Mindset is Everything: 20 Ways I've Helped Myself Become A Happy and Healthy Introverted Business Owner | Guest Post: Sophie Carefull
This post is taken from the blog of my girlboss buddy and go-to branding photographer extraordinaire, Sophie Carefull. Sophie is based in Bristol, UK and creates beautiful branding photography for female business owners. You can check out her website at www.sophiecarefull.co.uk and her instagram @sophiecarefull. (Pssst, she did the photography on this site too!)
I had planned to do a post on very much this same topic and then Sophie posted hers. It was SO good that I asked her if I could share it here too...
This blog post started off being about social anxiety but it also touches on self-doubt, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, low self-worth and anxious feelings (all of which I've experienced at some point or another and feel are closely linked to my social anxiety), so if you ever experience any of those things, I hope this post helps you.
Disclaimer: I am, of course, not a doctor so please take everything in this blog post with a pinch of salt. Always consult a doctor or qualified therapist for advice specific to you and your situation. These are just some things that have worked for me that might help you too, so treat it like pick 'n' mix and see what you like!
This blog post has been a long time coming. In the interests of transparency, I'd like to open with a peek inside my brain at the whirring thoughts that have stopped me from writing it all this time:
1. “Who am I to dare talk about mental health? I was never diagnosed with anxiety or depression so my experience with them doesn't really count.”
2. “If I talk about having social anxiety on my business blog, I'll never book another photoshoot again and what I've spent two years building will crumble before my very eyes.”
3. “People will think you're being a martyr or fishing for praise by talking about your own struggles so openly.”
4. “Everyone will know you once watched a video called “How to Get People to Like You” and you'll never live it down!”
And in the interests of demonstrating the power of choosing to believe something more constructive....
1. “Everybody's feelings are valid. It doesn't matter if you get a signed note from a doctor or not; if you feel terrible and it's affecting your life, work and relationships, it COUNTS. And you deserve to have access to the help that's available.”
2. “If people read this and think I'm crazy and they'd never want to work with me, that's brilliant because I'd never want to work with someone who had so little compassion anyway.”
3. “To quote the genius that is Jen Sincero: “What other people think of you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.””
4. “Well, whatever helps!”
So, it turns out the list of things I've done to work on my social anxiety and low self-confidence is pretty lengthy! Please know that my intention is not to overwhelm you with a whole load of homework tasks to go and do (I know how stress-inducing lists like this can be!). I just want to prove to you that one does not simply go to bed one night as an anxious ball of worry and wake up the next morning a confident entrepreneur who feels a million times happier. I actively choose to put work in every single day to help myself feel good.
Ever since I discovered that we can change the way we think and feel, I've treated my life like a big experiment or project. What could I do now to feel a bit better than before? How could improve this area of my life? What would happen if I tried this thing? If it worked for other people, maybe it could work for me too. These are the kinds of conversations I have with myself and I always try and maintain the feeling of curiosity and fun around them. I don't think there's any use in forcing yourself to read self-help books if they bore you silly, or going to meditation classes if they make you feel super uncomfortable. Find the things that you can happily do with a lighthearted attitude because you're likely to get so much more out of them if that's the case, trust me!
A quick note to clarify that:
- Some of the things I've been done have been paid-for and many of them have been free
- All the links in this post open in a new tab so you won't lose your place
- All the book links go to Waterstones but most of these titles will be available second-hand, always check eBay!
- I don't benefit from linking to any of these resources, I'm doing it because these things/people have genuinely improved my life
Right, let's get stuck in! Behold the wonderful tools and resources that have helped me, in no particular order:
I'd hoped I could fit this into a couple of paragraphs but there's just so much to say about it, so I've written a separate blog post that you can read here. If you're even the tiniest bit curious, please do check this out (it opens in a new tab so you can bookmark for later if you like) as it's been the biggest game-changer for me, and I was a total sceptic before too!
