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Posts tagged ‘self-confidence’

Thoughts are not facts

Before Christmas I met a man at a party. Shortly after we started talking a man came up and was introduced as his boyfriend. I was a little disappointed as I had found him attractive, but that was that. We did swap numbers and stayed in touch a little, then a month ago we were chatting again and he said he had been single for a few months and we met for tea and a chat. I felt we had got on well and was already imagining the possibilities of dating. We were going to meet for dinner but he had to cancel due to being ill. Then he invited me to an event he was running and we arranged to meet early to have dinner. All good, or so I thought.

I arrived, we chatted, then he mentioned that his ex was going to be there that night…..and that they are dating again. Suddenly all of my assumptions about what might be happening fell apart. In an agonising moment it became very clear that my hopes that he might be interested in dating were nothing but my own imaginings. Some of you will have read the emails I wrote on Attachment theory, one of the things that came out from that book was how anxiously attached people tend to build castles in the air, creating an idea of what might be happening before there is any real evidence – telling their friends about the amazing person they have just met and how great the chemistry is, and how they just know they’ve met ‘the one’ they have been waiting for….only to have to tell the same friends a few weeks latter that it has gone nowhere and the other person actually wasn’t even interested! 

 

The scripts we live by

What happened in the seconds after he told me he was dating again was intense. I felt sad, foolish, and felt I could say nothing to him at all. I even wondered for a moment if he had known how I felt and was just brushing it aside by telling me he was dating again and for a moment I felt a quiet rage. In those few seconds as I checked in with myself I could see an habitual pattern at work: the old scripts that say “hold your pain”, “don’t burden someone else with it”, “just stay quiet and don’t make a fuss”. Then I considered if this was really what I wanted – an evening where I would sit without really saying how I felt. At this point he said “Anyway, how are you?” as a way of continuing the conversation. I paused a moment knowing I could either have a general conversation about work and things going on in my life, or be honest about how I felt in that moment. I then said “I feel a bit sad to be honest, I had been hoping this might be a date!”. In my head saying this would lead to the sky falling in, but the sky did not fall down.

He did not crumple under the weight of my disappointment. Instead we had a great conversation where he was able to say he had not seen me as someone to date – he saw me as a friend, and someone he wanted to turn to for advice and support, but with no idea that I might feel any other way. As we continued to speak easily I could let go of my feeling that I had to protect the other from the intensity of my feelings. I remember this feeling as a child, holding back from telling my mother if I was upset, not wanting to burden her with things, feeling I should look after her. I’ve sometimes told her as an adult things I never said as a child and she is always a little sad and bemused why I never told her, as she would have wanted to help or support, but I had made it my rule that I was not to worry her. It was unhealthy then for me as a child, and works no better for me now as an adult! It creates relationships where I seek to look after and protect the other but sacrifice myself for their good, finally becoming resentful of them and leaving, or realising that I am only with them because they have triggered my rescuer mode. 

This experience shows a few things. One, that I have read too much Jane Austin, where romantic desire is conveyed in subtle linguistic clues hidden in seemingly banal conversation! A text saying “I could have talked with you for hours” after our first tea and chat being read as him saying much more than just I enjoyed the conversation! As we talked I was able to say that I am so inexperienced in dating that I do not know how to express my feelings to someone so that they might know that I am interested. As we talked with an ease and openness that my fearful voice had told me would be destroyed by being honest about my feelings it also showed that I do not have be trapped by old scripts. The script that says “do not say what you are feeling, it will be too much for the other to hold”, was replaced by an experience of saying how I felt and having it met by the other in an adult and honest conversation. 

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Mindfulness practice does not make us super human – infallible and all wise. Even after years of practice we still have our basic conditioning and personality. Some people have a personality and set of self -beliefs that serve them well – those who show up as ‘secure’ in attachment theory. Others have a set of self beliefs that incline them towards avoidance or anxious  attachment. People with avoidant attachment styles feel that others will overwhelm them and need to be kept at a distance, so will give mixed messages – opening to connection but then keeping you at a distance.  People with anxious attachment styles tend to worry that they are not good enough and will always be seen though and rejected, and so try to be supper good and amenable to others while having an unspoken addenda  – which can  be felt by the other as being manipulative and needy as desires are not expressed but silently implied and when not met there can be a silent rage at the other for not sensing what one wanted from them! What mindfulness can do is give a foundation of awareness to notice these belief systems at work and to question them.

