Even the strongest of individuals can suffer from terrible phases of crippling self-doubt. However, it is in these moments that lie the opportunities for extraordinary progress.
[one_whole boxed=”true” centered_text=”true”] “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” -Shakespeare [/one_whole]
In most cases self-doubt occurs when you lose faith in yourself. Whether it be failures from the past keep haunting you or poor decisions making you feel inadequate. Understand that you have the ability to change and improve yourself, but you will have to pay the price in blood, sweat and tears because confidence without anything to support it is pure delusion.
Sure, it may give you a mental boost in short-term scenarios, but it’s fickle and unreliable. Genuine confidence is the result of mastery over yourself through discipline, meditation and continual exposure to that which you fear the most.
So what’s the first step in conquering your own self-doubt?
1. Start Meditating to Silence Negative Thoughts
Meditation is a state of mental clarity devoid of inner chatter, your bridge to self-mastery. Anxious individuals are usually the result of a negative upbringing wherein a lack of self-confidence has developed, potentially scarring them for future personal development. The emotions of shame, insecurity and self-doubt are indicators of a mind cluttered with virus-like thoughts. The path to peace of mind is simple – it’s all about letting go.
A scientific study conducted by a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found that meditation produces changes in the brain’s gray matter (nerve tissues that serve to process information) after eight weeks. Sara Lazar, Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology and member of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program states that:
[one_whole boxed=”true” centered_text=”true”] “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day.” [/one_whole]
Not only does the study show that meditation is useful for developing an overall state of well-being, but also how the act of meditation literally changes the way your brain functions.
For the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, 16 participants spent 27 minutes each day practicing various mindfulness exercises which included “focusing on audio recordings for guided meditation, non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and states of mind.” MRI images of their brain were taken two weeks prior to the study and again directly after.
The results found “increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.” In laymen terms, meditation improves the brain’s ability to process positive emotions and reduce negative ones due to the “decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.” These structural changes help to curb your mind’s addiction to negative and self-deprecating thoughts while encouraging an influx of positive vibrations.
Nevertheless, the hardest part is actually beginning to meditate. It requires time, patience and most importantly, consistency. Hence why next up, I will provide you a rudimentary knowledge of how to meditate.
How to Begin Meditating
All it takes to meditate is some time off and a place to sit or lie down. Do not bog yourself down with all the different types of poses and techniques associated with meditation as they can become confusing to implement, especially for a beginner. All you need to do right now is simply relax and focus.
If you are sitting, keep your back straight and choose a fixed point in front of you to stare at with your eyes closed or semi-open. Now, bring your attention to the rhythmic breathing of your stomach, nose, or throat while calmly observing the myriad of thoughts forming in your head. It will be overwhelming at first because you will generally come to understand just how fast your inner “monkey brain” is chattering, however, the rate of your thoughts will become slower as you progress. You will reach a point in your meditation session known as mindfulness, a condition where you’re not actively thinking and instead are completely immersed in the present. This is the resting state of the brain and is known to facilitate mind coordination, mental congruity, feelings of relaxation, and alertness.
The frame of mind derived from mindfulness meditation also allows for a completely grounded state of being – one in which you will feel total control. Dan Harris, correspondent for ABC News, has been quoted to say, “The whole game is just to notice when your mind is wandering and to come back to your breath, over and over and over … and when you do that, it is a bicep curl for your brain.”
Whenever your attention starts to drift, gently guide it back to the feeling of your breath. Do not fight your thoughts or get angry at not being able to quiet them, since this will only lead to more frustration and the likelihood of feeling discouraged in continuing the practice. Be consistent, and over time you will successfully be able to maintain a healthy state of mental calmness and self-confidence in even the most uncomfortable situations.
Meditation requires tons of self-discipline. In fact, self-discipline is one of the cornerstones in developing a strong sense of self-confidence. Once you begin meditating, you will notice how you are less distracted and more focused when embarking on any project – be it work-related or recreational. This intense state of mind is commonly referred to as the ‘flow’, and it will help you master the efforts you put into any facet of life which results in a strong feeling of self-trust.
