Monday, 5 September 2011

Can You Trick Yourself?

Whether you think you can or think you can't - you are right. 
~Henry Ford, founder of Ford motor company

You’re in the back of a truck, parked up by an abattoir. Frosty air rolls by your feet. With your team-mates, you hoist up cow carcasses, pink and frozen, onto hooks. The truck’s hidden motor churns out the cold, preserving the meat. The truck is filled now, the last body lined up. You walk back, shoulders hunched to keep the air out, checking the fixtures.

That’s when you hear the clang.

The light changes. The container on the back of the truck has been sealed. Your teammates forgot you. Only the backup lights, with their metal frame covers, bleed out a little yellow light.

Panic. Cold. You’re alone. You find a wall. You knock. “Hello?” you say. “I’m still in here.”

No response. You knock harder. You bang with the underside of your fist. You shout. You swear at the people who left you. You yell. You kick out with the flat of your foot, hurting your knee. Weeping, you scream at the walls. Your footing goes. You stumble into the carcasses around you: a macabre prediction of your fate. You sit with your back against the wall, surrounded by death, waiting. Heat and hope drain out of you, second by second, in the small steel room.


The next morning, the abattoir workers open the door to the container. The door clangs again, but you don’t hear it this time. You don’t see the burly men enter and flick the lights on. You don’t notice the water on the floor that has drained off the meat, gushing out of the door onto the floor outside. You don’t smell the rotting. The men do, though.

There’s a carcass at the back of the room, jammed in a corner. It’s yours. You’re not frosted over, but you’re frozen stiff. Your heart has stopped.

The men are dumbfounded. How has this happened?

Did we check the motor? They ask each other. The container’s motor, the device that keeps the room cold, is inspected every night- usually. But not last night. They forgot. They check the box in the corner of the room.
The engine burned out some hours ago- long enough for the large meat stocks to thaw out completely.

You didn’t, though. You were convinced that you were going to die. And you did.


Well. What a depressing story that was. I heard this story back in 2005 when I made a failed attempt to carve a career in telesales. The company I was working for put on a training course where a very upbeat, jolly lady “taught” us about positive mental attitude. She told the story to illustrate this point- if you think you’re going to fail, you will fail. It stands to reason, she suggested, that if you think you’re going to succeed- or rather believe you’re going to succeed- you will succeed.

I really liked the sentiment, but I didn’t believe the story then and I don’t believe it now. Can you “freeze” to death in a room above zero degrees Celsius? Can you die from just the belief that you will? Can a total loss of hope kill you?

Jolly Lady seemed to believe it. There isn’t much online to back it up. The more positive ideology does match up, however, with that discussed in the film The Assassination of Richard Nixon.

Samuel Bicke (Sean Penn) is trying his hand at sales. It isn’t going too well. His manager Jack Jones (Jack Thompson) gives him some confidence-building audio tapes to listen to.

Remember,” says the tape’s instructor, “power… is a state of mind. You have as much as you think you have. If you don’t think you have any- you don’t.”

Interesting. I’ve spent my life trying to trick myself into becoming more confident. I’ve also made a conscious effort to find people who can advise me on this issue. I’ve met with social workers, careers advisers, disability specialists (I have short-term memory difficulties), and talked things through with friends, of course. I’ve written a lot about power and confidence, perhaps altruistically as I’m not convinced that these blog entries show my confident side. I read advice books like The Game. I’ve put key phrases from the book into my phone for reference when I’m in bars. I follow the book’s author, Neil Strauss, on Twitter. I read websites. I’ve subscribed to the emails from dating gurus David DeAngelo and someone known only as “Tynan”. I’ve travelled Manchester looking for confidence-building experts. I’ve visited the Manchester Institute of Psychotherapy, the Samaritans, and a black-belt life coach called Rob Woolen. I’ve spent my adult life- over a decade- learning Thai boxing and Mixed Martial Arts. I’ve tried working in sales, promotions and marketing. I’ve done loads of bar work. I’ve been a volunteer radio presenter. I’ve read out fiction and poetry at literature events. All of this has been me striving for more confidence. I’m now twenty-nine- twenty-fucking-nine- and I think mentally I might just have developed to the stage of the average twenty-one-year-old.

Now it’s time to trick myself. I want to believe that I’m confident. I want to believe that I can get whichever woman I want- and prove myself right. I want to be totally comfortable telling people about my memory. I want to eliminate silent pauses in conversations with people. And I want all of this to improve every part of my life and make me happy. Now, as cheesily arrogant as that sounds, I’ll stop talking and do it.

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