Belief can be a powerful tool… if you know how to use it properly.
We’re all trying to achieve something in life. Are any of the following your goals?:
- get a job,
- find a girlfriend/boyfriend,
- become a published author,
- be fluent in new language,
- have a profitable online business,
These are common goals that many people have. Belief is the fuel that powers you towards the success of these goals. Even if your dream isn’t on the list above, it doesn’t change the fact that you need to believe that you can do it before you can actually achieve it.
There’s just one problem with these goals: they’re impossible to achieve.
I’m not saying that to be a pessimist. People can accomplish extraordinary things… as long as they believe the right things. In this piece, you’ll learn how to stop believing the wrong things and redirect your attention and energy towards “correct beliefs”.
This guide is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a handy starting point to put you on the right track. By the end of this piece, you should have a new found confidence in your ability to set goals, stick to them and see them through to the end. All this because you know how to “believe correctly”.
Most importantly, you will not feel as bad about yourself when you give up — because you won’t give up on things anymore. Everything you set your mind to, you will achieve.
Step 1 — Define it properly
How you define your beliefs is crucial to how firmly you stick to them. A particular philosophy — Stoicism — can be used to pinpoint whether your beliefs are being defined properly.
I’ve talked about Stoicism in previous pieces. I think it’s the most applicable philosophy to the modern age. Marcus Aurelius is one of the most famed practitioners of Stoicism, regularly using it throughout his tenure as emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 AD.
The core tenet of Stoicism is this:
Focus on what you can control, ignore what you can’t.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet why is it that the majority of people in the world still focus on what they can’t control?
People do this by blaming. Through blame, they redirect accountability away from themselves and place it squarely at the feet of the event, person or situation that they had no influence over.
Let’s look again at the common goals listed above and think about the common excuses we hear when people don’t achieve them.
- get a job — the economy’s bad, I don’t have enough experience, it’s not the right fit for me.
- find a girlfriend/boyfriend — I’m too fat/skinny/short, they always find someone better, I don’t trust people.
- become a published author — I’m not good enough a writer, publishers don’t like my submission, I don’t have enough time.
- be fluent in new language — I can’t say this word, I’m not good enough to speak with native people, I don’t have time to practice.
- have a profitable online business — no one’s buying my products, I don’t have enough money, there’s too much competition.
This is how regular people approach their goals: they set the wrong kind of goals, make excuses, get discouraged and give up.
Because Step #1 was wrong, they never had the belief in the first place.
How do you believe that you’re able to do something that’s impossible to do?
Stay with me here — people have achieved those things, but not because they focused on those things. They believed different things that allowed these outcomes to eventuate as a result of success in more ordinary goals.
Remember the primary tenet of Stoicism is to focus on what you can control and ignore what you can’t.
With that in mind, how could we transform the goals above into ones a Stoic would make? Here’s my attempt:
- get a job → speak to one head hunter, hiring manager or CEO every week.
- find a girlfriend/boyfriend → meet someone new every weekend.
- become a published author → submit your pieces to one new reader community every week.
- be fluent in a new language → speak/listen/read/write for 15 minutes a day, every day.
- have profitable online business → spend $100 a week on a new promotion/advertisement until you make sales.
No one makes those sorts of goals, do they? That’s because they’re focused on the result, not the process.
It’s easy to believe your goals when you apply the Stoic’s philosophy to them.They’re very literal; you either do them or you don’t. The best part? Your “un-Stoic” goals get achieved effortlessly, almost as an afterthought.
Get these right at the beginning and you won’t have lapses of faith ever again.
Step #2 — Make it too easy
Now that we have the first step down pat, let’s take a closer look at the sort of tasks we set ourselves to make them even easier to believe.
There’s a common misconception that things we need to believe we can do have to be difficult. Otherwise why would you need to believe it? Let’s challenge that notion.
Keeping in mind that we’re only focusing on things that we have complete control over, the next most important thing is consistency. There’s not really any point doing anything if you’re not going to be consistent about it.
Again, there are people out there in the world who expect that from performing a task once or just a few times, they will get a certain result. Why is this wrong?
- Firstly, expecting the result that’s out of their control is wrong.
- Secondly, even if they had the correct beliefs, doing something out of expectation is a sure-fire way of being disappointed.
I’ll cover it in greater detail in Step #4, but you should almost always anticipate being disappointed. As much as I say Stoicism is great, we’re all human. We can’t completely dissociate ourselves from wanting a result that’s beyond our control.
There will be days you feel down and out. It doesn’t mean you should not do the task. That’s why I would rather set the bar lower. That means that I’ll be able to do it consistently.
For example, in my publication 100 Naked Words, the requirement is to write 100 words a day. This is easy, even for people who don’t consider themselves good writers.
