Doesn’t it make good sense to change our internal picture before we go around trying to change the results we’re getting?
People with an optimistic view of their capabilities out-perform those who are doubtful or simply more “realistic,” even though their abilities are virtually identical. They don’t give up easily or worry about obstacles because the final outcome is never in doubt—they see themselves as creative, resourceful problem solvers. They believe themselves into being more. They see themselves as winners, and they act like it.
We can feel like winners, no matter what others tell us or how favorable the current circumstances may be, but only if being a winner is consistent with our self-image. Why do some people see themselves as winners and act accordingly, while so many others don’t?
Learning to Win–And Lose
Learning to see oneself as a winner and to feel like a winner happens primarily as a result of having successful experiences and thinking self-affirming thoughts. When we believe our efforts will be successful, we become venturesome and are most likely to undertake an activity or task. Because we expect to succeed, we persist until we do. This successful experience causes self-affirming thoughts, which boost our self-esteem, enhance self-efficacy, make us feel good, and lead us to believe we will do well in the future. Thus, we attempt more, and the upward spiral continues. This internal system helps us grow and develop—a natural, continuous, quality improvement program.
There is, however, an equally powerful downward spiral that can interrupt the natural growth process. If we believe we are likely to fail, we undertake activities tentatively, expecting a negative outcome. We feel anxious about our performance, and we avoid or remove ourselves from anxiety-producing situations. When we fail, we say to ourselves, “I told you so,” and make a mental note to avoid similar situations in the future.
When we are very young, we have little to say about the experiences to which we’re subjected or the messages we receive from the world. The authority figures in our lives shape our early thoughts and feelings. If they abuse this power, we may be conditioned to believe that the world is not a friendly place, that we have to struggle to get our basic needs met, that we are not loved (lovable), valued (valuable), or competent. Years pass, and the pattern repeats many times. It becomes part of who we are, imprinted in our brains, and our internal voice, our self-talk, takes on the sound of our harshest critics. We play out the negative conditioning without thinking about it.
Changing the Rules
As adults we can acknowledge these painful early experiences for what they are, let go of them, and move past self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. We can opt for a new and better way of life—choosing not only what we think but also how we think and respond to our experiences.
Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew.” Using our free will, we can learn to think like and be winners, even if we were taught to believe something else. And we can choose to win in a way that makes no one else a loser. To make these choices intelligently, however, we need to know what our options are, how to deal with setbacks, and where to get the tools—the information and resources—we need. Most people know that they could be living vastly more fulfilling lives, and if given the option, tools, and support, they will choose to do so.
Over the years, my work has brought me into close contact with many “winners.” The common characteristic is not what, but how they think. Through a dazzling array of experiences, all of them have learned the importance of clear vision and sense of purpose or mission. They have discovered that clearly envisioned and articulate goals speed their achievement of that purpose. They have developed tremendous resiliency, great faith in their abilities, and self-talk that constantly affirms their own value. They feel deeply connected to the world in which they live and fully accountable for their actions.
The best tools and the latest information won’t help us tap into our rich potential until we accept that we are ultimately responsible for who we are, what we do, and who we become. This means that we give up looking for someone or something to blame and abandon the “victim mentality.” If we think like losers (or pessimists), we unconsciously create situations that reinforce our beliefs. When we expect failure and succeed anyway, we toss it off to luck or say it’s a “fluke” or “only temporary,” and hold on to our negative beliefs.
If we think of ourselves as failures, we will do what we can to make sure “reality” supports our view. Even positive deviation from that picture makes us uncomfortable, producing anxiety and a desire to “get back where we belong.”
But if our picture of reality is that we deal with obstacles well and persist until we succeed, we will do whatever it takes to make that picture match the world. We will seek challenge, enlist help, solve problems creatively, and refuse to quit until we have achieved our goal. We will see change as opportunity and adapt ourselves to meet it. We become exhilarated with life. And if success eludes us, we won’t interpret it as failure.
Instead, we will see it as useful information about what doesn’t work, a temporary setback.
©Copyright, The Pacific Institute® LLC.
Lou Tice (1935 – 2012) – Co-Founder of The Pacific Institute
He may have started out as a high school teacher and football coach, but a belief in “no limits” led Lou Tice to become one of the most highly respected educators in the world. His singular style of teaching—taking the complex concepts and current research results from the fields of cognitive psychology and social learning theory and making them easy to understand and even easier to use—brought him students from all over the globe.
Lou’s ability as a consummate teacher and mentor brought him to some of the world’s hot spots: to the leaders of Northern Ireland, where he worked since the mid-’80’s; to Guatemala, since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1995; and to South Africa, from before the end of the era of apartheid. In 2004, he brought his considerable talents to bear in an ongoing partnership with then-University of Southern California head football coach, Pete Carroll, to make a positive difference in South Los Angeles.
Born and raised in Seattle, Washington where Diane, his wife, still makes her home, Lou received his bachelor’s degree from Seattle University. He went on to earn an MA in Education from the University of Washington, with a major focus in the mental health sciences.