Michael E. Bernard, Ph.D.
Professor, University of Melbourne
Founder, You Can Do It! Education
Do you know a young person who has self-doubts when it comes to friends, schoolwork or self-image? If you are a parent, do you have a child or adolescent who lacks self-belief?
Several years ago, I worked as a school psychologist. I met with many students referred to me for counselling due to low self-esteem, anxiety, lack of motivation, and school refusal.
I discovered that most had a low degree of self-belief – not in all areas of their lives, but in the area where they were experiencing difficulty.
When my two kids were growing up, I noticed that from time-to-time their lack of self-belief was holding them back. For example, my son who loved playing soccer was not chosen for the starting team because of his approach during practice and who seemed to the coach to lack confidence. We worked on this together for a few weeks, he boosted his self-belief, and he secured a place on the starting team.
As a result of my professional experiences as a psychologist and parent, I learnt that a lot can be done to help young people change their negative attitudes and thinking to a more positive mindset. I captured this in the phrase, You Can Do It!
Its’ been over 20 years since I created with Patricia my business partner and wife, the now well-known social-emotional learning program called You Can Do It! Education (www.youcandoiteducation.com.au). We are Australia’s first and leading SEL program for students that in part focuses on combatting the problems of low self-belief in students and to instil confidence. Today, 1000s of K-12 schools here and overseas employ our curricula (e.g., Program Achieve, The Successful Mind) in classrooms to help strengthen student self-belief and social-emotional skill.
How does You Can Do It! as an attitude influence the way young people think, feel, and behave? When faced with stressful events or people, young people with strong self-belief talk to themselves using a strong and convincing voice, “You can do It!” “You can cope with being teased or even bullied!” “You can get this difficult work finished!” “You can give a great talk, speech, or presentation!”. The result is strong feelings of confidence and determined behaviour.
“You” is empowering yourself to take charge, not blaming others, and not waiting for others to help.
“Can” is confidence – your ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that communicates to yourself and others you are expecting to cope and get the job done.
“Do” is for you taking action – doing not stewing.
“It!” is whatever you set out to accomplish, your daily, short- and long-term goals.
There are several things you can communicate to a young person to change an I Can’t Do it! mindset and strengthen a You Can Do It! attitude.
Communicate goals and expectations for young people’s behaviour and achievement that are realistic and achievable. If they can’t or don’t achieve the goals for whatever reason, acceptance without judgment is required. Then, you can work with them to improve.
Encourage young people to accept themselves no matter what and to try to not take things personally. Make the following point: “When others tease or are critical of you or when you have not achieved your goal, remind yourself, ‘I am me and that’s OK’”.
Explain that it is their thinking about what happens to them that creates their strong, negative feelings and behaviour. It is not what happens to them that makes them mad, sad, or worried. Present what Shakespeare wrote: “Things are neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so”.
Discuss that when bad stuff happens, everyone has two different ways they can think. One approach is to have very negative, unrealistic and extreme thinking which causes a great deal of emotional upset and unhelpful behaviour. The other approach is to have a very positive, realistic, and flexible way of thinking which helps people to stay calm and behave in helpful ways. Use examples to illustrate the two different ways of thinking about the same event showing the power of choosing to think, You Can Do It!
Emphasise that while it is very preferable to be successful and have other’s approval, it isn’t sensible and helpful to think you always have to be successful and approved of. If the worst thing that could happen to you in life is not being successful at doing something or someone thinking you are being silly or stupid, these are not the worst things that could happen.
After many years teaching You Can Do It!, it continues to help both Patricia and I get through any bad patches, it gives us the courage to be ourselves and to keep trying to do our best. You Can Do It! has helped our children and the many, many, many young people who have participated in YCDI! programs at their schools. You Can Do It! is not a guarantee that you will be successful in anything you attempt. Rather it is an energising force that helps you to have a go, to not be afraid when the going gets tough, and to believe in yourself. What can be more powerful than that?