On a drizzly London evening back in October, I was salsa dancing with a good friend of mine. He’s a very talented dancer. Talented dancers often require laser-like focus and attention. It’s not that focusing on a dance is a chore, not by any means. But it does mean that the dance demands all of you. The best dances always do.
My friend led me through a series of uncommon moves. He began to toy with me. I mis-followed something and tripped a bit, and we both threw our hands up and laughed. I said “Shut up. I’m amazing.” He laughed even more.
He laughed so hard he might have fallen down on the floor in the middle of our dance.
If you happen to listen to The Paleo Women Podcast, you probably hear me say similar things all the time. “This podcast is THE BEST PODCAST OF ALL TIME.” “I am so smart.” “I looked smashing.”
And the thing is, I bet you can tell, that I don’t precisely mean it, of course I am not the coolest person of all time, but there is at least some sense in which I do mean it.
Today I would like to tell you a bit more about my world of hyperbolic self-assessment. Overall I think it has a positive impact on my life and even on the lives of people around me. Perhaps you may be able to find something of value in it.
Though probably not, since I am the worst.
Good for me
Studies have time after time shown that we can change the content of our beliefs by taking certain actions. For example, if you are in a bad mood and force yourself to smile, you will automatically feel more happy. This is science. Causality can move in both directions.
The more you smile, the happpier you are.
Then, the happier you are, the more you smile.
You can see then, can’t you, how this becomes a positive feedback loop: happiness and smiling keep building on each other throughout your life to help you become more content–and a force for more contentness in the world around you.
The same principle underlies the concept of mantras. It may seem silly to walk around repeating the phrase “I am a good dancer, I am a good dancer” or “I am a good sleeper, I am a good sleeper” (both of which I have done countless times) to yourself. But again we find that the evidence is in our favor: the more we say something, the more we subconsciously begin to believe it is true, and the more we live into the truth of those statements.
Tell yourself you’re pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, and you just may start to believe it.
This is part of the reason, though certainly not the only reason, that I blantantly assert how awesome I am.
Of course, “awesome” may be an egregious overstatement.
But on the other hand–why not? Why not feel awesome? Why not be awesome? Who is it hurting, if I am awesome? What negative impact is there on the world, if I project awesomeness, and if I live into that awesomeness?
The answers to these questions are “nothing” and “no one.”
When I boldly proclaim “Shut up, I’m amazing,” (which I have continued to do on a regular basis), I help myself live into that reality. I help myself truly feel amazing, truly feel like I am capable, and truly feel like I can confidently conquer whatever I put my mind to.
Good for them
I think perhaps the real reason I say things like “I’m amazing,” so often is that it surprises people.
Personally, I kind of just enjoy being surprising?
I highly recommend it. Bold comments about how awesome I am regularly make people laugh and smile. People don’t get scornful or weird about you if you deliver the line “correctly,” I promise. And by correctly, I mean, in a laughing manner that is also humble. You have to say it in a way that makes it clear that you are being light-hearted. You don’t mean to compete. You don’t mean to tear anyone down. You know that the statement you are making is a bit absurd. But also…
why not make it?
My friends are well-used to me saying boldly confident stuff now. They aren’t really tired of it. They still laugh. And new friends I make… they always laugh, too.
The best part of this is that the laughing has an interesting quality to it. It’s… wondering. It’s sort of in awe. It’s like they are surprised and not in a bad way, like I’ve said something totally crazy but maybe it’s not so crazy after all.
I am not an authority on what happens in other people’s brains. I really am not. But if I could guess, I think that in some small way my enthusiastic confidence liberates people. I think it nudges them to think about themselves in the same way. I don’t think it’s immediate or obvious by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think it is infectious, to some degree, and this is a big part of why I think and behave this way.
Humility is very important to me. Trust me: I could easily say “I am the worst” as often as I say “I am the best.” And no, I don’t think that I am literally the worst (just like I do not think I am literally the best), but I do most certainly acknowledge that I am a very human, deeply flawed individual who has so much room to grow.
I believe so strongly that we, as human beings, can acknowledge how much further we have to go while simultaneously choosing to be, feel, and live into our best selves. We can be humble while we strive. We can be grounded while we soar.
A big piece of this for me is simply honestly. I know who and what I am. I know my limitations. I know many of my weak spots. I know that I have many weak spots that I don’t even know about. Those things existing do not in any sense take away from who I am. They are a part of me. They are a part of this girl who has grown up and developed in all these complex ways, who has a terrible temper she inherited from her father, who is impatient and fiesty and so obnoxiously rebelious. My weaknesses are a part of the whole package of me. I know who that package is. I accept it. I try to make it better.
But I am what I am… and why not let it be awesome?
Humility is so important, but we don’t need to be slave to it. Humility done properly is the act of being constantly open to correction and growth. It does not mean you should walk around with your shoulders slumped.
I make a conscious effort to always walk with my shoulders back and my head held high. It’s not always easy, but it’s another one of those self-reinforcement things. The more I do it, the more I believe it. I have so many things to work on, and there are vast numbers of people who are more intelligent, more physically beautiful, more athletic, more talented than I. But we are all human, and all awesome in our own ways, and why not liberate ourselves to feel radiant and happy and free?
Choosing the right adjectives: vague and specific
As a final note, I’d just like to address the difference between vague and specific adjectives.
You can choose either vague or specific, both work. But they need to be deployed differently.
For example, when you say “I’m AMAZING,” it’s super vague, and it does two important things: 1) it doesn’t make anyone in your environment feel particularly threatened, and 2) it doesn’t make you cocky in any particular way. Mostly, it just makes you feel good and makes the people around you laugh and maybe feel a little bit good, too.
If you choose to go with specific adjectives it may require a more nuanced delivery. Saying “I am the best dancer,” is a stretch because obviously I am not. I could maybe say “I am an amazing dancer,” but even in that way I hesitate to say that, because 1) I take my art very seriously, 2) I really do have so far to go in this regard, my honest assessment of myself is not “amazing,” and 3) it would probably come across as super cocky. Now I could say something like “I am the most amazing at knitting,” because it is so obvious I am not, I have never done it before and I am terrible. But some activity in which it might be true would be tricky territory. I prefer not to go there. I could make an honest statement like “I am a good dancer with some tranining and am trying to get better.” Unless I am clearly making a joke (and often I am), I prefer to stick to more vague kinds of adjectives: awesome, amazing, brilliant, the coolest, whatever. The list goes on.
In any case, I want to be clear: I am not the most amazing. I am not even amazing. Not really. But also, I am. I am not, but I am.
And you are not, but you are, too. You definitely are. And I think that’s an incredible and beautiful and liberating thing.
I have been set free from the crushing weight of self-doubt. It’s not easy, and there’s a lot that needs to be done for all of us in order to get to this kind of place. One way to do it is to simply start doing it.
So repeat after me: “Shut up, I’m amazing.” And fly up, and watch your world catch fire.