This article first appeared on Forbes.
Today many of us are feeling we have very little left to give. Our goals, dreams and resolutions are either withering into the distance, or demanding the energy we just don’t have. We’re tired. We’re fried. We’re drained to our bones with what we’ve lived through these past two years.
Being on our A-game is too much of an ask. And yet, we’re struggling to give ourselves permission to take it easy.
Just this past week, I’ve had three clients well up with tears when I asked them to be kinder to themselves. To try not to fix so much. To accept what is, with gratitude. Even fall in love with what they cannot change. They get it at a cerebral level. But something deep inside them refuses to let go of their pursuits. The reason is sad, especially because it’s not even true. They believe they’re not worthy unless they’re producing, performing, or proving themselves in some way. It’s how they feel good about themselves, also known as fragile confidence. It’s fragile because soon enough, something deep inside will remind them of how they’re falling short. And the cycle will begin all over again.
Many of us relate to this perpetual need to push ourselves, all the more tyrannical in societies that celebrate busy-ness and reward outcomes. When we lack a sense of self-worth, we confabulate being with doing, and get trapped in “insecure striving” that is rife with anxiety, comparison, shame, blame and bouts of depression.
Optimal confidence—the confidence to live our optimal lives—is about building trust with ourselves at a deep and instinctive level. When we do, we’re able to go after what we want with joy and ease, because the outcome we want is the natural by-product of showing up as our best selves, moment to moment to moment.
One way of doing so is to ask yourself every morning, before you even get out of bed, or while you do your morning practice, if you have one: Who do I choose to be today?
The ‘today’ is important for a few reasons. One, our focus can change from day to day, especially in a world that is chaotic and volatile. One day it could be asking for more grit. The next day, it could be more acceptance. Or compassion. For me, this practice has stood the test of 2021, with all its upheavals, setbacks and disappointments. I’ve been able to answer the call of the moment.
Secondly, to grow into the person we can be, we have to act like that person today. Human beings are not like butterflies—we don’t go through a chrysalis to emerge in all our glory. Our transformation happens in the real world, in showing up moment to moment to moment as the person we are capable of being. Abraham Maslow, the father of self-actualization captured it beautifully in his quote: “What one can be, one must be.”
And lastly, today—or more precisely this moment—is the only time we’re guaranteed. We cannot keep waiting for the right moment, the perfect time, or the “one day” when we start living our lives. Your life is happening right now, and you can choose to participate, or to watch from the sidelines. The writer Annie Dillard says: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Today is critical for your fulfillment and for the legacy you’ll leave behind.
Flip the Switch
If you ask yourself this question every morning, and check-in with yourself at night, I promise you’ll experience a beautiful change in your life. Your consciousness is most active when all is quiet; that’s when it gets to remind you of your responsibility for the gift of life, and helps you focus on what’s most important, and not what’s most urgent or exciting.
If you struggle to do so—and many women do—it’s because many of us lack the sense of agency that comes from taking action. This can happen for different reasons—marginalization, being denied positions of power, or because of early experiences where we avoided situations that made us uncomfortable or that weren’t approved by others. When we don’t—or can’t—take action, we become afraid of failure.
Optimal confidence isn’t about ensuring we’ll succeed at all costs. It’s about trusting we have what it takes to deal with whatever comes our way. So begin with the question. If you don’t manage to be who you chose to be, refrain from reminding yourself that you aren’t “good enough”, that you didn’t “get it all done”, or that you’re “falling off” again.
You may have failed. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. Simply ask yourself the same question: Who do I choose to be now? And flip the switch on an old script that is both unhelpful and untrue.