Action before Belief?

Jen's juicy quote yesterday got me thinking about self-belief. I agree with her sentiment that when you truly believe that something is a top priority, nothing can get in your way. It's simple, but as some of you said in the comments: "it's not easy". As Jen herself said, "I'm not there yet either… I'm talking theoretically here".

So how do you get to that point of believing?

I tend to find that action comes before belief. If you're not someone with confidence on tap, I find it useful to do what the lovely LBTEPA said in her comment, "acting as if you believe it". I interpret this as "performing the desired actions as if you believed in yourself" as opposed to pretending you believe. If that makes any bloody sense at all. For example, at this start of this year my self-belief levels were at a dark and skanky low. Even as I started doing tiny, positive things (keeping my food journal, small amounts of exercise, listening to my hunger signals) I had no real conviction that they would do any good.

But I vowed to keep plodding along regardless of what the brain was telling me. So even when the Voice of Doom was whispering, "Wow, you used to be able to do this easily!" in the middle of kickboxing, the idea was to keep going and focus on the action.

Slowly the balance has started going the other way. Momentum is building. The more tiny, positive things I do, even with teeth gritted, the more my brain seems to link the actions together and conclude, "You are capable of good stuff."

I'm noticing this with some of the Up & Runners. The more training sessions they string together, the more positive they feel and the more they start to believe they will get through the eight weeks. This is regardless of how good or bad the session itself was – the victory is simply in the doing. I can see them starting to believe in their own power and it is so, so inspiring.

I find the action-before-belief thing applies to many aspects of life, in large and small ways. Like every time I make an effort to hang up my coat instead of dumping it on the floor, I am slowly changing the tune of "I'm a slob" to "I'm quite a tidy person".

The only exception might be writing. No matter how much action I take on the writing front, the self-belief doesn't come. But I reckon that might just be a writing thing. Maybe if you allowed yourself to believe in your own abilities too much you'd get cocky and a piano would fall on your head. I think with writing you need that wee bit of terror and doubt in your guts to keep you motivated. Hehe 😉

What works for you? Do you have any tips or tactics for cultivating self-belief?

35 thoughts on “Action before Belief?

  1. I’m a member of a 12-step recovery program that frequently suggests “bring the body, the mind will follow.” Which works quite a lot of the time. I love how you do things “with teeth gritted.” Sometimes it’s the only way, but at least the thing is done.

  2. You know, practicing action without desire turns into devotion for me when it comes to faith, and I can easily apply this principle in life as well. So it makes sense the same should happen with health/fitness too, right? You’ve got me thinkin’!

  3. Awesome realistically-written post Shauna. I often get stuck at the “pretending you believe” point. (And I always find writing to be painful as well.)

  4. Funny that you should mention that… I have no problem believing that I could do just about anything. Except earn a living writing. It has to be the fear talking. We’ll get through this!

  5. What gets me ticking….hmmm…
    Not being so damn hard on myself.
    Flying my freak flag proudly and unashamedly. Appreciating what I have done rather than what I have not.
    Telling myself “feck yeah, I’m awesome”, while on the hard bits of a run.
    Keeping on the happy pills.
    Concentrating on the fact that I have people who love me and always will even if I am talking shite, while not worrying about what somebody who ultimately does not matter thinks about me. Oooh yeah, that is a big one.
    BTW Shauna you do loads – and you ARE writing – what the bleddy hell do you think this blog is, hmm?
    Exercise will not always be enjoyable (this means you and me and most people are NORMAL) but you will always feel better after, at the very least you will feel no worse.
    Big hugs mah girl.

  6. The things that get me started? Committment to the cause …. if I think I *should* do it enough, I’ll at least have a crack at it. Taking the first step and at least trying is half the battle, because it’s easier to keep going than it is to start. Being realistic about my goals, and how quickly I can achieve them. Looking back and seeing how far I’ve come frequently peps me up. Making a conscious effort to stop when I trash talk myself, and focusing on the positive (I’m not good at this yet). But mostly, trying to take it easy on myself. Not every run must be perfect. Not every slip up with my eating is catastrophic, and over all, people *do* and *will* like me, so just stop stressing it and get on with the scary shit.

    By the way, just in case you forgot already: YOU ROCK. You’ve done more than most people, and I don’t think you always recognise that. Most high achievers are tough on themselves, because they know they can be so much more, but don’t forget to appreciate what you have already achieved, rather than all stuff you haven’t quite done yet. Ciao for now!

  7. I’ve boiled it down to:

    Take small steps in the right direction.
    Celebrate every milestone, no matter how small.
    And, make a note of you progress because on bad days, it helps to be able to look back and see how far you’ve come.

    Worked for me when I was recovering from serious illness and a five minute walk was an aspiration 🙂

  8. Totally agree that you need to add the celebrating the actions along with doing the actions. Again with the Up & Runners the more they pause to say YAY ME the more momentum they seem to gather. Likewise at kickboxing I’ve been make sure to pause once in each class to look in the mirror and think, “DUDE, WE’RE HERE! WE’RE DOIN’ IT!”

    Fabbo comments, thank you so much everyone. Yay momentum!

