If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile then you’ve heard me say it before: Affirmations, just like diets, typically only work when you don’t really need them, and the path to self-confidence is the only real long term solution. By this I mean if you can actually diet successfully: Eat a lower number of calories than you have been eating consistently enough to lose weight and then maintain that weight loss with no continuous effort to restrict (otherwise you’re a chronic dieter and haven’t really accomplished your goal), you actually don’t need to diet in the first place because being able to do that means you’re a natural eater (which is what you’re here to learn how to be, I suspect).
If diets worked for you (as outlined above), and you did have extra weight on your body that you needed to lose, it would only be because you’d had some accident or some change to your routine that made it so you couldn’t move your body as much as you usually do in response to the calories you ingest. In this case, a little mindfulness around choices and quantities and you’re back to normal. Everyone else that does not fit that category uses food to cope in some way or is trying to achieve some sense of confidence through external gratification (i.e. the approval of others regarding your physical form).
Now don’t get me wrong. Sincere, positive feedback about any aspect of ourselves typically feels good. But if we don’t have a solid sense of ourselves and cannot validate our own strengths, external feedback will fall short of its mark as we really won’t be able to receive it and trust it, since we don’t really believe that about ourselves.
So clearly we have to really be able to trust our own worth and our own perception of our strengths in order to truly trust and receive the positive reinforcement and the love that others are offering us. Once we are able to do this, we create a fabulous feedback loop where we feel confident that we have certain strengths, we receive positive feedback that echoes our own beliefs about ourselves which naturally strengthens those beliefs even more.
This is how solid self-esteem is built – not in a vacuum; not entirely by our own positive regard but by the interplay between our own estimation of our abilities and worth and its mirroring through the sentiments of others towards us. We are interdependent beings after all; pack animals. To seek to be completely free of the need of the love and validation of others is a pointless, not to mention lonely, pursuit. But for true strength and contentment in life, we can’t be solely dependent on the feedback and validation of others for our sense of confidence either.
Finding and existing independently in that sweet spot between being completely independent (which is actually impossible in our current society) and completely dependent (which is increasingly less than desirable once you’re over the age of 3 or so) is the task of our lives.
In this sweet spot, also known as “interdependence,” you are you, clear on your core values and principles and committed to standing by them regardless of any pressure or guilt trips to the contrary. You recognize your strengths and you’re open to learning and growing in all ways. You have the confidence in your right to your own opinions and perspectives, and as such, you can simultaneously entertain the opinions and ideas of others and even validate them (i.e. see how they would be valid/true for the other person based on their life experience and their perspective) without feeling at all pressed or obligated to take them on or agree to them yourself. (This is what generates true empathy and compassion for others and is a very important and powerful piece of all healthy relationships.)
And at the same time, if what gets shared with you about their knowledge or perspective on a certain subject makes more sense to you or fills in some spaces in your knowledge than what you had previously understood, you are free to add that new knowledge to your own without shame, without labeling yourself or buying into anyone else’s labelling of you as “wrong.” You didn’t know, now you do. No big deal, lesson learned, onto the next one. Yay for learning. It means you’re alive and actually making meaning with your life!
But how do we get to that place of true self-confidence if affirmations and diets aren’t the key? If the solution isn’t to tell ourselves stories of our greatness, perfection, or lovability until we darned well believe them or to restrict our way to the perfect bod and therefore the inner peace and external security and control we seek, what the heck is? Well, since you asked….
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to your new BFF (that’s “best friend forever” for anyone over 13 or without young children!). Your new BFF is the ever-present, non-judgemental, consistent, reliable, honest, trustworthy, and very peace-inducing thing we call, REALITY.
What’s that you say? “I’ve met reality. It’s nothin’ special. I already know what reality is from bunk. That’s not going to help me!”
Well, actually…Embracing your new BFF makes all the difference to whether you live a happy, peaceful, passionate, purposeful life or a fearful, unbalanced, coping strategy-dependent one. If you’re here you’re already living (or have been living) the latter. But if you’re here, you’re clearly making a statement that you are ready to step into that happy, peaceful, passionate place if you could only figure out how. So how?
In order to truly embrace your new BFF, you have to first be open to the possibility – just the possibility – that perhaps your perspective on others, on life, and on yourself isn’t entirely accurate. I’m not saying it is “wrong.” I’m simply saying that perhaps you’re missing some key details about others, about the world, and about you that are leaving you with a skewed perspective of yourself and your rights in relationships and your place in the world.
Can I get your agreement that that is at least a possibility? If so, read on.
If not, I wouldn’t bother reading more if I were you. You’ve got better things to do like stress about what’s wrong with you, or how so and so is probably judging you for what you said last night, and how you’d better not eat that piece of chocolate cake or your day will be ruined. But, on second thought, if you want to go get your cake and bring it back here so you can finish reading, you may as well, that way you at least get to read about what the other folks might be doing this week for homework and at least you’re in the loop for next week.
Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Now, if you’re even the slightest bit open to the possibility that, at least in some areas of your life, your perception is skewed or that you are, perhaps, missing a few pieces of information, the next natural question is: “How do I find out if this is true so I can finally start really trusting my perception of things and feel more confident speaking up for myself, feel more confident in my own decisions and my life overall?”
