By Jewel Safren, LCSW

It seems like all my biggest “crimes” against myself stem from the same thought cluster: playing it small. My set of beliefs about myself are so self-limiting—“You can’t do that! You are not organized enough, smart enough, whatever enough.” All these self-limiting beliefs. When I buy into these thoughts,I do not try certain things. Or I try something for a VERY short period of time and then jump back into my self-limiting thoughts when I don’t hit a homerun the first time I get up at bat.

I can really see how these self-limiting beliefs stop me from trying things, reaching out, expanding my horizons. “I can’t do it. I will look stupid, I will feel humiliated. Who do I think I am, anyway? People will laugh at me.” (Any of these thoughts sound familiar?) So I just don’t try. I just don’t send out that article. I just don’t make that phone call. I just don’t set up that class. I stay in my small world. But the joke is that when I do take a leap and jump out of my small belief system and do something brave but scary, it usually works out fine.

I have come miles on this over the years. I still struggle with it, but I’m worlds better than I was. I have always known that I had a gift of connection. People I met on the street would tell me their life story. My dream was to use that gift to help people. But I would never take any steps toward that dream. I had this talent that I yearned to express, but I wouldn’t even take a baby step toward expressing it, because I was so afraid of rejection. I remember the first workshop I organized. It took such courage for me to really do it. I put together the email, sent it out before I could think about it, and then went for a walk—and threw up, because I was so anxious about it. “What if no one signs up? What if everyone laughs at the idea that I could teach them anything?” Now I’ve come to the place where I can hit send and feel calm. If I don’t get any responses, it doesn’t say anything embarrassing or shameful about me. I’m able to put what I have to offer out in the world, and not pay so much attention to the anxious thoughts. (There will always be anxious thoughts.) By the way, that first workshop did get signups, and it went fine.

Even if that workshop had been a disaster, that wouldn’t have been the worst possibility. The worst possibility would have been if I had never hit send at all. When I think about how much my own thinking has held me back in my life, it kind of makes me cry—because I did it to myself. Not anymore. (Of course, I’ll still have negative moments; but I won’t pay nearly as much attention to them now. They might keep me down for minutes or even days, but not forever.) Now I keep sending those articles, I keep scheduling talks and classes. I make small but definite progress.

If I could give one piece of advice to myself as a young person, it would be confidence. Go all out for whatever you want. Do not worry about not looking cool. Do not worry about looking foolish. Do not worry about people laughing at you. Do not let your lack of confidence keep you playing it small. GO FOR IT! Break out of those thought chains that you have created for yourself. This doesn’t mean you will always hit a homerun. But if you keep getting up to bat you will for sure get much further than the player who never gets up to bat because his fear of embarrassment keeps him sitting on the bench (looking cool, of course). Just keep moving forward. Just keep taking the next step. You know those commercials where Michael Jordan tells you how many baskets he has missed or how many games he lost? It’s kind of like that. You may never be Michael Jordan, or even play in the NBA. But at least you will be in the game playing!

There is a wonderful feeling you get when you are really in the game, playing. When you know you are pushing back against your self-imposed boundaries, you can feel yourself getting bigger—you can feel yourself growing. And that in itself is so satisfying. When you push yourself, when you feel bigger and better, that’s a win regardless of the outcome.

That is where real confidence comes from. You keep getting up at bat. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t—but that doesn’t mean anything. You are not an idiot for trying. You are not an idiot for not getting it “right.” You just have to keep playing and not buy into your own “I knew I couldn’t do it…I must really look stupid” thoughts. Just keep doing the next thing. Don’t pay attention to the negative thoughts in your head. They do not mean anything. Don’t give them significance. Just keep doing the next thing. You might hit a home run—but you can also make a run by getting to one base at a time.

Jewel Safren MSW, LSW, LCSW has over 35 years of experience in counseling, life coaching and public-speaking coaching. She has worked with people all over the US and in Europe, and runs popular personal growth workshops, webinars and classes. She is recommended by Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz; Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, B.Ed, M.Sci.; Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn and Rabbi Mordechai Becher. She lives in West Orange with her hubby and two kids, and has two married kids and two grandsons living in California. You can contact Jewel at 973-464-8556 or, if you would like to be on her mailing list or for more information, visit jewelsafrenlcsw@gmail.com.