One day when my son Ryan was eight years old, he came home from summer camp with a riddle.
“Mom, pretend you are in a box that is sealed shut – air tight – with no doors and no windows.” OK,” I replied, picturing walls on all sides of me.
“How do you get out?” he asked.
I offered some lame solutions, each of which compelled him to roll his eyes and shake his head. When I saw that he could no longer take it I said, “I give up. How do you get out?”
“You stop pretending!” he said with a wide grin spreading across his face.
This little riddle has profound implications for all of us.
Because we have a way of creating our own boxes every day of our lives. Sometimes we do it when we wake up with preconceived ideas of how our day is going to be. We do it when we make a judgment of whether or not we believe people will come through for us, or whether we will be able to come through for ourselves. We create boxes that keep us walled off from our greatest potential and the myriad of possibilities that exist all around us when we believe that the chances of achieving something are less than optimal.
We are often told that being truly creative requires that we “think outside of the box.”
And I believe this is true. Perhaps we can also increase our creativity and effectiveness by recognizing the ways in which we create our own boxes to begin with so that we can prevent them from reigning us in altogether.
Anytime you believe an assumption, you’ll tend to act in ways that validate it.
If you believe you are not capable of doing something – speaking in public, taking a stand, initiating a conversation with someone, pursuing some kind of opportunity – with the belief that you don’t have what it takes to succeed, you’ll behave in ways that make that assumption true. As the saying goes, “you can’t win if you don’t play.”
You may believe we cannot do something because there is no evidence that suggests you can.
But the lack of evidence is a direct result of believing something about ourselves that is based completely in conjecture. Many times the only real evidence we have is actually a lack of evidence.
Our beliefs can impact people around us too.
When you believe an assumption about others that suggests they are not capable of achieving something, you may well act in ways that can bring out their insecurities and doubts, thus inhibiting their performance. It is not uncommon for people to be accomplish amazing feats in front of some audiences and become all thumbs in front of others.
But there is a way out of that trap.
When we find ourselves being intimidated by others who may have doubts about our abilities, we need to be aware of the fact that their doubts are not what is inhibiting us at all. Their doubts are only triggering the stories of inadequacy we have about ourselves – and that is what gets in the way of our ability to do any given task. When we begin to pay attention to what it is we are believing, we can question the validity of our assumptions and take steps to disengage ourselves from beliefs that keep us reigned in.
The key is not to simply get rid of our assumptions.
What we really need to do is replace our limiting beliefs with empowering truths. Rather than focusing on what’s going wrong, we can focus on what’s going right and build on that. Instead of beating ourselves and others up for our seeming shortcomings, we can appreciate our strengths and the progress we have made and go from there. We can move from the improbable to the possible and look to the talent we and others possess that will help us to achieve it.
Action follows thought.
Our doubts are like the walls of a box that keep us from seeing and acting on the array of possibilities all around us. The truth about who we are and what we are capable of dissolves those walls and allows us to bust out of our boxes so that we can experience life as it is truly meant to be lived – unencumbered, limitless, and free.
So, if you find yourself in a box, remember the advice of an eight year old boy – and STOP PRETENDING.
Most of us have people in our lives that for whatever reason lead us to temporarily lose access to our fully functioning brains. You may find that in their presence, words suddenly escape you. Or worse, they seem to pour out of you like diarrhea or projectile vomit, leaving you to feel even more uneasy. Perhaps you unexpectedly develop a stutter. Maybe you become unusually clumsy, or suddenly fixated on how large your nose (or some other part of your body) feels. These are the kind of things that happen when we are intimidated by someone.
People intimidate us for a number of reasons.
Intimidation can be triggered by someone with an explosive temper, or a person who tends to be critical of you. It could come on when you are around someone you really want to be liked by. And sometimes it happens when you are in the presence of people who seem to have all the things in life that you do not, from stunning physical attributes to lavish material possessions to prestigious job titles. But there is one common denominator present when you find yourself intimidated by another person and believe it or not, it has very little to do with any of the previous factors I mentioned.
The root of all intimidation lies in what you are believing about yourself in any given moment.
