Believe in yourself

Gai and Lee
Gai and Lee

Here comes another installation of the Is it? Yes, that’s almost motivational Chronicle! I’ve been feeling pretty great lately. I stopped this morning and wondered why. I thought, “gee, everything seems to be going so well right now! It’s probably that.” But then I thought some more and realised, “what are you on about? You’re just ignoring anything that’s going wrong!” I should point out at this time I was over an hour late to work.

Now, there’s this guy I work with who is incredibly negative about almost everything. If I let him butt in on here for a moment I’m sure he’d say he was simply more realistic than me. He accuses me of optimism bias – basically, being TOO optimistic about myself, the future, the world, and so on. I flit between two minds wondering whether this is the case or not.

Irrational bias vs self-belief

On the one hand I am pretty upbeat, I believe I can and will accomplish great things, I believe in myself and feel lucky to be who I am, with the friends I have, in the world I live in. But on the other hand, I think artificial superintelligence might take over the world and destroy us all. So it’s swings and roundabouts.

I was talking to my girlfriend about it yesterday and she reassured me that I definitely wasn’t too optimistic at all. After some mock resistance I decided to believe her. Most likely because of my optimism bias.

But I think that where my friend goes wrong is that he confuses self-belief with irrational optimism. Truth is, I don’t know if humanity’s even going to make it to the end of the 21st century (apparently researchers put it at approximately 20% risk of oblivion…) – but I do what most people do: don’t think about it too much. Every day we live in a world of uncertainty where bad things can happen. We risk illness and injury and are constantly vulnerable to catastrophes of all kinds, and with every moment of our continued existence we’re buying reams of lottery tickets for every malady and misfortune possible to befall us.

But what’s our reaction in the face of all that? A big fat nothing. We don’t let it bother us! We don’t dwell on it. It’s almost like we don’t care. We do all sorts of things that increase risk of injury or death, like drive cars, go skiing, get drunk and all the rest of it, because intuitively we’re optimistic. We don’t usually think it will happen to us. Heck, even when a new invention comes along to make our lives safer, like seat belts, our reaction is to drive faster!

That kind of attitude can be a good thing, I think. Learn not to worry when it’s out of your immediate control. It stops us cowering at home, too scared to live life. But some things do still scare us, and we often do get afraid to make big changes like change jobs, move house, or put our hearts on the line. We’re fearless when it comes to walking next to a busy road, but when it comes to risking failure, we shy away. That’s where I think optimism deserves a place too.

Believe in yourself

Where my friend at work would call it irrational, I call it an imperative. One of my absolute favourite quotes from my favourite show of all time, Naruto, is from Gai-sensei to his pupil, Rock Lee. Rock Lee is slaving away, training so hard to become strong, despite being born at such a disadvantage to everyone else. Rock Lee wants to prove that hard work can overcome talent, but he suffers some set backs and is continually beaten by people who don’t try nearly as hard as he does. He starts to doubt himself. That’s when Gai says to him:

There’s no point to working hard if you don’t believe in yourself!

With this blog I want to inspire people to work hard, to achieve the things that are important to them. I want to show that if I can do something by working hard, that others can too. I’m not unique because of any talent. In life we’re all like Rock Lee – we don’t have superpowers like everyone else in Naruto. We often have to knuckle down and do a lot of mundane things to achieve what’s important to us. It’s hard work and there’s no getting around that. But hard work alone isn’t enough to achieve your dreams. You need to believe in yourself. You need to know that you can make it, or else you’ll never stay the course.

I don’t know who’s reading this right now, but I know you’ve doubted yourself at some point in your life. I know you can think of a time where you weren’t sure whether you could succeed – where you wanted to jump, but faltered. I hope you passed that hurdle with flying colours, but even if you don’t believe in yourself, I do – I believe in you. Every one of us has huge potential in us to completely change our own lives and the lives of others around us. We can choose how we see ourselves and the world around us.

A spectacle receptacle

There are two pairs of specs we carry with us. Every morning we put on a pair through which to see the world. On the one hand, there’s a dull, grey pair, which mutes everything we see. Wearing this pair, it’s easy to see the sadness in things, and difficult to see the beauty. Everything moves slowly, feels the same, and inspires feelings like scepticism, cynicism and pessimism. I’ve worn these sometimes.

But there’s also a gold pair. This pair lets you see the colour in everything. It’s a pair that let’s you see the silver-lining to every cloud, and beauty in the mundane. The world is the same, but the details we pay attention to are different. It inspires a whole other attitude. Where a grey-pair wearer would see a plain old push-up, a gold-pair wearer would see a world bench press!

There’s more than one way to view the world, and more than one of those is correct. But there’s no correct way to feel. There’s no correct way to be true to yourself. You can decide these things for yourself. But you have to believe in your power to make that choice. You have to believe success is out there – that you can achieve your dreams if you give them the chance. And when you believe that, you’re zen crazy like me!

Matt Bowen

Matt is a blogger, budoka and software developer. He sold his things, quit his job and moved to Japan to study Japanese and martial arts. Sometimes he writes about it.

2 thoughts on “Believe in yourself

  1. There are two pairs of specs we carry with us. Every morning we put on a pair through which to see the world. On the one hand, there’s a dull, grey pair, which mutes everything we see. Wearing this pair, it’s easy to see the sadness in things, and difficult to see the beauty. Everything moves slowly, feels the same, and inspires feelings like scepticism, cynicism and pessimism. I’ve worn these sometimes.

    But there’s also a gold pair. This pair lets you see the colour in everything. It’s a pair that let’s you see the silver-lining to every cloud, and beauty in the mundane. The world is the same, but the details we pay attention to are different. It inspires a whole other attitude. Where a grey-pair wearer would see a plain old push-up, a gold-pair wearer would see a world bench press!

    Beautiful analogy, Miser! I really liked this post. Particularly, the extract above. I agree that there is a difference between irrational bias towards optimism (Pollyana syndrome perhaps?) and self-belief (grit perhaps?).

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