You left me, you will remember, at affirmation stations. My initial consultation with life coach Adam Clark had furnished me with a list of positive statements about myself, which I was to recite religiously throughout the week ahead. I believe in what I have to contribute. I always do a good job. According to the life coaching school of thought, when a person repeats a mantra often enough, they will somehow rewire their brain to believe it; an approach that’s half CBT, half NLP, with more than a touch of Alan Partridge roaring ‘You’re a tiger!’ into his Travelodge bathroom mirror.
But, I reason, no one ever got to be perfect without at least having an open mind; which is how I find myself seated on the Northern Line, headphones in, listening to a loop of my own recorded voice droning I have lots of things to be confident about, and trying not to stare at the seat opposite, where a man in full African dress is clipping his fingernails with impunity.
Thinking positive. It should be easy, shouldn’t it? The trouble is, when you live in London – where the daily grind includes overcrowding, signal failure, hyper-aggressive city boys, and people with only a passing acquaintance with deodorant (and that’s before you’ve had to duck to avoid being blinded by flying fingernail shrapnel) – looking on the bright side can sometimes feel like a challenge too far.
‘I mean, just look at this!’ says my friend Chris, when I arrive – affirmations at the ready – at his birthday party in a Kennington pub. I take the business card from his hand and read it. Then I read it again.
‘No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you,’ he continues. ’This stupid woman, who wants me to do business with her, has actually tried to copyright her own name.’ It’s true. Unbelievable but true. There on the business card, at the end of a Scandinavian-looking name, is a tiny ©. ‘God, I’m sick of the Square Mile,’ says Chris.
It’s funny; until you actively look for negativity, you barely realise how much of it is flying through the air around us. It’s constant, invisible but lethal, like those toxic fumes on London Underground that are slowly killing us all, only anyone who tries to talk about them gets ‘disappeared’ by TFL (note of caution: that story was told to me by a boy in G-A-Y Late, and I’m pretty sure he was on drugs at the time). We might pass it off as pragmatism or self-deprecating humour, but – as any life coach will tell you – all we’re really doing is giving ourself a good, hard emotional kicking.
As part of my consultation with Adam, he set me the challenge of using my affirmations at a social event. This birthday party, a joint celebration for my friends Chris and Michael, is perfect; both boys work in the City, so the table is lined with A-Gays, many of whom I’m meeting for the first time.
‘Hello,’ brays a management consultant, all eyes and no chin. ‘Very nice to meet you.’
This throws me slightly, as I actually had quite a long conversation with him at the house party last month. Normally, my inner monologue would seize gleefully upon this fact and bash me about the face and chest with it. ‘Nobody remembers you!’ it would squeal. ‘You’re a big dull dud! Big dull dud! Big dull dud!’ Then I would find myself having to pretend not to remember him either, or – even more outrageously – actually apologising for his mistake.
But tonight I have not come alone. Tonight I am equipped with my arsenal of affirmations, and now seems as good a time as any to deploy one. I am worth getting to know. ‘Actually,’ I say, shaking his hand, ‘we met at Michael’s party last month but you must not remember.’
POW! In your face, inner monologue! Leaving the management consultant blinking at my frankness, I waste no time in singling out a new face in the crowd: he is suited, handsome, and taller than 6’2″. Exactly the kind of man, in short, I would normally be far too nervous to strike up a conversation with.
What’s that, inner monologue? I am here for a reason? ‘Hello, I don’t think we’ve met, have we?’ I say. KAPOW! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, vague feelings of inadequacy! Conversation started, phone numbers swapped, job done. Is it really that simple? Is this how the rest of you feel all the time?
Of course life coaching isn’t for everyone – there was more than one raised eyebrow among my friends when I explained what I was up to, and even life coach Adam warned me about ‘the Eeyore mentality that we grow up with in the UK’ – but I have been genuinely amazed by the effect forcing myself to think positively has had on my confidence levels. Since writing my affirmations I’ve run meetings, talked to strangers, I’ve even sweated my way through two live radio interviews. A little positivity, it turns out, can go a long way; and I for one am positive life coaching has got me one step closer to perfect.