Self-Belonging, Self-Talk, & Optimal Performance

Ever find yourself saying, “If I could just fix… {fill in the blank}…, I’d do so much amazing sh!t at such a high level!”

Your optimal performance… STALLED!

We all have sh!t, that if we just fixed, we’d be amazing. Inside our head, our self-talk works for us or against us.

The story we tell ourselves is the story we live.

We all have an attribute or condition, situation, or something about ourselves, that’s really hard for us to look at and see a way to get past it. It leaves us in a “not-enough” space of shame, or unworthiness, that gets in the way of our self-belonging. Ok, maybe you have a laundry list, like me. That story, the one we’re telling ourselves, comes from our self-belonging.

I imagine you’re saying, “yeah, self-belonging, what the heck does he mean by that? And, what’s he mean by “that gets in the way of” it?


First, let me offer this alternate definition of belonging. Not the typical, you belong when you’re affirmed, accepted, included… etc, getting all the warm hug feels.

Belonging, it’s a state of being, in relationship with others. You belong when you feel, own, and care for them, in their successes, dreams, and failures. And, they feel, own, and care for you in yours. It’s a two-way street.

In Self-Belonging, you’re able to mix their world in and about you, with your own, and believe yourself worthy.

You self-belong when in your story, you tell yourself in your world, you feel, own, and care for yourself, in your successes, dreams, and failures, just as you would for the people with whom you belong.

Your self-belonging story requires two sources, 1, the story you directly tell yourself in your world, plus 2, indirectly, what those with whom you belong, share with you from their world.

We need to Self-belong with others

I know some of you’re saying, you gotta do this from inside yourself. Don’t depend on others. You have to start with yourself. You can’t depend upon affirmation from someone on the outside.

Newsflash, you were born into dependency upon others. You were born into your Us Story. It doesn’t start with you, and sure, it’s gotta have you, in ALL CAPS and bold, YOU! You grew from the dependency upon others. Somewhere along the way, you entered into interdependency, hopefully, to thrive. And ultimately, you’ll die in interdependency with others at some point. Further, you won’t want to die apart from those with whom you love and belong. And I say this as someone who’s died before. For those 5 1/2 minutes, I wasn’t with whom I loved and belonged (click here if you’d like to read about it).

You made it this far because you belonged. You continually edit your story in fear, belonging, and aspiration. So do I in my story. So does everyone in theirs.

And even if you still think you can, and should do it alone, sorry, but that’s not realistic for being human. The research is clear, solitary confinement leads to permanent neurological dysfunction and damage. So much so, that the United Nations recommends banning solitary confinement that exceeds more than 15 days, saying any longer constitutes torture (Scientific American). After only 15 days! WTF!

Without others, we go nuts.

There’s only so much that we can draw upon before the well goes dry. Without others to replenish it in belonging, we go a bit nuts. I really believe that loneliness and burnout at work are the direct results of the chronic fitting-in that occurs when workplaces lack belonging.

And this is why, in the struggle for optimal performance or during hardship, whenever someone tells you, “you just have to be kind and support yourself… dig deeper…” it doesn’t help.

And in turn, you say to yourself,

“but I’m empty…”

“I gotta fix this first…”

“I’m not good enough…”

You know what that feels like. I sure do. Ever think to yourself and you’re sitting there looking at them, “Clearly, if I was being kind towards and able to support myself, you wouldn’t feel the need to say such a well-meaning, yet unhelpful thing. Thanks though.”

With others, a whole different story

Contrast that to someone who feels, owns, and cares for you, saying, ”I got you, we’re going to get through this. I believe in you.” After we hear something like this, our self-talk of doom shifts. Our self-talk of doom comes from our #innerittybittyshittycommittee, all those voices that didn’t feel, own, or care for us. We want to believe them, but there’s a hollowness that we know, if any of the three: feel – own – or care for, isn’t genuine, or is missing.

We needed to hear from those with whom we belong, that we can do it. That, if everything falls to shit, we still belong. And it’s those people that we actually belong with, we gather them into our inner voice. Co-opting them as our #innerittybittygrittycommittee!

Take some time right now, or after you finishing reading this, and text, call, or Zoom somebody who’s been in your innerittybittygrittycommittee. Thank them for being in your head and heart. Oh, and please come back and finish reading. This will be helpful to your performance!

And We all must belong, just not with anyone, nor everyone

In these two sides of belonging, there’s a you and a them. You matter, it’s reciprocal, bidirectional. They matter. But I want to stay focused on you, especially if you’re of the servant leader mindset. Unless you also choose you, you can’t choose both sides. You can’t belong. And your only remaining and next best option will be, to merely fit in. Unless you also choose you, you can’t choose both sides. You can’t belong. Our self-belonging comes from belonging with others, and it emerges in this paradox.

Belonging’s brain paradox:

You can’t belong with others unless you self-belong.
You can’t self-belong unless you belong with others.

From two worlds we belong. Not in one, prevents the other.

Self-talk & Sourcing

Maybe it’s that the two worlds, the one in your mind and the one in theirs, can only be truly shared in intense vulnerability, which makes belonging messy and tough to do at times. Our gator brain reacts, “I don’t want to unbelong and die!!! Or, I got to belong or I’m going to die. And, if we’re in an environment that doesn’t support belonging, from how the tribe lives its values in pursuit of its purpose, fitting in becomes the only survival tactic for our self-talk:

We believe we need to fix whatever’s wrong with us before we’re worthy, or good enough to continue moving toward our promised land.

Separate worlds

Yep, I can’t see your world from your eyes, memories, and emotions. Nor, can you see mine from your eyes… My world and your world, both exist, but in our respective heads and hearts. Each of our worlds doesn’t exist because of the “facts.” Each exists in the story we tell ourselves. My world does not exist in you. Your world does not exist in me. But…

Here’s how our worlds collide: (a little neuro-nerding required here)

My world

my self-beliefs land on me from my direct story I tell myself

my self-beliefs land on me from the indirect story I tell myself when we talk, and I experience your beliefs, towards and of me

Your world

your self-beliefs land on you from your direct story you tell yourself

your self-beliefs land on you from the indirect story you tell yourself when we talk, and you experience my beliefs, towards and of you


Paul Haury
Paul Haury
Belonging Coach & Evangelist for Heart-Based Leadership in Workplace Culture & Happiness. I’m a coach, a mentor, an optimist that nerds-out on all things in the social-behavioral and neurosciences for what motivates us in how we can be better, and, get us to with whom and where we belong. The paths that get us there follow roads of vulnerable togetherness, kind and honest challenges in personal accountability, and a deep curious appreciation for being wholly human in full potential. It’s here, where we land on the good side of our fears and aspirations, and make our dreams happen. We’ll never do anything as well, as when we’re doing what we’re doing with and for those we love. I help people create their own unique spaces to go farther and higher in their individual brilliance than they ever could alone.

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