How to Believe You Can Fly

Filed in Finding & Following Your Voice by on November 24, 2015 • views: 1790

Woman Fly SeagullsYou’ve probably heard the “experts” say that in order to get where you want to go, you first have to believe you deserve to get there.

Diane Sawyer was quoted as saying:

“Whatever you want in life, other people are going to want it too. Believe in yourself enough to accept the idea that you have an equal right to it.”

But just how do you do that?

Maybe you’ve been trying to get a publisher or agent for your novel, for example, and it hasn’t happened yet. You keep trying, but you know, deep down, that you just don’t believe you’ll be able to do it.

If you follow the idea that belief precedes accomplishment, then you may already know that you have some work to do before you’re going to reach your goal.

But what exactly are you supposed to work on? Just how can you get that coveted belief in yourself everyone keeps talking about?

1. Think Happy Thoughts

Just a little over a week ago, I had the pleasure of performing in the musical “Peter Pan.” Most of us know the famous scene when Peter is teaching the Darling children to fly. “Think happy thoughts,” he says, and with a little fairy dust, off they go.

Think happy thoughts about yourself and voila, you’ll believe you can do almost anything.

But is that really possible?

"Think happy thoughts" to boost your confidence—does it work?

“Think happy thoughts” to boost your confidence—does it work?

Researchers say it is. In a 2011 study review, for example, they found that athletes who practiced positive self-talk techniques, such as telling themselves they could do it and that they felt strong, experienced more improved performances than those who didn’t.

Have you tried that? Telling yourself you can do it?

According to authors of Learning, Remembering, Believing: Enhancing Human Performance:

“A growing body of evidence suggests that one’s perception of ability or self-confidence is the central mediating construct of achievement strivings.”

In other words, how much you believe in yourself affects how much you actually achieve. The authors quote studies by Bandura and colleagues that showed that participants who believed they could accomplish a task were more likely to actually accomplish it.

A later 2013 study also showed that participants who paired positive self-talk with learning new skills performed better than those who learned the new skills without the positive self-talk.

Unfortunately, the majority of our self-talk is negative. Research has actually found this to be true! So we must make a conscious effort to turn our self-talk around.

If your brain is telling you there’s no sense in submitting to that publisher, you can turn it around by saying, “I’m going try as you never know. The editor might like my story, and if not, what have I got to lose?”

If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable using the word “I,” try using your name instead. An interesting study published in 2004 found that when people used their own names to talk to themselves rather than the word “I,” they were more likely to treat themselves kindly, as they might another person.

An interesting study published in 2004 found that when people used their own names to talk to themselves rather than the word “I,” they were more likely to treat themselves kindly, as they might another person.

Things like, “Oh my god, how am I going to do this?” turned into “Julie, you can do this. You’ve done things like this before and I know you can succeed.”

Have You Ever Really Wanted to Pass a Test?

I experienced this once when taking a motorcycle class. I’d never ridden before, and was taking the class partly for fun and partly for research for a new novel.

It was a beginner’s class, but at the end we all had to take a riding skills test. If we passed, we got a certificate that enabled us to waive the skills test at the DMV should we want to move forward to get our endorsement.

Have you ever really wanted to pass a test? I don’t have a bike, but I wanted to pass that day. I sailed through most of it, including the swerve, curves, fast stops, etc. But then we had to do the cones.

Problem was, unlike all of the other skills, which we had practiced several times each, the cones we’d practiced only once. Why I don’t know, because trying to weave between cones placed closely together at a slow speed without having to set your foot down is tough for a new rider, and I didn’t get it right once in practice.

As the other students—mostly teenage boys who’d ridden their dirt bikes in the back forty for years—went through the cones without issue, I stood there and told myself I could do it. I used my name. “Colleen, you can do this. You can pass this part of the test. You can get your endorsement.”

Would you believe that I did? I hardly believed it. I made it through those cones for the first time without stopping and without putting my foot down, and I got my certificate. (I later got my motorcycle endorsement.)

In that moment I felt like I could fly—my spirit could, anyway!

The pretty red bike that took me through the cones!

The pretty red bike that took me through the cones!

2. What’s Stopping You?

Telling yourself you can do it is the first step toward actually believing you can fly, but if you stop there, you’re likely to hurt rather than help your progress.

Positive-thinking researcher Gabriele Oettingen says:

“The problem with merely dreaming about the future and imagining that we’ve reached this desired future is that we’re already imagining being there—and that saps our energy to actually understand the obstacles and hindrances that are on the way to our reaching this positive future. So, we don’t put in enough effort to go the hard way and deal with all the hindrances and temptations, and we also don’t plan for it. Then, when life hits, we are often unprepared.”

Here’s where we need to identify what’s holding us back. Why aren’t you getting that publishing contract? Why haven’t you reached your goal?

Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of blaming others, here. That may be tempting (the market is too flooded, publishers lists are shrinking, editors don’t know what they want, etc.).

“The first step in reaching higher levels of success is realizing that you are the only thing holding yourself back,” says Mike Montague, marketing campaign manager. “You are the only one responsible for ultimate success and happiness.”

