[Yet another post from Happify Daily, an extraordinary resource on the science of happiness. I’ll be teaching the exercise I’ve included below in finding your Compassionate Voice at the venues I’ve included below. May these tools be useful to you and yours.]
We’ve all had confidence-eroding events in our lives. Not getting the job we wanted, overhearing a snide remark, or getting negative feedback can all create a momentary dip in the way we feel about ourselves. If we’re not careful, these transient negative states can linger on and sap us of the energy we need to take actions that lead to competence and confidence.
Our minds work in wonderful feedback loops that can build us up or bring us down. Renowned psychologist Albert Bandura said that our beliefs about ourselves shape us and lead to how we think, behave and feel. Our self-concept becomes the secret driver of our lives. The more stable and positive this self-concept, the less likely we are to yo-yo with every setback-and the more confident we’ll feel to engage in behaviors that lead to upward spirals of growth, resilience, and confidence.
Our emotions in the moment thus have a profound impact on who we become. Luckily, the science of happiness shows that positive emotions are under our control far more than previously thought. A naturally cheery outlook on life may be inherited, but a positive one can be built through voluntary activities. If you need to boost levels of happiness to overcome a yo-yoing confidence, come join the ride! Here’s how to fight the voice that questions your abilities, overlooks your achievements, and beats you down for your apparent failings.
Be Your Compassionate Voice
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. Now, can you offer yourself the same understanding?
Learn to Turn off Your Thoughts
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.
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.
Remind Yourself of the Power of “Yet”
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!
Lean on your Circle of Support
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 your circle of support?
Identify Your Pet Peeve-and Change It!
Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research shows that around 10% of our happiness is dependent on the conditions in our lives. Sure, it’s a small percentage, but if there’s something about your appearance that gives rise to feelings of shame AND it is in your power to change it, by all means go for it. For example, studies have shown that plastic surgery can lead to lasting increases in our happiness with our appearance. Even if a nose job is not on your to-do list, remember to pamper yourself regularly. It’s amazing how small changes such as a flattering hair color or cut, a well-fitting jacket, or daring lipstick can work wonders for our confidence.
Find a Meaningful Purpose
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.
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach, a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and a Positive Psychology Practitioner, whose work expands the breath of the human experience. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. You can read more about her work at homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@homairakabir).
Linda Graham’s teaching on Finding Your Compassionate Voice and more….
May 29-31 EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA
June 6 Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, CA
June 12 Authentic Leadership in Action, Tacoma, WA
July 3-5 Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY
July 24-25 Institute of Noetic Science conference, Chicago, IL
July 27-31 Cape Cod Institute, Cape Cod, MA]
EXERCISE: SHIFTING MOTIVATION FROM SELF-CRITICISM TO SELF-COMPASSION
[based on the Mindful Self-Compassion training developed by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer]
Finding Your Self-Critical Voice
1. Take out a sheet of paper/journal and pen/pencil. This exercise involves both reflection and writing.
2. Bring to your awareness a behavior that you would like to change – something you often beat yourself up about. Choose a behavior that is unhelpful to you and that is potentially changeable. (Don’t choose a permanent characteristic like “my feet are too big.”) Examples:
I eat too much.
I don’t exercise enough.
I’m really impatient.
Write down this behavior.
3. Write down what you typically say to yourself when you find yourself doing this behavior. How does the self-critical voice express itself? What words does it use? And what tone does it use?
4. Take a moment to notice how it feels when you criticize yourself. Consider how much suffering the voice of self-criticism has caused.
5. Try offering yourself some compassion for how hard it is to hear such harsh language, taking a sympathetic moment for yourself, perhaps by validating the pain, “This is hard. This hurts.”
6. Reflect for a moment on why the criticism has gone on for so long. Is your inner critical voice trying to protect you in some way, to keep you safe from danger, even if the result has been unproductive? Write down your reflections.
7. If you can’t find any way that your critical voice is trying to help you – sometimes the criticism has no redeeming value whatsoever – continue to give yourself compassion for you have suffered from self-criticism in the past.
8. If you did identify some way your critical voice might be trying to keep you safe, see if you can acknowledge its efforts, perhaps even writing down a few words of thanks. Let you inner critic know that even though it may not be serving you very well now, its intention was good, and it was trying its best.
Finding Your Self-Compassionate Voice
9. Now that your self-critical voice has been heard, see if you can make some space for another voice – your compassionate voice. This part of yourself is very wise, and recognizes how this behavior is causing you harm. It also wants you to change, but for very different reasons.
10. Close your eyes. Place your hand over your heart or any other place on your body that is soothing and comforting.
11. Now reflect again on the behavior you’re struggling with.
12. Begin to repeat, silently to yourself, the following phrases that express the essence of your inner compassionate voice:
I love you, and I don’t want you to suffer.
I care deeply about you, and that’s why I’d like you to make a change.
13. Open your eyes and begin to write, freely and spontaneously, using your compassionate voice to address the behavior you would like to change. What emerges from the feel feeling and wish, “I love and don’t want you to suffer”? What words of encouragement and emotional support do you need to hear in order to do your best – to make a change?
14. If you’re struggling to find the words, it might be easier to write down the words that would flow from your heart when speaking to a dear friend who is struggling with the same issues as you.
15. If you found some new words for your compassionate voice, let yourself savor the feeling of being supported. (If you had difficulty finding the compassionate words, that’s okay, too. It takes some time.) The important thing is that we set out intention to try to be kinder to ourselves, and eventually new habits will form.