Have you ever heard the expression 'whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right'? When I first started hearing people say it, I thought it was some kind of a trick saying, meant to confuse people and make them look foolish, so I didn't even try to figure it out. After a while, I guess I had heard it so many times that I got curious, and whenever I'm curious about something, I can usually figure it out. Well, it turned out to be a pretty useful expression, after all. The underlying concept is part of the foundation of most psychotherapy, coaching, self-help and personal growth teachings, as well as being related to many of the teachings of eastern religion. Who knew?
In order to get the most benefit from this saying, it helps to deconstruct it and translate it into more simple and direct language. When I do that, what I come up with is the following. It is a bit longer to explain it, but once I do, I think it's worthwhile. Most people will only attempt things they think they can do, whether we are talking about a small child learning to ride a bike or a stand up comic throwing his hat in the ring on open mic night. Courageous people will do things that are beyond what they think they can do because they enjoy challenging themselves and proving to themselves they are more capable than they had imagined. Performers and athletes are constantly pushing themselves to develop their craft and skill. It goes with the territory. But these folks are not most people, they are the exception, not the rule.
Most of us will stick with what feels familiar, comfortable and safe. We won't try something new and exotic, whether that's traveling to a distant land or listening to a different style of music than what we already have on our favorite playlists. Human beings are not especially fearful by nature, it's just that our brains form patterns so easily and once these patterns have been formed, we are naturally drawn to doing the same things over and over again. We have the same friends, eat the same foods, visit the same places and watch the same TV shows. And, we surround ourselves with people who are doing them too.
When you were a kid, people began telling you who you were, starting with your parents. You soon learned that you were the 'pretty one', 'the lazy one' or a 'Momma's Boy'. Once you started school, you had even more people informing you about yourself, from the teacher who called you 'the class clown' to the noon aide who labeled you 'Miss Tardy'. By the time you were a high school sophomore, your identity was pretty solid, at least in the eyes of others. You even thought of yourself as a Stoner, a Jock, a Drama geek or a Band Nerd. You might have even had a nickname that everyone except your parents knew you by. The most important thing to a teenager is that they fit in, at least somewhere. Having an identity, even one you didn't choose for yourself, is proof that you do.
It's sad that most of us never advance much beyond those early labels, especially if we stay close to the place where we grew up. The kids who go away to college have a much easier time to challenge their early identity than the ones who went to community college or opted out altogether. If you were lucky enough to move to another city, state or country as a young adult and spend a few years there, it's highly likely that the person you will become will be considerably different than the one you thought you were. This can be difficult, especially when you go home for visits and are confronted by your old friends and family who will no doubt make fun of everything from the fact that you are now more liberal, more outspoken and dress better than they do. That's ok. Human beings hate change and they especially hate it when you change and they don't.
Over our lifetimes, we may evolve either by accident or by choice, with the latter being the decidedly more difficult. We may change our eating habits, our sexual orientation or our religion, along with our major. We might go from jock to stoner or from nerd to hipster. When our identity changes, so do our habits, our friendships, and our lifestyle. Some of the people who thought they knew us will resist, resent and even reject our new selves. This is necessary and can't be avoided unless we are willing to sacrifice ourselves in order to be accepted by those who never really knew us.
When you ask yourself what you are capable of, make sure you know the one you're asking. Is it the person you were told you were as a child and got used to thinking of as the real you? Better to ask the person you aspire to be, the one you chose to make of yourself. That person isn't limited by the taunts of a jealous sibling or an overly critical mother. She is smarter, braver and far more beautiful because you have decided it is so. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from choosing to think that you are brilliant, talented and destined for greatness. If this is what you decide to think and practice thinking it until there is no more doubt, not only can no one stop you from doing so, but you are very likely to become exactly what you believe you already are.
The brain is just a computer. It records impressions, language, and memories - labeling, categorizing and storing them for future retrieval. You can program it to record and replay anything you want, especially thoughts about yourself. You just have to want to badly enough to dare to think them and practice thinking them until they stick. So, who do you think you are? The middle child, loudmouth, the fuck up or the rising star, reinvention queen or late bloomer? As for me, I'm gonna go with the labels I choose. And when they no longer fit, I'll swap them for new ones that do.