  9. I read this quote the other day
    “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” – Thomas Mann.
    It spoke to me – I’m in the final weeks of my PhD thesis – and I sure feel like a writer. I am fantasising about all this healthy eating and exercising I am going to do as soon as this sucker is handed in – but for now it’s tea and biscuits about every 20mins.

  10. This is interesting — that Sean dude who was and is so successful and motivating with his weight loss said exactly the same thing, basically: work the solution first, and you will get a grip on the problem. The core of it is that, until you work the solution and get a little distance from which to see the problem, you can’t understand it. So just work it, trust that it will do good, and start from there. Eventually, it will add up and give you the distance you need to get a grip on understanding the problem.

  11. This may be a bit off the beaten path, but honestly what works for me when I am feeling like I’ve achieved nothing is to believe what OTHER people say.

    I mean, if enough people (who have actually read your writing) tell you that you write well … or, having seen your roundhouse kick, that you have an excellent roundhouse … you might want to accept that they probably aren’t all blowing smoke up your arse.

    In my case, enough people (who have seen me dance) have told me I dance well that I can choose to believe it, even though my demons still tell me I am a graceless fool.

    People who aren’t your intimates really have no reason to tell you kind lies. If they evaluate you kindly, it might just be because you are good at what they are evaluating.

  12. I like your way of thinking – I’m all about the baby steps, too, to slowly transition from one phrase to the next until our attitudes are more positive.

  13. Personally, I have no problem prioritising things and making them happen. It´s just that the things I prioritise don´t tend to generate income! Unlike most other commenters, I spend too much time dancing, stretching, doing yoga and going for long walks, and not enough time sitting on my arse at the computer earning money.

  14. Ahhh the elusive self-belief. It’s something I finally found this year to some degree, having spent the whole of my life beating myself up for being overweight/too chatty/not chatty enough/a boisterous dancer/too afraid to dance/bad at making cupcakes/being the kind of person who makes cupcakes/being the kind of person who then eats all the cupcakes – you get the picture. Then I finally realised something….that what is a perceived weakness on some days can be interpreted as a strength on others once you have time to reflect on it and learn from it. (sorry if this makes little sense, it’s late…)

    My friend and I were chatting the other day about how we both feel that we’re children still, always feeling a bit unsure and gawky and just no clue what’s going on a lot of the time, and Sarah in her wisdom said this: “of course we feel like children because all the time we have to deal with situations or problems or issues we’ve never had to deal with before. We are constantly learning so that makes us feel childlike and insecure.” It really struck a chord with me. So now when I lack self-belief, when I look at the Elie chain walk and thing “oh crap i could never do that”, I just remember that I AM still a child and that’s okay. Learning to be okay with being unsure to me is the key to having self-belief. Because you know once you’ve dealt with the issue once, next time it comes round to bite you in the backside, you have the tools to deal with it and can tackle it better.

    (Sorry that was a hideously long post, but I’m feeling whimsical and thoughtful and I’ve just discovered this site and I’m rather enjoying it! Thanksverymuch.)

  15. for me in many many ways it falls back to IF I DO NOT BELIEVE IN ME—ABSOLUTELY NO ONE WILL.

    and if I want this (whatever THIS is on a given day) to really and truly happen/take shape I need to let GO and believe that I can.

  16. I absolutely do not think you have to believe you can do it. I think all you have to do is be able to imagine doing the next tiny step. Sometimes the big goal is too scary and impossible to deal with and the only way to deal with that fear is to pretend you’re not actually doing what you want. ‘Who me? Run a marathon? Far too hard! I’ll just do what it says on the schedule and see what happens’
    (Barbara Sher has a lot to say about this). ((hugs))

  17. I actually think that requiring self-belief as a prerequisite for change is building in an uneccessary opportunity for failure. You don’t have to believe you can do it, you just have to do it.

  18. I have very little self-belief and confidence. I mainly get by by being as stubborn as a mule and simply refusing to give up, even if I’m telling myself I’m never going to do it the whole time.

    Sheer pig-headedness gets me through a lot of things.

  19. I think of what you all are writing about as ‘the three weeks thing’.

    I literally just have to push through and MAKE MYSELF DO IT for three weeks. Then it becomes the new norm and part of the routine.

    This can be coming back to a class after a hiatus (like surgery). It can be adding or changing a food. It can be earlier bed time. It can be dropping/working on a bad habit.

    In the midst of the three weeks – frankly it sucks.

    But I carry the knowledge that it will only suck for three weeks and then it will be much better.

    And that carries me through feeling like I can’t or feeling like I am going to puke. (Because just puking and then getting back to it, isn’t the worst thing in the world).

    Sometimes (for me) this all means:
    ‘Sitting with feeling uncomfortable’
    (either mentally or physically)
    sometimes this means pushing through with action (like your running example)

    but ‘uncomfortable’ is survivable
    (without turning to food).

    Takes a lot of practice.

    And like I said – it sucks.

    but after three solid weeks (for me), it gets easier.