I did a self-evaluation on this a few years ago and discovered that my problem was I hadn’t submitted enough. This came back to self-belief. I didn’t really believe I could get that contract, so I hadn’t submitted enough to give my novel a real chance.

At that point in my life, I was tired of that approach, so I spent a couple weekends really researching publishers and sending out submissions. I soon had a couple offers for the book and a couple requests for the full manuscript.

Part of it was timing—I was more than ready to move forward. But part of it was figuring out what was holding me back.

What about you? Why haven’t you achieved your goal yet?

Figuring that out helps you determine where you need to take action next—and that’s the second step to attaining that belief that you can fly. Because as you take steps to eliminate obstacles in your way, you gradually gain confidence, and confidence gradually takes you to belief.

3. What’s It Like to Fly?

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to actually achieve what you want to achieve?

To be up on stage with your favorite musical group, or inspirational speaker, or well-known author? To sign that contract? To see your book in a bookstore?

What might it be like to actually achieve your goal?

What might it be like to actually achieve your goal?

It’s time to stop wondering and start putting yourself into situations where you can be around people who have achieved what you want to achieve.

Because it rubs off on you. That belief. That energy. That confidence.

According to American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn:

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

I don’t think you have to be surrounded by your heroes all the time. A good dose of them a few times a year can be enough to take you forward, as long as you really pay attention during those times, and pick up everything you can.

“What’s important is that you are actively looking for good people to associate yourself with,” says entrepreneur Yaro Starak. “You won’t know immediately what role they will perform in your life, but in time relationships will happen if they are meant to and you want them to.”

I’ve gone to writer’s conferences and workshops where I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to great writers like Daniel Woodrell, Andre Dubus III, Hannah Tinti, Dennis Lehane, James Rollins, Bob Dugoni, and many more.

When you’re around these people, even if only for a short time, you can’t help but be influenced by them. You return to your own work energized and inspired—and more likely to believe you can do it, because you’ve been in the company of those who have.

Even if you can’t attend a writer’s conference, check around your local area for other opportunities. Attending an event or class by most anyone who’s experienced the type of success you’d like to experience will be helpful.

1-2-3 and Up You Go!

So in summary, if you’re struggling with self-belief and want to believe you can “fly” (i.e., reach that goal you’re going for), follow these three steps:

  1. Tell yourself you can do it. This is the “think happy thoughts” idea. Get used to talking yourself up. It’s best if you do it everyday. Even if you feel silly, telling yourself you can do it is effective! Be your own cheerleader. You need one and who else is going to do it?
  2. Figure out what’s holding you back. There’s some concrete reason you haven’t felt your feet leave the floor yet. What is it? Do you need more practice at your skill? Should you hire an editor so you can figure out where your story may need improvement? Are you submitting enough to give yourself a chance? If you’re trying to market yourself and your book, are there tactics you haven’t experimented with? Might an online course help you out? Seek out answers. Pretend you’re working for a client—yourself—and your job is to get your client to her goal. How are you going to do that?
  3. Spend time with people who are where you want to be. When was the last time you were around someone else who already knew how to fly? Are there local bestselling authors in your area you could spend time with? Is there a conference nearby? Do you have a successful author doing a signing at your bookstore? Have you checked your local events to see if other successful entrepreneurs are coming through your area? Find ways to spend more time with people who have accomplished what you’d like to accomplish.

If you practice these three steps on a regular basis, you’ll start to experience the magic.

Gradually, your belief in yourself will grow.

And when self-doubt raises its ugly head, as it always does, go back and find out what’s holding you back, and then ramp up the self-talk.

Don’t let doubt keep you from reaching your goal, because as Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie wrote,

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”

How do you maintain belief in yourself? Please share your tips with our readers.

Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, et al., “Self Talk and Sports Performance, a Meta-Analysis,” Perspective on Psychological Science, July 2011; 6(4):348-356,

Learning, Remembering, Believing: Enhancing Human Performance (1994), Chapter 13: Self-Confidence and Performance, National Academies Press,

George Dvorsky, “Does ‘Positive Thinking’ Really Make Our Lives Better?” iO9, November 21, 2014,

Kamal Chopra, “Impact of Positive Self-Talk,”

Khitam Mousa Ay, et al., “Positive self-talk and its effect on learning the grab start skill in swimming and self-efficacy improvement,” Journal of Physical Education and Sport, 2013; 13(4):578-582,

Ethan Kross, et al., “Self-Talk as a Regulatory Mechanism: How You Do It Matters,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014; 106(2):304-324,

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Comments (2)

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  1. Chere Hagopian says:

    I love the idea of pretending to be working for a client, and that client is yourself! What a great idea! I use that technique from another perspective, when I’m upset with myself in general. I ask myself if I wasn’t me, how would I feel about me? Would we be friends? Would I really pick on all of the things I pick on myself for, if I was someone else? The answers are usually better than I think.

  2. Awesome article. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies–and we don’t have to be. What we do is hard enough.