Tina Lifford of 'Queen Sugar' shares her secret to fighting self-doubt

The actress talks to Know Your Value about the importance of inner fitness and why it's just as important as physical fitness.
Image: Today - Season 68
Tina Lifford on "Today" on Nov. 20, 2019.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

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By Erin Delmore

Actress Tina Lifford is known for the more than 100 characters she’s played on TV and in movies over the course of 36 years, including her current role playing Aunt Vi on Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay’s hit show “Queen Sugar.” But Lifford, who has starred alongside the likes of Clint Eastwood, Jennifer Lopez, Sidney Poitier, and Bruce Willis, almost didn’t have her turn in the spotlight.

“I initially was getting sucked into the path of just making sure that the bills were paid,” Lifford recently told Know Your Value. She watched as her creative friends took on jobs outside of the arts in order to make money and recounted many of them never found their way back toward pursuing their dreams.

For her own part, Lifford even went to stenography school to be a court reporter, just so she could support herself.

“That career would have actually been death to my spirit,” Lifford said. “And so there’s a part of me that knew my value very early and knew that it was important to me to follow the yearnings of my soul.”

While she considered herself the only person who could safeguard her dream, she had encouragement from her parents — and took a cue from her family’s widely-held entrepreneurial spirit. She considers her father’s advice on pursuing acting to be the best she ever received.

“‘If this is what you want to do, then you’re going have to be strategic about it so that the problems that are inherent in pursuing something as nebulous as becoming an actress ... don't wind up making you unhappy,’” she remembered him saying. She took his advice to heart and got involved in flipping properties to earn money, which also gave her the flexibility to pursue her dreams.

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“Acknowledging our desires, acknowledging the areas where we want growth, or freedom, or support — there’s a mythical connection between that and then the ways in which answers and resources and ‘aha’ moments show up that can actually serve us in obtaining that desire,” Lifford said.

She’s sharing her hard-won life lessons and strategies in her new book, “The Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey into Inner Fitness,” which she hopes will help readers chart their own path toward feeling their best by taking charge of their internal world. It’s built on the foundation of her online platform called The Inner Fitness Project, which she started in 2011.

“I want inner fitness to be as familiar, well-understood, accessible, and actionable as physical fitness is,” Lifford said.

Her message is well-suited for the holiday season, as year-end to-do lists pile on to the daily grind, family responsibilities take center stage and caring for oneself can come last.

“What I want for women is to have a new and deeper experience of what it means to acknowledge oneself, acknowledge one’s value and worth,” Lifford said. “That’s what we mean by self care: acknowledging your value, acknowledging your work ... Women realize that to be the greatest asset to their family and even to those aspirations around career, you must put yourself first.”

In addition to being an actress, Lifford is a well-being coach with more than 20 years of experience working with clients around the world. Her book urges people to invest in their emotional well-being, to fight fear, and to regain their personal power through self-acceptance. It features personal stories from her own life and from her clients’ experiences, along with practice exercises at the end of each chapter.

Of all the “lies” Lifford dispels in her book, one in particular tends to resonate with women and especially young women: Self-doubt, feelings of negativity, and a constant questioning about whether one is good enough.

“Survival has had to be a very exercised muscle in us,” Lifford said about human evolution. “But always thinking about what’s wrong and worrying about how you can achieve or if you can achieve, all of that is tied to a deeper sort of species issue and it’s important that we know that. Because when we know that, we can support ourselves in those moments of crises and development practices, develop skills that can help pull us out of that self-doubt and into a better experience of ourselves and feeling of ourselves.”

One of her favorite practices and inner fitness strategies in the book is an exercise she calls “up until now…” and “from this point forward...” She says readers can use that phrase in the moment to fight off habitual self-doubt.

“They can interrupt that automatic thinking and say ‘Ok, up until now, I have doubted myself in these ways. Up until now, I have compared myself in these ways. Up until now, I have struggled to see my work. But from this point forward, it can be better. It can change. I can move beyond that.’ Constantly reminding ourselves that we are not stuck in a forever state just because feeling not good enough wells up. We actually can lift, you know, elevate our sense of ourselves just [by] applying that little phrase to our lives.”

As Lifford moves forward in her own life, she’ll be returning to the set of “Queen Sugar” to begin filming a fifth season this spring, and she has a deal with Harper Collins to write a second book. Plus, she’ll keep investing in The Inner Fitness Project and supporting the online community there.

“There’s plenty on my plate,” Lifford said. “There are so many ways in which my team and I are making sure that The Inner Fitness Project is actually a platform where people can really engage and experience more of their lives in the ways that we all yearn for there.”