Self-fulfilling Prophecies

December 12, 2005

When I was studying Psychology, I read of an experiment where some duffer kids were told that they were the best in the class, but, being late bloomers, their time had not yet come but soon they would outshine everyone else in a radius of 17 miles etc. So then, these kids, who naturally had low self esteem, slowly began believing in themselves, and, moreover, their teachers (who did not know this was an experiment) began believing in them and giving them more attention etc (rather than focusing on the bright kids) and lo and behold, several months later, the duffer kids were at the top of the class.

The point being, that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve much more than if you don’t, and that it is much easier to believe in yourself if you have people around (particularly people whose judgment you respect, teachers, superiors, close family and friends) who believe in you.

On the flip side, I have often enough seen or heard of people who get discouraged and stop believing in themselves because just ONE PERSON – maybe not even a particularly important person – keeps telling them how worthless they are. It is so easy to wear down someone’s belief in themselves by just being derogatory and scornful all the time.

This doesn’t often happen to me, because I have a very stubborn conviction that I am good at most things. But, in music, that is an exceedingly tenuous belief, due partly to the fact that my teacher always used to run me down and scorn me. In some people that might bring out the best, but in most people it only turns them into failures, and so it almost did with me. Until one day, I decided that if playing in a group with my teacher and so many others was going to make me so miserable, if he was always going to snub me in front of everyone, and if I was really so much worse than everyone else, then I was just going to stop.

It was one of the most difficult things I ever did in my life. I hated and feared my teacher. I was young and significantly lacking in social confidence ( I hadn’t started my working life then). I enjoyed music and I really did want to play and to be respected by the other players. I worked hard at that. I didn’t want to quit. But I didn’t want to be humiliated. So I called up my teacher and told him that, very quietly and firmly. I remember rehearsing my speech, and then forgetting it all, but getting the words out anyway.

To my surprise and embarrassment, my teacher apologised most humbly and begged forgiveness. This was strange! But it was nice. After that, he made sure he never said anything I could take as derogatory. Somehow, I felt good about myself. My playing improved too.

Tennis, now, is a different story. After playing with Amit for a few months more than a year ago, I haven’t even touched my tennis racket. Then, I started tennis lessons, on 1 December. Surprisingly, I hadn’t forgotten much. My teacher was impressed. Today was lesson number three, and he was most impressed. He kept saying “too good”. 🙂 Is he the sort of teacher who says this to everyone to encourage them? I don’t think so. For one thing, last time there were another two beginners with me, and he didn’t say such things to them (though the girl was clearly not very good at all). For another thing, he says good when I know I’ve hit a good shot, and then too, not always. So he doesn’t just say it all the time.

As though this were not enough, Amit surprised me the other day by saying a most unexpected thing. He said, I have talent!!! Me? Talented??? I could hardly believe it. I have NEVER thought of myself as talented at ANYTHING. I think I am most ordinary at everything.

Ok, I’m not asking for anyone to write in and tell me how talented I am…:-) I mean, it’s just that my own concept of myself is not of a talented person.

I felt pleased as punch. I still haven’t got over it. Me. Talented. At tennis, what’s more. I mean, I have never been much of a sporty person. I play badminton abominably (though I love it) and I even swim only moderately well (though I learnt when I was 3).

So anyway, what with being so talented and my teacher being so pleased at my progress, I’m feeling positively gung-ho about tennis. I can’t wait to get out on the court and get better. Why do I have tennis only three days a week??? I want to play tennis NOW!

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