Don’t believe in yourself. Trick yourself
In fact, there were entire stores dedicated to inspirational merchandise: pictures of sunflowers, sunrises and slim men in tiny shorts jogging in the middle of nowhere – all with motivational quotes in bold lettering across the bottom. In ugly frames.
My aunty took to these paraphernalia like Anthony Robbins to the speaker circuit. She drank from cups with “Follow your dreams” on them and her walls nearly collapsed with the weight of framed inspirational images.
Sometimes, when we were talking, she’d truncate her sentence and motion to a picture on the wall.
” We tell ourselves stories in order to live. “
Usually I missed her point. For instance, we’d be talking about chocolate cake and she’d nod to the photo of the guy on top of a snowcapped mountain. The caption on the photo read “Take What’s Yours” or some equally as scary 80s capitalist propaganda that emphasised human ownership of the natural world.
I’d look at her blankly, then she’d ask me about school.
And that would be it.
As I climb my own mountains in life, I often think back to my aunt and her motivational posters. I think particularly of one that hung by her front door. It said “Believe In Yourself”.
I never got that one either.
I tried to get it. I understood it conceptually: if you had self-esteem and confidence, you could achieve anything.
Truth was, I also knew this was a faulty proposition.
How could I be so sure of that?
Answer: TV singing competitions. There’s always that one contestant who is hopeless – who everyone makes fun of – but who really believes they are the next big thing in the biz. And they never win. Because they haven’t honed their craft and have zero tonal skills.
No amount of belief in themselves changes that.
When I began my PhD, which is kind of like a singing a veeery long song in a singing competition, I was more like the one who lingers in the corner and looks as though they’re about to pass out every time the camera points in her direction.
I was so full of self-doubt some days it would bubble up in my throat and make me feel like wrenching. I didn’t come from a family of scholars, I couldn’t write for sucks, I had no perseverance. Sound familiar? These were the self-doubting mantras I repeated to myself quite often in the beginning.
In actuality, I probably had a realistic grip on the factors that needed improvement. I did have to immerse myself more fully in a scholarly culture, I did have to work on my writing plus I needed to develop strategies to increase my stamina.
” Sometimes ‘believing in yourself’ is simply a veiled form of unhealthy narcissism. “
Sometimes ‘believing in yourself’ is simply a veiled form of unhealthy narcissism.
But…the negative self-talk did not make me feel good.
And it’s not productive to feel bad about something you have to dedicate yourself to everyday. When that happens, the chances of you ‘makin’ it’ decrease.
I must have had a bit of my aunty in me though, because I devised my own path to success.
And it worked.
I tricked myself.
Yep. My vivid imagination makes me seem a little mental sometimes.
For instance, last week I walked straight past a dear friend of mine without noticing her.
I was picturing myself as Lara Croft somersaulting over the parked cars to save a character played by George Clooney. I was mentally selecting the soundtrack for the scene when my friend interrupted me. But that’s another story…
Point is I am too rational to outright ‘believe in myself’. Instead, I simply imagine myself succeeding.
To do this, I changed the story of my PhD.
Whenever my supervisors asked for delivery dates for chapters, I’d make some up. I’d pretend that I’d be able to make the chapters in time.
When other students asked me how my thesis was going, I’d tell them I was rocking it. Totally. Even if I hadn’t been able to write for a month. I’d buffer all this up with imagined scenarios where I’d use the my ‘Dr’ title on plane reservations or I’d get an influx of invites to speak at conferences and bat mitzvahs. Whatever. And Clooney would be there.
You know what? It got me through (well, it got me my PhD, the Clooney bit’s yet to come).
I did make the due dates (usually) and the more I told the story that I was rocking it, the more I tricked myself into actually rocking it.
And all the while, I had no skerrick of belief in myself.
Just a fine ability to tell myself stories.