I’ve always had issues with under/overestimation of myself. There will be times I think I will be more than capable of doing a thing, even going so far as to fantasize about how great I am for doing the thing, but then once I start doing the thing, I realize I’m struggling, and end up with one of two results. Either I overexert myself, look foolish, and get embarrassed, regretting having doing it, or I do it successfully and accidentally let it go to my head because then my imagination takes over and overplays the grandiose. On the flip side, if I think I’m incapable of doing something, I tend to either do it successfully and feel happily fulfilled, or fail at it and confirm my own insecurities. Knowing when to shut out the voices telling you extreme things is a valuable asset to your mental health and self-esteem, but it takes practice and discipline to make yourself do it in stressful situations. I had such an experience of learning to shut out the voices over the span of a couple of years.
Back in 2018, I participated in a tournament for the Barony of Gryphon’s Lair to choose the next rapier champion for the barony. I made the mistake of thinking it would be a breeze because there were A) only 4 fencers total that were fighting, including myself, and B) only two fencers were from the barony, making it a 50/50 chance for me to be the next champion. So I let my ego inflate quite a bit when I shouldn’t have.
Two of the fencers I was facing were Dons or Mods from outside the barony, and they were people who had devoted so much time and patience to fencing, and I had not spent as much time. As well, these men were so much bigger and taller than I, So both in stature and skill, I was overshadowed. The last fencer was one whom I find to be skillful, but not intimidatingly so, and who was relatively my size, so I was not concerned with facing him. Simultaneously, I was overestimating myself, and underestimating one of my opponents, which is a recipe for harsh realities to come to light.
Once the fighting started, I quickly realized that I had let my brain get ahead of me and my self-esteem came crashing down, all because everything I tried to get a kill didn’t work. I wanted to be entertaining for the nobles present but also put in a good fight, and my imagination put ideas in my head that wouldn’t become a reality easily. I never got a single shot in on any of them. I got slaughtered. I did my best to keep a happy face, but the voices in my head that were over/underestimating everything made me aggravated. What was I doing wrong? Why did this happen? Aren’t I better than this? Questions like this kept swirling around in my head as I held back frustrations. I felt horrible, and at the end of the day, I was kicking myself in the teeth for letting myself get carried away with those expectations on myself.
Jumping forward to a fighter practice a couple of years later, I found myself on the field with over ten very good fighters from outside the barony. I fought Mods, other great fencers who I know from the past, and people of lesser experience than me. The entire night, anytime my voices said, “you suck, do better,” “you’re embarrassing yourself by not doing well,” or “this guy’s only been doing this for a couple of months, you can tromp him,” I stopped and physically told the voices, “Shut up, that’s rude.” Because of this, I had no hard feelings or angry emotions when I lost to the people I fought, or pride when I beat someone who hadn’t practiced as long as I had. The only feelings I had were content for having a fun night and pain from bruises on the spots I didn’t block well.
There’s power in physically telling yourself to stop thinking something. It’s sometimes not enough to just think to yourself, “These thoughts aren’t good, I don’t need to feel inadequate. I don’t know.” You need to be assertive and firm with yourself. “No, don’t think that,” “This is rude to think that about that person,” “You’re a good fighter and you know it, you’re here to practice and get better.” Sure, the importance of the situation can make things a bit more difficult. After all, a tournament for champion and simple fighter practices have drastic differences in expectations, but the principle remains the same.
Tell yourself you are good. Tell yourself to stop the harsh critique. Tell yourself that you’re getting better. And over time, you’ll feel less critiqued, less in a negative spotlight, and more confidence that you can control so much more of your brain than you used to.