Over the last 15 years, I have seen many people with equal talent both succeed and fail. I have kept asking myself: if their talent is equal, why do some achieve their goals while others don’t? Is it luck? Nepotism? Timing? Perhaps all of these factors come into play, but what has become clear to me is that one’s belief in oneself, one’s self-confidence, is ultimately the greatest deciding factor.
A good way to immediately improve your self-confidence is to take 20 minutes to answer and examine the following questions:
- How was I treated as a child?
- How do I remember my childhood?
- What would life be like if I were happy?
All you need is a pen and paper and 20 minutes of peace and quiet. The trick is not to dig too deep, and you can control that by using a timer.
Here’s how to do the exercise:
Take your paper and pen, set the timer for five minutes, and write down the first question, “How was I treated as a child?” Now close your eyes, take a deep breath, and feel your body relax. Say to yourself mentally, “Please give me an image that describes my childhood treatment.” Then exhale once or twice, keeping your mind blank, and very soon you will get an image or a feeling.
Open your eyes and write it down.
When I performed the exercise, I “saw” an outdoor rabbit hutch and several oversize rabbits hanging out, contentedly munching carrots. What did you see? Because images often trigger memories, you will probably remember something connected to the image.
Write that memory down, too.
It turns out my memory was from when I was two years old and my parents shared a summerhouse with another couple in Long Island. The wife, Ruth, was a speech therapist, her husband a lawyer like my father. I had a rabbit named Bunny. I also had a terrible stutter, but somehow working with Ruth, who had me talk to my rabbit, helped me overcome it.
Once you’ve remembered something like this, stop remembering further. The trick is to stop as soon as you get something. Next, analyze that first image and the memory connected to it. If you need more time, just set the timer for five more minutes. I took the extra time myself and wrote the following analysis:
“To stutter is to not be able to say what you mean. What did I want to say that I couldn’t? Is stuttering a sign of being a happy person? No, it’s not. My parents are conspicuously absent, and the friendly couple is whom I remember. Without going deeper, I understand that a child who stutters has some issues. That’s all I need to begin to work on developing more self-confidence.”
Once you have extracted a general meaning from your memory—it could be as brief as
“I was happy” or “I wasn’t happy”—the next step is to reframe the memory; that is, “rewrite” it in a way that would have been helpful to you.
When I did this, I crossed out what I had written earlier and changed it to “I loved my rabbit, Bunny, and that summer was very happy as I was close with my parents and improved my speaking very much.” When the timer went off, I found myself smiling and feeling oddly buoyant. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t entirely true. The positive feeling that it created in me is what matters.
Now move on to the second question: “How do I remember my childhood?” Set the timer, close your eyes, breathe, and again wait for a mental image to form. When it does, write it down and see if the image triggers a memory. Write that down, too.
When I examined this question, I got an image of myself standing in front of a wall calendar, X-ing off the days with a big magic marker. As the timer dinged, I remembered that I had found a way to skip a year of high school, so I reset the timer, crossed out what I had written, and wrote the imaginary memory: “Life was great, and I savored every day.” Again I found myself smiling, both because of the emotional reaction to my new story and because of the amusement at the bald-faced lie I had just told myself. It had worked well!
Now answer the third question: “What would life be like if I were happy?” Again, set the timer, close your eyes, and wait for an image to form. What do you see this time? I saw myself in front of a beach house, standing with a friend, waving a warm welcome to some approaching friends. I was holding a script and a DVD of the same story in my hand.
Perfect! No need to rewrite that! I smiled and immediately made a difficult phone call that I had been dreading—and I got the response I was seeking.
One final thought: your answers will probably change every time you do this exercise because, as a wise man once told me, “your personality is always in flux.”
Try the exercise. You’ll be happy you did!
To recap: Feeling self-confident is the key to success. One way to generate this feeling is to perform this brief 20-minute exercise, using a timer and your imagination.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz