You’re sitting at a Chinese restaurant at the corner of your street. You just had a hard day at work and all you want is some Kung Pao Chicken and the freedom to cry alone. The waitress brings you your food, and with it a small, orangish fortune cookie.
You’re feeling whimsical (it’s better than feeling depressed), so you crack open the cookie and take out the piece of paper inside.
“Your hard days are almost over. Keep moving forward! Good things are ahead!”
”Woah!” You think to yourself. “How accurate! I’m having a terrible day, so this must be about me. It’s a sign!”
You leave the restaurant with a spring in your step, feeling confident that things indeed will get better.
This may be a fictional story, but you know you’ve done it. We all have! There’s something oddly comforting about a generalized statement predicting a hopeful outcome when things don’t seem to be going our way. That’s why fortune cookies and horoscopes are so popular – we all just want be told that we’re ok and that everything will work out in the end.
The thing is, when we put weight into these empty statements, we fall prey to what’s called –
The Barnum Effect: the tendency to accept certain information as true, such as character assessments or horoscopes, even when the information is so vague as to be worthless.
The reason why we fall into the Barnum Effect so easily is because we have a natural desire to have our feelings validated by an outside source. We correlate blanket statements of relative positivity to our own situations to fulfill that need, even if we subconsciously realize that they have nothing to do with us. We then justify the outcome until it matches what we believe. Unfortunately, these types of prophecies are not sustainable ‘pick me ups’; they only tell us what we want to hear when we can’t face reality.
Personally, I find that the only way to grab hold of true encouragement in hard situations is to go back to the basics. I have to remind myself of who I am so that I can recognize the beauty through the pain, and the peace through the chaos. It’s only when I see myself clearly that I can see my situation in a positive light.
So if you’re like me and tired of fortune cookie predictions with a side of Kung Pao Chicken, here are eight foundational truths that have nothing to do with your situation but have everything to do with who you are as a person, all of which you can use as encouraging reminders when times get tough.
You are valuable
You as a human being are intrinsically valuable. You have a unique perspective that is worth being shared and you don’t have to conform to the ‘one size fits all’ personality mould to be interesting. You are precious just the way that you are. Despite the seemingly Insta-perfect life of your favorite celebrity, everyone has flaws, and everyone has problems. You don’t have to be perfect, so stop trying. Be fully yourself and you will be more valuable than any curated version of you could ever be.
You are worthy of respect
You are worth the time and effort it takes to get to know you. You should be treated with respect and have every right to establish boundaries that make you feel safe. Your well being is more important than your popularity, and you have the power to walk away from someone who is mistreating you. You are worthy of kindness and compassion, but should only expect it if you treat others that way in return. People are more likely to treat you the way that you treat yourself, so be nicer to yourself. You’re kind of wonderful.
What you do does not define who you are
Your WORTH is not measured by your WORK. No matter how much or how little you accomplish in your life, it does not change your value as a person. You are not what you do. The motivation behind your actions are more important than the actions themselves. If you fail, you are not just a failure. If you succeed, you are not just a success. You are simply a person doing the best you can everyday, and that is enough. Your experiences add to your life, but they do not define it.
You are good enough
No matter what social media tells you, no one is perfect. No one has a perfect life, a perfect job or a perfect relationship. We all have ups and downs and we all weather the storms in our own way. So comparing yourself to anyone else is like comparing a photoshopped picture to a reflection in the mirror – it’s unachievable and unfair to you. Conversely, if someone else is beautiful, that doesn’t mean you are ugly. If someone else is talented, that doesn’t mean you are not. Your value and accomplishments should not be measured against anyone else’s – because it’s not a competition against them. Your expectations of yourself should be dictated by the potential you believe that you can reach. If you refuse to settle for less and strive to become the best person that you can possibly be, then you are good enough.
As Mr. Rogers would say, “I like you just the way you are.”
You don’t have to stay stuck
No matter how hopeless your situation may seem, you are never without options. Hope will always make itself known to those who look for it, and though you may not always be in control of your situation, you are in control of how you react to it. It’s up to you to decide whether you feel empowered or discouraged. But no matter what, you don’t have to be stuck in the situation that you’re in if you don’t want to be. You can either be your own best friend or your own biggest enemy – it’s all dependent on whether or not you’re willing to fight for yourself.
You are loved
You are loved. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, there is someone out there who sees you, knows you, and accepts you for who you are. Even if people don’t show it well, you are wanted. Even if you’ve given up on yourself, there is someone out there who hasn’t given up on you; it could be a teacher, a parent, a friend, a distant relative, or even a person you met in passing. You are recognized. You are valued. And you are worthy of being loved.
You are not alone
No matter how isolated you may feel, you are not alone. You are not the only one with problems that feel unsolvable or struggling with the issues you face. You are not the only one who feels like they can’t talk to anyone about what they’re going through. There is a world of people just like you who are just doing the best they can to live their lives. In reality, how alone you feel is directly correlated with how willing you are to get connected. Though loneliness may make you feel powerless, you are far from it. If you are willing to make the effort to be vulnerable with others, you will find that you are not alone.
Your life is beautiful
Let’s be honest; life can be hard. It doesn’t always turn out how we planned, which is exactly what makes it so interesting. But how your life unfolds all depends on how you choose to live it. If you enjoy every moment as it comes your way and take every opportunity that gets you closer to where you want to go, you will give yourself permission to live a life not riddled with regret. Dream big and aim high. Even if you fall from the heights of high hopes, get back up and keep climbing. Let yourself explore the possibilities of living a purpose driven and passion filled life. Don’t know what that means yet? Neither do I! It’s ok that we don’t have things figured out yet, but that should never stop us from trying.
No matter who you are, where you come from or what you do, the eight statements above apply to you just as they apply to me. Don’t believe them? Keep rereading them! We don’t need to rely on the Barnum Effect to affirm our future when we are confident in who we are right now. Even when things don’t work out the way that we want them to, we need to learn how to give ourselves enough grace to figure things out. Together we can get one step closer to loving, valuing, and believing in ourselves enough to throw away our fortunes, ignore our horoscopes and simply live our best lives everyday.