A cult of ‘self-belief’ seduces more and more victims everyday. Like this guy, trying to break a wooden board over his head. It’s good for a laugh, but there’s some lessons here too.
Some one sent me a link to this video the other today. When I watched it I laughed so hard I snorted cab merlot through my nose:
If you don’t have time to watch it, the short of it is this guy wants to inspire you by doing something amazing – breaking a piece of wood over his head. He wants to show you the power of ‘believing in yourself’.
Turns out there are limits to this idea.
Doesn’t stop him from giving it a red-hot go though.
Oh wow, where to start? This bloke obviously has a few challenges in life, but let’s look at where his methodology of self-empowerment falls over.
As he outlines it, there’s a 3-step program for success:
- Believe in yourself
- Formulate a plan of action
- Follow through with it.
Anything wrong with that? You’ll hear the same thing on any 1800-GURU hotline. It seems reasonable. It’s the fashionable way to think.
But I think while it may be ‘a’ road to success, it’s not the only road. We put a lot of emphasis on self-belief and visualisation, but I think that’s often because we don’t understand where success actually comes from.
People ask successful people where their success came from all the time. I think most have no idea. They just got lucky.
Unless they were following a clear plan – and I think most aren’t, they’re just doing their thing – then they look back and point to vague concepts like ‘believing in yourself’ and ‘following your passion’.
And I think a lot of success actually comes ‘messy’ processes. Like the guy just tooling about in his shed. Penicillin growing on dirty petri dishes.
It’s driven by curiosity, and trial and error. Play. More by ‘what if’ than ‘I believe’.
So I think it’s easy to misdiagnose the ingredients of success. I think this is where this guy goes wrong.
I’m guessing that he must have tried this before at some point. And it must of worked, otherwise he wouldn’t have decided to do it in front of a camera. (Ok, I might be assuming too much intelligence there…)
But I think the thing about plywood (if my reading of the comments is correct) is that it has a grain. It breaks in one direction, but just bends in another.
So I’m guessing the first time he tried it, he went with the grain, and it worked.
But then he misdiagnosed his success. “I broke the wood over my head. It must have been because I believed in myself.”
We want to believe in self-belief. We want to believe that self-belief turns us into Gandalf staff-waving magicians who can do anything.
Because it’s easy.
Self-belief doesn’t take any energy. There’s nothing to it. It’s just a vague statement of fact we make with our inner monologue.
Visualisation at least takes effort. It requires some focusing of the mind – some energy put into concentration.
But self-belief doesn’t even take that much. It’s practically free.
So if we’re told that self-belief gives us the power to do anything – fly, manifest Ferraris, lose weight, smash wooden boards over our heads – it’s incredibly appealing.
All that power and I don’t have to do a thing to earn it? Where do I sign?
And so we want it to be true. Desperately. And so we push away the work we really need to do.
No, I’m not going to do any exercise. I have faith that self-belief will make me thin and give me a butt you can crack walnuts on.
If I actually invested in exercise, then I’d be saying that I don’t think self-belief alone can’t do it. It’s a blasphemy. A self-belief fairy dies.
I would be denying the magical power of self-belief, and I really want it to be true.
So we live as if it were true, even if we’ve had no evidence that it is. We sit on the couch, avoid investing in skills and experience, waiting for the self-belief fairy to come and save us.
But evidence keeps mounting that self-belief alone can’t do it. The world-view starts to crack but we rush to its defence. We deny and de-legitimise any evidence that contests the world view we’ve invested in. We refuse to see it.
And that leads us into worlds of pain. Like this guy. Pain should be a signal that something isn’t working. It’s a signal to pause, take stock, and re-evaluate our strategies.
But our man can’t do that. Because self-belief is the only necessary ingredient. So if it isn’t working, the only possible meaning he can accept is that he needs more self-belief.
Even as he approaches the point of crushing his own skull with a wooden board, his faith that it’s going to work if he can only muster a little more self-belief, is unshakeable.
Bong! Bong! Bong!
Oh, poor dear. Did you hurt yourself?
This is one of the great quirks of human nature. We reach for world views that are easy – low-energy holidays. But once we get there, we’ll go to incredible lengths to defend them – against evidence, reason, even pain and suffering.
And we laugh at this guy, but how many people are beating themselves up with self-belief? How many people are staying on the sidelines, not getting messy in the world of mistakes? Not taking risks, not learning, not growing?
How many people are not participating fully in life, because they want to believe in the power of self-belief?
My feeling is that it’s a lot, and the number is growing. 1800 GURUS, selling nothing but seductive easy-ways-out, add more and more people to the list of suckers every day.
But you’re not going to be one of them, are you now?