Tom hates interviews. He’s been offered many different job opportunities over the years, but he prefers to stay put in his current role, because the idea of going for an interview gives him heebie-jeebies. Tom reckons he is terrible at interviews. He can recall every single disappointing episode perfectly. It is definitely an experience he’d rather avoid.
Here is the thing. Tom and I have had an equal share of good and bad interviews. I had a plenty of terrible experiences over the last 15 years. I remember talking to a woman at IBM, where I hoped to do an internship, and all I could think of was her greasy hair, making it impossible for the teenage me to concentrate on anything else. Then a few years back I interviewed at a publishing company based in the City. I suddenly could not speak, which has never happened to me before or since, but somehow the place felt so wrong, I ended up sabotaging myself subconsciously. Most recently, I had an interview with someone (in London) who questioned my abilities because I am "a woman and a Russian". This latest memory should put me off interviews for life but it’s not the case. It’s just that when I think “interviews”, I reach for a memory drawer with all the positive experiences I’ve had.
The opposite is true for Tom. Despite having succeeded in getting into a top university, being offered a prestigious internship and getting a top notch job, thanks to his credentials and communication skills, he never reaches for a happy memory drawer, when thinking about interviews. Subconsciously, he pulls out a dreadful memory, and it takes over his mind.
It’s not just Tom. His girlfriend Sarah does not like flying. It’s not that she has a phobia, but for her it’s always an uncomfortable experience. The moment she is at the airport, she can think of nothing but disasters and would chat about the missing Malaysian plane all the way on board of Heathrow Express. Sarah’s sister frequently has to give presentations at work, but it is something she absolutely dreads. She thinks she just does not have the confidence, and there is no memory she can recall to boost herself because every single public speaking experience is a failure in her mind.
I suspect that we all have a closet we automatically refer to as disastrous. The thing is, it’s not about confidence or any other inherent qualities. It’s about our memory drawers and how we use them.
If Tom takes over his propensity to recall negative interview experience and instead picks a memory of a successful interview, when he was at ease and performed brilliantly, he might think that interviews aren’t that terrible after all. If Sarah thinks of a peaceful flight journey she took and imagines herself sitting on an airplane admiring the beautiful clouds outside, anticipating a holiday on the Mediterranean, she’ll feel much more relaxed. Sarah’s sister can simply visualise herself effortlessly skiing down the black run at Courchevel (for she is a fantastic skier), and this memory will give her a confidence boost she can apply ahead of her next presentation.
Be mindful which memory drawer you are reaching for. To put it differently, edit your memories to bring up positive experiences and let them guide you forward. Otherwise, you won’t see the wood for the trees.