It is easy to conclude that the problem exists somewhere out there.
You might think it’s the way someone looks at you, or responds (or doesn’t respond) to you. And you might even believe – if so and so wasn’t in my life, I would be so much more confident and self assured. But the problem isn’t other people – not even people who may intentionally be trying to tear you down a notch. You may think their hurtful messages are to blame.
But the trouble isn’t hearing hurtful messages from others.
That wouldn’t explain why people are intimidated by those they envy or really want to be liked by – who may never actually say anything at all. The reason people intimidate us is that in their presence we are telling ourselves that we are simply not good enough, attractive enough, rich enough, powerful enough, articulate enough, smart enough, skinny enough, athletic enough – or ENOUGH altogether.
And worse, we are believing it.
When you believe you’re inadequate, you will cut yourself off from your brilliance. Sometimes it’s just a little kink in the hose that still allows a small portion of your competence or grace or talent to come through. And other times it’s just an all out blockage. It’s not that all those wonderful things about you have gone away. You just temporarily have trouble accessing them. And then you may panic and find that things get even worse.
So how do you remove the blockage?
What can you do to avoid becoming intimidated and losing confidence?
Well, the interesting thing about intimidation is that the root of it is also the remedy.
When you find yourself going down Intimidation Street, you can stop and redirect yourself down a more positive path simply by becoming aware of and eventually changing your thoughts. I admit that this is much easier said than done. However, as with so many things in life, it gets better and better with practice.
Here are three ways to redirect your negative thoughts about yourself to something more positive:
(1) Think of someone in your life in whose presence you feel really good about yourself.
Go ahead and try it right now. See if you can place yourself in that person’s presence and feel the way you do when you are together. You might find that you are sitting up straighter and holding your head higher just at the thought. Know that when you are with that person, you are the same you that you are when you are with people who intimidate you.
See if you can envision being in the presence of someone who intimidates you while you are feeling the way you feel when you are around someone you feel loved and admired by. Imagine how much easier it would be to interact with others while you are in this state. Practice this in your mind often.
The next time you are around someone who intimidates you, use the exact same process.
Treat every interaction as an opportunity to build this muscle for yourself. And before you know it, you will find that your behavior will become more consistently confident and self assured. You may also notice that the things that used to send you into a tailspin no longer really bother you.
(2) The next time you find yourself feeling intimidated, notice what you are believing.
Then ask yourself if it is really true. This may be difficult to do when you are standing in front of someone, so if it’s easier you can wait until the moment has passed. You may find when you reflect on the situation that you felt the way you did when you were a kid and realize that those feelings are no longer relevant.
You may be believing that there is something you need to do or be to win someone’s affection or approval when in reality you just need to relax and be yourself and let go of needing so much to be liked by others. You may be believing that the other person is thinking something negative about you that is purely conjecture you are poisoning your mind with.
When you notice and begin to challenge your assumptions, they lose their hold on you.
It’s kind of like being in a haunted house after the lights have been switched on. You can go back there when it’s dark again, but it’ll never scare you the way it might have before.
(3) See if you can shift your focus from what you think you need to what you can give.
As I mentioned before, we get intimidated when we feel we are lacking in some way. And then we tend to act in ways that will allow us to get what we think we need to feel better. Often that comes in the form of someone’s approval or affection. Think of what kinds of things you think you need from others in order to feel more confident. Is it a smile? Is it a compliment? Is it someone paying attention to you? A little appreciation or support?
See if you can find a way to give to someone else that which you believe you need.
And do it in such a way that you are not expecting anything in return other than to be of service to another human being. In other words, don’t give to get. Give because it makes you feel good. When you do this, you will find yourself reconnected with the reserves that you are most in need of. Because when you give something – even if it is something you think you don’t have – you realize that by the very nature of giving it to others, you become an abundant supply.
“Those who bring sunshine to others cannot keep it from themselves.” – Anonymous
If you would like to learn more about building confidence, being authentic, and moving beyond old patterns that keep you from fully enjoying your life, check out my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming a Real Leader, available at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.
Image courtesy of Marcus74id at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.