Presence By Amy Cuddy
I've spent a lot of time thinking about my mindset and how I can change it from the inside, but Presence encouraged me to look at it from a different perspective. This book was eye-opening for me, as was the author's TED Talk called Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are. The main premise is that if you change your body language, you can change your mind. A key example of this being that standing in a “power pose” for two minutes before a daunting situation such as a job interview, exam or pitch, results in increased testosterone levels and reduced cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, meaning that you feel calmer and more confident going into that situation. In that state, you're likely to perform better. I love all the scientific studies in the book that relate to body language, impostor syndrome and power. There are loads of easily applicable tricks to try that can make a huge difference to how brave you feel in your day-to-day life. I think I genuinely walk taller, with my shoulders back and my head held a little higher as a result of reading this book, and that in itself has improved my life.
You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life By Jen Sincero
I love this book. It's written by an ex-self-help-super-cynic so if you're even slightly in that camp but you'd still like to explore how you can help yourself, this is the writer to seek out! Jen is extremely straight talking, pretty sweary (!) and hilarious. She shares real life examples and funny anecdotes from her own journey with self-help that just make it really accessible and easy to read. It tackles everything from how to stop caring what other people think to how to tune into your intuition and start making decisions based on what you actually want out of your life. Jen has another book called You Are A Badass At Making Money, which is equally brilliant and a must-read if you struggle to charge what you're worth or if thinking and talking about money brings you out in anxious hives.
The Anxiety Solution By Chloe Brotheridge
Chloe Brotheridge is a hypnotherapist specialising in anxiety and her book is a cross between a memoir (detailing her own struggles with anxiety that led her to what she does today) and a self-help book as it's also packed with tips and tools on how to manage anxious feelings in your day-to-day. It's easy to read and truly empowering.
Playing Big By Tara Mohr
I love this book so much and I think it should be on the curriculum in schools. I want everyone to read it! It's aimed at women who feel that they're “playing small” in that they have so much more to give in their life and work but are holding themselves back because of the negative voice inside their head – their 'inner critic'. There are lots of books out there that deal with the subject of the inner critic but I found this one really refreshing in that it actually offers a more beneficial alternative, which is the notion of an 'inner mentor'. The idea is that we all have a positive voice within us that we haven't been able to hear all this time because our negative voice is so much louder. Tara suggests that your inner mentor is you, twenty years from now. She has all the wisdom you'll ever need, you just need to tune in and listen to her. There's a guided visualisation on Tara's website that helps you connect with your future self so give it a go if you're curious – don't beat yourself up if you don't find what you're looking for on the first go, it will take a few attempts, especially if you're not used to working with your intuition or using visualisations. This is just one small aspect of the book, other brilliant lessons include the section on behaviours that diminish our power, such as saying “I'm not an expert, but...” or apologising a lot for things we haven't done, or using the word “just” to excess in our communication. Please read it, it's eye-opening!
Big Magic By Elizabeth Gilbert
This may not seem like it's got anything to do with social anxiety, but the lessons in this book about creativity and fear were transformational for me. The book itself is lighthearted and full of cheerful anecdotes and I think anyone who considers themselves to be remotely creative (and especially those who don't at all but perhaps wish they were) should have this on their bookshelf. It explores the idea that fear (or resistance) will always be there when we're trying to create things in our lives, whether that's writing a book, launching a business, learning a new hobby or meeting new people. If we can accept that fear is coming along for the ride, whatever the weather, we can stop fighting it and start creating in spite of it. If you've ever wondered how to literally “feel the fear and do it anyway”, this book can be your friendly guide.
Courage & Spice by Sas Petherick
I love the way that Sas approaches the topic self-doubt with such a compassionate attitude and so much curiosity (this is how I now try to approach my own quirks and struggles). Her podcast features interviews with brilliant women and solo episodes where she explores where self-doubt comes from, how it can manifest in our lives and businesses and how to quieten that voice in our heads in order to achieve the things we want to. It's the perfect mix of scientific research and soulful enquiry and it really has helped me to feel less alone about being a worrier and given me the confidence to do scary things in spite of my self-doubt, rather than letting it rule my life, as I have in the past.
