Are you superstitious?

Superstition: “1.An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.”

Despite having a makeover for the first of the live shows for X factor Matt Cardle still wore his green cap on stage for his performance last night.

Why does he insist on wearing it? Does it improve his image or his performance? Ian Rush, record top scorer for Liverpool FC, used to soak his boots in water before taking to the field. Robbie Fowler, another Liverpool legend, wears football boots that are half a size too small for him along with two pairs of socks in the belief this will make his feet more sensitive to the ball.

I’ve been working with a senior manager recently who has to present to over 500 people every year at their company’s annual conference. She is a very successful individual, a brilliant public speaker with awards for inspirational leadership. However prior to each conference she still finds it necessary to buy a new outfit specifically for the event, as she feels this will help her to stand up and deliver her keynote speech.

These are just a few examples of rituals that many many people follow in order to help them produce their best in a variety of situations. Speaking to the senior manager she believes that a new outfit makes her look good, which in turn makes her feel good, which then leads to a job well done. Her experience and skill set suggests that she doesn’t need the added boost of a new outfit to give an excellent speech, but it certainly seems to give her a pyschological boost.

When Ian Rush failed to score in a game did he blame it on poor technique, lack of concentration or the fact that his boots had started to dry out?

Last night Matt produced an excellent performance and should sail through to the next round of X Factor. Was his performance down to his singing ability or his green cap? How will his performance be affected if he is “ordered” to leave his green cap in the dressing room? Research has shown that people follow superstitutions as it gives them a feeling of greater control of situations and leads to increased levels of belief and confidence.

Having a superstition, like having a lucky green cap, is not harmful  and can actually help the individual to relieve anxiety and keep an individual calm. Instead of relying on a cap or wet boots to provide the boost to confidence and belief it is possible to learn techniques to achieve the same effect.

The starting point is to recognise and accept what you are good at. Try this exercise.

1) Get a pen and paper and write down the three things that you most dislike about yourself – most people find this to be easy, the hard part for some is stopping at 3!

2) Now write down the three things you most like about yourself – now it’s getting tough. Be specific, give examples and don’t stop until you have got 3!

3)  Ask a friend or colleague to answer the same questions about you.

How similar were the answers? Did you manage to write down three things that you like about yourself? How honest were you?

People tend to be their own worst critics and will be far harsher about themselves than friends or colleagues. we all have an inner voice which is our biggest critic and it revels in telling us what we do badly, where we go wrong, what we can’t do. The trick is to quiet this inner voice. Everyone has faults and weaknesses, but by putting your focus on your strengths and accepting your weaknesses you will find your self belief begins to grow. Self doubt feeds off the attention you pay to perceived weaknesses, so focus instead on what you are  good at.

It will be interesting to watch the likes of Matt and Rebecca as they progress through X Factor. The feedback from judges, coaches, mentors and the audience will strengthen their self belief and they will start to ignore their inner voice that has been telling them that they can’t do it, others are so much better than them and they can’t possibly succeed. Rebecca will start to look down the camera and Matt may even leave his green cap in the X Factor house. When he does you will know he has conquered his inner voice.

Useful reading:

Learned Optimism: Martin Seligman

Mindsets: Carol Dweck

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