Archive for December, 2010

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My Anti-Affirmation Manifesto

12/21/10

I hate Stuart Smalley.

Or rather, I love Stuart for his mockery of people I think are kinda silly. Stuart was a motivational speaker character on Saturday Night Live famous for his catchphrase “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.” He stood in for “fake it til you make it” gurus like Tony Robbins, who preached that if you can just tell yourself that you’re good enough or smart enough, then maybe you can act with confidence rather than whimper in a corner unproductively. Some of the best moments of the sketch paired Stuart with gods amongst men like Michael Jordan, the joke being that it’s absurd that Michael would need to fake confidence: Michael’s awesome!

In one sense, I applaud the Stuarts and Robbinses of the world. Confidence is a vital human need. The problem is that the method is fundamentally dishonest. What if you think you aren’t good enough? What if people don’t like you? Robbins’ advice equates to pushing that thought down and ignoring whatever evidence you might have of a real obstacle, ie repressing the thought. The obstacle remains, though now ignored. If you have ever come across an overly aggressive salesman who just doesn’t seem to listen, just keep in mind that the sales world is littered with advocates for fake it til you make it.

Bare with me for a second, because I’m about to get even more sappy than usual.

Instead of blind affirmations, I think that what you need in order to be confident is strategy–knowing how you will deal the obstacles to your goal if they come up. In a sense, while the “fake it til you make its” advocate ignoring reality, I think you need to plunge into it. To that end, I think that gaining confidence is all about asking honest questions and demanding honest answers. Instead of telling yourself that you’re good enough, the question is what are the skills you know you have that you can rely on here, and what are your strategies to avoid or lessen the impact of any weaknesses? Instead of saying that you’re smart enough, the question is what do you know, and what important material do you not know that you might be able to read up on quickly in the next five minutes? And how do you build skill in the future so that there really isn’t a question of whether or not you’re good enough? And instead of telling yourself that people like you–well, screw ’em anyway.

That’s a joke, and how you deal with whether or not people like you is a whole ‘nother topic, but I think the pattern is clear. You can’t pretend obstacles away. But if you look at them directly, then you can do something even better with your obstacles. You can deal with them.

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