 

Thoughts are not facts

In the 8 week mindfulness course there’s a saying “thoughts are not facts”. Learning to challenge these automatic ways of thinking and experiencing the world as it is rather than how I think it is offers a chance to make new choices. In this instance I saw the habitual thought process at work: “don’t say anything, don’t make your self look like a fool, don’t burden him with your upset, just hold it without sharing and deal with it alone as you always do”. It took a moment of jumping off the cliff and trusting I could fly to say how I felt, but as soon as the words were out I trusted I could deal with whatever happened – if he had been confused or upset, I could have dealt with that, but instead he was responsive and held it really well and we ended up closer though having an honest conversation about what we both felt and wanted.

Whilst in the monastery I attended a series of rebirthing sessions to address issues around what had been a difficult birth. In the last session at the end of the breathing I was invited to listen in to find a phrase I could remember and use to encourage myself. The words that came were: “when I trust myself, I flow with life”. Twelve years latter I am reminded of this, and of how important it is to trust ourselves rather than living from a place of hesitancy and fear of getting it wrong. I hope as you read this you can reflect on your own life and actions and notice where you lack trust in yourself and how this feels, and what it is like in the moments when you let go of controlling life and trust that you have wings as you step into the unknown.

How changing your posture can change your behaviour

Some years ago I remember seeing a fascinating set of drawings of how chimps change their posture as they become increasingly distressed, sad or emotionally overwhelmed. The postures they adopt look very familiar – arms crossed, body hunched, making themselves small.

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Looking at this similarity it made me think of how at times of stress and powerlessness our bodies go into a posture that has its roots deep in our evolutionary body memory. At the time I also saw this cartoon, which says so much about the importance of posture

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It was a few years latter that I saw Amy Cuddy’s video on the importance of posture to our sense of well being. On seeing this it opened a new dimension on the importance of being present to one’s posture and its impact on our sense of self worth.

Amy Cuddy observed that some of her students adopted very submissive postures which took up little space, whilst others adopted postures that took up a lot of space. The students who occupied only a small space often came across as timid and uncertain, and some talked to her about wanting to drop out of the course and did less well in class whilst doing much better in their written assignments. 

Curious about this Cuddy conducted an experiment using 42 students. They  were told the experiment was to see the effect of whether electrodes were placed above or below the heart, but the real experiment was to have half adopt high power poses and the other half adopt low power poses for two minutes.

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Participants had saliva swabs taken before and after  to test for cortisol and testosterone levels and were asked to report how they felt at the end of the two minutes in these postures. The results showed that two minutes of holding a power posture led to an increase in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol. In her talk below Amy describes how the power posture links us to the way alpha male chimps will stand and compares this to the instinctual behaviour an athlete displays on winning. Amy comments that even if someone has been blind from birth they still know to make the same gesture on winning.

 

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Having observed in the experiment how adopting a power pose could alter testosterone and mood Amy started to encourage her more reticent students to adopt the high power pose postures and to see what impact this would have. In the talk she describes this as ‘fake it till you become it’, noting that if we feel small and insecure adopting a high power pose can feel uncomfortable, but by consistently doing so over time we can start to feel it and act accordingly. 

Last week I looked at Mel Robbins’ talk about the power of shifting from feeling overwhelmed to seeing it as feeling excited. Amy Cuddy gives a similar insight into changing how you feel in a situation, by introducing the awareness of the impact a certain posture can have on how we feel. Linking the two approaches together could have a powerful effect on shifting the inner narrative about a situation: noting a low power posture and associated mood or self talk “I’ll never achieve this” etc, and then thinking 5,4,3,2,1, and shifting to a high power posture and seeing how this changes how we feel or think. 

As I researched this email I found there has been some significant criticism of Amy Cuddy’s original study and dismissal of her findings. I’m sad that some who was so eager to share her experience of how body language and posture can impact on our sense of self-worth has received so much vilification. In the end these things are there to be tried out and explored for oneself and if they work one can adopt them, if not let them go. Over the last few years since watching Amy’s Ted talk I have been conscious of my posture and of noting when my body goes into a low power pose and feeling in to what is happening, then seeing what happens if I shift to a high power pose. Perhaps it does not lead to an increase in testosterone, with some attempts to replicate her study having found it impossible to replicate this aspect of her findings, but I certainly find it alters my mood and how I feel about myself and brings a greater awareness to how I habitually hold my body and what this says about how I express myself physically.  It has also made me aware of the impact of posture on mood, noting how low power postures are associated with feeling unconfident and unsure, whereas by switching to a high power pose I immediately feel more at ease and confident.  I hope you enjoy playing with it!

