Last updated March, 2016.
Here is this weeks installment of "Question and Answer Tuesdays!"
"I have always had issues with self-confidence. I can't stop myself from thinking I'm going to fail at what I'm doing (presentations, work, relationships) - no matter how hard I try, the negative thoughts always creep in. In the past, it has sometimes become paralyzing and actually hindered my ability to do anything at all. So, I end up failing as a result of my self-confidence issues! I am wondering if meditation can help me with that, and how? You also talk a lot about being in the 'present moment' - can that help with being more confident and if so, how?"
Your mind is the foundation for your struggles, including problems with self-confidence. It all starts with thought and how you respond to thought!
In last weeks Q&A, we used the analogy of treating the symptoms instead of the disease (or, as I prefer, the "root cause"). In the case of self-doubt, we try many things to treat the symptoms:
But none of these things address the root cause (your mind), and any results you achieve will be temporary at best. Don't get me wrong - you should strive to expose and surround yourself with positive rather than negative influences. All other things equal, that's the more skillful path. But it won't solve the problems created by your mind.
To deal with confidence issues, you need to cultivate awareness of that "voice in your head" and what it's telling you. You need to understand your compulsive mind and non-stop mental noise. This is exactly what a consistent meditation practice will help you do.
Meditating helps you develop the skill of observing thoughts (and all your mind-made activity) as they arise. When you notice them, you have two choices:
If you make the first choice, you are identifying with your thoughts. You either believe - or are battling - what your mind is telling you. Those thoughts give rise to emotions which then give rise to more thoughts and emotions. They bury you in a landslide of mind-made activity that influences your decisions and actions, and affects your mood and quality of life.
If you make the second choice, you see the thoughts as temporary - they come and go. You realize you don't have to follow them (or get caught up in them). Your mind tries to convince you that thoughts, emotions, and urges are critical - they'll never go away, and in many cases is a matter of "life or death."
But, you no longer have to take the bait.
It's as simple as saying:
"There's that thought again - I see it, and I'm letting it be as it is (letting it pass, the same as it came)."
It's simple, but it's not easy because you have to practice. You have to put in the time and effort to change the conditioning that has led you to this point.
A consistent meditation practice (free guide here) helps you cultivate a stronger, more secure confidence that you can't get by any other means. It does this by showing you how to shed the delusions of your mind, and how to distance yourself from the mental drama you've been subjected to your entire life.
The second part of your question asks about living in the present moment. If your attention is focused on the task at hand - what is happening right here and now - you will perform better at anything you do (washing the dishes, talking with a friend, presenting to an audience, et cetera). If you don't allow your mind to distract you by pulling your attention into the past or projecting it into the future, you are fully dedicated to the present moment and it will be reflected in your efforts and results.
Meditation and mindfulness (staying grounded in the present moment) also help you cultivate acceptance of what happens. For instance, if you stumble over a line while making a speech, you learn to accept it and move past it. It has already happened, you can't change it, and you don't get caught up in the mental dialogue telling you that you "screwed up," and that you're doing a bad job.
So often our minds take small stumbles and turn them into HUGE disasters. Being mindful, not following your thoughts and emotions, and returning to right here and now interrupts that destructive process!
Address the root cause of your suffering.
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