Monday, 15 April 2013

Do You Listen to Your Confidence or Your Paranoia?

I've been a massive Red Dwarf fan since I first watched it as a child, and recently I realised that one of its earlier episodes was strongly connected to something I've been talking about recently.

In the episode Confidence and Paranoia, Lister (Craig Charles) talks about those two voices in his head that we're all familiar with: "It's like everyone's got two people inside you. You've got your confidence and paranoia. And your confidence's the guy who goes, 'Hey you're great.
  You're dead sexy! Everybody loves you!' And your paranoia says, 'You're stupid. You're useless. You're ugly. And everybody hates you

Of course, later on he gets sick and his hallucinations actually come to life, but the point is that for most of us these two 'people' exist inside our heads. The problem is that many of us take on the voice of Paranoia and mistake it for our own thoughts, while dismissing anything that Confidence might have to say as silly and unrealistic. If you tend to put yourself down, doubt your abilities and only notice your flaws, then it might be time to look at what you're telling yourself.

We all have an internal narrative, whether you imagine it as an actual voice or as a series of pictures and words. When you think to yourself "I look great" or "Oh, I have another spot", "He's looking over - he must like me!" or "He's looking over, I must look like a weirdo", that's your internal narrative at work. It's so natural to most of us that we don't usually stop and look at what we're telling ourselves.

Take a day and try to write down the thoughts that you have - or at least become aware of them. Look in the mirror and notice your initial reaction. A lot of thoughts come into our heads uninvited - and whether you think "Damn, I look fine today!" or "What a disaster", it is important that you recognise that thought and don't try to fight it. Your next thought might be shame for thinking something positive about yourself, or "Argh, I'm so negative!" - recognise that thought, too. Who would say it - your Confidence, or your Paranoia? After a while, you'll soon come to find which one you listen to the most.

So often, it turns out that Paranoia is in charge - we find fault, we assume the worst, we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to a friend. When we are so hard on ourselves, becoming a confident person can seem impossible - it seems that whatever you do, that voice will keep whispering "Oh, you must think you're so great now that you're making money, but don't forget that you're just a stupid little girl pretending to be someone she's not."  Ouch!

Don't mistake that voice with your true thoughts. Somewhere along the way, you learnt to feed Paranoia and to ignore Confience - perhaps you were surrounded by people who echoed your negative thoughts, perhaps you were rejected or failed at something and it convinced you that everything bad about you must be true. In the UK, especially, we are taught to complain and find fault in everything and everyone - being overly confident is viewed with suspicion and fear.

Try to picture your own version of Paranoia (although I prefer to call it Self-Doubt) - what does he/she look like? Whose voice does he/she have? As we grow up, we internalise the voices of our parents and other figures of authority around us - if you were told that you were ugly, stupid, incapable of something as a kid, you might have grown up assuming that it must be true and repeating the same story to yourself over and over.

No matter how strong your self-deprecating side, you have your Confidence locked away in there somewhere, too. Try to picture him or her just as strongly as your negative side. What does he/she look like? Whose voice do they have? Lister's Confidence told him - "I'm all the things you associate with confidence, king!" - perhaps yours is a similar mix of powerful, confident characters. They are a part of you, just as much as your Paranoia, and they have plenty to say.

It might seem silly at first, but when you find yourself thinking something awful about yourself - "Nobody likes you" or "There's no way that you can start your own business!" - imagine what your Confidence would say, too. It can start off as a kind of joke - you know what a typical confident character would say, even if you don't believe it at all when they say "ONE person blew you off, you have plenty of people who love you!" or "Why not? If those suckers can do it, then you definitely can!" - but let both sides have their say anyway. Over time, you might realise that your Confidence is actual talking a lot more sense that your Paranoia, and that you are finally able to give yourself the boost you need to move forward.

In my new Shine with Self-Confidence course I talk a lot about how to start recognising and changing your internal narrative. You might not realise how massive the effect of your own thoughts are in shaping your ability to get things done, but so many people fail to reach their potential because of what they're telling themselves (perhaps without realising it). By practicing some of the techniques that I teach you, you'll be able to shift your thinking in no time - from believing that your dreams are impossible to knowing that you can achieve them. Click here to find out more about it!

Of course, it's always good to hear both sides of the argument. In that particular Red Dwarf episode, Confidence eventually decides that "Oxygen is for losers!" and tries to persuade Lister to take off his helmet (in deep space). After removing his own helmet to show that it's "safe", he explodes. As with all things, there's a line that can be drawn with common sense, and sometimes your self-doubt serves to protect you. In fact, both sides of yourself have good intentions at their core - Paranoia is trying to protect you from danger (and social embarrassment), even if it stops you from even enjoying life or developing as a person. On the other hand, Confidence wants you to be the best you can be, but might not think through all of the dangers. The trick is listening to both, but learning when to take the advice of each one.

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