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What can Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s life can teach us about confidence

podcast Oct 02, 2020


Can't listen? Here's the transcript: 

Hey Dethroners!  This week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at 87 years old.  And I have been doing a lot of thinking about not just the legacy that she leaves with all of her incredible accomplishments in the fight against gender discrimination, and the rights of minorities and the LGBTQ community, but also the legacy for all women to step into their power and own their ambition.  

Now, I doubt there was ever a time in RBG’s career when she thought about quitting, or that she didn’t believe in herself and her potential. But I wonder if she, like so many women, ever struggled with fear, doubt, uncertainty, ambivalence, and the insurmountable challenge of balancing motherhood and her career. I have been thinking about how women like RBG are able to have a profound impact on our world because of their ability to override their Inner Critic mind.  Because I suspect that even an extraordinary woman like RBG had an IC.  Because even the most confident and brilliant of women have an Inner Critic.  Men have Inner Critic’s too, but there’s show up differently.  In fact there are studies that show that lack of confidence and self doubt is overwhelmingly a female thing. It has nothing to do with actual ability or achievement. It is common even among women who present themselves as supremely self-assured. 

So many women have a false idea of what confidence is, so let’s talk about what confidence IS and what it is not.  Confidence isn’t absence of fear.  Fear is a survival mechanism that’s hardwired into the human brain. It goes back to prehistoric times when our ancestors needed a shot of adrenaline to overcome the life-threatening situations in their daily lives. And this is at the heart of how our IC mind is formed.  Our prehistoric ancestors had to be constantly on the alert for danger to survive. Our modern brains do the same, always trying to anticipate what can go wrong so we can be prepared to deal with it. It’s no wonder we are filled with self-doubt and fear of failure!  Because our human mind has evolved to think negatively.  But so many people think that they are alone in their IC minds, and that women who are confident have somehow banished their Inner Critic’s.  And this is the furthest thing from the truth .  

When you understand the survival mechanism of  “fight  flight or freeze” response, it’s reassuring to realize that EVERYONE feels fear when taking a risk or stepping outside their comfort zone. Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg!  Her confidence did not come from eradicating that fight or flight response.  And she didn’t just think positive thoughts in order to achieve what she did.  What I know about all humans, is that confidence is about taking positive action toward a goal in spite of the fear. The feeling of confidence comes later, sometimes WAY later, after you take action over and over again.  Confidence is a skill and like any new skill we attempt to master, confidence has a learning curve, because you have to be willing to continue to step outside of your comfort zone, which RBG did over and over again.

She faced so much adversity throughout her life.  Her mom died the day before her HS graduation.  She attended Harvard and was one of only 9 women in a class of 500 students.  And while at Harvard, she was criticized for taking a man’s spot. She was her husband’s caretaker during law school while he battled testicular cancer.  

So how did she become the notorious RBG and the role model for so many women and young girls?  Because she didn’t allow her IC to control her actions.  She didn’t identify with any negative thoughts that prevented her from moving forward in her values, goals and convictions.  And I am sure that she had negative thoughts, because there is not a human being alive that doesn’t.  

She is quoted as saying,  “it helps to be a little deaf”-- When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best to tune it out.  

And that is exactly what we need to learn to do with the voice of our Inner Critic. RBG didn’t let her Inner Critic  thoughts rob her of her power and derail her from her goals.  Being deaf to both her IC and actual criticisms from others, she didn’t have to fight against her Inner Critic.  

See, there is nothing problematic about our Inner Critic.  In fact, fighting against our Inner Critic thoughts is what can be so destructive for living our most powerful lives.  Fighting our Inner Critic is like trying to fight a bee hive of 10,000 bees buzzing around.  Not only is it exhausting, but completely futile.  Our Inner Critic is hard wired into our thinking process.   

So the ability to recognize and accept your Inner Critic thoughts is crucial.  You have to be willing to examine your automatic mind in order to step into your confidence.  This isn’t what a lot of people want to hear.  Many people want to skip the process of examining their mind.  They just want to know how to eliminate fear and anxiety and feel calm and at peace.  And I am sorry to inform you that even RBG did not eliminate fear, doubt, anxiety and negativity.  She had to do what every truly confident human had to do in order to achieve confidence, and that is to feel all of the uncomfortable feelings associated with stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking risks. That is the key-- changing your relationship to your uncomfortable emotions. 