If you would like to see her full 20 minute Ted talk the video is below. 

The Fifth hindrance to meditation: doubt

The Five Hindrances

The mind states that disturb the natural clarity of our heart-mind have been described as the five hindrances. Each hindrance has its own flavour and over this set of five emails I’ll explore each hindrance. But first, to give an overview here are all five:

1. Sensual desire
2. Ill-will
3. Lethargy and drowsiness
4. Restlessness and remorse
5. Doubt

Each hindrance is compared to the natural clarity of the still heart-mind, which is said to be like clear water. Doubt is said to be like a pot full of muddy water.


5. Sceptical Doubt

The Buddha encouraged his followers to question his teaching. He even spoke of the belief that things are true just because tradition tells us they are as a hindrance to real awakening, as it leads to a tendency to hold on to beliefs and opinions that have simply arisen over time as part of a tradition, rather than seeing wisdom for ourself. He encouraged his followers to question all of his teachings and not take them on blind faith. Only after exploring them in their lives and seeing for themselves if they held true were they to believe in them.

This last hindrende then does not mean we are to take all we hear from a teacher on blind faith. But as we meditate, a certain attitude can sometimes arise where we stop testing the efficacy of mindfulness or the teachings we have heard, and instead we loose any belief that change is possible, that it is worth meditating or that things can be other than how they are.

It is this skeptical doubt that this hindrance refers to, which can be enough to make us stop meditating or drop away from our path of practice. This state of mind is strongly linked to the sense of inertia that keeps us locked in our habit patterns, it is the way of thinking that does not want to make any effort. Thoughts such as “what’s the point of meditation, it seems too hard”, “meditation may be good for people who can go away to a retreat or live in a monastery but how will I be able to get any benefit from it”, “does it really matter what I do”.

With all of these we can either sink into the muddy state of inertia these thoughts encourage, or we can look at our experience and reflect on how we have benefited from the meditation we have done. We may remember how a session of meditation helped us shift a mood, or embrace something we had wanted to push away – and how this changed our relationship to it. We may remember that our actions have led to feeling happier or to sorrow depending on if they were rooted in skilful wishes or unskillful intentions. If you have started to explore Buddhist teachings you might reflect on how “actions have consequences” and look back in you life and see if this is the case or not. In this way we use conscious reflection on the teachings we know to bring about a clear understanding of how meditation is of help to us, or not.

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Doubt may play out in other ways in our life as well. For me it has been doubt about my skills or abilities. It took a friend’s persistent encouragement over three years before I set up the Monday class, as my inner doubt told me I would fail. As it is the group has now been going since April 2009 and next year will be our 10 year anniversary!! Then over the last few years as I’ve explored working as a mindfulness teacher in the corporate world it is this same doubt that holds me back – feeling I’m not yet ready, that I have more to learn, that I have nothing of value yet to bring to a workplace mindfulness teaching until I have read one more book on workplace mindfulness, or attended another seminar. 

I was lucky to have a call two years ago from the head of learning and development at Kensington and Chelsea council. He was looking for a mindfulness provider to run courses for council staff. After a year and half of running these sessions I could see that people enjoyed and benefited from the sessions – the thought I still needed to perfect my skills in teaching in the workplace was just a way for my doubting mind to hold me back from taking action. Of course, I have had more to learn, but that is what life is – a place for learning, and standing on the side lines waiting to know all the intricacies of the game just means one never plays the game at all – which is the only place to learn!

This year I have resolved to finally step forward into working more in the corporate world, in companies and organisations and with mindfulness initiatives such as teaching mindfulness in schools. It is part of me feeling into “following my bliss”, the saying of Joseph Campbell’s that always inspires me. Rather than seeing getting work as a mindfulness teacher as a chore to be got through, if I see it as an expression of living my bliss, and sharing my joy of living a life informed by presence, awareness and self-compassion, then it is not work but play. 

Where does your doubting mind hold you back? Where do you hesitate to step in? How does the habitual mind try to keep you small and stop you realising your potential?

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