My daughter is running for student council and I suggested to her that the morning before the voting is to take place (tomorrow), maybe she could use the school-wide intercom system and give a quick sound bite so that her name would be in their minds on voting day. She said, “They would never let me do that!” But she hadn’t actually validated that assumption yet by asking them. What if the person in charge of the intercom system that day were impressed with her teenage moxy and creativity and said, “Go right ahead?”
I mention this because this is a big challenge for most of us adults too. We think to ourselves, “They would never let me do that.” or “They would never say yes to that.” without even testing it. We psych ourselves out, and with a lack of confidence, shrink from asking or taking action.
Why do we do this? Because the perceived risk is high! The risk that we’ll be Rejected, Denied, Shamed, Ridiculed. This is actually a very small risk in terms of damage it can do to us, but in our minds, it’s such a big risk that it prevents us from acting on a vast amount of creative ideas and impulses.
A couple of years ago by brother and I rolled up to a hotel on 2 Harleys. The hotel attendant had seen our bikes as we drove up – she walked right past us. As we approached the front desk, I asked her if she had a military discount – she said no, and then stone-faced silence. I decided to ask if she had any other discounts available – she cheerfully informed us that there was a Harley discount available.
I was surprised that she didn’t offer that up without my asking. I asked her if she would have offered the Harley discount if I hadn’t asked. She said she was trained to wait until someone brings it up! The world waits for us to ask.
But why do we hesitate? Part of the reason is what psychologists call Cognitive Distortion. We believe that the outcome will be negative without validating that assumption. Some examples of this are Jumping to Conclusions, All or Nothing Thinking, and Making Blanket Statements.
Experts suggest that we talk back to the negative dialogue to boost confidence enough to take action, experiment and validate assumptions. If we say to ourselves, “They would never let me do that,” we can then counter that with “Who knows, they might be impressed with my creativity and give me 5 seconds,” or “What’s the worst that could happen? It’s possible that the office secretary might be in a good mood and say go ahead.”
What are the cognitive distortions that are holding you back today? Become a scientist, talk back to negative thoughts, and test your assumptions. You might be surprised at the result.