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Flex Your Optimism

When was the last time you felt unconfident? When was the last time you were plagued with self doubt?

For me, the answer lies in the better part of 2018.

Whether it be regarding school, fitness or a majority of my relationships, I remained consumed by my thoughts. Always having prided myself on my self confidence, positivity and constant self-validation, I began feeling like an imposter trapped in my own negativity. Complacency regarding my adherence to betterment had prevented me from questioning my notions of self-worth.

I began to believe that since I knew how to seek the right answers to what was causing my internal turmoil, I would be ‘OK’. However despite knowing how to reset, I kept getting trapped in a cycle of indecision and pain.

“I’m trying”, I would say. But it didn’t feel enough. It didn’t address or rectify anything particular. Hence I resorted to writing this - to come to terms with a particularly painful experience. Having to address it felt difficult - which is exactly why I needed to write about it.

You see for a majority of 2018..

I felt unworthy.

I felt undeserving.

I felt like there was something me.

And I didn’t know how to do better.

This was a direct result of handing the reins of my self worth to one particular individual. When they favoured me, I favoured myself. Consequently when they didn’t, I experienced the lowest of lows. For me this individual came in the form of a friend - someone I told myself I had to befriend and someone who just wouldn’t catch the bait. For you, this may come in the form of a boss, a loved one, a faculty mentor, a family member, your personal trainer - you name it. But we all know someone like this in our lives.

Unfortunately, mine looked like a 20 year old college student.

Why was their validation so important to me you may ask?

Well in honesty, I genuinely believed that their presence would enhance my life. In the same way that you might believe that the presence of a mentor might be beneficial, I sought the time, energy and company of one particular friend. However it was already too late when I realised that they neither had the time, nor did they desire my company. Ouch.

You can imagine how this began to impact my self confidence - not simply through one occasion but rather multiple instances of being turned down. Over and over again. And yet questioning my sense of self worth felt oddly uncharacteristic. Labelling myself as ‘confident’ had led me to believe it … thus far… but suddenly I didn’t feel it. The label wasn’t working.

Unsurprisingly, this was when I began to experience growth.

I fought my battle first and foremost through apathy and then eventually by distancing myself from my negative thoughts. But don’t be fooled. They still remained there. Unattended. Waiting.

I was far from finding the right answers - till this Monday.

This Monday, I learnt of the ABC technique.

ABC stands for Adversity, Beliefs and Consequences. It is a method developed to recognise how we practice optimism. It was created by psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis and then adapted by Dr. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former president of the American Psychological Association.

Here's the DL on using the technique to ‘flex your optimism’:

When we encounter adversity in our lives we form beliefs from the situation. This in turn leads to consequences. For example, a terrible encounter with this friend would cause me to ask: ‘what’s wrong with me?’. After this occurred multiple times, it led to a pattern of constant self-doubt. That gap between the A and the B (or the adversity followed by the belief that there is something wrong) is known as the explanatory style.

ABC largely hinges on our personal explanatory styles.

Now, there was nothing wrong with me besides me constantly asking myself that question. The question I really needed be asking instead was: what are the mistaken assumptions of my explanatory style?

Investigating the way in which my actions were manifested made me realise how the self narrative I created was derailing me.

Now I am determined to have it empower me.

You see, building a life narrative is an essential part about being human and being stuck in a negative narrative makes it come true. Asking myself ‘what’s wrong with me?’ did nothing but make me believe that there was a problem. I was unwittingly narrowing rather than nurturing my life.

Take another example for instance. I tend to jump around stories often. I fit in at least 6 different conversations and 7 different trains of thought into one. However consistently writing articles has also led me to believe that I am somewhat articulate. Hence I am capable of slowing down my thoughts. I am capable of resisting my own ABC patterns. I don’t need to jump stories.

Shifting my mindset lies in two important takeaways:

Permanence: How long will this actually impact me?

Pervasiveness: How widespread is this problem?

Here is it particularly important to track my inner dialogue. It is important to build a narrative that is helpful, not harmful. It is important to recognise the subtle difference between ‘There is something wrong with me’ and ‘I didn’t put my best foot forward today’.

One suggests permanence and is a blanket statement. The other is a specific and solvable statement that suggests only a temporary setback.

Discovering the ABC technique has completely altered my perspective on handling challenges. It is something I hope to practice with greater intensity through 2019. And the best part about it? Knowing that practice can truly make perfect.


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