Have you ever felt confident in one situation, and then completely insecure and self-conscious in another? Did you wonder what on earth was happening in your brain that created this roller coaster of self-regard?

I think most of us have experienced that. At least I know I recently did when I travelled to Paris on a winter holiday.

I speak French at a kind of rusty proficiency. I can usually make myself understood, but I’m not fluent. And as the week went on, I realized two things: First, I was feeling a lot of anxiety about daily interactions. I used to feel that way all the time, but these days it’s pretty rare for me, so I noticed it quickly.

Second, I was thinking things like “people won’t understand me” or “people will think my accent is bad” or “people will judge my French.” With thoughts like those, no wonder I was feeling anxious!

In English, I believe that other people can hear and understand me and that I’m smart and know what I’m doing (even though of course I have no idea what they actually think).

In French, I don’t believe that I am communicating these ideas and so on my vacation, I felt insecure and tongue-tied.

I had developed confidence in my native tongue but when confronted with feelings of insecurity and shame, a lot of old familiar thoughts came right back up again, and snowballed into more feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and fear.

What is important is how I dealt with it.

I didn’t throw in the towel and decide that my entire sense of self-confidence was a lie and I should just give up.

Instead, I practiced thoughts like: “It’s brave of me to travel alone and try to communicate in a language I don’t speak fluently,” and “the only way I’ll get better at French is to practice it.”

I didn’t just think those thoughts once and magically feel better. I practiced them over and over.

If you’ve been following my work, you know that you can learn to believe new thoughts. But sometimes we practice new thoughts when it feels easy – but then when the going gets tough, we abandon our thoughts or tell ourselves that they’re not working. When really what we need to do is work on believing harder.

Often, I’ll coach someone and find that they’re already working on new thoughts from listening to the podcast and practicing what I teach on it – but they aren’t believing these new thoughts hard enough.

Believing harder means accepting that thoughts precede feelings and there’s going to be some discomfort before the feelings catch up. Sure, sometimes you switch a thought and it feels great immediately and you totally believe it right away.

But sometimes it’s hard, awkward, and uncomfortable. And you have to keep practicing believing it anyway.

If this sounds familiar to you, there are usually three main mistakes you’re making:

  1. You expect that you can think a new thought once, and the angels and unicorns will descend from heaven and everything will change.

I’m sorry, this isn’t a Hollywood movie and that’s just not how it works. When you come up with a new thought to practice, it doesn’t make your old thoughts go away. You have to work at thinking that new thought, repeating it and focusing on it.

  1. You are “making out” with your old thought.

Allow me to explain.

Think of your old thoughts as a horrible ex. You know, the one who slept with your sister/never planned ahead/ate chips in your bed (the horror!)/etc. They are terrible, but they are familiar. And being with someone familiar feels easy.

So, you’re on a first date with someone new. It’s awkward, you feel uncomfortable, you’re worried about whether they will like you. Then your ex walks in and you run over and make out with them, because they are familiar and it’s not as challenging or uncomfortable as getting to know someone new. Or alternately – you see your ex come in and start screaming at them and barricade the door with chairs. Either way, you’re focusing WAY more on your terrible ex than you are on your new date who you’re still getting to know.

When you feel your old thoughts creeping in (your “ex” thoughts, if you will), there’s nothing going wrong. It’s normal. Your job is to practice focusing on the new thought and to stop “making out” with the old thoughts.

  1. You expect this to be easy or comfortable or feel natural. It’s not. It’s going to feel super awkward and weird and uncomfortable.

If you never exercise and then go to a Crossfit class, would you expect that to feel easy? Of course not! You would expect your body to hurt in places you didn’t even know you had muscles. It’s going to feel awkward and clumsy and unnatural.

The same is true with thought work – you have to commit to working on believing. Accept that it will be messy and hard and you won’t see a lot of results right away.

Believing is hard work. It’s not fun or easy. It takes patience, practice, and commitment. But it works.

When my clients come to me and say “I don’t know what happened, this thought just stopped working,” I know what that really means is “I stopped working. I stopped working on believing it.”

Anyone can believe a thought when it feels sexy or safe or like it rode in on the back of a unicorn. What will truly grow your life in ways you can’t even imagine, is the hard, slow, incremental work of practicing thoughts that are challenging to believe.

So, my chickens, let’s work at this together and make 2019 the year of believing harder.