When the great library of Alexandria burned, the story goes, one book was saved. But it was not a valuable book; and so a poor man, who could read a little, bought it for a few coppers.
The book wasn’t very interesting, but between its pages there was something very interesting indeed. It was a thin strip of vellum on which was written the secret of the “Touchstone”!
The touchstone was a small pebble that could turn any common metal into pure gold. The writing explained that it was lying among thousands and thousands of other pebbles that looked exactly like it. But the secret was this: The real stone would feel warm, while ordinary pebbles are cold.
So the man sold his few belongings, bought some simple supplies, camped on the seashore, and began testing pebbles.
He knew that if he picked up ordinary pebbles and threw them down again because they were cold, he might pick up the same pebble hundreds of times. So, when he felt one that was cold, he threw it into the sea. He spent a whole day doing this but none of them was the touchstone. Yet he went on and on this way. Pick up a pebble. Cold – throw it into the sea. Pick up another. Throw it into the sea.
The days stretched into weeks and the weeks into months. One day, however, about mid afternoon, he picked up a pebble and it was warm. He threw it into the sea before he realized what he had done. He had formed such a strong habit of throwing each pebble into the sea that when the one he wanted came along, he still threw it away.
So it is with opportunity. Unless we are vigilant, it’s easy to fail to recognize an opportunity when it is in hand and it’s just as easy to throw it away.
Many years ago I spent a couple of years performing on stage. People would often comment that you had to be very confident to be able to do this.
My stock answer was that you didn’t necessarily need to be confident, however, you did have to be willing to feel uncomfortable.
Confidence can come form successfully surviving an uncomfortable task. In the years of working on clients’ confidence issues it is important (in my opinion) to stress that to feel confident you have to actually do something. It is often the case that some people wait until they feel confident before taking an action rather than having confidence from taking an action.
I wish that the following practical exercise was my own, but I owe this process to someone whose name sadly escapes me and he owes it to Jamie Smart of Salad.
I have been using this exercise and ones like it for a number of years with some of my shyer clients and those who have grasped the warm “touchstone” and acted rather than thought have reported enthusiastically that it has worked
1) Identify a few of the areas in your life where you hesitate and would like to just go for it.
2) Choose a situation where normally you would be quiet and reticent and say hello to at least three people you have never met. You need only say, “good morning/afternoon/evening and how are you” and then move on.
Or you can go into a shop, restaurant, petrol station) and make an absurd request (i.e. ask for something they definitely don’t sell) while keeping a straight face. Be polite, safe and non-threatening.
3) Repeat twice more in the course of a week.
4) Look forward to the situations where in the past you would have hesitated, and enjoy your new responses.
There is a range of response from bemused to very amused, but never frightened or hostile. The key is for you to be non-threatening and polite For those of you who are thinking this is pointless, foolish or humiliating – you probably need this more than most.
Why does this work?
Our central nervous system is set up to protect us from dangerous situations. Many of us have been heavily conditioned against making mistakes (by teachers, parents, peers etc.) and code mistakes as dangerous. Yet making mistakes is an incredibly important part of learning, growing and exploring. A willingness to make mistakes is an absolute must for anyone who wishes to become more confident.