When I was in high school, one of our teachers (who doubled as a guidance couselor) was insistent on drilling us into habits of self-affirmation. The problem was, her idea of self-affirmation was to repeat something that wasn’t actually true, in the hope that it would become true by force of will. A typical example constructed for me (a shy and quiet type of dude at the time, I know that’s difficult to believe) was “I am an outgoing and likeable person.”
This might have fooled some of my less self-aware classmates, but as a humble and compulsively honest guy, I couldn’t get around the fact I was bullshitting myself. I wasn’t outgoing, and I had been drilled into all manner of betariffic traits that ensured a hard cap on my attractiveness and likeability. In this absurd schema, Stuart Smalley wasn’t a parody but an almost-literal stranger-than-fiction panoply.
Years later, I revisited the self-affirmation game, by accident. I was
miserable in grad school bored one day and thinking about going to the gym for a workout. In an argument with myself, I remarked to no one in particular “you should go lift because you always feel great after you do it.”
Boom. I had found the secret to self-affirmations that actually work:
- Finding an assertion that is already true (instead of one I wish were true)
- Constructing an affirmation that uses that assertion to motivate my behavior
So now I can use this knowledge to self-modify my behavior, using past rewards as motivation:
“I’m going to work out now because I feel great after I do so.”
“I’m going to finish that post because it’s going to be awesome when I publish it
and get comments from all of my adoring readers.”
“You should go to bed now instead of at 2am because it feels good to get an early start on the day.”
This strategy has been especially helpful when it comes to finishing that last 10% of any of the many projects I’ve undertaken.
A few weeks back, Fly Fresh and Young riffed on self-affirmations in his post “Pre-game tips for introverts and left-brained people.” It was surprising to me to learn that a guy of his skill in the party and pickup scenes is in fact a single-minded analytical personality with a tendency against socializing. His tips on warming up for a social gathering are manifold and strong, from avoiding mindless TV to skipping the Red Bull to watching an episode of Seinfeld (an old Roosh gem). It turns out he uses the same style of reward-motivation affirmations that I do.
8. Psyching myself up
“Hey, I’m going to go out and talk to people and it’s going to be awesome”
“You love talking to people and having a great time, so do it”
“Remember that one time you met all those people and how fun that was”
Stuff like that. Simple motivational shit that looks dumb on paper but makes me feel in a better mood when I think it. Conjures up positive, social thoughts.
Figure out a way to tie what you want to do with a reward you’ve already experienced; this binds your long-term, risky goals with short-term guaranteed good feelings, instead of “motivating” yourself with pretty lies and wish-I-woulds.