A new client came to me after being promoted to a new leadership role.

Her organization was clearly invested in her and excited about the skill she brought (otherwise they wouldn’t have promoted her!). But she worried about not being good enough.

My client arrived at our coaching session one day and exclaimed, “I want to overcome my fear of inadequacy, once and for all!”

She explained that earlier that week, colleagues offered her hard-to-hear feedback, and she went into a mental spin cycle, ruminating about all the things she should have said differently.

Another day, after presenting about a project at work, she told me that she had started worrying about what other people thought, ruminating about what she could have done differently. The anxiety lingered with her for the rest of the day.

My client worried that if she didn’t overcome her fear of inadequacy, it would hold her back from succeeding in her new role and being present for her life outside of work.

I want to share with you three practices I shared with my client to help her build her confidence.

These are just a taste of the practices I offer my clients to help them build their confidence, but I hope they’ll help you start to gain traction as you work to overcome any fear of inadequacy you might have.

One: Never waste a good trigger.

My teacher, Ana Forrest, says, “Never waste a good trigger.”

The fear of inadequacy is an emotional habit, and habits arise, seemingly automatically, in reaction to triggers in our environments.

The more we notice the triggers that prompt our habits and how our bodies feel in reaction, the more we can interrupt our old patterns and choose new responses that meet our needs more effectively.

For example, when I’m working on a project that I care deeply about and I send out an email that I later wish I could rewrite, the Judge in my head shouts, “I made a mistake!”

It no longer says cruel things about me like it used to, but even the exclamation, “I made a mistake!” sparks a jolt of anxiety in my body.

By noticing this exclamation and the anxiety it prompts in me over time, I’ve realized that as soon as I hear “I made a mistake,” it’s time for me to pause, turn toward myself with love and kindness, and get curious about what I need. (And, I’ve learned that if I don’t pause and get curious about what’s going on within me, I’ll likely have a hard time falling asleep.)

Every trigger is an opportunity to offer ourselves warmth and kindness, unearth the old stories that spark our fear, and take action to honor our needs.

Two: Turn Your Attention Toward the Scared Feelings with Warmth & Kindness

Of course, it makes sense to want to avoid the fear or engage in distracting activities in the hopes that it’ll go away. But that often works less than well.

Instead, my experience, my clients’ experience, and extensive research into self-compassion demonstrates that to soothe our nervous systems, we must turn toward our scared feelings with warmth and kindness and offer ourselves the gentleness we might offer a small child who’s being bullied at school.

With this in mind, once you realize that your fear of inadequacy is triggered, I challenge you to do your best to turn your attention toward the scared part of you with warmth and kindness.

Three: Name What You Feel

Although most people don’t believe that naming our body’s sensations and emotions is helpful, ample research proves that finding words for our feelings helps soothe our nervous systems.

Now, when I ask you what you feel, you might first say, “I feel inadequate.” But inadequacy is not a feeling. It’s a story.

In contrast, real feeling words include afraid, embarrassed, or anxious. Your body may be hot, your heart racing, your shoulders tense. I invite you to take a look at my emotions wheels for help naming what you feel.

While this may seem like wordsmithing, our words are powerful. Our bodies and minds respond differently to different words.

Imagine being a small child and having someone tell you, “You feel so inadequate.” Then, imagine them saying, “Sweetheart, you’re really scared right now, aren’t you?”

In my body, it feels much different. How about for you?

***

After just a couple weeks of engaging with these practices, my client noticed a remarkable shift.

While she hadn’t completely eliminated her inner Judge, she was able to notice when it popped up.

When she did, she started quickly turning toward the part of herself who feared that she was inadequate, noticing what she felt and the judgmental stories, offering herself love and kindness, and choosing a story that served her more.

Faster than she had anticipated, she stopped worrying that her fear of inadequacy would hold her back. Instead, she grew a deep trust in her ability to show up effectively and offer herself a safe landing place whenever she made a mistake.

***

If your fear of inadequacy is preventing you from moving forward in your career or from leading confidently and powerfully, I invite you to consider working with me.

I help community leaders, organizers, activists, and others engaged in social change work to cultivate the emotional capacity to make the impact they long to make while feeling confident about themselves and enjoying their life outside of work, too.

I offer a free call for people who are interested in the possibility of coaching with me. If you’re curious, I invite you to check out my professional coaching services.

Or, if you’d like to get a free taste of more of my work, I invite you to subscribe to my weekly Love Letters to Changemakers—free morsels of guidance just like this article. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

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