When I was very young, probably about 5, I was having swimming lessons. In between some exercises we were having a little play and I didn’t hear the teacher say it was time to move on. Being deaf in one ear, I don’t always hear people when the acoustics are bad or if I’m facing the wrong way, so I missed her instruction and kept playing. The swimming instructor shouted at me, pulled me from the water by the straps of my costume, sat me by the wall and wouldn’t allow me to join in with the rest of the lesson. I sat shivering and crying by the wall until the end of the lesson when my Mum returned to collect me. I learnt from this that I wasn’t good enough to join in with everyone else.
Every week in Primary school we had a times table test. I remember one particular week where I had not done very well on the test (probably 7 or 8 times tables, they are still a struggle!) and I had to stay in at break time to write them out again. The classroom had windows that looked onto the playground and some of the other kids in the class stood out there laughing at me because I had been kept in over break. I remember crying my eyes out, not learning my times tables and feeling full of shame. This taught me two things. 1. I can’t do math. 2. When you fail (and you will) people are going to laugh at you.
Why am I telling you about these things? They are hardly massive, tragic events. I wasn’t attacked, hurt, abandoned or in a life threatening situation as many people have been as children or adults. I’m telling you because I’ve been collecting evidence that the lessons I learnt on that day are true ever since. I’m telling you because you’ve almost certainly been doing the same thing after you “learnt” one of these lessons. I’m telling you because sometimes it is small things that form big beliefs and sometimes those big beliefs hold us back.
I’ve spent many years looking for (and finding) evidence that I am not good enough to join in with everyone else and that if I fail people will laugh at me. Confirmation bias has ensured that I have ignored the evidence that doesn’t support that belief, we are creatures that like to be proven right after all. As a result of those beliefs I have always felt slightly apart from the crowd, a bit of an odd ball and I still worry sometimes that everyone around me knows I’m not actually good enough to join in, that they are humouring me and really they find me annoying. Even now I’m struggling to say for definite that this is not true, a part of me is screaming to add “probably” to that sentence.
I have also held back from putting myself out there and really going for what I want because I can’t be sure that I’ll succeed, so I play around the edges and go half-heartedly. You can’t really fail if you don’t really try; and if you don’t fail no one will laugh.
Now that I know that I hold these beliefs I am able to question them and start accepting evidence that they are not true. I can go back and recognise the evidence that has always been there that they are not true. I can decide to change the belief to something different that helps me move forward and so could you.