2. Practice Self-Discipline to Develop Self-Confidence
[one_whole boxed=”true” centered_text=”true”]“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle [/one_whole]
Self-doubt is the by-product of a lack of trust in yourself. You set unrealistic goals and expectations for yourself, and when you fail to reach them, your ego comes crashing down to earth. Consequently, you begin to doubt your ability to complete even the simplest of tasks without making foolish blunders.
On the other hand, self-confidence is the by-product of self-discipline. Dr. Ivan Joseph, in his TEDx talk (provided below) on the skill of self-confidence, states that self-confidence is “the ability to believe in yourself, to accomplish any task no matter the odds, no matter the difficulty, no matter the adversity.” Keep in mind that this isn’t based on blind faith, rather Dr. Joseph states that in order to be confident in your abilities you must constantly be practicing your craft. Self-discipline is having the hindsight to see what habits haven’t worked for you, and the foresight to understand what habits will, along with the persistence to follow through on them.
The act of cultivating small habits to bring forth long-term changes requires self-discipline. In The Slight Edge, author Jeff Olson showcases how practicing simple disciplines everyday compound over time into massive success and happiness. Based on your daily habits and actions, you are either on a success curve or a failure curve – there is no in-between. He states that “people on the success curve live a life of responsibility,” whether it be “full responsibility over who they are, where they are, and everything that happens to them.”
Put simply, you have no excuses. Happiness is self-derived, and the actions you take every day to better yourself will bring you the confidence you need to succeed and banish self-doubt.
According to Jeff, this means you must discipline your mind and “take care with what you think. For what you think, multiplied by action plus time, will create what you get.” Doubting yourself accomplishes nothing productive, but it does generate more anxiety. In order to destroy self-doubt, train your mind to become more self-compassionate; focus more on the positive aspects of your daily interactions while still being able to objectively analyze where you fall short. For more information on the science of habits and their relationship with success, please refer to this NTW article.
When you develop self-discipline, the inner voices that used to bring you down will be vanquished; the courage to engage in the activities you previously found frightening will manifest instead.
3. Face Your Fears by Exposing Yourself
The emotional processing theory states that “fear is captured in our memory through a network of stimuli (e.g., social gathering), response (e.g., sweaty palms), and meaning (e.g., “I’m not good at socialising, I’m a failure”) components.” Your resulting perception of an uncomfortable experience sets the tone for how you will perceive similar situations in the future. If you go to a social event, and rarely interact with anyone, you’re going to feel alienated and left out. Furthermore, you will falsely attribute these unpleasant feelings to your own identity which will only serve to enforce your unhealthy paradigm of being a “loser, nobody, and an unconfident person who lacks social and professional acumen.” The only reality is your reality, so it’s highly possibly that you are the only one to perceive yourself in such a detrimental light; your subconscious mind will pick up on this and continue to filter your reality through such a negative lens.
In viewing the ways individuals with anxiety disorders deal with their contextual fears, famous behavioral psychologist, Albert Bandura, made claims that you have the ability to control your reactions to those fears. In his self-efficacy theory, he refers to “an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.”
Self-efficacy is having the confidence and belief in your ability to improve yourself for the better in all realms of life. Individuals who practice self-efficacy “focus more on increasing skills and mastery over a situation or performance than on reducing a fear response directly.” Rather than hiding and avoiding uncomfortable situations, you should face them head on.
With repeated exposure, you will “experience reduced sensations of fear (habituation), learn a new set of associations (extinction), feel increasingly able to cope with fear (self-efficacy), and generate new interpretations of the meanings of previously feared stimuli (emotional processing).” Continual exposure to that which makes you extremely uncomfortable will slowly become less uncomfortable simply due to the fact that you have desensitized yourself to the stimulus, which results into less self-doubt.