Friday, 3 June 2016

Sprinkle Salt On The Slug Of Self Doubt

"Sheesh, you're looking old today, girlfriend!"

"You've really shoehorned yourself into those skinny jeans, eh fatty?"

"I wouldn't bother applying for that job mate, you'd never get it."

With friends like that, who needs enemies, huh? Only these are not the words of a two-faced mate, a frenemy who offers soothing words of support when we're down whilst secretly feeling a certain frisson of Schadenfreude. Oh no, this is something far more harmful, crippling us on a daily basis. These are words we say to ourselves. The inner voice sabotaging our everyday actions, personal development and general happiness.

Of course it's good to have an inner voice when it comes to conscience, intuition, instinct. You need to question the wisdom of your actions, have a quiet word with yourself now and again. But what if the inner dialogue between you and your party-pooper psyche becomes more of a battle of wills, a slanging match? One in which the running commentary of negativity often wins?

It's time to pull yourself up.

It's time to sprinkle salt on the slug of self-doubt.

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As women, we're adept at cheerleading others, encouraging them through the peaks and troughs of life, whilst simultaneously wrestling our own inner critic. But in order to be at our best and get the most out of life, we need to cut ourselves some slack, body-slam that inner bitch and see the good in ourselves, too.

You know those days when everything's going well and you're buzzing with excitement - say, the last day at work before a long-awaited holiday? You're smiling, the day flows, your mood is contagious and all is right in your world, the inner voice cheerfully humming along to your tune. Even the mounting pile in your in-tray or an irritated customer can't shake your merriment.

Wouldn't you love to bottle that lighter-than-air feeling to save for those dark days, the ones where you wake up to pelting rain with a stiff neck, a black mood and are telling yourself it's going to be "one of those days" before you've even got past the front door?

With practise, I'm told, there is a way. The first part is awareness: recognising when you're self-sabotaging, then consciously doing something positive to change your mindset, be it exercise, listening to uplifting music, meeting a friend, calling your mum (good old mum!) or immersing yourself in a hobby you're passionate about (why do you think I write?).

There will always be tough days, but they will be far easier with a Tigger bouncing about in your head, rather than a downcast Eeyore. I know from personal experience that if you cannot love yourself, it will become nigh-on impossible to love anyone else: sadness permeates every pore, wrecking your health and ruining relationships. You're constantly on the edge, a tightly coiled spring, and the smallest perceived slight will make you snap. It's a miserable way to live.

So try telling yourself you can. Put yourself out there. If it doesn't work, whatever it is, at least you tried. When you're feeling happy in yourself, you have spare happiness to pass on. You really do get what you give. If you speak sharply to someone, it's hardly surprising that you get the exact same tone back. If you're calm, honest, humble, others respond in kind.

If someone compliments you, a simple "thanks!" will suffice. Don't question it or deflect the praise by shrugging it off, embarrassed, babbling something to the contrary. Absorb it's warmth like rays of summer sunshine on your face and use the energy that comes from it to spur you on.

Having accepted the compliment, pay it forward. If someone looks great, tell them. Praise someone for a job well done, or message someone you admire to let them know.  When you're in a good mood, people are attracted to you, which in turn boosts you further.  All these little sparks of positive energy will have a cumulative effect until suddenly you find you have a fire in your belly, strong enough to grab life by the gonads once more.

Obviously I can only speak for women, but I'm not sure men suffer from such fun-numbing neuroses. Even with a paunch, balding and more wrinkles than a Shar-Pei puppy, they seem to look in the mirror and see a Greek god gazing adoringly back at them. It's like they have reverse body dysmorphia.

Take Peter Stringfellow as a case in point, confidently strutting about in his micro-Speedos on the beach for the tabloids' paps. I'm sure he hadn't spent the preceding hour grabbing the flab and bemoaning his bod in the hotel mirror, before slipping on a cover-up and carefully positioning himself on the sunbed at the most flattering angle, stiff as a board as he imagines the other sun-worshippers silently judging him from behind their oversized sunnies.

The recent passing of the universally-loved  Mohammad Ali has thrown his amazing life back into the spotlight, his inspiring quotes cropping up all over the news and social media. The stand-out personality traits which fuelled his success were a) dogged self-belief coupled with b) a sparkling sense of humour; borderline hubris offset by an innate ability to laugh at himself.

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A couple of years ago, I'd split from my husband and partner of fifteen years, having endured years of unsuccessful fertility treatment and the accompanying sense of failure and self-loathing. Meanwhile my friends were in long-term relationships or married, almost all had children and I was 37 years old, separated and living alone for the first time in my life in an eerily silent house. I'd hit rock-bottom and my confidence was at an all-time low.

After a short period of licking my wounds, I knew I had to take action to change my situation. I got a tattoo in Latin, which says "Fortune Favours The Brave," wrapped around my torso. A bit naff? Maybe. But whenever I wanted to wimp out, I saw the tattoo and it spurred me on, even just to do small things like go to the cinema or a restaurant alone. You can't have that emblazoned on your bod then act like a pussy, eh?

I stepped down from a stressful role, took a sabbatical and went travelling around Thailand on my own. I threw myself into the dating scene after 15 years (which was a real eye-opener, let me tell you) and met a new man.

 I returned to work in a lesser role, prioritising happiness over money, and volunteered helping children in Costa Rica. I started writing regularly and sharing it with you all, knowing that it would mean exposing my innermost thoughts to the world and the criticism that may entail, but it would be following my passion to write. I got an article published (the first I ever submitted) and have you, dear Reader, following my blog, for which I am extremely grateful. Thank you so much :-)

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Of course, there are far braver souls than me out there. I'm not claiming to be some self-help guru, and believe me, I'm often riddled with self-doubt. But one thing I've learnt as I get older is that if you don't believe in yourself, you can't expect anyone else to. Furthermore, everyone else is far too busy worrying about their own shortcomings and daily dramas to take much notice of yours.

No one knows what the hell we're doing here, everyone's just winging it and trying to get through this thing we call "life" as best they can. None of us are getting out of this alive, so we may as well help each other along, try to realise our dreams and have as much fun as we can along the way.

They say "Life is a journey, not a destination."

Amen to that.

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This article has also appeared at Huffington Post UK.

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