We all have beliefs about ourselves. These beliefs can either be positive or negative, and will vary across the spectrum of your abilities. Let us refer to the sum of these beliefs as the self-concept.
You have a self-concept of yourself in every category: as a student, as an athlete, as a singer, as a worker, and so on. These beliefs have been solidified throughout years of accumulated external feedback. For instance, a natural athlete would have grown up with strong encouragement in athletic endeavours, and would very quickly form a positive self-concept as an athlete. On the other hand, an individual who failed repeatedly to succeed in sports from a young age would have developed a self-concept of being a poor athlete. In turn, he now avoids sports because he believes he’s going to fail. Although this belief is harmful enough in and of itself, its consequences extend much further when combined with the following fact: for whatever reason, it is commonly believed individuals do not have the capacity to change themselves. If you were “born” a poor athlete, you will remain that way. If you are shy, anxious, passive aggressive, or guilt-ridden, that’s just the way you are, and that’s the way you always will be.
My mission throughout this article is to annihilate this belief. To erase it from your mind forever. You can reinvent yourself to be almost anyone you want, and I’m going to show you how, without any of the fluff. I’m going to share examples from my personal life, break down the vicious cycle of low self-belief, examine how are self-concepts are formed (e.g. labels), and how we can use them to our advantage.
Let’s begin by asking the question: Why do we use labels? To answer this question, consider the fact that we encounter an exorbitant amount of information every day. The majority is filtered out, but the information that gets processed by the brain gets categorized. Our brain compares the stimulus to information it has received in the past and looks for structure and similarities. It’s our brain’s way of organizing and simplifying information. Interestingly, this is the root of judging and stereotyping. It is therefore also the root of labeling.
While this simplifies the world around us, it’s harmful in its ability to pigeonhole individuals into unfair and inaccurate categories. When an individual believes they are shy, and that they are going to always be shy, this belief will manifest itself in their actions. For instance, this individual will likely turn down invitations to social events and other activities that require a degree of social aptitude. Rather than going out and improving their social skills (remember: most people don’t even realize they can change), the shyness label creates a vicious cycle where you remain shy simply because…you’re shy. A self-fulfilling prophecy. You can’t go out because you’re shy, but how could you ever overcome the shyness if you don’t go out?
Somewhere, this belief has to change. It’s the only way to break the cycle, and when that happens, the ramifications are astounding: we end up changing our realities. The labels needs to be annihilated or the individual remains where they are. Refuse to label yourself. Or if you do, accept the label as a temporary state. You may be shy, anxious, passive aggressive, guilt-ridden, or a terrible athlete today, but only you can decide who you will be tomorrow.
“Glorify who you are today, do not condemn who you were yesterday, and dream of who you can be tomorrow.”
The interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter whether we’re right or wrong: you live according to your beliefs. As Henry Ford once said:
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”.
We were told growing up that everyone is born a certain way and is limited by whatever characteristics they were born with. We assume successful people have innate abilities beyond our grasp. It’s sadly a very believable belief because most people you will ever meet will refuse to challenge it. But here’s the irony: believing it is the only thing that makes it true.
If you’re familiar with self-help, you know that it is an extremely common idea in self-help to hear things like “you become what you think about”, that you can “think and grow rich”, and that your “thoughts create your reality”. I don’t like this approach at all. The premise is important, but the results are exaggerated. Let me explain.
Books like The Secret and Think and Grow Rich are misleading and create false expectations. Readers are told that using the power of thought, they are able to create any reality they can imagine. I actually fully bought in to the Think and Grow Rich mentality for several years. Along the way I met many like-minded individuals, and what scared me the most was how most of them were not successful at all. They were still clinging to the belief that if they stayed positive the results would come eventually, and this led to extremely poor decision-making. They were keeping their money-sucking businesses alive on blind faith. It meant falling into traps like working for multi-level marketing companies (think Amway, Primerica, pyramid schemes) because they believed that if they tried hard enough, they would be the lucky ones who make millions.
The sad reality is that everyone thinks they’re the exception. Everyone thinks the rules don’t apply to them. But, inevitably, as time passes, the majority of people do not reach the level of success they had hoped for. Blind faith is not what leads to success; the persistence that accompanies it, is. And for this reason, it’s extremely important to stay flexible and open-minded and take every bit of advice with a grain of salt. Even that advice right there, take it with a grain of salt. Challenge your beliefs. Ask yourself: What if I was wrong? Because the thing about advice is that we tend to cling to the advice that promises the greatest results. But what if these promises were empty? Wouldn’t it be important to ask yourself this question before you live your life according to some non-scientific self-help advice some self-proclaimed prophet is feeding you?
As I mentioned earlier, the premise that “your thoughts create your reality” is indeed important. Simply put, it is required, but not sufficient, for success. You must believe that you can be anyone you want. You must believe that you can overcome any weakness you have, or that you can use it to your advantage. Believing it alone doesn’t make it so, but it is the foundation for making it so. It is the first step. If you don’t believe the effort you’re going to put in will yield the results you desire, you’re not going to try. And do you think you’ll get there when you won’t even give it a shot?
The point I’m working towards is this: You are not a finished product. You are only a finished product when you decide you are, and that’s a decision that’s fully in your power. I actually stumbled upon this idea by accident, so I’m going to share a few personal stories and have led me to believe this so strongly.
Growing up, I was an extremely shy kid. I kept everything to myself. I have been asked several times over the years: do you even speak? I wish I was joking. I would resort to the internet to express my thoughts: posting in forums, instant messaging friends, and instant messaging girls I liked that I couldn’t even make eye contact with in person. My self-confidence was low, perhaps non-existent. This led to extreme frustration over the years. I was passive aggressive when anything went wrong because I didn’t know how to express myself assertively, I was consistently unable to get any girl I liked because I couldn’t communicate how I felt or express it in an effective way, and my social circle was becoming non-existent. I was shy and self-conscious. That was the way I was, and the way everyone always expected me to be. But the frustration was building up…I wanted to be social. I wanted to be confident. I didn’t know how, but I knew there had to be a way. I rejected the notion that you can’t change who you are…out of desperation. I set out to reinvent myself — and I succeeded. It wasn’t easy. It took time, it still takes time (you’re never a finished product, remember?) because there’s no overnight solution to problems like this. But I got there. I’m not shy at all anymore. Nor am I self-conscious or passive aggressive. People that I meet have a hard time believing I was ever shy. I didn’t actually realize how much I had changed until a girl I met told me she thought I was one of the most confident people she had ever met. That’s not the norm by any means — it was a particularly good day for me — but my confidence has been growing steadily over the past few years. Despite the ups and downs of life, the general trend is upwards. I’ve come a long way.
How did I do it? Did I fake it until I made it? Am I actually confident or did I just become a really good actor, who is still self-conscious deep down? Ah, these are great questions, but it doesn’t matter how I did it (I’ll explain why in a moment). The short answer is to the first question is that I did try to fake it until I made it, but that only worked in the short-term. And no, I’m a terrible actor. Real self-confidence takes a lot of effort. The point is this, what sparked the change was the belief that I could change, and the willingness to do whatever it took to get there. With that mindset, growth is inevitable. That’s why it doesn’t matter how I did it. When that’s your mindset, you find a way. With that mindset, you always find a way. It all begins by wanting to change and believing you can.
Which part of you are you most eager to change? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get there?