The Virtue of Self-Belief

As we saw in Willpower Is Like a Muscle, the amount of willpower you have depends on your beliefs about willpower and about your capacity. Positive self-belief increases your willpower and your capacity. 

Self-belief is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. With it, self-discipline is possible; without it, it is not, for you will sabotage yourself.

When you believe in yourself you have more motivation, more resources, more energy to overcome obstacles in your way. When you don’t believe in yourself, every setback you encounter is interpreted as a confirmation of your suspicions—that “I’m not gonna make it”, that “this is not going to work”. 

This kind of doubt is the habit of thinking that you can’t do something, that you are not good enough, or that you don’t have the needed skills, intelligence, time, resources, or experience. You defeat yourself before you even try. With these thoughts, your efforts will be weak and inconsistent, or you won’t even start.

Self-belief doesn’t mean the arrogance of believing that you are perfectly ready for every challenge. Rather, it means trusting in your ability to learn and grow to meet every challenge. You still reflect on your shortcomings and prepare for what can go wrong, yet you focus on your strengths. 

Self-reflection is a virtue; habitual self-doubt is a poison. Wisdom tells the difference.

Your beliefs about yourself are not truths, but opinions. Yes, you can always look back at your life and find many reasons to reinforce those beliefs; but you could probably do the same for the opposite belief, if you were to dig deep enough. Your beliefs are simply a model for you to navigate the world. And they are extremely important, for they shape your experience of life. 

Choose to think of yourself as strong. Develop the self-talk that your willpower is unlimited, and that you are gradually unlocking it. Tell yourself, constantly, that you can achieve anything you set your mind to, and that anything that is difficult today will be easier tomorrow.

Consider psychologist Carol Dweck’s descriptions of two different mindsets (Dweck, 2015):

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

When you meet an obstacle, one of two things can happen. With a fixed mindset, you see it as proof that you can’t make it. With a growth mindset, you see it as a sign that you need to develop skills or other resources to move forward, and you have capacity to think beyond the obstacle. You can then use self-discipline to push past that obstacle.

With self-discipline and a growth mindset, you will experience more energy, hope, motivation, and optimism in your life. You will be confident in your ability to learn and grow. Every obstacle will be like a comma, not a full stop.

Think of the aspiration you are pursuing, or the specific goals you want to achieve. On a scale from one to ten, how would you rate your self-belief in that area? The more challenging your goal, the higher you need your rating to be in order to succeed. 


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