Many of the writers have written about days where they haven’t felt like writing, but still did it. By simply writing about that, they hit the daily requirement and became 1% better for the day.
Something magical happens when you make your goal ridiculously easy to achieve:
- you usually go over, which is not a bad thing,
- you want to keep doing more, which is also not a bad thing.
It’s like performing reverse psychology on yourself. The secret is beingdisciplined enough to stick to the absurdly easy goal. That will give you the energy to stick to it.
You can toe the line and up it a little bit. The moment of truth comes when you have had a bad day and don’t have the motivation. Will you be able to stick to your guns?
I don’t know what the hopes and dreams of these writers are. Perhaps some do want to become published authors. Some might want to build a thriving blog with a huge following. Others might want to find their voice.
All I know is that I can’t give these things to them. What I can give them is an outlet through which they can write every day and improve every day. The mechanical process focuses them and their intent drives them in the right direction.
How can you make it stupidly easy to believe that you can hit your daily goal?
Step #3 — Do the maths
This is another trick you can should use to increase the level of conviction you have in your beliefs.
Eventually, factors out of your control will have be introduced into the equation for you to succeed. For example:
- if you’re a salesperson, sales.
- if you’re a writer, views, reads or shares.
- if you’re a marketer, clicks.
Assuming you have followed the first two steps, you would be focusing on understanding your customer better, finding out what your readers want to read and getting to the bottom of what makes people click for the above three points, respectively.
Doing the maths and calculating the return you get from the things you do control gives you conviction to keep doing it.
Since we’re on Medium, I’ll go with the second example to further illustrate this point.
Asa writer, all I can control are the words that appear on the screen and the time I spend writing a piece. I can make them as persuasive, engaging and thoughtful as possible, but if people don’t like it, they won’t recommend it. That’s the factor I control.
I heard a theory that the longer you make your pieces, the more recommends you can get. So I put it to the test. I write:
- Piece #1–500 words →100 recommends, takes an hour to write.
- Piece #2–2,000 words → 1,000 recommends, takes four hours to write.
The maths involved would be the factor I can’t control divided by the factor I can control.
So for the above two scenarios:
- Piece #1–0.2 recommends per word, 1.66 recommends per minute.
- Piece #2–0.5 recommends per word, 4.16 recommends per minute.
Can you see the magic here? I don’t know about you, but upon doing the maths, I get a massive boost of confidence. Assuming all other factors are equal, when I write a long article, every sentence is worth about 5–7 recommends. After five minutes of writing, I’ve already got over 20 recommends.
If you want to make it more fun, imagine the little, green hearts floating up out of the screen as you’re writing. All from understanding the maths behind the factors you can control.
Obviously, the formulae are simplified and don’t always follow the model, but you just have to understand how they work to benefit from them.
From there, it becomes too easy to believe in ability to achieve your vision.
Step #4 — Acknowledge your disappointments
As I mentioned above in Step #1, expect to be disappointed when trying to achieve your goals. Everything can blow up in your face at the last minute and challenge your ability to believe in yourself.
As much as you don’t want to let things that are out of your control affect you, some days there are too many chinks in your armor and you have had enough of it all.
That’s why it can be better to drop your guard and roll with the punches. It’s the cost of trying to achieve anything monumental and worthwhile.
What I’ve personally started doing is keeping a “disappointment journal”, where I chronicle the disappointments I experience whenever I feel them. This exposes them and makes me realize most of them are founded on insignificant issues that eventually go away with time.
Ideally, you wouldn’t let anything that’s beyond your control get to you. In reality, this is easier said than done.
You might be thinking:
“What’s the point of turning the other cheek every time? Can’t I rage sometimes?”
Yes, definitely. Again, we are human after all. However, there is another side to Stoicism that can really play in your favor if you are as determined as someone like Marcus Aurelius, arguably one of the greatest Stoics of all.
This is the second most important tenet of Stoicism:
The greater the negative situation, the greater the potential of positive impact.
This can be a difficult notion to accept, that when everything you have worked so hard to achieve goes up in smoke, there can be some greater good in that.
The first thing to ask yourself is whether the big loss has directly impacted on your end goal. In many cases, it didn’t. Your ability to still believe in yourself is unaffected. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and when you’re ready, resume with greater intent.
If the big loss has directly impacted on your end goal, give yourself time to reflect and be in touch with how you feel about the event.
I’m not against feeling bad about bad things happening. I don’t support letting emotions take over mindfulness. That’s always something you can gain from a negative event.
The more in touch you are with the Stoic inside you, the more you realize what you can (and cannot) control and the more empowered you feel. It’s one of the most liberating things to let yourself intentionally feel a certain way, as opposed to letting your emotions take over.
