A founder I coach reached out to me with an all-too-common pain point. A negative comment on her company Facebook page sent her into a tailspin–not only wasting a workday, but consuming her with self-doubt.
While the occasional negative Facebook critique may be inevitable, the accompanying self-doubt doesn’t have to be.
Here are the transformative beliefs I share with founders in a similar situation:
Concept #1: Your feelings are created by your thoughts which alter how you experience a given event.
According to cognitive psychologists, our thoughts create our moods- like self-doubt, anger and depression. In Feeling Good, David Burns explains that our brain takes in an “event” and we interpret that event as a “thought.” The thought triggers in us certain “feelings” and our “actions” follow.
Here’s a look at how the process works:
Let’s apply this to the situation with the founder I referenced above– I’ll call her Jane. Jane read the negative Facebook post (the “event”) and thought, “this proves I have no idea how to run this business”. As a result, she felt overwhelmed and anxious. She then spent an unproductive evening questioning whether she had what it takes to be successful.
Jane saw the Facebook post as causing her bad night. But that’s not the full story. She may not have been able to control the critical comment, but she did have power over the downhill spiral that she subsequently went through.
Concept #2: An event doesn’t always result in the same thoughts, which proves that the downward spiral is not as inevitable as it might seem in the moment.
An event may trigger irritated thoughts in us one day, and yet the same situation barely hits our radar the next.
A few months ago, a team member approached another founder I work with, who I’ll call Tim, requesting more responsibility and a big raise. He immediately thought, “this employee is so entitled”. He then spent an hour feeling irritated by the request and complaining to his co-founder.
However, when a different employee reached out to Tim and made a similar request, his reaction was more measured and open-minded.
Even though it was basically the same situation, he had totally different thoughts, leading to different feelings and actions. The great news is that since an event can cause multiple thoughts, we therefore have more freedom over our feelings than we often believe.
Concept #3: Our negative thoughts are almost always fueled by irrational or inaccurate thoughts.
Irrational or inaccurate thoughts- also known as distorted thoughts- don’t serve a positive or constructive purpose in achieving our long term goals. Cognitive psychologists share many types, but here are some that I frequently see:
“All-or-nothing thinking” is where we view things in black and white categories. Jane did this when she read one critical comment and immediately concluded that she wasn’t good enough.
“Labeling” is an extreme form of overgeneralization, which Tim was doing when he thought of his employee as “entitled.” Labeling the employee may have felt cathartic in the moment, but probably didn’t reflect the full picture.
“Disqualifying the positive” is when we refuse to acknowledge anything positive about a person or situation. Two co-founders I’m working with have been struggling with their partnership. They’re solely focusing on their negative beliefs about the other. This helps them each feel “right”, and it’s making it impossible for them to view their partnership with mutual purpose.
Concept #4: Be aware of the thoughts that benefit you, and re-write the ones that don’t.
The thoughts that benefit you serve a constructive purpose in your life. They help you achieve your true goals. They help you accurately problem-solve and process the world around you, without negatively affecting your or others’ self-esteem.
Thoughts that don’t benefit us- like those that trigger self-doubt- get in our way. The first step to addressing it is to recognize the way in which it’s inaccurate or irrational. Then, we challenge the thought by rewriting it.
Jane rewrote her “I’m not good enough” all-or-nothing thought with, “even though this customer’s criticism is valid, it doesn’t mean there’s anything fundamentally wrong with me or my company. I’m sure my team can figure out a solution.”
Tim rewrote his “this employee is so entitled” labeling thought to “our views on this are widely different. Why might he think he’s ready for more responsibility and money?”
And the co-founders are challenging their negative beliefs about each other by asking themselves: “Is it really true that the other person brings nothing to this partnership? What’s at least one valuable thing they add to this company?”
Self-doubt is the ultimate saboteur, chipping away at our confidence and our highest aspirations. It’s an unproductive emotion that most of us have experienced at some point in our lives.
What’s more, these distorted thoughts can destroy our dreams and our goals if left unchecked.
Learning these tools will take consistent practice, but the payoff will be priceless.