First off, write down the first 5 stories about yourself that come to mind:
- I’m fat.
- I’m stupid.
- I’m selfish.
- I’m controlling.
- I’m incompetent.
Now ask yourself, for each one of those stories, what is the most recent event/situation where you felt triggered enough to think that thought or to feel the insecurity, shame and humiliation, associated with it?
Who was it with? What were you doing? What actually happened (i.e. what would anyone witnessing agree happened vs. what you interpreted or assumed the other person was thinking or was going to do)?
Now, with this last question, if you’re new to this concept, you will notice the almost urgent need to ignore the stuff in parentheses and just write down what you know was happening – i.e. what you really believe that person/those people thought or said or did, even if you know that others would have a slightly (or largely) different interpretation. Just allow yourself to notice the need to validate your story, to feel the safety and control of being “right” even if in this case, being right means being right about you being fat or stupid or incompetent. Your willingness to acknowledge that, to see that tendency in yourself, is a fundamental piece of the puzzle that once completed, leads to that happy, peaceful, passionate place I keep talking about. So, don’t get down on yourself or get caught up in what next? Celebrate!!!!
Or….You might want a little more cake about now. We typically reach for our coping strategies when we feel anxious or unsettled which is bound to happen when our fundamental beliefs about ourselves are being challenged, regardless of how painful or harmful those beliefs are. That’s just a sign of the ground shifting under our feet, which, if you’re carrying any of those nasty stories listed above or others like them, is exactly what you want: a big shift of foundation and perspective. So, while I do prescribe the “follow your bliss” path of learning, in this case, a little discomfort is a good thing.
Being willing to see the truth of what is there and not be wedded to what we wish were there, or what we fear is there, is the sign of a sane person. The thirst for truth is the sign of a rational mind which is genuinely more interested in seeing and in responding to the reality of the situation than in protecting itself from it. Thus in the mind that is committed to seeking truth, there can be no attachment to being right or wrong, just the foundational strength of our respect for our core values and principles which gives us the security and courage to be curious and open to learning.
And by the way, in case you’re wondering, there is no “one” truth that everyone needs to just wrap their heads around or that everyone knows but you. There’s your truth, based on your life experience and your values and principles and your belief systems and there’s my truth and your mother’s truth and your father’s truth and so on, and so on, and so on. Each person’s truth is valid to them based on their current level of experience and knowledge. If your life isn’t working for you now in some way then it’s a fact that your current “truth” is out of alignment with reality. It is because of this that embracing your new BFF is fundamental.
True self-confidence relies on you being able to truly understand and accept that each person (including you) has their own truth; their own perspective on the world based on their current level of knowledge and life experience. Naturally then, each person will see the world and respond to it a bit (or a lot) differently from you. That doesn’t make any of you right and the other wrong or vice versa. It just means that you have different perceptions based on your life experience. It’s actually an opportunity to learn and grow and expand your consciousness and intellect when you see that there truly are many ways to think of, look at, and engage in a certain act.
Just as there are many “right” ways to load a dishwasher and we each have our favourite space for the plates and the cups, there are truly many ways to do pretty much anything that will ultimately achieve the goal. I know, I know, your way is better. But doesn’t the other way work, too, even if it is perhaps less efficient or just plain weird? If the end goal is the completed task and you don’t have to do it, does it matter how it gets done?
Or think about science. The world was thought to be flat at one point, right? The sun revolved around the earth too, back in the day. Neanderthals were stupid hominids that couldn’t cope with the harsh realities of life and so, died out, while we intelligent humans lived on, right? Um no, actually, we all have Neanderthal blood (in case you haven’t heard) and, in fact, some of our most distinctly “human” traits come not from our scrawny, hairless ancestors but from those thick-headed lugs.
Now what would my life be like now, what would it say about me, if, in the face of the absolute evidence to the contrary, I insisted on holding on to my belief that the sun revolved around the earth or in the lesser nature of Neanderthal people? Well, actually, that would be exactly the same as what you’re likely doing now in many areas of your life.
Evidence exists that could educate and free you from the story that you’re not good enough, that you’re stupid or bad or wrong or unlovable. The proof exists right now that you are not flawed and broken and doomed to feel bad about yourself or to struggle with food or to hate your body forever.
So what do you say? Are you open to the possibility that the world is round? What about the possibility that you’re actually a very cool person with a lot to offer who just keeps putting far more weight on what others think – or worse, what you think they think – than on what you feel and believe and on your right to honour yourself first and foremost?
The little exercise above is a great way to quickly reveal to yourself how open you are to seeing the truth vs. how wedded you are to being right regardless of the costs.
I encourage you to think about this this week and to become borderline obsessed for this week with noticing when you’re feeling at all anxious or insecure (shy, withdrawn, flushed, wanting to eat and not hungry…) and just ask yourself: What am I telling myself happened? And what would anyone else say happened? And could I let go of my story and just be open to the possibility that my interpretation is a little skewed? What would that mean to my feelings and actions in this moment?
See how that goes. Next week we’re going to dive a little deeper and talk more about perceptions and truths and relationships and how to step more into that space of true self-confidence and self-trust.