You’re more similar to others than not, and the differences are largely illusory, socially constructed or not an impediment to success. Even a dog can look past contrived status differences to see our shared humanity and potential. In turn, we see every dog in the park as a dog first, with other qualities (like breed or sex) being less important. If we take a human-first view too, we’ll be looking at the large overlapping centre of the Venn diagram between ourselves and anybody else who might be in the room, where we can see that we are not inherently anybody’s lesser.
Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Luke Chao.
Luke Chao founded The Morpheus Clinic for Hypnosis in 2006. He holds a Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and Consulting Hypnotist and Certified Instructor certifications with the National Guild of Hypnotists. His approach is client- and solution-focused, brief and humanistic.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I moved around a lot as a kid and ended up living in five different cities by the age of 17, which taught me the unfortunate lesson that I had to depend on myself for stability. I found refuge in books, and often found inspiration in stories about people who’d overcome suffering, such as Gautama Buddha and the mid-20th century psychiatrist/hypnotist Milton H. Erickson. I was known as one of the smart kids in my school, and everybody thought I’d become a doctor or a computer programmer, but my adult life took a very different turn.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I ended up graduating from university with a degree in English literature, which famously has few career opportunities afterward. I took a certification course in hypnotherapy out of pure interest and sat on it for a couple of years, while working odd jobs, including a gig that had me ghostwriting self-help books at the age of 21.
In 2006, a friend mentioned a vipassana meditation retreat outside of my city. It was ten days of silence and, being rather aimless at the time, I agreed to join him. This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, because in the weeks after returning, I was essentially fearless and could finally make decisions based on my own inner guidance. During this time, I rented my first office and started my career as a hypnotherapist.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early in my career, a reporter and a photographer from the Toronto Star came to my office to interview me for an odd jobs column. I was very open about my work, in my usual style, and somewhere in there I described myself as “crawling into clients brains” to understand their experiences. I was imagining something like a pillow fort when I spoke the words, but the phrase is more evocative of a brain parasite. They ended up using that phrase as the headline for the story, and the article still exists on the Internet today.
The lesson I learned wasn’t that I should distrust reporters, nor that I should become more guarded when speaking. Instead, the lesson is that I shouldn’t take publicity too seriously, because it doesn’t seem to make or break a career.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’ve entered a phase in my career where I have enough clients and not enough time, so I’ve been doing more work that reaches multiple people at the same time. Perhaps my most exciting project in recent months is that I’ve set up a venue that’s purpose-designed for group hypnosis. It’s a 20-seat space that’s like a cross between a meditation centre and a theatre, with reinforced sound and very comfortable seating. From what I can tell, there’s no other space like this in the world.
Normally, it takes me an entire week to serve 20 clients, but this space allows me to serve 20 clients at the same time — resulting in easier accessibility and a much lower cost for each participant. The only downside is that, because it’s the only one of its kind, I’m now tackling the marketing challenge of educating people about why shared hypnosis sessions are not significantly worse than private sessions, at least for common issues.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?
My decision at the age of 23 to enter the hypnotherapy profession estranged me from my parents. Every time I spoke with them, they insinuated that I would fail and that I would have to join a “real” profession eventually. So I stopped speaking to them for several years, and I had to rely on myself, emotionally and financially.
At the time, I described it as “throwing myself off a cliff and learning how to fly before hitting the ground.” Believing in myself was a daily necessity, not an option or a distant ideal. Other people in my city were succeeding as hypnotherapists, I reasoned, so there wasn’t any reason that I couldn’t do the same.
It turns out that I was right. I was making a full-time living from hypnotherapy in five months, I hired my first employee after a couple of years, and I’m still in practice 16 years later. I won’t pretend that my journey was easy or comfortable: it was neither. But my plan worked. If I had cared about what my parents thought of my profession rather than what I thought of it, I never would have made it this far.
What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?
In my view, believing in yourself doesn’t mean believing in a fantasy version of yourself: it means believing that your actual strengths, talents and capabilities are real. If you don’t currently have much artistic or athletic talent, you might have to believe that you have the capacity to learn how to paint or play a sport so that, years later, you will be able to believe that you have talent.
Many of us want to achieve overnight success, but this almost always causes disappointment and ends up being self-defeating. Instead, it’s more fruitful to believe that you are capable of staying in the race until you cross the finish line.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
There was a period in my 20s when the effects of childhood trauma finally caught up with me, and I experienced what I’m going to term a nervous breakdown. At that time, my practice had reached a point where I had enough staff to ensure that it would be profitable and self-sustaining even when I was not physically present.
So I took a sabbatical. Instead of seeing clients, I was “managing my practice from home” — which was great for developing my staff members’ professional skills and careers, but not my own. I rationalized this as the responsible thing to do, because I didn’t want to abandon clients because of my own personal problems.
In retrospect, I was severely underestimating myself. It’s true that many people who have PTSD have difficulty working, but it’s also true that in my case, I was being overly cautious and perhaps enjoying the fact that I didn’t have to do client-facing work to make a living (albeit a meagre one).
Once I set aside my video game controller and started to see clients again, my life became much more fulfilling, and I was able to continue my path toward mastery of my profession. Along the way, I’ve realized that my work is analogous to being a sherpa: if I’ve survived the mountain many times, it only makes me worthier of hiring, not less.
At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?
There have been several points in my career when it was necessary to believe that my future self would be able to handle bigger responsibilities. I’ll share the most recent one.
