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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!