This book was recommended to me by a counsellor I was seeing a couple of years ago. I got a short way into it, then it all got too hard and I didn’t have enough time to devote to it. Eventually everything fell by the wayside, and I forgot all about it.
Recently I went back to a counsellor to talk about some issues I was having a hard time dealing with. We ended up talking about some of the things that I think are holding me back from . . . well I’m not sure what from, but we talked about some beliefs and behaviours that are keeping me stuck in my old habits and that occasionally rise to the surface, making me feel more down on myself than usual, and not a nice person to be around.
She gave me some reading, which seemed very familiar, and after a while I realised it was from the very same book that I had tried to work through before. So I started working through it again.
This time, I’ve started to feel like I’m making progress and that this might be something that will actually help me, if I stick with it.
One of the problems I have with doing this sort of thing is that I start to work through some exercises that I think will ‘help’ me to deal with my issues, and I tire of it very quickly and give up because I haven’t made any obvious progress.
Another problem is that I tend to think that I can’t do anything differently until I’ve ‘fixed’ the problem. As an example, what I mean is, I think can’t speak up for myself until I’ve done all the exercises on assertiveness and have learned the right way to be assertive. So if I give up on the exercises before I get to the specific ‘assertiveness’ exercises, then whenever I’m in a situation where I have to be assertive I won’t even try because I haven’t done that work.
Quite obviously – and my logical self knows this –both of these ‘problems’ are just excuses for staying exactly where I am.
I know that I’m not going to work through a book and then wake up the day after I’ve finished and instantly be a more confident, outgoing person. It doesn’t work like that. Just like eating healthy for a day is not going to result in a 10 kilo weight loss.
You learn to drive a car by driving a car. You learn a language by speaking it. You learn to take photos by taking photos. Sure there is some theoretical stuff that you might have to learn as well, but if you don’t actually go out and do it – put the theory into practice – all the instructions in the world are useless.
So if I want to learn to handle specific situations, I have to put myself into those situations. Reading about how to handle them (or doing courses, or talking to counsellors) is important to show me what the skills I need are, but if I don’t use the skills in real situations, I’ll never learn them.
It’s pretty obvious really, isn’t it?
I’ve held certain beliefs about myself for most of my life. I’ve allowed those beliefs to affect the way I behave in some situations, which has then reinforced those beliefs in my mind. It’s a vicious circle that I’ve found very hard to break out of.
What I have to do now, as I’ve always had to do, is to challenge those beliefs, to disprove them, and to replace them with thoughts that are a more accurate reflection of the person I am and the person I want to be. But I mustn’t wait until I’ve done that to start changing my behaviour in particular situations – in fact if I wait, my behaviour won’t change and it will continue to reinforce my ‘limiting beliefs’ and I won’t get anywhere, just like last time. And the time before. And, um, the time before that. And . . .
This is a major shift in thinking for me, because in my world, you just don’t do anything until you have prepared perfectly, have all the information you need, have everything in place, and know that you have a good chance of succeeding.
The result of this is, as you might imagine, that I never do anything – because it’s not possible to prepare perfectly or have all the information I need to proceed. And the fact that I think I need to do this is one of those limiting beliefs that I need to challenge.
It’s all starting to make sense to me now. In fact, writing this post has made it even clearer, and has made it more apparent why I’ve failed in the past.
I seriously don’t expect that if I start to feel better about myself and make some of these changes, that I’ll be a different person. I’m not going to become an outgoing, vivacious life of the party type any more than I’m going to become a hot shot lawyer. By nature I am introverted (which is not the same as shy), with particular personality traits that will always be part of me. Or as my boss put it, while I can try to improve against ‘critical competencies’, it's not possible to change my inherent thinking style and personality.
But I hope that as I progress through this work, I’ll find it easier to stand up for myself, to explain to people what I want, and to hold onto my position in a discussion instead of getting all wishy-washy and vague. There are a few other things too, but this will do for a start . . .
I also know that I’m not the only person in the world who is terrified by the thought of meeting new people, avoids certain situations because they can’t handle them, freezes up in conversations and beats themselves up when they make a mistake. And I know that a lot of people appear a lot more confident in difficult situations than they actually are. The difference between them and me might not be as great as I think it is.
But part of this work is getting myself to believe that I can do things that I’ve convinced myself that I can’t do.
It’s very much about changing my mindset and my beliefs so that I can change my behaviour.
I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m seeing more positive signs than I ever have before. I think this is a good thing.