For the first 16 years of my career, I worked out of a cozy but affordable 400 sq. ft. office suite in downtown Toronto. Last year, a much larger, 1800 sq. ft. space became available for rent half a block away. This meant a quintupling of my rent, which was a terrifying prospect — especially since Covid has not yet left anybody’s mind and a recession always seems to be around the corner. While doing my due diligence, I heard a rumour that my original building was going to be sold to a developer and torn down for a condominium, so that motivated me to take action (the rumour turned out to be only half-true).
The only way that I could justify the expense is if I was able to turn the larger space into extra revenue, but that means that I would have to bear the cost of renovating and furnishing it too. I made a plan to convert one of the rooms into a unique group hypnosis space, as I described earlier, and braced myself for the possibility that I would have to dip into savings to keep my business afloat. Once again, I had to believe in myself and learn how to fly on the way down.
Six months later, I’m happy to report that my clients appreciate having a much larger space in this post-pandemic world, and that my practice is doing better than ever. The new office is much more recommendable, and having a steady stream of private clients ensures that I have all the time in the world to figure out how to make the shared sessions financially viable. As it usually happens, my worst fears turn out to be wrong, and the reality is much better than my fears would suggest.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
As a hypnotist, I think in terms of attitudes that people should adopt, and instilling these attitudes is my entire strategy. Here are five specific attitudes that I believe will help your readers to believe in themselves:
1. You’re more similar to others than not, and the differences are largely illusory, socially constructed or not an impediment to success. Even a dog can look past contrived status differences to see our shared humanity and potential. In turn, we see every dog in the park as a dog first, with other qualities (like breed or sex) being less important. If we take a human-first view too, we’ll be looking at the large overlapping centre of the Venn diagram between ourselves and anybody else who might be in the room, where we can see that we are not inherently anybody’s lesser.
2. You’ve truly evolved, grown and learned since the childhood or adolescent years when you first formed your self-concept. Unless you’ve updated your view of yourself recently, some of your beliefs are probably outdated, and it’s worth updating your self-concept to match your latest C.V. or what your closest loved ones think of you today. To give an example, I once helped an executive to fully accept that he has achieved the top position in his company, and that he isn’t actually the overgrown adolescent he felt himself to be when he’s presenting to his team.
3. Everybody who believes in you has a clear-eyed view of you and is not being foolish. For example, friends you’ve made in recent times and colleagues who respect you at work have a view of you that’s mostly up-to-date, and it’s worth adopting their perspectives as the current reality. If they like you, and nobody thinks you’re incompetent or an imposter, they’re perceiving reality correctly — you have not deceived them.
4. Our idols and competitors are human, not superhuman, and their greatest feats of creativity or productivity are entirely human feats. They do not have more than 24 hours in a day, and they need to sleep, too: they are not a machine or a different species. Every celebrity, business leader and politician was once an awkward teenager. We only have to think of Elon Musk to imagine somebody who is both extremely productive and imperfect in the way that human beings are.
5. If you believe in yourself, you will guarantee that somebody will always believe in you, validate you and accept you. I believe that it’s essential for all leaders to follow their inner guidance rather than to seek validation outwardly, because otherwise you will become subjugated to those you need validation from. I learned this the hard way as a young adult, as I have shared.
Here’s my video explainer for the five attitudes above: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0bT6Ou_REA
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
It’s important to recognize that your inner critic is not a truth-teller, nor your conscience, but a devil’s advocate that feeds you a stream of lies. It would be good source material for villainous dialogue in a screenplay, but you cannot believe it implicitly. If you won’t take book recommendations from somebody who hates reading, or restaurant reviews from somebody who hates fine dining, why would you take life advice from your inner critic?
Thoughts that are approving and appreciative provide much better guidance for how to stay on a good path. This isn’t only true for the words you would speak to a friend or a child. It’s also true for the thoughts that are worth keeping in your own mind.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
Sometimes, a client asks me to help them develop a “delusional” confidence. To me, this isn’t confidence. Confident people are more likely to have their feet firmly planted on the ground than to be delusional. If your version of self-confidence feels like you’re lying to yourself, and you have any integrity at all, it will be easily deflated and won’t last. But if your self-confidence is based on clear-cut truths, like actual credentials or client feedback, your confidence will feel like you have the full weight of the universe itself backing you up.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
Do not compare your private struggles with anybody else’s public image. Nobody actually looks the way their Instagram feed makes them appear, and nobody’s career is as perfect as their C.V. might suggest. At the same time, each person knows the gritty details of their private life, and we can all remember our most embarrassing mistakes.
If you’re going to compare yourself with anybody at all (which I do not recommend), you should only make apples-to-apples comparisons. For example, you might compare what you look like with bedhead and what your favourite actor looks like with (actual, unstylized) bedhead. Alternatively, you might compare your heavily filtered photos with somebody else’s heavily filtered photos. In these comparisons, you’ll hold up just fine.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I believe that self-assurance shouldn’t only be the domain of the lucky few who’ve had an excellent childhood. It should be democratized for everybody. The fact that I’m a hypnotherapist is almost a distraction from the main purpose of my life’s work: To identify what a healthy worldview looks like, and to instill this worldview in as many people as possible. So if I were to start a movement, it would be to normalize self-confidence, self-love and self-acceptance for anybody who would listen. It’s actually the reason I do interviews like this one.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I’d love to pick Elon Musk’s brain and find out about what he thinks of my own project to drag humanity into the 21st century. If I asked him to suggest areas for improvement, I’m certain that he would be able to look into my blind spots and identify a few things I’ve missed.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Your readers can reach me through my company, The Morpheus Clinic for Hypnosis, or follow our YouTube channel @MorpheusHypnosis to hear more thoughts along the lines of what I’ve shared here. We have other social media profiles too, but the YouTube channel contains our most substantial content, including free hypnosis sessions.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.