The Science of People by Vanessa Van Edwards
This is the bit where I confess to Googling some fairly embarrassing stuff at a low-point in my adventure with social anxiety. Hopefully we can all just be a bit less embarrassed about this stuff as a result! Side note: the number of views on these YouTube videos is actually very reassuring. I was a couple of months into running my own business and knew how important networking was going to be for me but just didn't have a clue how to go about it, as someone who would literally shudder at the mention of that word. I can't remember how I came across Vanessa and The Science of People but I love her mission of empowering people to improve their interpersonal skills. She has loads of videos on YouTube and her website that are super simple and talk about very specific aspects of social interaction, human behaviour and charisma. I also just found this whole section on the Science of People blog about leveraging your introversion. Go wild!
How Not To Be Self-Conscious by Marsha from Yes, Yes, Marsha
The idea behind this video may seem totally obvious and simple, but I think that's why it's so powerful and lots of us definitely overlook it. I watched this during my first few months of going to networking and it actually changed everything for me. If you don't fancy clicking through to watch it, remember this core mantra that Marsha shares: “Nobody is thinking about me, everybody is thinking about themselves, just like I am, right now.” Ahh, doesn't that feel like a weight's been lifted?! Put it on your screensaver, print it out and put it on the wall, repeat it to yourself the night before and morning of social events. The pressure is off you! Go be your brilliant self!
Hiring an NLP Coach
After experiencing the magic of hypnotherapy and seeing the impact this had on my confidence and, as a direct result, my business, I wanted to carry on working on my mindset and getting regular support from an expert. I discovered Sophie French on Instagram and saw that she was a life coach, business mentor and NLP practitioner. NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming, which is all about the stories we tell ourselves and the language we use in our inner-monologue, and how we have the power to change those things for better results. I knew that I'd be a good candidate for this type of coaching due to how well I took to hypnotherapy, and I loved everything Sophie talked about on her Instagram, blog posts and the videos on her website. We had an instant connection (which also resulted in Sophie hiring me for her personal branding photography) so I knew she'd be the coach for me!
Working with Sophie has helped me to maintain the positive changes that I gained from hypnotherapy and she has also empowered me to focus even more on how I want to feel (calm, calm, and calmer still). Sophie is innately encouraging and uplifting and she genuinely makes me feel like I can take on anything that comes my way. She consistently boosts my confidence and helps me to put in place boundaries that protect my mental wellbeing.
Coaching is a big investment so if you aren't in a position to hire someone right now, do whatever you can to soak up their wisdom in other ways - go to their workshops, watch their Facebook Lives, follow them on Instagram, buy their books or guided visualisation downloads! Surround yourself with positive messages and inspiring people, I promise it's powerful!
Chloe Brotheridge's Instagram Stories (Hypnotherapist and Author of The Anxiety Solution)
Chloe shares brilliant, jargon-free clips and live broadcasts about dealing with anxiety. They're always full of practical tips and advice that you can use in your everyday life. I love following people like this, who are on a mission to help us help ourselves!
Relax Me Happy Relaxation Tracks by Zofie Lloyd-Kucia
I started using Zofie's guided relaxation downloads during my two months of hypnotherapy last year. I would fall asleep to the confidence-boosting sleep track that my own hypnotherapist had given me and then listen to Zofie's “Good Day Morning Meditation” and “Good Day Affirmations” with my first cuppa of the day, before starting work. I would also sometimes listen to the affirmations in my car right before a photoshoot! I can't promise this kind of thing will work for everyone but I can say that if you have an open mind and just let yourself try it, you could be really pleasantly surprised! I've found tracks like this to totally transform my mood and mindset when I maintain the habit of listening to them (that's the clincher, as with any self-help work!).
Zofie of Relax Me Happy's Instagram Stories
Zofie is the queen of self-love! She shares daily video clips talking about all sorts of stress and anxiety tackling tips and focussing on feeling good. She's straight-talking (and sometimes a bit sweary, in the good way!) and her passion for helping people to feel happier is palpable. My favourite thing about Zofie's stories has to be the thought-provoking questions that she poses. For example, “What would you change if you really loved yourself?” Ooooh, that's good.
