Jumping to Conclusions Part ll: Fortune Telling

I jumped to the conclusion that I would never be a lifeguard, simply because it was a long process and I couldn’t imagine being good enough. (see Slow and Steady Wins the Race.) In gymnastics I told myself I couldn’t do new skills–before I even tried them.

“I don’t run well in the rain. I’m gonna do badly in this race.” “My novel is never going to get published.” I don’t think all the usual questions work in this instance, but let’s give it a whirl.
1) What is the evidence? None. Because the future hasn’t happened yet. There, that was easy. Ok, I’ll flesh it out a little more.

Even if you’ve had bad times in the rain perhaps you have worked on this element (pun intended); or maybe today will go better because you’re going to allow yourself to think that it might. Yes, it’s a huge challenge to get a novel published. You can remind yourself that many famous authors had many rejections before their novel got published. And many publishing houses regret they turned them down. You can fantasize about that if it makes you feel better.

2) What are alternative explanations: None necessary. You can’t predict the future.

3) What are the implications? None. You can’t predict the future. Case closed.

Another antidote: Remind yourself to know what you don’t know. Unless you have a unique spiritual gift you cannot predict the future. You don’t know how you ran your race until you’ve run it. You don’t know how many publishers you may have to approach before you find one that bites.

Shoulda-Coulda Thinking

Here’s another championship I could have won in my prime. Happily, I’m less of a contender these days. If I were stuck in traffic: “I should have gone another way. I should have left earlier. I should have left later.” After a less-than stellar performance: “I should have practiced more. I should have never attempted that. I should have known I’d be too nervous to execute that properly.”

The questions we’ve been using don’t seem to work completely with this one, but let’s see what happens when we try.

1) What’s the evidence? You might have had a bad creative session or a not-great athletic performance and you think it’s obvious that you SHOULD have: practiced harder, held on to the ball, blocked the puck, hit the right notes, remembered the dialogue, written every morning, etc., etc.)

OK, so maybe there IS evidence that you need to improve something.
But what is the evidence that telling yourself you “should” do something actually helps you improve that thing?
If you are like most humans, “shoulding all over yourself” (as the Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smiley put it) engenders regret and discouragement, not motivation. It also can also foment rebellion. “I should eat well before competition” could lead to, “The heck with that–I’m gonna do what I WANT to do, not what I SHOULD do.”
2) Is this thought useful? I think we’ve established that it’s not useful. What do you think?

So, instead of “shoulding,” try asking yourself, “What can I learn from this?” It may seem like semantics, but simply changing the words you say to yourself can lead you to positive change for the future instead of being mired in the past. “If I practice more my form will improve and I’ll do better next time,” sets the stage for progress, whereas, “I should have made that shot,” keeps you stuck in the disappointing past.

Jumping to Conclusions: Mind Reading

In jumping to conclusions we assume the worst. Today we’ll focus on the aspect of mind reading. Next time I’ll talk about fortune telling.

Oh, my. I certainly didn’t limit myself to art or sport for this one. In high school (remember high school? how most of us were insanely insecure?) I was mind reading when I assumed that a girl in my class didn’t like me, simply because she was quiet. I was mind reading when I decided that the whole audience thought I totally messed up when I dropped out for 8 bars while accompanying the chorus. (Click on the following to go to read that blog:
All-or-Nothing Thinking: My Story)

Here are some other examples: “My peers think I have no talent.” “The rest of the team believes I let them down.” “Coach is angry at me.” “The audience thinks I suck.” “No one likes my poetry.”
Let’s apply the familiar questions.

1) What is the evidence? Did your peers actually come out and say, “You have no talent?” Did everyone on the team say, “You let us down”? Or was there a look that you interpreted negatively? What superpowers do you possess that enable you to read the collective mind of an audience? Performers tend to focus on the imperfections (in spite of all we know now about mental filter) and many in the audience don’t even have the technical knowledge to critique you in the way you fear they are critiquing you.

2) What are alternative explanations? If your peers actually did say something, why else might they have done that? Could they be joking? Maybe your team members are doing burdening themselves with their own thinking errors. Maybe what you’re seeing is simply their disappointment that the team didn’t do better. Is coach angry at you? Is coach angry at all? Or just intense? Maybe people loved your poetry but the folks at this reading are too shy to say so.

3) What are the implications? You’re not necessarily a pariah, even if some of your assumptions are accurate. One performance or competition or critique does not a career make. If coach is angry she’ll get over it. The implications may be that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

4) Is this thought useful? Rarely, for sure. Never, probably.