March 27, 2017

Believe the Positive…It’s Probably True

Posted by AGU Career Center

Transparent skull showing location of the hippocampus in the human brain.

Image of hippocampus.  Photo credit: Published on Anatomography web site, maintained by Life Science Databases (LSDB), CC BY-SA 2.1 jp, via Wikimedia Commons.

Confidence is a powerful thing, and as it turns out, a lack of confidence is a debilitating thing.  Years ago, Saturday Night Live’s Stewart Smalley encouraged us all to say, “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”  It’s a self-affirmation that we could all use from time to time.

Many new graduates, and even more students, fear that they aren’t all that they need to be, that somehow, they don’t measure up.  But I would like to take this moment to ask you to repeat after me, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”  You can add in a line like, “I’m a geologist and I’m darn proud of it!”

In her article Silence the Critical Voices in Your Head, Sabina Nawaz urges us to focus more on the positive things people say, and let some of the criticisms go.  People tend to focus on the negatives in life.  It is part of our survival programming.  We may have evolved into creatures capable of miraculous things, but we are still dominated by a primordial rat-brain that filters all inputs first to determine whether something threatens our survival.  In order to see things more positively, we have to stretch our hippocampus, and quell the doubts with higher logic.  Repeat after me, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

When receiving feedback, Nawaz urges us to adopt a 3-step process to slow down our tendencies towards critical thoughts, and to reinforce positive messages:

  1. Write the positive messages down on paper. You don’t need to do this for the criticisms.  Trust me, you already have those down.  Let’s focus on the positive.  These are the things you should continue to do, the things you should maximize.
  2. Take a moment to reflect on what you have written. Think of examples of when you have displayed those traits.  What were you doing and how did it make you feel?
  3. Now the hard part: convince yourself that you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and Doggone It, People Like You!

(Sure, you killed a tree to make this happen, but right now, I need you to focus on the positive!)

You don’t have to follow these steps to the lengths of Stewart Smalley, but realize that overcoming Impostor Syndrome and other confidence issues isn’t something that will happen overnight. Both repetition and routine are the keys to behavioral change.  With a little bit of time and effort, you’ll come to know that it’s true when you say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

David Harwell is the Assistant Director of Talent Pool at the American Geophysical Union.