Why I don't believe in myself (the day before my birthday)

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There are advantages to having a closed mind: you will never doubt.
There are advantages to being indecisive: you will never make an error.
There are advantages to not loving: your heart will never get broken.
There are disadvantages to strategic planning: you miss the opportunities you did not expect.
There are disadvantages to doing research: people can’t tell you what they don’t know.

There are pros and cons to many perspectives that are almost universally believed to be ‘good’ or true.

None more so than the universal command that we should ‘believe in ourselves’.

It is meant to be motivating, it is meant to fuel a belief that will keep you going when things are tough.

But in truth, it is completely erroneous and misleading.

Think about it for a moment: is the ‘belief’ in your head (or heart) actually connected in any real, meaningful way to the outcome that you are supposed to believe in?

Consider the example: you are stumbling through the desert. All alone, no tools, no water. It is just you in a hundreds of kilometers of sand. Things are dire. WIll you make it or not? 

The facts are: you will make it if you keep going long enough to get to water or help, or the help or water comes to you.

Conventional wisdom would hold that this would be the time when you should believe in yourself. Things are grim - have faith in yourself.

But no amount of belief in yourself will save you.

The walking will save if you do it long enough to get to the water. Not the belief.  You may ask whether the belief will keep you walking? I doubt it very much. 

What keeps you walking is fear of dying, not the self-affirmation in your abilities. You need to believe that you will be saved if you keep on  walking; not so much that your are a great and wonderful person that is capable of anything. Believe the benefits of (keeping on)  walking, not in your ability to walk.

If you are a poor manager with anger issues, belief won’t fix it. If you lack ‘coding skills’ to become a good programmer, it is more learning that will get you ‘there’, not the belief in yourself. 

You should actually believe (the reality) that you are not that good and keep learning.

You should actually believe (the reality) that you will die without water and keep walking.

Recognising the reality is real motivator, not belief in yourself.

If you want to believe - and I think we all need to - I would suggest you find something more inspirational, maybe even something transcendent to believe in.

Groucho Marx’s letter of resignation to the Friars’ Club read: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

It is something like that: if you are going to base your belief in something, make it something worthwhile that could actually make a difference.

I hate to sound cruel, but the reality is that half the population is less than average on any metric that matters. No amount of belief will change that. There are two groups of people who peddle this to you:

  1. Self-help authors a profit from persuading the bottom half that they could be the top half - if only they believed (- and here is the recipe in my book).
  2. Deluded people who self-identify as high achievers and want to tell you how they did it. The problem is, they suffer from either (a) the Dunning-Kruger effect, a  cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence, or (b) self-serving bias, which  is the distortion of cognitive or perceptual process because of the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem, or the tendency to perceive oneself in an overly favorable manner. That is: if things go wrong, someone else is to blame, if things go well, it is because I am so good. They must find a reason for their success within themselves (my intelligence, my persistence, my actions, my attitude).

Reality is a lot more complicated. All people who succeed, believed in themselves, but all people who believe in themselves don’t succeed. Belief is present in success, but success is not contingent upon belief. Just like breathing is ‘present’ in all successful people, all breathers don’t succeed.

Believing in yourself sets the bar very low.

Better to have a firm grasp on reality, believe in the (science of) consequences that follow from actions, believe in (the spirit of) God, or believe in the purpose you have set. 

But belief in yourself? Maybe not the smartest thing you can bet on...