“I can’t do it!”
A year ago my daughter was about to start primary school. She was beyond nervous. She was petrified. No one could mention school without her becoming upset or angry. I felt sad and powerless to help with this major milestone. One day a well-meant encouraging comment resulted in her saying “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t do it Mummy, I can’t, I can’t!” which she repeated over and over again. In my head I was shouting to myself “help her, stop her saying this, do something” but what could I do?
I bundled her up in an enormous hug and took a few deep restorative breaths, which calmed us both a little. In that moment of quiet connection, I remembered someone telling me about a book called “I Can Do It” by Louise Hay. I heard myself whispering “I can do it, I am brave, I am amazing”. I was saying it as much to myself at this point as I was to her. She gradually calmed down and we got on with our morning. At lunchtime I decided to try out those words again, fully expecting her to shout at me to stop. But she didn’t. Amazingly she sat up straighter and took a deep steadying breath. Pushing my luck, I encouraged her to copy me saying “I can do it, I am brave, I am amazing” and unexpectedly she did! I could see those words were helping her tap into an inner reserve of strength.
The power of self-belief
That little affirmation got us through some tricky times in those first few months of school. It also helped my son when he started preschool the following spring. When I was nervous about a meeting and my daughter said to me “don’t worry Mummy, remember you can do it, you are brave, you are amazing!” It really helped. It was then I realised this had become our family mantra.
The Voice, friend or foe?
We all have that voice in our heads judging what we do and say. If you don’t think you have a voice, just listen. It’s the one saying “what voice, I don’t have a voice”. If I spoke to others the way I talked to myself, I’d probably have very few friends. I’m not alone in that either. Often the way we talk to ourselves is much harsher and more critical than we would ever dare be with others. But it doesn’t have to be, and I am consciously working on this daily. What we say and the words we use matter. Phrasing things positively matters. Changing our language, especially the vocabulary we use about ourselves, is powerful and effective. It transformed my terrified child into a courageous self-believer.
Changing our internal dialogue
Self-belief is all about how we feel and talk about ourselves. It affects how we come across to those around us. I love that our positive mantra is now part of my children’s internal dialogue. It is a strong, shared family resource which we draw on whenever we feel the need.
My kids have made up little actions to go with the words. Hands by their sides for “I can do it”, hands on hips for “I am brave” and one hand in the air (Superman flying pose) for “I am amazing”. These actions are power poses, which is another mechanism to promote positive self-belief. We can create feelings of confidence by adopting a confident stance. Watch your posture because the reverse is also true.
Want to improve your own self-belief? Then just notice how you feel and talk about yourself. If you are critical try to be gentle. Just notice and think how you might be able to treat yourself differently. Become your own friend. I’ve talked here about positive affirmations and power poses. There other things you could try too. Simply saying “thank you”, nothing else, when someone compliments you. Start a journal or folder to collect evidence of external validation. Try replacing “should” with “could” and notice how it feels.
Our words make up the internal landscape of our minds, so if you don’t like the view change your language.