Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

Self confidence bowls over doubts

March 13, 2003

There's always a funny feeling that comes with taking a stab at something you haven't done in a long time. For me, that experience was bowling with the Eudora News staff Friday night. We were part of a fund-raiser for Newspapers in Education along with our counterparts throughout the World Company.

Even though it was all for fun and a good cause, I still wanted to retain some amount of dignity. After all, I think the last time I went bowling was at least a year ago.

Whoever said doing anything you've ever learned is like riding a bike obviously wasn't in there when several of my high school classmates and I, who hadn't been on bikes since we grew past four-foot-eight, bumbled around Munich, Germany, on a bike tour touted "for all ability levels."

I've never been a great bowler, either, but I like to think that each time I bowl I'll get a little better. No luck this time. Of course, sharing several pitchers of beer probably didn't help things either.

But as I was shuffling down the lane, praying I neither slipped in my fashionable, rented shoes nor flung the Pepto-Bismol pink ball into the table of my teammates, I remembered something my music teacher told me to try while practicing guitar this week: "Tell yourself you're good."

I know this was an idea my teacher picked up from one of the many books she reads about how we as humans think about ourselves and how we can harness the power of positive thinking. I can't help but think, though, that the self-deprecating comments I routinely make during lessons had something to do with her encouraging me to tell myself I was good during practices.

Whenever I hit a wrong string, I know I make this apologetic grimace, much like the face I made to my teammates when I saw my ball heading straight for the gutter. Or when she compliments me on a song I've played, I shrug my shoulders and say, "It wasn't too bad," kind of like when I hit a strike or spare.

I know I'm not the only person who reacts to success or compliments this way. It's as though we're afraid that acknowledging a job well done is somehow a mark of arrogance, and so we shrug it off as a stroke of luck or try to downplay our strengths.

This way of dealing with praise crosses cultural boundaries, too. As my German teacher was prepping us for our trip one summer in high school, she taught us the culturally proper way to respond to a compliment. For instance, if someone complimented our German-speaking skills, we were supposed to say something like, "Oh, really? I've only been learning for a few years." However, at times I forgot German humility and opted for a simple "Danke" (Thank You), the standard American response.

Even the Spanish language has its own form of self-imposed humbleness. The response to someone expressing their gratitude is "De nada": It's nothing.

Even coming from a culture where, "Yeah, thanks," is an appropriate response to a compliment, it still felt strange telling myself I was good, both at music and at bowling. After all, repeating a Stuart Smalley-worthy mantra like "I'm good enough" is something most of us haven't done, at least in my generation, since the days of Mr. Rogers and self-affirming programs from our elementary school guidance counselors.

I know I'm not a great bowler, and I'm OK with this. But I also know when I told myself I was good, my ball went straight and hit more pins. I also know I'm no Eric Clapton, which doesn't bother me either. But an impromptu blues jam session with my accomplished guitarist boyfriend once again proved the power of the mantra. I was supposed to play a melody over a basic blues chord progression, and having no clue what I was doing I started with an F-sharp, which, lo and behold, in the key of A sounded great. Ordinarily I would chalk this up to dumb luck, but this time I chose to congratulate my own intuitive sense of harmonics.

So now I'm left wondering what would happen if we applied this principle to all facets of our lives. How many more new things would we be fearless to try? How much less frustration would we experience when we realize we're falling short of trying to be the best? After all, there's nothing wrong with just being good. Even if we're not good, telling ourselves we are seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Tell yourself you're good. It feels good. Try it. I know I will if I ever decide to pick up a pair of skis again, but that's a whole other story.

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