final destination for happiness."
Instead of attaching your happiness to a specific occurrence, look for joy in the process of living and learning. Consider keeping a gratitude journal and reading it any time you're feeling discouraged.
5. I'm too young/old to…
While being alive for more years inherently provides more chances to do something, age doesn't necessarily indicate potential, skill or experiences. Progress is not linear, nor does it call for a list of chronological checkboxes. Otherwise, we'd all be living remarkably similar lives.
If you feel restricted by age, Bedell recommends trying this exercise: Write down your limiting beliefs about your age, then objectively assess each one. Ask yourself if it's a true statement—or if you've created the story yourself. Next, make a list of the strengths and perspectives your age offers, then use the points to harness your age and approach your goals from a unique angle.
6. My failures are holding me back.
Ironically, this mindset can hold us back more than our failures themselves. It doesn't help that our culture views failure as a source of humiliation and embarrassment. To break ties with this lie, try looking at "failure as an opportunity to make another choice and learn," advises Nicole Nina, L.S.W., M.S.W., M.A., C.P., a therapist and founder of Mindful Mountains
While you're at it, welcome the idea of processing and understanding those setbacks. "When we try and hide our failures, we create shame," explains Nina. "[This] can lead to poor self-esteem, [along with] missed opportunities that will hold you back."
Letting go of these misconceptions takes time, especially if you've spent a lifetime believing them. However, simply acknowledging these lies and how they affect your confidence is an incredible first step. The more you practice challenging your internal narrative, the more you'll stop yourself from stopping yourself.