In the end, bad things that challenge you can end up making you even more of a firm believer in yourself.
Step #5 — Negative inspiration
I’m lazy — like extremely lazy. I have to be prodded and pushed to do something all the time.
Yet why do I write? Why do I create publications and magazines and find readers? Why do I push beyond my comfort zone all the time and believe things that are difficult to believe?
Because of negative inspiration.
As humans, we are either moving toward or away from something. As a marketer, I know that it’s easier to sell people a future picture of how life could be so much better than what it is.
On the flip side, there are some scenarios where it’s far better to find the pain, pick up a red-hot iron and rub it in the wound until you’re howling.
Most people will use a combination of both to find the inspiration to keep believing in what they do but tend to lean towards one area. I think I’m more inspired by negativity because I’m a competitive person.
No matter if it was my studies or sport, nothing would get me fired up than having an opponent. I was always a bit of a sore loser so I’d always try hard to come out on top.
Now in my twenties, I find other ways to draw negative inspiration from my environment. While it’s not studies and sports anymore, the game is still played, but on a larger stage: life. My school’s 10 year reunion is next year and I’m already thinking about the questions that would be going through everyone’s minds, like:
what is he doing now?
is he still living with her parents — this is a big one because of how difficult it is to move out at this time. I’m pretty sure most of us would still be living at home, saving up to eventually leave the nest.
I wonder what car he drives?
he was so smart in school — what happened to him?
Does he have a kid already?
I know that it’s nobody’s business, but having answers to these questions and being able to 1-UP my friends is what drives me — and many of you.
To be honest, it’s the fear of falling behind that drives me the most. As much as you want to try and live your own life, these sorts of events are going to create conversations around you and your friends. It takes brutal honesty to face it and take what you can from it. If it’s negative inspiration, then so be it.
As long as it gives you belief in yourself, it’s fair game.
Step #6 — Positive inspiration
One of my favorite spells in Harry Potter is the Patronus spell. Not only is the idea of having your very own spirit animal cool, but the idea behind the strength of the spell is meaningful.
You have to conjure up your strongest, happiest memories. Only then will your Patronus be of substance and strong enough to drive away evil monsters.The moment that happiness wanes, the Patronus dissipates.
Severus Snape — Half Blood Prince and Unfortunate Occupant of the Friend Zone — conjures up a doe as his Patronus.
“After all this time?” Dumbledore asked.
“Always.” Snape replied.
To love Lily Potter like he did is heart-wrenching, but he still drew happiness out of that.
I can’t help but think about that when I use positive inspiration to fortify belief in myself.
For me, it’s watching videos of my daughter and wife reading books, playing together in the playground or just being together.
I feel something well up from deep inside my being. It’s warm and soft, yet powerful. It’s positive inspiration surging up to reignite the fire that’s grown dim.
It’s normal to doubt yourself. Even if the foundation of belief in yourself is strong, it can flicker and sputter from time to time. Draw up those positive memories (or dreams) and top up your happy fuel.
Maybe even imagine that magic does exist and that your Patronus circles you after you conjure it up.
If the feeling is strong enough, it might as well be magic.
Step #7 — Don’t be invisible
Everyone should have someone that they share their beliefs with. Every time you tell someone what you believe in, two things happen:
- you re-affirm your faith in the belief to yourself,
- you have someone who can keep you accountable to the belief.
There are some people who keep their dreams to themselves. It stays locked up in their mind, their intent stays in their heart, never to see the light of day.
This could be for many reasons. They might think that their idea is stupid.Maybe people will laugh at them.
Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain: the person who doesn’t share their belief — or more specifically, their idea or dream — will find it A LOT harder to achieve it than the person who does share it with their confidants.
Think about it this way: the person who doesn’t share their dream doesn’t believe in it as much as the person who does share it. By keeping quiet, you’re actually doing yourself — and your dream — a disservice.
You might say, “well, I want to achieve it first then show people the results of my hard work and self belief”. That’s fine — all the more power to you. However, you could make it even easier for yourself by proclaiming it to the world.
Yes you may seem stupid. Yes people may shun you. They may ostracize you, attack you, ignore you or think you’re insane. Ironically, this can actually spur you on to greater lengths to achieve what you believe in.
This video has been doing the rounds online recently. Arunachalam Muruganantham set out to solve a huge problem in India: lack of adequate sanitary pads for women. When he found his wife discreetly using cloth, he set out to find the right materials and fibers that could be woven at low cost and mass produced so that every woman in India could afford it.
It took him six years — his wife left him and he was shunned by his neighbors as being a pervert — but he got there.
In his case, telling others left him with no one to be accountable to but himself. But it affirmed to himself that he was determined to solve the problem and nothing could stand in his way.