Last updated August, 2016.
A reader, Dawn, asks the following question:
"I constantly have thoughts of inadequacy. What is the best way to deal with them?"
Aristotle once said:
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
This quote is relevant to Dawn's question. But, I would change it a bit:
"It is the mark of a liberated (or enlightened) person to entertain a thought without identifying with it."
Consider some of your recent thoughts on inadequacy - for simplicity, here are a few we all have at one time or another:
These could be in regard to a relationship, a task, a job, et cetera. What makes them so powerful?
They are powerful because we identify with them. We believe "this is who I am":
We indulge these thoughts, and build stories around them. These stories take the form of an inner narrative that constantly plays in our heads, perpetuating even more thoughts and emotions - all around the belief "this is who I am."
It becomes a vicious cycle that can bury us in a landslide of mental noise - in this case, about how inadequate we are!
Refer back to our examples above. Maybe you try to resist these thoughts. You try to convince yourself that you are good enough, you aren't a failure, you are deserving. Or, maybe you try to silence them through sheer willpower:
Or, maybe you accept these thoughts as true, and end up wallowing in self-doubt. As the days go by, they become ingrained and cause you to develop (and reinforce) a negative self-image, which only serves to sabotage your happiness and well-being.
Regardless, you are still identifying with thoughts. Whether you believe them to be true or false, identifying leads to self-imposed suffering. It conditions your behavior, and leads to habitual actions and reactions.
There is a better way to deal with thoughts, however. It's to recognize they are simply thoughts, and to understand they hold power over you because you view them as fixed, permanent, and personal. This is a view you can change.
You can learn to observe thoughts without getting caught up in them. You can see them for what they truly are: temporary phenomena that come and go (arise and pass). When you understand this through direct experience, you stop identifying with thoughts, and you stop clinging to what you label "pleasant" and pushing away what you label "unpleasant."
When that happens, you can say to yourself "There are those thoughts again. I'm watching them come (arise), and I won't indulge them. I choose to move my attention away from them, and let them be as they are until they go (pass)."
Is it really that simple? Yes, it is. This is the basis for mindfulness and meditation. It does take practice, however.
And, that's the problem for most people. Practice takes time and effort. And time and effort is, well, time and effort.
We procrastinate. We forget. We prioritize other things ahead of it. We get comfortable in our suffering, and decide to accept the status quo.
There's no "magic pill" to get you to take action. You simply have to make the decision to do it, and start.
The good news is, the end result is worth it. In fact, it's one of the most important things you can do for your quality of life (happiness, peace, and contentment).
So, decide now. Get started. Go do it!
Your thoughts are as transient as the clouds in the sky - learn to watch them float by. You don't have to attach to them. You don't have to build a story around them. You don't have to identify with them.
You don't have to follow your mind wherever it leads.
If there is any "secret" to life, this is it! But, most people won't accept it - it's too simple. And, if they do, they won't stick with it - they won't practice.
Don't be like most people!
As a side note, thoughts of "superiority" are the other side of the coin:
Identifying with them ("this is who I am") leads to conditioned behavior, and habitual actions and reactions. And, as we see time and again, thoughts of superiority can cause actions that are detrimental to yourself and others.