Setbacks and failures are a part of life. And yet, there’s a voice in our heads that reserves its most negative commentary for ourselves. Professor Paul Gilbert says that being our own staunch supporter and kindly voice provides us with the space to analyze our actions without judgment, hold ourselves in acceptance and thus develop the courage to go out and do the right thing. If you find it hard to be there for yourself, imagine what you would say to a friend who messed up. (note from Jim: Or, even better, imagine what words you would say to your young child who was upset about a mistake or disappointment). Now, can you offer yourself the same understanding?
Although it’s important to listen to our thoughts, it’s equally important to know how to let them go. The human mind can be a personal tormentor. Replaying negative thoughts over and over in our minds pulls us down into a pit of pessimism that distorts reality. And given human nature and the social worlds we live in, most of these thoughts judge ourselves against someone else. Allowing the achievements and appearances of others to determine our confidence is the most self-sabotaging of behaviors. If you find yourself constantly measuring yourself against “perfect” others, bring an end to the torture through thought distraction techniques such as going out for a jog or listening to your favorite music.
Note from Jim: A valuable exercise is meditation that focuses your attention on your breathing in and out, or on a musical note or a fixed object like a candle. Then notice the thoughts that arise in your mind without judging them or evaluating them, and then return your focus to the ongoing breath (sound or object). Repeating this shift in your thinking from where random thoughts take it to where you want it to go strengthens your ability to dwell on what’s valuable for you, and dismiss the extraneous, often negative thoughts that are constantly arising.
Practice Gratitude: Notice 3 Good Things
We have an insatiable limbic system that constantly yearns for more. In a world of unlimited choices and an unrealistic desire for perfection, it can always find reasons to be unhappy. Shining the torch of awareness on our negative is a sure way of feeding unhappiness. Practice gratitude instead, by building a list of all that is worthy in you, and you’ll not only calm the limbic system, but also remember your qualities when you feel you don’t have any. Here’s one to try, based on the famous “3 Good Things” exercise studied by happiness researchers: Simply notice and appreciate 3 good things about yourself every day.
Obstacles and setbacks feel bad enough when they happen. But when we believe there’s nothing we can do to change the situation, we feel hopeless. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck encourages a “growth mindset” that reminds us of the neuroplasticity of the brain and its amazing capacity to learn and grow by forming new connections. Whenever you feel dejected by a roadblock, remind yourself of the power of “yet”—you may not have mastered the skill “yet” but it is in your power to do so!
Although confidence has to come from within—from internal beliefs that we are able and worthy—our neural architecture places us within a narrative that contains the other people in our lives. Being around supportive friends and family who genuinely wish the best for us and cheer us along the way gives rise to real confidence and a beaming attitude. Have you identified
Man’s search for meaning evolved as a response to the realization of the uncertainty of life. Dr. Roy Baumeister says that having a meaningful purpose that’s aligned to our strengths and values builds our confidence and protects us from the chaos of emotions. Setbacks, other people’s comments, and difficult situations all take a backseat when your goal lights up your life with a spark that burns with passion. Positive emotions pick us up where low confidence abandons us and encourage us to take purposeful action instead of wallowing in our misery. And savoring these moments of growth allows them to seep down into our long-term memory to form a positive lens through which we view ourselves. There’s no better way to build stable and lasting confidence.