If you have dreams and goals and are being derailed by your lack of confidence, a big difference between you and RBG is that she took actions towards her goals. Action is the key.  Action is what changes your world.  Not positive thinking, not words of affirmation, not eliminating negative self talk, conquering your fears, or eliminating anxiety.  Rewiring a new mind is not enough to change your life.  Yes we need to change our thoughts, but changing your thoughts doesn’t mean that your IC will stop spewing the same repetitive thoughts that have always kept you stuck for your whole life.  In fact, saying positive thoughts to yourself can actually be quite harmful at times because your IC will fight back and say, “Ah, yeah.  That is BS.”  The truth is that holding onto old beliefs about what confidence is, is what will get us into trouble.  Because confidence is not at all the absence of fear, the absence of failure or the absence of extreme discomfort.  

If your Inner Critic has been telling you that you shouldn’t be afraid, it is no wonder why you have been so stuck.  You have been buying into the Inner Critic belief that having an Inner Critic means there is something horribly wrong with you.  It will happen 100% of the time that when you face a challenge, step out of your comfort zone and take a risk you will feel FEAR!

Fear is not an enemy!  It is actually a powerful source of energy that can be used to accomplish magnificent things!  The most successful people on the planet talk about their feelings of fear, but they often describe it as an adrenaline rush, or might even say they are revved up or “pumped” when they face a challenge.   Fear and excitement are physiologically the same thing.  The only thing that is different is the thoughts you are having about it.   If you are swallowed by your Inner Critic mind, you might be experiencing fear about your fear. If you believe that the feeling of fear is bad, it will not only keep you stuck but can be at the heart of so many anxiety disorders like panic disorder and social phobia.  Many famous performers like Bruce Springsteen talk about this a lot;  stage fright is struggling with and fighting against fear.  And it is not fear that holds people back.  It is their automatic beliefs about fear--- that is your Inner Critic mind

When I am speaking in front of a large crowd my Inner Critic is screaming at me!  But rather than trying to calm down my rush of energy, I am consciously aware of the energy that is flowing through my body.  After all, the physical feelings of fear are just feelings… they won’t kill me.  I can feel those physical sensations and also remain present.  I don’t fuse with the thoughts, “what will people think of me” or “what if I stumble or forget what I am saying”.  And the more that I take risks that take me outside of my comfort zone, the more that I continue to feel those physical sensations.  But I stay present, and just feel the feelings.  And the more I am able to just feel the physical and emotional sensations of fear, the less fearful I am of fear.  The more I can just take actions that are in alignment with my goals, and the life I am designing, and bring my fear along for the ride.  

Helen Keller said life is either a daring adventure or nothing.  In other words, either you are taking your fear along with you during the journey of life, which builds your confidence, or you are running away from your fear, which leaves you completely stuck. Having confidence is not the absence of your Inner Critic mind-- it is transforming your relationship with your Inner Critic mind so that you can hear what it says, but know that you are actually separate from this voice.   

Now everyone who works with me to develop more confidence doesn’t just want confidence for the sake of it but for a purpose-- we want to increase confidence in order to follow our dreams, pursue our goals, get better in some domain of our life-- it could be professionally or personally, but no matter what you are wanting more confidence for, it is always that your actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later.  In other words, practice what you know you need to do, and the feelings of confidence will come as you grow your skill.  The key is learning step by step how to manage your IC mind, which you will need to do for the rest of your life.  We need to know how to manage our minds so we can handle our thoughts and feelings effectively, how to take control of our actions and fully engage in whatever we are doing, even when our IC is screaming at us.   If you want to achieve meaningful goals, you’d better make room for your discomfort. You don’t have to believe without a doubt that you’ll get a standing ovation before you step up to speak. It’s enough to believe there is a possibility. Just make a space for uncomfortable feelings while unhooking from unhelpful thoughts, and then fully engage in the task you’re taking on so you can enjoy the journey!

Take a moment to consider: What have you given up? What have you missed out on? What opportunities have you lost because of your lack of confidence?

If you had unlimited confidence, what would you do differently?  How would you behave differently?  How would you play, work and perform differently?  How would you treat others differently?  Your Friends, partner, children, family? How would you treat yourself differently?  How would you treat your body differently? How would you talk to yourself?  How would parts of  your personality change?  What would you start doing?  What would you stop doing?  What goals would you set and work toward?  What difference would your new found confidence make in your closest relationships and how would you behave differently around those people? What difference would your newfound confidence make in the world?  What is the purpose for your quest for more confidence--

Your Journey can only start when you take action-- This is what it takes to grow your confidence.  Taking action and stepping outside of your comfort zone over and over and over.  This is what Ruth Bader Ginsberg did over and over and over for her whole life, and this is what I continue to do in my own life and support all of my clients to do.  The currency for living a life of your dreams is your willingness to grow your confidence by sitting in your discomfort.  

Is Your Inner Critic Keeping You From Success?

Find out what your Inner Critic is saying to sabotage your success and how you can move past her limiting beliefs. 


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