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What happens when you tell yourself you’re not good enough

Spam Filter for Your Brain - Episode 75

You might think that this isn't something that you say to yourself that often anymore, or it might be something that you're like, well, I don't say it as much as I used to do, so it doesn't really count. And however well most of us are doing, I still find that there are some areas of our lives where we have this underlying main thought, which drives a lot of what we do, which is this feeling, this thought, this sort of feeling of inadequacy, which is driven by the thought that we're not good enough or we're just about to get caught out because we're not doing the things right, that we are not adulting well enough.

And I want to just sort of have a little investigation as to what happens when you tell yourself that you get things wrong because I'm sure many of you are familiar with the concept of confirmation bias, but our brains are little evidence seekers. They love to prove us right. And the reason that they do this is because if we can prove ourselves right about things, it makes us feel safe. Our brain is looking for us to try and identify patterns in the things around us, which paving slabs are going to be safe to step on. We work this out by finding connections in the things around us where we are right, where we have been right, and where we hopefully will be right again in the future.

If you go telling yourself that you're not very good at something, your brain is going to start to look for all of the evidence as to why you're a bit rubbish at it, why you've probably been rubbish at it in the past; Why are other people definitely better at it than you are? Why shouldn't you try this thing in the first place because you're really not very good at it? Your brain is hardwired to try and conserve energy and not put you in danger.

If you're saying to yourself that you're not very good at something, it's going to go cool, okay, that's definitely not something we're going to do. So I'm going to employ all of my powers to try and prevent you from wasting any energy trying to do that because that's going to feel rubbish. And I hate feeling rubbish because feeling rubbish is akin to feeling like death.

I think somewhat socially, we have this idea that it doesn't really matter if we tell ourselves that we're a bit bad at things because it's just being a bit humble, or maybe you're hoping secretly that someone's going to say, "oh, no, you're great at that thing", or you can prove yourself wrong. Or we sort of bully ourselves into thinking, well, if I tell myself that I'm not very good at it, that's going to motivate me. I don't like feeling this rubbish thing, so it's going to motivate me to be better at it, and I should sort of give myself this tough love, then I can improve on the thing.

But actually, what your brain does is go, "Well shit, that's dangerous then. So I'm just going to hide over here and try and make sure that we never do that thing again because we're terrible at it. That'd be awful. I don't want to feel awful. Why don't we go and find some dopamine in, I don't know, some crisps or that series on Netflix that you weren't enjoying or cleaning that cupboard really fastidiously?" Whatever it is that you do to distract yourself away from your emotions.

When we are doing all of this stuff to try and escape from the feelings that we're having, what we're doing is reemphasising to our brains that, yeah, actually thinking that thought did feel really uncomfortable. And uncomfortable emotions are also dangerous. So actually, let's just hang out here in distraction-land, where everything is just a little bit easier.

The irony is that the less that we are capable of feeling our feelings, the less that we're training ourselves to have some sort of awareness as to what our emotions are doing for us, there to teach us going to feel all of the feelings of the life and what we have to learn from these experiences. The less that we're comfortable with sitting with that stuff, the more we're likely to get things wrong. Because not only have we told our brains that we're right, that we are rubbish at things and just assumed that to be the truth, but also now we are doing a whole load of things which are going to cost us time and energy trying to escape from that feeling that we have caused by telling ourselves that we're rubbish.

So rather than thinking, oh, this is fine and great, Anna, so why don't I just tell myself I'm brilliant because I don't fucking feel that either. Thanks very much for your top tips here. Isn't Spam Filter For Your Brain Brilliant? I've actually got a better tip for you, and that is where you can just take things down a peg so that it isn't quite so self-destructive. Rather than telling yourself that you're not good enough at things or just you're not very good at it, maybe you think that you're just not someone who's good with social interactions or you're not very good at paying attention to detail or you're not very good at proofreading stuff. Rather than listing off the fact that you are not good at it as if it is just the ultimate truth, is there any way that you can just diffuse it a little bit by neutralising it? Is there any way that you could say rather than "I'm terrible at social interactions", you could say something like, "I have met other humans before." That's probably equally true, rather than telling yourself that you're no good at proofreading things. You could say to yourself something like, "I'm going to try and notice my mistakes, or look for ways to adapt this". Maybe it's by reading something out loud.

For example, "I'm resourceful enough to try and adapt or ask for help in this situation."

In what ways can you find things where you're telling yourself that you're not very good at stuff that you could just take to an equally true fact, but one that isn't based on such self-slander? Is there any way that you can just tone it down a little bit and not give your brain so much ammunition to drive you to distract yourself away from yourself? If you would like any help with trying to get to those neutral thoughts, obviously, that's what we do over at or just on a one-to-one. I do one-to-one coaching as well for folks who need it. Please always reach out if there's anything in the podcast that you're like. "Actually, I'd really like to I have no idea we were talking about" or "I think it all sounds lovely in theory, but to apply it to my own life seems really difficult". Do reach out. I'd be really happy to help you try and work on some of this stuff if it serves you, and I look forward to speaking to you next week. I hope this has been a useful concept.

Emotional Resilience Toolkit:

How to Make Time for Yourself Replay:

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