Positive perspectives and practices for personal growth.

Can I Do It?

How do you psyche yourself up?

Do you tell yourself, “I can do this!”; “I’m really confident!”; “I’m really talented!” ; “I’m a winner!” ; “I’m strong and in control!”?

Are you?

The problem with such positive affirmations is that they’re nothing more than veneer statements… they lack substance; and like anything that’s devoid of substance, they’re simply not that convincing.

I know a guy who’s a Jedi claim maker.

When Felix Baumgartner skydived 24 miles up from the edge of space, he said over a pint, ‘It’s not that impressive, I skydived from 20 miles last year!’

When I told him that I was a pretty competent guitar player, he told me had been the guitarist in a famous rock band.

Funnily, when some girl said to him, ‘Oh… I’ve got a guitar that needs tuning, can you tune mine later?’ (I know, almost as transparent as asking someone if they’d like to come in for a coffee) he responded, ‘I can’t at the moment… I’ve broken my wrist.’ (No doubt from his recent SAS black ops mission in Afghanistan…unfortunate for him but a lucky escape for the unsuspecting girl).

Do his assertions convince me of anything other than his obvious compulsion to lie… or maybe that he’s delusional, or possibly even clinically insane?

What my acquaintance fails to appreciate – unfortunately, but (in small doses) amusingly – is that unless you’re the most gullible person to have ever cast a sorry shadow over the face of our beautiful little blue planet, it takes more than a simple declarative statement to convince someone of a fact.

Hard Evidence

It takes hard evidence; corroboratory facts to back up the claim.

And of course, the same basic rule has to apply to the positive affirmations we tell ourselves.

Yes, telling yourself, ‘I can do this!’ may help you to strengthen your resolve and shore up your self belief in the short term; but psychologically speaking, it’s every bit as shallow and unconvincing as my acquaintance’s tall tales.

No, simple positive declarations are not enough to really make a difference to how we feel and how we perform. 

In reality, if we want our positive self-statements to offer us anything more than just a fleeting ego boost, we need to imbibe them with something more… we need to give them that all important substance.

Questions, questions, questions…

In his book ‘To Sell is Human’ Dan Pink details some interesting research in which psychologists gave two groups of volunteers a barrage of mentally challenging puzzles to solve.

One simple factor distinguished the two groups: -

A couple of minutes before the test began, the participants of one group were instructed to bolster themselves up with the declarative positive affirmation, “I can do this!”.

The other group were instructed to use a different tactic; they were told to ask themselves, “Can I do this?”.

The consequences of this seemingly petty difference in semantics?

The question askers solved almost 50 percent more of the puzzles than the statement asserters.

That simple change in their approach – changing their positive self talk from a declaration of their ability, to a question about their ability – gave them a substantial performance boost.

The Search For Evidence

Such a question is a powerful thing; it demands the all important corroboratory evidence needed to transform a shallow, non-corroborated statement into a belief-driven statement of fact.

When you adopt this tactic you’ll find that almost without consciously attempting to do so, your mind automatically attempts to answer… with evidence.

‘Can I turn this important prospect into a valuable client?’ you might ask yourself before an all important sales meeting.

‘Well, I’m on pretty good form at the moment. I secured the Smith Co. account last month… loads of competitors were after that one. And the Jones Co. account come to think of it; they’re always extremely discerning over who they do business with as well.’

What better foundation can there possibly be to one’s self confidence than a recollection of previous similar successes?

It’ll beat a simple affirmation hands down every time… all thanks to that question provoking mind hunt for supporting evidence.

But there’s more performing boosting benefit to questioning, instead of simply asserting your ability.

Any recollection of a previous experience is bound to refresh your memory; it’ll help you to remember the effective strategies you employed previously; it’ll serve to highlight where you fell short last time.

‘Can I do this?’

‘Well… My performance has been pretty impressive with the last couple of clients. What’s made me so effective those last couple of times? Err… come to think of it they seemed to respond well to the laid back, non-pressured approach. I let them do most of the talking and they seemed to sell themselves. In fact it’s worked so well I’ll on the last couple of occasions I’ll make sure I do the same again today. My presentation could have been a little more concise though… I saw a couple of yawns. So this time I’ll cut down a little on my compulsive need to unnecessarily elaborate.’

So, in other words, asking yourself, ‘Can I do this?’ instead of telling yourself, ‘I can do this!’ primes you for success.

It bolsters your confidence with hard evidence of previous successes; it aids in the recollection and rehearsal of effective strategies for the up and coming event.

Flip Those Affirmations

The same is true when you flip any positive affirmation on its head by turning it into a question.

Asking yourself ‘Can I be confident?’ instead of trying to convince yourself that, ‘I am confident!’ and you’ll search your previous experience for examples of when… and more importantly, how you were confident. Self-enquire as to whether you’re ‘strong and in control’ and you’ll bolster your sense of personal strength with recollections of where you kept your head despite trying circumstances.

If the research is anything to go by, changing your self-talk from declaratory to inquisitory can give a profound boost to both how you feel and how you perform.

So to harness that power, just remember to ask yourself ‘Can I?’ instead of telling yourself ‘I can!’.

If you found this post helpful and you think others will too, please consider sharing the link on Facebook, Twitter or whatever other site you use. Thank you, Gareth