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Our Biggest Self-Defeating Habits?

How do you feel about yourself and your abilities?  Your answer can exert considerable influence over the kinds of opportunities presented to you.


Continuing with our theme of self-improvement, there are many internal ways of thinking that can and do prevent people from realizing and reaching their full potential.  To my mind, two of the most crippling stumbling blocks around are an apparent complete and utter lack of self-confidence and the closely related lack of mental agility.  While many who suffer here will go to great lengths to make it look like this isn't the case, lack of self-confidence is usually pretty clear when interacting with people who struggle with this particular habit of thought. 

We all have our low points from time to time, but it is important to remember that we can't let the unexpected derail us and prevent us from moving forward.  My advice, whatever one's education, career, financial, or other aspirations might be is have a serious internal conversation with yourself, assuming you realize something is amiss, and take steps to build this vital confidence in yourself.  While that will require a good deal of honest self-reflection, boosting confidence in yourself and intellectual flexibility will make moving forward through life, with all of challenges it presents, much easier in the long run.

I recall once reading an article somewhere (offline hard copy text, so it was some years ago now), where it was noted that Australian and U.S. citizens were fairly unique in their self-confident 'can do' attitudes.  While I cannot speak for Australians, it seems like large swaths  of the U.S. public no longer exhibit this particular trait.  Moping, whining, and procrastination, and reaction, by and large, seem to have replaced self-confidence and being proactive almost anywhere you might care to look.  What in the world happened to us?  

We have faced difficult social, economic, and political times before, so surely the problem stems from more than and predates the economic downturn of 2008, which might be the easy go to answer to my question above.  Doesn't it?   The Brookings Institution offers an interesting analysis of the issue, although their focus is more on the problems specific to working class in the U.S., but the related discussion might provide a possible answer to my question about the erosion of self-confidence and mental agility overall. 

Allow to pose am uncomfortable question.  Have we in recent generations become so comfortable, entitled, and complacent as a society that even the slightest challenge or adversity throws us into an intellectual and emotional tailspin?  Lack of (self-) confidence and flexibility are characteristics a lot of my undergraduates display.  Among them, the tendency is more to point fingers in other directions and play the blame game rather than to examine a situation with clear eyes, regroup, decide on a course of action, and try a different approach whenever poor team performance on a project becomes a factor.  

As I mentioned in an previous post during the last few days, this tendency is not just something that so many in the under 21 set is prone to however.  More generally, people seem to engage in this kind of self-defeating behavior regardless of their age, level of education, or occupation.

Some years ago, I had a conversation with a friend, then an executive director in the public relations division of an insurance giant based in Central Illinois where we lived at the time.  He remarked in passing one evening that he was able to make decisions based on examining whatever situation arose and then live with the consequences.  Sometimes those were favorable, and sometimes he had to deal with negative fallout from higher up the corporate chain of command.  The point is, he was reasonably confident in his abilities, could actually make decisions, and accept responsibility whatever the outcome.  He did not allow himself to become petrified by the fear of making the wrong choice. 

It seems to me that this same fear of making the wrong decision, brought on by a general lack of self-confidence, has infected our society at all levels, which is one of the issues confronting us in 2019.  It is important to remember that whatever troubles us at any particular time is never 100% the result of outside forces.  We have some role to play in things surrounding us, how we react, and our freedom to exercise agency in how we address the issue.   Or not.  

Since self-confidence and mental agility seem lacking in 2019, how might we cultivate greater degrees of both in ourselves then?  Deep reflection?  Education (informal and formal)?  Self-presentation?  Something else?  I have no easy answers, at least not answers that would be popular, but it is nevertheless a question that bears thinking about as we move through life in what should be a constant effort to improve ourselves on all possible fronts.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

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