Surround yourself with positive people who support your growth. Introvert-friendly ways to find them include Facebook groups and Instagram!
This is a brilliant free app featuring over 10,000 guided meditations, visualisations, talks and music tracks by tons of different teachers. You can search by theme (such as anxiety, stress, confidence) and also filter by the length of guided meditation you're looking for; whether you have 5 minutes or 30, there'll be something for you! I use these first thing in the morning and also sometimes before bed. There are loads of sleep-related tracks so if you struggle to switch off at night, try these! A big feature of the app (as indicated by the name) is a meditation timer, so that you can meditate unaided. I haven't mastered this yet but the guided visualisations full of positive affirmations have been even more useful to me so I'm happy using those for now. Try a few different tracks and see who you like listening to, you can then bookmark your favourite teachers and meditations for regular use.
Started leaving my phone outside my bedroom at night
I mentioned in this blog post about morning routines that I'd been inspired by this video to stop sleeping with my phone on my bedside table in order to stop myself from looking at it last thing at night and first thing in the morning. I would often go to sleep (or try to) after having just read a work email, a distressing news article or been scrolling on social media and feeling bad about myself. I'd then wake up and repeat the process, then wonder why my days didn't often get off to a good start; I'd feel low, stressed and anxious about all sorts of things outside of my control, simply because I'd let this little device dictate what I saw as soon as I opened my eyes. Ever since seeing that video, I've left my phone on charge in the lounge and use a traditional alarm clock to wake up (they are so cheap – no excuses!) and it has made the world of difference. I almost always get out of bed on my alarm (after being a serial snoozer, or worse, falling back to sleep with my phone in my hand!) and I can go into my day being more intentional about what gets into my 'bubble'. I make a cup of tea and sit quietly, often listening to a visualisation or reading something positive. I used to not touch my phone for the first hour of the day but now that I'm feeling less controlled by my phone and my anxious feelings are significantly less prominent in my life, I sometimes post on Instagram in the mornings. If I ever feel vulnerable or worried about slipping back into old habits, I just don't post. My mental wellbeing is more important than being consistent on social media, and so is yours.
Turned off social media notifications (and moved apps to second screen)
When I went on holiday around one year into running my own business, I had got the point that every time my phone pinged, I would feel instantly anxious and wanted to throw it across the room. I felt addicted to the device but also hated the power it held over me and so I decided to delete all my email and social media apps for the week that I'd be away. (You can read about that digital detox here if you fancy!). I felt totally amazing during that week; I could finally think clearly again and my anxiety had subsided. When I got home, I wanted to do whatever I could to maintain that feeling, so I turned off the notifications on all my social media apps, meaning that I have to actively click into them to see what's new. This really helps me to curb my compulsion to mindlessly open them and put myself at risk of falling into anxiety-fuelling scrolling. I also moved all my apps onto the second screen on my phone (I have an iPhone, not sure if Androids have this too) so that they're not right there staring at me on my home screen, this helps too!
Wearing this 'Stronger than my doubts' pin by Phie Hackett genuinely makes me feel better. I do scary things all the time; I AM stronger than my doubts. https://www.phiehackett.com/
Stopped mindlessly reading and listening to the news
I know this is a controversial one but it's made a big difference for me. As much as I feel it's important to be an informed member of society and stay up-to-date about social issues, I don't think it's healthy (in my personal experience) to have your phone make a jarring noise every time there's a new headline (when is it ever good news?) or to start your day by soaking up all the horrific atrocities that have taken place that week on the radio or on TV, without giving a thought to how this might be affecting your mental wellbeing. I try to start the day by sitting quietly with a cup of tea and listening to something positive, so that I can go forth and function at my best that day, for myself and those around me. If I want to read up on something, I go online and do just that; being intentional and mindful about it. If you shudder when you hear one of those news channel phone notifications too, or you can't get to sleep at night after watching the evening update, you might want to try this technique too. It doesn't have to be forever, just see how it makes you feel.
