If we were to graph actual ability versus self belief we get four broad types of people: Average Joes, Delusionals, Self-Saboteurs, and Superstars. The blue band dictates congruence—where perception = ability. Quadrants 2 and 3, the Self-Saboteurs and the Delusional are off reality and will be forced back on (by fulfilment or a reality check) or will stay out of touch for ever and be branded as crazy or lazy by people who see the mismatch.
Let's look at each of these in the context of the X Factor. Look for these four types next time you watch.
1. Average Joes
These individuals are not particularly good at the task at hand and know it. In a singing competition this is, really, most of us. Generally this group do not try out for the X Factor. Still, some say "what the heck, I've got nothing to lose" and go for it anyway. Those that don't really try, or are not interested, will not improve. Perhaps this is an area of their life they have decided to be mediocre in, or it's just not possible (see the intro for more details). Those that just go for it misunderstand completely. They are hoping for a miracle: that someone with power or talent (or both) will see intrinsic worth in them, take pity, and make them into something. Like a nerdy girl with glasses in a teen makeover movie, they are hoping someone else will do the emotional heavy lifting for them by believing in their potential on their behalf, presenting them at the end as the bombshell no one knew existed, and all with no real effort.
Those that are bad, but are convinced they are good. Reality shows get a lot of traction from these, especially as generally only quadrants 4 and 2 self-select and audition (both sets believe they are good). This is where the issue of positive thinking becomes dangerous. The real difference between this group and the Superstars (other than genetic predisposition) is the length of that belief; People who truly believe they are great singers sing everywhere all the time. People who are momentarily delusional convince themselves and hype themselves up for the moment. They haven't had the practice or the internal or external reaffirmation from friends, family, and strangers. They haven't tested it out, but think, "I could be wonderful at that" and convince themselves that positive thinking alone will carry them. They are lying to themselves and deep down they know it. They bypass all the action, all the hard work, and rely solely on thinking really hard for a small period of time.
3. Self Saboteurs
Good, but don't believe it. They have real talent, developed genetically or over time, but for whatever reason now lack the mentality to capitalize. Whatever the reason they got here, there is a strong psychological urge to validate oneself, or make people see you how you see yourself to prove yourself right. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People in this mindset break your heart. They feel like hard work because you know what they can achieve but they don't believe. They suck energy out of you because you're always telling them, but they never hear. In the X Factor they pop up in the early rounds from time to time. Sometimes they are hidden gems, but for every hidden gem that goes on to be a Superstar, there are three that blow themselves up along the way through poor action and mentality. They seem to implode for some unknown reason.
These people are good and know it. They haven't just arrived at this state, but have followed a long path of improvement based on reaffirmation (from themselves and others) and lots of practice. They are already performing at the level they need to perform for success, but may need a break—in this case a record deal or big stage. This group show up to auditions knowing they deserve to be there and just getting the job done. They have mastered the skill and the mentality and they are always a pleasure to watch. They understand that you have to dream to achieve anything, but you have to back that dream up with relentless, daily work that moves you in the right direction. They listen to themselves and those around them in the right proportion.
Correcting Back to Reality
There trick is to believe, but to not get too far ahead of yourself. There are two ways to correct back to reality: 1. Reality Check, where you align your vision of yourself with your present skills, (you admit your true ability) and 2. Fulfilment, where your present skills catch up with your vision of yourself, (you get better). Notice that Saboteurs need to reality check, while the Delusional need to fulfill. (Which one are you?) The hard part is that in reality the opposite tends to happen. People don't like it when others believe they are better than they are and as a group we force people back to our reality, often thinking we are doing them some kind of favor. On the other hand, as a collective we're not so kind to the Saboteurs because they are hard work emotionally: it's easier for us to recognize they haven't made the grade, than to build them up.
In the real world, 99% of forces pull people back to the black hole of Quadrant 1: Average, with everyone else. Which is why positive thinking is so important.
Have Courage: Think, Act, Be
This is why positive thinking becomes a real tool that will elevate you to where you want to be, but only when treated as a verb, not a noun. To improve you have to believe then act, then believe some more and act again; You can only truly believe in something that is real, then you have to have the courage to step out into the darkness; you have to inch out along an invisible bridge one step at a time. In a chicken-and-egg scenario of what comes first, believing almost always precedes achieving.
You don't have unlimited potential in every area, but all of us have more potential than we are able to fully realize in one lifetime, so in that sense, it may as well be limitless. The key is finding where your strengths are and courageously going after them. We can all be a Superstar, but not all of us can sing.
From the archives. Based on an article written by me in 2009