As I enter my second decade of helping people build happier lives and livelihoods, I continually see that our professional successes and failures, and our crushed hopes, have everything to do with what we believe about ourselves internally, and how we’ve come to operate in the world and navigate through our challenges.
People tend to see outer circumstances beyond their control as the culprit for their dissatisfaction and disappointment in life and work, thwarting them at every turn. But in reality, it’s our inner experience that drives our outer one. My research has shown that when people are not sufficiently clear (about who they are and what they are capable of), or confident and courageous enough, they fail at achieving their dreams and goals, and let themselves down on a daily basis.
Below are the eight most damaging ways people fail themselves every day:
You don’t speak up for yourself.
The vast majority of people who are deeply dissatisfied with their lives, work and relationships suffer from one core challenge: an inability to speak up authoritatively and clearly for what they want and what they deserve. In my recent work with adult children of narcissists, for instance, what’s emerged is a powerful trend around their not being able to make sense of or evaluate rationally what they want, or take a bold stand on it. But this challenge isn’t reserved only for those who’ve experienced narcissism growing up; it’s also apparent in thousands of women and men around the world who feel guilty or selfish (or unworthy) if they think about pursuing what they want most deeply.
Tip: Commit today to having the one most important conversation in your life that is begging to be had, that will pave the way for asking for what you want and deserve, and getting it.
You don’t take the time to understand what you’re feeling or what you want.
Life is grueling for many today, with zero time to unplug, relax, and be quiet and calm within ourselves. We’re running, chasing, and striving, without giving ourselves the chance to just be. Sadly, when we stop being alone and quiet with ourselves, when we’ve neglected building a relationship with the most important person in our life (ourselves), and when we don’t take the essential time to shut out all the chatter, noise and competition of today’s hyper-connected world, we lose our ability to hear the stirrings of our soul, and the our deepest longings for our lives.
Tip: Every day, without fail, take just five minutes to sit with yourself without distraction or disturbance, and breathe deeply. Watch and listen to what emerges for you.
You don’t let go of the relationships that hurt you.
I remember when I was in my late 20’s, it began to occur to me that I had a few “friendships’ that weren’t friendly at all, but were very hurtful. My “friends” were cruel, biting, grasping and selfish, and I’d had enough. I remember committing to doing the tough work of “purging” from my life people who just couldn’t give, or be kind or loving. It was tough, and sad, but I did it, and it was a life-changer. I then started to be more careful who I let into my inner circle and trusted.
So many of the people I work with are engaged in relationships that are demeaning, devaluing, abusive or unhealthy. Why do we enter into these relationships? Most often it’s because we “hook” into them unconsciously because don’t feel we deserve beautiful love and support. Many have never had it as children, so they don’t know what love, care, and compassion truly looks and feels like.
Tip: This week, take a good, long look at all your relationships. Are they loving, healthy, happy? Do they serve and support you or are you the one doing all the work in the relationship? Do they help you achieve your highest potential and growth and allow you to have your deepest needs and wants met? If not, do something bold about it. Where you can, purge out of your life those people who chronically hurt and demean you.
You don’t know how you’re special, important and valuable.
The vast majority of people I meet can’t answer these pivotal questions:
• How are you special?
• What important gifts, talents and abilities do you have that you love to use?
• What types of outcomes in the world do you love to support?
• How do you stand out in the world?
• What are your deepest, core values and how are you honoring those in your life and work?
• What matters most to you in life, and why is that important?
• When you’re 90 looking back, what do you want to make sure you’ve contributed, achieved and created?
In our society, we’re not taught to understand ourselves deeply, or even dare to look at how we’re special and valuable. Many are raised to think that exploring these questions means we’re self-absorbed or narcissistic, but it’s simply not true. Every person on this planet is special, valuable and important. But you can’t leverage your unique value and gifts if you’re not even aware of them.
Tip: Answer the questions above as honestly as possible, and then brave up to leverage your skills and talents that you love to use, to make a difference in the world. If you can’t answer these questions, get help from people who love, respect and value you, to help you see how you’re special and unique.
You don’t believe you deserve a happier life or livelihood.
People who make a positive difference in the world and experience happiness, gratitude and success in their lives believe they deserve happiness. What we believe will come to be. And those who feel undeserving of joy and success make themselves “right” and never achieve it. The experiences we have in our childhoods and families of origin teach us either to feel we are worthy, loved and appreciated, or the opposite. Sadly, many thousands of people were raised to feel unworthy and undeserving.
Tip: Think back on the lessons you were taught about yourself by your parents and throughout your childhood. Were you encouraged to see yourself as worthy of love, happiness and success? Were you told you are beautiful, talented, smart, competent, valued, and important? Or were you told you are nothing and won’t amount to anything because you deserve to fail and others have more than you? If those were your messages, it’s time to engage in healing and revising your core beliefs about yourself.
You’ve stopped stretching and dreaming.
We’ve all read 100 times that stretching outside your comfort zone is critical to your success and happiness. Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, has said “Growth and comfort do not co-exist.” But how many people are truly stretching in their lives?
I see every day people who are stuck doing work they hate, in relationships and endeavors that limit them, but they’re afraid to stretch beyond these limitations. And they’ve stopped dreaming. They have bought into a million damaging excuses for why they can’t have what they want in their lives, and why their most compelling visions are just absurd fantasies.
Tip: Start stretching and dreaming again. Do one bold thing this week that will allow you to remember what it feels like to be brave, and do something scary and thrilling. Get used to getting in the cage with your fears and walking toward the unknown. As I’ve learned in my own personal life, nothing outside yourself is safe and secure – it’s in expanding who you are internally, and building your courage to deal with the unknown, that will make your world safer and more secure.
You let your anxieties and upsets turn into hate, blame and resentment.
There’s a great deal of hate in the world today, and according to recent studies, that hate is mounting. Many people turn to hate and blame because they can’t manage their own anxieties and fears. They feel vulnerable and deeply afraid, and they find that intolerable. As social researcher Brené Brown has so eloquently said, blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort. And as international bestselling author and spiritual leader Lorna Byrne mentioned to me just yesterday, “Hate poisons us. We hate others when we don’t love ourselves enough.”
Tip: If you feel wracked with hate, blame and resentment, especially in these anxious times in our country, it’s time to look at your own anxieties and fears, and get help to manage them more effectively. And it’s time to learn to love yourself more deeply. When you do, there is no more room for hate.
You’ve forgotten what you’re capable of.
Finally, we let ourselves down when we forget what we’re capable of. If you’re stuck in an unfulfilling life or career, you’ve lost sight of what you’re truly able to do, create and achieve. There are reasons why we forget, including toxic relationships, bad bosses who tear us down, life lessons that we misread, dashed dreams that bring us to our knees. But when you get back in touch with more hope for the future, and commit yourself to becoming more powerful, life will change.
Tip: Find someone who can be a mentor or accountability partner to help you see the future vision of you before it’s “hatched.” As Einstein said, “We can’t solve a problem on the level of consciousness that created it.” Shift your consciousness by getting empowering and uplifting help from someone who believes in you and won’t let you take “no” for answer about your own life.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.