  20. I find with my depression that I nearly always have to “fake it until I make it”, otherwise I’d never get out of bed. Pretending to be happy does usually end with my being happier than I was at the start, so it becomes self-fulfilling. If only I could find a way to apply that philosophy to my eating in a way that made sense to me and would get me to stop eating loads of crap food!

  21. Okay this: “No matter how much action I take on the writing front, the self-belief doesn’t come. But I reckon that might just be a writing thing. Maybe if you allowed yourself to believe in your own abilities too much you’d get cocky and a piano would fall on your head. I think with writing you need that wee bit of terror and doubt in your guts to keep you motivated.” is SO TRUE. It is exactly the same way for me. Who knew writing could be so scary??

  22. Hey Shauna, have you seen this: it is the Cult of Done Manifesto and worthy of a look. Referring to design (as can perhaps be ascertained by the poster accompanying it showing each point) but relevant to life generally.

  23. I shouldn’t comment twice, but all this writing talk has made my fingers itch on the keyboard because I’m a writer. The only thing that’s scary about writing is not writing. Writing itself is not scary, just very exciting, like a slightly dangerous sport. That’s the reason for the adrenaline rush. All you have to do is catch the rising wave of adrenaline and write yourself to the beach. There. A lovely surfing metaphor. Didn’t hurt me, didn’t hurt you. I nearly deleted it but I thought: what the hell? Post comment. Just write and don’t think about it too much. Over analysis of the mystery doesn’t do a writer any good. Just do what you do. Love the writing, Shauna.

  24. I just visited to let you know that I have given you a Stylish Blogger award so I hope this is proof that I am genuine when I say I love your writing. (Actually I found my blog reader is ignoring your posts yet again – outrageous!) If you feel like it feel free to pass on the award but I know you have enough on your plate so no pressure!

    This is a great post because I think it is so true that if we can just do it we improve – I often think this as I look around at the most successful people at their thing – they are often the ones who persevered even without huge talent!

    better get back to baby and her bouncing blueberries!

  25. @Johanna – thank you very much for the award!

    @Abigail – please post as many comments as you like, I love ’em! 🙂

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments, really interesting to see and ponder all the different points of view!

  26. Just what I needed right now. I’ve been keeping myself from taking action by requiring self-belief of myself. I’m starting to see that that is a luxury, something hard-earned, and not guaranteed, ever. It’s an excuse to procrastinate. I could work hard to build up that belief, but what happens when that’s shaken? Somehow I think the pushing/plodding/gritting your way through the ugly parts without that underlying requirement is safer and simpler.

    Maybe some people just have it – that unshakeable confidence in themselves that powers them through – but for the rest of us, It’s got to be okay to let go of that elusive pre-requisite.

  27. Writing is painful, and most of the writing one does on any given day will be a failure and will end up getting revised out. So, I don’t think you need to sit at your desk feeling TOTALLY PUMPED about every word you write, going ROAR at your computer and telling yourself you are a NOBEL-PRIZE-WINNER IN WAITING! In fact, that’s probably the way to produce some pretty stinky writing ;-).

    Can I suggest instead, not self-belief but self-knowledge? I have slowly come to really understand that I do better, my whole life does better, when I’m writing. Like exercise, in fact. On any given day I might hate it, but stringing together those days when I have written makes everything better. Mood, exercise habits, eating habits, social time (don’t feel guilty that I SHOULD BE WRITING NOW), I even seem to make less trash when I’m writing, don’t ask me why.

    And I want to make the work I make. It seems important to me. So, often thinking that my work is *the stinkiest*, I go on making it 😉

  28. Re comment from Naomi Alderman, the writer, born 1974? You’re good. Of course your life is better when you’re writing. Of course it is. Okay, some days it’s painful, but only the first hour, surely? And after that, you’re allowed to stop for a cup of tea. It’s a wonderful life. And as far as failed words – as Philip Roth in his 80s memorably said, ‘you’ve gotta learn to love your shit, man.’
    (Shauna – am I allowed to reply to a comment directly? I am *so* naive. Edit me out if I’ve over stepped the mark. I need educating in this medium.)

  29. I joined the National Novel Writing Month thing (NaNoWriMo) last year, it’s November. They talk a lot about during that month you need to slap duct tape on the mouth of your inner critic while writing your draft. Silence the inner critic, work at this constantly, just to get the words on paper. THEN, AFTER November, when you HAVE your 50K words, THEN you may unleash that beast and edit like a wild woman.

    I found it VERY HELPFUL. Otherwise I edit and futz with stuff and get very few words done, vs. 50k/mo.

    Anyhow, I’d check them out if you haven’t, a pretty cool group of writers and they’ve also got a facebook page that’s active at the just right level in November.

    =) So glad you’re headed back into the sun. =)

  30. Well I am a dedicated reader, studied literature at uni and now work as a (technical) writer. I have read your blog and your book and enjoyed them not only for their pertinent (to me) subject matter but for their style, grace and humour. So there.

  31. My trainer told me something that has helped me so much, “don’t let your feelings get in between you and your goals” – it’s a revelation to learn to ignore those feelings that don’t serve me. Feelings and hence thoughts can lead you down the wrong path so easily

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