Started being intentional with my time to fit my needs as an introvert
When I worked 9-5 in an open-plan office and sometimes had to go to networking events on behalf of the company outside of these hours, I was very drained a lot of the time. I didn't have the energy left at the end of the week to see my friends and family (or at least be fully present with them if I did see them) and I would beat myself up about this because it seemed like everyone else was getting along just fine. I started to read up online about what it really meant to be an introvert and realised that, for me, it means that I can be around people to a certain point, but I'll eventually hit a wall and have to go and hibernate to recharge my batteries. Because the environment I was in didn't leave room for any flexibility, I couldn't really do this and it led to me becoming extremely unhappy (amongst other aspects of the job that brought me down).
Now that I'm self-employed, I've decided to aim to schedule photoshoots, networking and social events on alternate days, so that I can have time working from home on my own in between each thing and therefore be at my best for the next one. Even when you are your own boss, it can be easy to slip back into the work patterns that wider society proclaims to be the norm, or into just saying yes to everything that comes your way and before you know it ending up totally sapped of energy and feeling low again. I encourage you to have a look at your work 'timetable' and see if it is actually working for you. Are you prioritising your mental (and physical) wellbeing? Could you make some subtle changes or put new boundaries in place to make it work better for you?
Printed out positive affirmations and put them where I can see them every day
You'd probably laugh if you walked into my spare room turned home office and saw the sheer volume of positive quotes and mantras I have displayed around the place! It's like living inside Pinterest, except with textured wallpaper painted in rental magnolia. Some favourites include "You are capable of amazing things" and "Smile, breathe and go slowly." I also have “Believe in yourself” pinned onto the mirror in my bedroom, because WHY NOT? Feed your mind with all the juicy good stuff you can think of because, if you're anything like me, you've got a lot of nasty rubbish in there that you need to overwrite!
I love this print that I have next to my desk by OhSquirrel on Etsy. It helps me stop myself from descending into panic when I'm about to do a new or scary thing. Because maybe it WILL all go perfectly!
Committed to writing a “3 Good Things” journal every night
You might have heard about the practice of keeping a gratitude journal, where you make note of the things you're grateful for. When I cast my mind back to my teenage years, I would have definitely rolled my eyes at this whole concept. How cheesy and American! But seriously. As soon as I swallowed my pride and gave it a go, this ridiculously simple habit transformed my mindset! It's all about counteracting the negativity bias that we're all susceptible to (where your brain looks for evidence to prove that everything you worry about is true, and overlooks all the evidence to prove that you don't need to worry at all).
My hypnotherapist encouraged me to start doing this, although we actually tweaked it a bit so that I'd write down three things that had gone well that day. Since I was struggling with social anxiety, I wanted to focus on things that proved that I am socially capable so I'd often write things like “I felt calm and confident at networking today” or “My phone call with my new client went really well and she mentioned how helpful I'd been” or “I hosted a meetup for 30 people and lived to tell the tale!” The more you guide your brain to focus on the good stuff, the more it will believe that there's tons of good stuff going on! You slowly but surely rewrite the narrative in your mind, and that's why this little habit, that takes less than 5 minutes a day, is life-changing.
My inner monologue had always been “I'm socially awkward, I hate meeting new people, I can't hold a conversation” so through hypnotherapy and writing my “3 Good Things” journal daily, I've been able to switch this around to “I'm socially capable, I like meeting new people (I just need to rest afterwards) and I am good at making conversation and helping people to feel comfortable." All of these things were true before, it's just that my perspective on them has changed and I no longer give into the negativity bias.
So, there you have it! One woman's journey from nervous wreck to confident entrepreneur in the space of a year (and I'm still trying to improve all the time). It hasn't been linear or easy. There have been times when I've made one step forward and three steps back and that's always frustrating, but I know that I can come back to all of these tools and resources whenever I need them and they'll help keep me on track.
I hope they can help you feel better too. Please bookmark this post for future reference and please, please share with a friend who might benefit from even one of the resources I've mentioned.
We are all fighting our own battles, often in secret, and I wrote this post so that nobody else has to suffer in silence like I did for so long. Thank you for reading it.
Have a wonderful, calm and confident day!