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Believe in yourself. For real. Here’s how…

First of all, I’m going to bust a myth right out of the gate. It really isn’t about “believing in yourself.”

Frankly, you can trick yourself into that––and it’s not hard.

For years a standard practice for self-belief was something called “affirmations.” You may have tried those yourself. Unfortunately, the limited scientific study on affirmations shows at best mixed results. One study I found indicated that asking a question works much better than an affirmation. Most point toward some degree of feeling better, but proof of actual performance seems to range widely.

We also need to make a distinction between what is commonly understood as affirmation and what we call visualization or “mental rehearsal.” There are a lot of studies that confirm the effectiveness of mental rehearsal––that is going over a performance in your mind before you go into action. This works on a football field, the dance floor, before you step up to speak to your board of directors or facing any difficult task. I met an aerobatic pilot who visualized his entire performance sitting in a chair before he gets in the cockpit. And of course for martial artists, this is what “kata” is all about. We work through imagined scenarios to prepare for actual self-defense situations.

Let’s go with the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume affirmations can at least make you feel better about yourself––and that might help you perform better on any given day. The problem, as most of us know from experience, is that this good feeling can disappear quickly as soon as find ourselves on the losing end of any particular situation.

It’s not as important to “believe in yourself” as we commonly understand it as it is to have confidence in your talents, skills and abilities––and in the knowledge that you’ve made your best effort to train and prepare for the task at hand.

These are things you can measure and experience in a very tangible way. I’ve worked with many people who have frankly deluded themselves with affirmations. This can lead to disastrous outcomes and can be personally devastating. Even worse, I’ve known coaches and mentors who have defrauded enormous sums of money from clients teaching that affirmations or any number of other related self-belief techniques are all that’s necessary to reach goals, achieve success or overcome serious obstacles and challenges. I openly call out these hucksters today––I’ve seen them cause incredible damage and even contribute to some people’s self-destruction and suicide.

Let’s work through a common example where affirmations can fall short. You can talk yourself into the belief that you’re ready for a higher leadership position…

You can, as many would teach, actually look in the mirror and give yourself some encouraging self-talk. There are numerous techniques that go into detail about exactly what sort of language would be most effective. And you might even support your affirmations with well-intended encouragement from others who belief in your potential.

Potential is not the same as competency. Better to challenge yourself with a couple of questions:

“Am I ready for this opportunity?”

“What, specifically, makes me so?”

These questions will direct you to a clear inventory of talents and skills that you’ve actually developed. You should recall specific training and experiences that have prepared you for this step.

Or––you’ll begin to recognize areas where you might not feel fully qualified. If you’re honest!

That’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Rather it can motivate you to shore up weak areas. Basically, you’re performing an individual strengths and weaknesses analysis. What you do with the results of this assessment can prepare you for this new opportunity––or help you realize you’ve got work to do before you take this next step.

Now be careful…

First of all, don’t confuse this process with debilitating pessimism, though there are some interesting studies out now that indicate that some degree of pessimism can serve you much better than blind optimism in leadership.

And don’t let a little healthy humility prevent you from stepping outside your comfort zone. A warrior is only proven worthy by facing worthy opponents. We grow stronger, learn more and become better leaders and people by accepting a challenge that may be a bit above our current pay grade.

Rather than allowing a reality check to discourage or defeat you. If the actual plusses outweigh the minuses, step up to the challenge. If you’ve got work to do––get to it and prepare yourself for the next opportunity.

You might think that with our ever expanding understanding of the human mind, current science would help immunize us to delusional thinking, false optimism and unfounded belief. Amazingly, quite the opposite is true. Psychologists are confirming that we are horribly susceptible to self-deception and that we are wired to believe strongly with little or no rational support.

It takes discipline to be rational. It takes practice to discern and separate unfounded self-belief from genuine self-confidence and surety. And developing genuine self-belief takes more than saying nice things about yourself in a mirror––it requires hard work.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe in yourself. I am saying that self-belief is much more powerful when you support it with actual skill, talent, preparation and a continual dedication to personal and professional development.

When I was still actively teaching martial arts, I told my students that I could only make them two solid promises:

#1 If you commit yourself to achieving a Black Belt, you will be able to achieve anything else you set out to do––within the scope of your talents, skills and abilities.

#2 You’ll learn how to identify and cultivate your talents, skills and abilities.

Today I make those same promises to anyone willing to to the hard work it takes to become a genuine leader.


Prepare yourself for your next big step––become a genuine Leader!

This workshop will show you the way…

Friday, December 7th

UNUM Headquarters, Portland, Maine

8 am to Noon

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC! ALL proceeds benefit Boots2Roots––connecting soon-to-be veterans with meaningful careers in Maine!

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