6 Things You’re Saying To Yourself That Are Holding You Back

That loud voice in your head is setting you up to fail. Here's how to ignore it.

Posted Sep 29, 2015

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There’s an annoying voice in your head.

It says things that you would never say to your brother or your best friend or your spouse but that you say to yourself. Frequently.

The voice needs to be silenced because it’s making you feel things about yourself or your situation that simply aren’t true. It makes you doubt yourself, gets you confused about important life decisions, and makes bleak predictions about the future that it cannot possibly know.

Worse yet, you believe it and that’s holding you back.

I know because I have that annoying voice in my head, too, and some days it takes everything I have to not listen, and if I’ve listened, to not pay attention, and if I’ve paid attention, to not believe it. Or if I’ve believed it, to wake up the next day and try and ignore it anyway.

What are the things you say to yourself when no one’s listening? Recognize any of these?

“I don’t know how to [X].”

I’ve noticed that the reason a lot of us have for not trying something is that we feel we don’t have the necessary experience or expertise in X, Y, and Z.

And for any among you thinking that you don’t know anything about querying or researching or interviewing, here’s my solution: You can learn. It might take a bit of time and it might be a lot of hard work, but there are two things it won’t be: expensive and impossible.

Maybe you won’t be able to achieve your goal next month or three months from now or even six months from now. But a year from now? You’ll have learned something new. You’ll have experimented. You’ll have taken a risk.

So if all that’s stopping you from reaching your goals is the voice in your head that says, “I don’t know how” answer it with the simple declaration of “I’m going to learn.”

“What if I’m wrong?”

I hate being wrong. Seriously. Hate it.

Being wrong costs me time and money. It costs me assignments and respect from editors (or so I tell myself). It costs me respect from you, my readers, because you’re not here to read all about my failures, right? You want to read about what’s working, what makes money, and what techniques get success.

But here’s what I’m learning constantly: People want to know the process. If I succeed, you can go back and replicate everything I’ve done and if I don’t, we’ll all have learned what not to do without thousands of individual hours wasted.

So, what if it turns out that I’m wrong? What if you’re taking a risk right now and you turn out to be wrong? Then listen to this and repeat it to yourself however many times you need to: If you’re wrong, that’s okay because you’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t make you a bad person, an untalented hack, a fraud or a bad lover. All it does is make you wrong. In this particular instance.

It’s not a reflection on all the decisions in your life up to this point or on all the decisions you’re going to make from this point forward. It’s not a reflection on your decision-making abilities. It’s not a reflection on who you are as a writer or a person or as a mother. It is one mistake. You were wrong. And that’s okay.

“So-and-so tried that and failed.”

This is a common line used by people to hold themselves back. They (um, I) find excuses to not do something because someone else tried it and failed and so why reinvent the wheel, why repeat someone else’s mistakes, right? This excuse is particularly damning because it comes with such solid logic. But the truth is that many of us use “she tried and failed” as an excuse to not try ourselves.

The trick is not to give up trying but to ask the right questions about why someone else failed. What did they do wrong? And what can you do better?

“I don’t have enough experience…”

Like the “I don’t know how to X” line, when you tell yourself that you have no experience, you limit yourself because instead of going out and getting that experience, you stop trying.

You’re not limited because you can always make up for lack of experience and lack of knowledge by going out and getting it.

So instead of saying you don’t have experience, start thinking instead, about how you can go about getting it.

“Why should so-and-so speak to me? I’m a nobody.”

This is one I say to myself often. In one of my writing groups recently, we were talking about how to network, make contacts, and push ourselves beyond our capabilities. I hesitate to contact people for meetings, I feel uncomfortable asking a CEO of a major company out to lunch because I feel like I’m imposing on his or her time, even if I’ve managed to make myself known to them. I asked my writing group about this and the amazing Susan Weiner (author of Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients) wrote: “Don’t assume that you have nothing to offer. In fact, you could say, ‘In return, I’d be happy to act as a sounding board for you’ or something like that.”

Words that I, and you, should tape up on our walls. Just ask. Don’t make up their minds for them. At least give them a chance to say yes.

“I just don’t know what to do any more.”

Sometimes, this is true. In fact, it was true for me not too long ago. There’s no easy answer to this. All the pep talks in the world won’t help if you’re stuck and simply haven’t reached a point of clarity that will help you decide on a next step.

I have learned, from experience, that the best thing—the only thing—to do when you don’t know what to do is to do something. Anything. Don’t sit idle and don’t obsess. Do what feels good, what comes naturally. Then do something else. Until you’ve figured out your course of action, keep moving and keep doing. The worst thing you can do is to become paralyzed and stop moving at all.

In time, your course will become clear and the momentum you’ve built by staying on the course will help propel you forward.

What's the voice in your head telling you? How is it holding you back?

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