Where Does Self-belief Really Come From

Article by Steve Harvey, Associate Impromptu

Over the past few weeks I have been binge listening to Steven Bartlett’s podcast series, ‘The Diary of a CEO’. I don’t think I have ever binged on anything so avidly in all my life. It is fascinating, for many reasons, and on many levels. It has got me thinking about a lot of things, especially myself.

If you haven’t listened to the podcast, which has now been running for around four years, the format alternates between Steven sharing, very honestly, his thoughts, feelings, challenges and experiences on his journey as an entrepreneur, and ‘interviews’ with a range of guests, each successful in their own field, whether that be business, sport, entertainment, psychology, public speaking and so on. I have been gripped by the honesty and depth of Steven himself, and an equivalent depth and honesty he has encouraged in his guests.

There are many themes and questions that have been explored. What is success? What characterises ‘successful’ people? What is happiness? What is confidence? What makes a successful relationship? Why do we fear dying? Where does motivation come from? What is the correlation between success and happiness? All have resonated with me in some way, perhaps, especially, the implicit question of where self-belief really comes from.

This is particularly interesting given the origins and challenges faced by Steven and many/most of his guests. All of them, to some extent or other, have overcome great struggles to attain ‘success’ in their lives. Dysfunctional family environments. Depression. Imposter syndrome. Chronic anxiety. Burn-out. Alcohol abuse. Low self-esteem. For most, if not all of them, success and happiness are elusive. The drive and motivation for achievement can become all-consuming, an objective without realisation, and the initial goal or vision is often found to be a mirage once it is obtained.

In searching for some sort of pattern of qualities that have given these people the courage to pursue their goals in the face of adversity and inner turmoil, it appears that there is no magic formula. There are some common threads of course. A mission in life. A clear vision for their future. A well-formed outcome. Resilience. Deeply held convictions and values. Hard work. The willingness to make significant sacrifices. The capacity to adapt, learn and grow. A positive attitude to risk. Optimism. A mindset that sees failure as a learning opportunity. Opportunism in relation to serendipity. The strength of mind not to be derailed by others’ opinions. The willingness and capacity to challenge the status quo. Drive and determination. An internal locus of control. An orientation to intrinsic motivation. Having a clear understanding of or insight into their why. Focus and consistency.

Above all, perhaps I have noticed in all of the podcasts in the series I have listened to so far, the commitment to execution, taking the first step, and then the next, and then the next, with the end in mind, held clearly and lightly enough that it doesn’t become a burden, or a distraction, at the same time as understanding that there isn’t an end, that it is about the journey. It is always about the journey.

So, where does self-belief fit in? On one level it comes from all the things I have listed above, a combination of mission, vision, learning, resilience, self-awareness, growth, execution, experience and values. Does that mean I need to have a core of self-worth, to have self-belief? Maybe. Maybe there must be a foundation of believing that you have something of value to contribute. But it is not a constant. The ubiquity of imposter syndrome amongst CEOs, celebrities, academics and high-achievers tells us that. I wonder therefore, if self-belief isn’t a state or a fundamental essence, but the capacity to acknowledge and minimise doubt and anxiety, to locate the rock in the raging sea, to surf the wave rather than battle it, to ground oneself in the present moment and connect with some sense of self-value, self-purpose and self-conviction.

I wonder if this is even the right question. Where does self-belief really come from? Perhaps, instead, the question might be, does self-belief really exist? Or maybe even better, how do I recapture the self-belief that I was born with? How do I quieten the internal voices, fed by so many parental, environmental, institutional, systemic and cultural influences, that diminish me.

How do I recapture my fundamental belief, in myself, what I offer, what I value and who I am.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky