What if I told you that on Thursday, October 14, 2010 as I sat on an airplane travelling back to the U.S. from my very first trip to Rome, I wrote the following words,
“I want to return to Rome and stay for
6 months 1month very soon.”
At the time I had no idea as to how I would do this. I had no money, no time, and no seeming way that I could make this manifest. I just knew that I wanted to do it. I knew I had to do it. I believed that I could and I would do it, even if I didn’t know how. From the moment of writing those words, a series of many things happened, both experienced as good and bad. All moved me towards achieving the above goal.
What if I told you that by October 27, 2010 I had bought my ticket to return to Rome for less than $500? What if I told you that along with the above words, I had also written,
“I want to live alone while I am there.”
and that by November 11, 2010 I had met the man, from whom I would eventually rent my studio at an affordable price.
The Power of Belief and Self-efficacy
The self-fulfilling prophecy is a fairly popular concept in today’s society, but it can be traced back throughout the ages.
The idea is a simple one: what we truly believe, we will manifest into reality. Typically, the self-fulfilling prophecy has a somewhat negative connotation as it may be used in association with “bad” events. For example, if a man continuously worries that his wife will leave him, and then eventually she will. The self-fulfilling prophecy, however, is a simply strategy of thought manifested into reality. The manifestation, however, can occur in three ways: positive, neutral, or negative.
A positive manifestation is simple enough. It is when we desire something positive to occur in our lives and we truly believe that it will, and thus it does. The negative manifestation is, of course, the opposite of the positive. A neutral manifestation (and this is my own term) is when we want something to occur in our lives, typically positive, but we do not fully believe that it will – We end up with perhaps a type of “mixed” result, a neutralized experience.
For example, you may have just been interviewed for a new job and believe you will be hired because you see yourself as the best candidate. At some point, however, perhaps due to delay in response from the company, you begin to doubt yourself as being the best candidate… you still believe that you are a very good candidate and that there is no reason why the company shouldn’t hire you, but now you are not sure. So, you get the call. You are hired! Yes! There is a problem, however. You are offered a lowered salary or a different position altogether, because the company believes you are not as qualified for the position as they would like for you to be. Do you see? The situation has been neutralized. You are happy for the job offer, but unhappy because the result is not exactly the way you had hoped for it to be… It is exactly what you believed it to be – That is, perhaps you were not the best candidate, merely a good one – Why would a company pay top dollar to good candidate or give that person the position when they can hire the best?
In psychology, we have been quite happy to latch on to the self-fulfilling prophecy to help people to change their thoughts and their behaviours, and thus ultimately their lives. Regardless of the branch of psychology, in my opinion, the ultimate goal is to have people have better opinions about themselves and a more positive outlook on their lives, in order to live their lives more effectively and successfully. As a practitioner of DBT, I am constantly asking clients (and myself) to keep themselves open to new ways of interpreting the experiences they have in the world. Why? Well, like I said in my post on Saturday (2.12.11), it is our thoughts that dictate our emotions, and our emotions that dictate our actions, and our actions result in direct and indirect consequences (some of which we may not like). Thus, it is in controlling our thoughts that we have the power to control ourselves, and the impact of the world around us on ourselves, holistically.
What we think, i.e. our thoughts, is one aspect of the self-fulfilling prophecy. It is, however, not enough. Thinking something once does not make or break you (and thank goodness for that! Or else, I would be in serious trouble!) – It is the pervasiveness of our thoughts, i.e. how much we believe in our thoughts. How often are we thinking these thoughts? Are they there in the back of our minds as we go throughout the day? Are they the first of our day, or last thoughts before we go to bed? Are they the instant thoughts we have in reaction to anything “bad” or “good” happening to us? This is what I mean by pervasiveness… by belief. How much do you believe in your thoughts?
There are many of us who would like to say, “Oh, I might think some negative things about myself, but I don’t believe them.” Really? Then, why do you say them to yourself? Ask yourself.
The truth is that we can see ourselves as quite capable individuals in many areas of our lives, and are able to say to ourselves, “Bravo, you rock! You’re awesome!” (These are some of my cheering statements – Feel free to borrow.) There are, however, other areas, where we may not believe ourselves to be as capable and may say things like this ourselves, “I can’t believe I am so dumb! Why do always crazy crap like that? Nobody else would have been so stupid! I’ll never get things right! I am such a mess up!” (These aren’t my self-doubting statements, but you get the point – Remember, D says, “Don’t use these! Bad for you!”)
I intentionally listed more self-demeaning/self-doubting statements. Why? Because, we tend to verbally beat ourselves up more! That’s why! Come on, think about it! For how long do you keep yourself in a state of misery after something not so great happens? For example, let’s say your boss, or teacher, or parent told you that you did something wrong, and they were angry with you… I know this must have happened to you at some point in your life (and if it hasn’t happened, then bully for you, and just try to imagine it). For how much longer after that conversation, were you upset with yourself, with them, with the situation? Think about it. No, really, try. Perhaps, if you are trying really hard right now and remembering a very specific situation, you might even be experiencing the very emotions associated with the situation. You might even feel a pang of anger, of embarrassment, and/or of fear. And as I told you before… our feelings are a manifestation of our thoughts. So, what are/were you thinking?
We are who/what/how we believe ourselves to be – Remember that I did not say “imagine ourselves to be.” If you believe yourself to be “an incompetent fool” underneath your projected image of competence, then what you are is an incompetent fool. Moreover, what people see is that you are an incompetent fool pretending to be competent. (And if you don’t believe me, see the history of, thankfully, former American President George W. Bush.) Think about that.
I decided to give self-efficacy its own subheading, in order to give this rather lengthy post a bit more structure.
I am truly a fan of the concept of self-efficacy. It incorporates so many of the principles that I consider truly important in creating a meaningful and rewarding life. To develop a sense of one’s self-efficacy is to begin understanding and, yes, believing in one’s capacity to create and accomplish one’s goals and other tasks in life. These goals are not merely intrapersonal (relating solely to the self), but also interpersonal (relating to others). It is sort of that idea that no matter what challenges life presents, you have the ability to tackle it!
To go into the complete ideology of self-efficacy would be time-consuming and perhaps (somewhat) boring. Thus, I will not. I will encourage you, however, to look into it. Also, think about how self-efficacious you are in this moment. How do you see your ability to take on whatever life throws at you? Remember, self-efficacy is not about “going it alone.” It is about understanding your strengths, understanding where you may need help in order to achieve your goals. It’s about using your smarts/intelligence/wits (however you want to put it) to get you where you want to go, but knowing/believing that your smarts/intelligence/wits will get you there no matter what! You dig? 😉
A secret… The Secret
I suggested that I would tell you a secret… And I shall.
There are very few pop psychology book/self-help books that I really recommend that people read, or that I even read myself. After all, most of my time is spent reading… well, psychology articles or books that are more strictly pertaining to my professional interests and background, which takes up a lot of time (as you can see… people in psychology like to write and talk… a lot ;)) – Thus, it’s nothing personal, and definitely not an issue of snobbery on my part.
As such… here is my secret: I have been reading “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne from page to page. Now… I will tell you that when my mother bought this book for me back two Christmas’ ago, I was a bit nonplussed. After all, I am a capable and competent (read “self-efficacious” here) therapist, what do I need with this pop psychology book?…Okay, maybe there was a bit of snobbery.
I will tell you three things about The Secret:
1. It is about self-fulfilling prophecy aka the power of belief with an emphasis on the power of positive thinking (See, Positive Psychology).
2. It is about believing in/developing a sense of your own self-efficacy (see discussion above).
3. It is small enough to put in a small bag.
Mind you, I am not endorsing The Secret or any particular thing on my blog. If, however, you decide to run to your local library, get a copy, read it and like it, then… the only other pop psychology book I have ever bought (besides ones about eating disorders, which is my specialization… so I ought to know what’s out there) is Bryn Collins’ Emotional Unavailability : Recognizing It, Understanding It, and Avoiding Its Trap.
Let’s just say, if you have ever been in a bad relationship, or if you are in one right now… or perhaps you are always in bad relationships… and you can never understand why… Well, Emotional Unavailability might help give you some perspective. It’s a slight introduction to some basic DBT concepts on interpersonal effectiveness).
Some thoughts on being a secret-keeper/privacy-holder:
As a therapist, it is my job to be a secret-keeper/privacy-holder for secrets/private thoughts that are non self-harming to my clients. It is an important role and one that ought never to be violated. I feel very honoured to be and to have been entrusted with the thoughts of so many who have come to me for help throughout the years. There are truly not enough words to express my gratitude and humility.
The title of this post, “What if I told you… a Secret?” though meant with some humour is actually a commentary on the fact that we may not often share with others what knowledge it is that we may have amassed over the years that has been truly beneficial to us in living our lives. My secret is that I live my therapeutic practices every day of my life – I practice what I preach. And it is truly my hope that in sharing these thoughts with you that you will benefit in some small way in your own life.
For the purpose of full disclosure: I am a registered Independent.