Mindfulness has been around for quite some time now, proving itself useful as a tool to support emotional wellbeing. In this blog, I explore how mindfulness can be particularly helpful in addressing issues of self-confidence…
Confidence comes from the Latin word “fidere”, which means “to trust”, so when we have confidence it means we have trust in ourselves. More often than not, confidence will apply to some kind of action. For example, you might feel you are a confident driver but lack confidence in public speaking. Self-confidence on the other hand is more about being comfortable in who you are and trusting in your own judgements and capabilities.
Lack of confidence occurs when we start to doubt ourselves and our abilities. Our inner critic pipes up and we actually take notice of it, believing the constant stream of negative self-talk that fills our heads. Mindfulness gives us a way to step back from these unhelpful thoughts, so that we can challenge them and then choose a different, more supportive narrative.
Mindfulness is described as the practice of paying attention to the present moment, with curiosity and without judgement. It offers us a way to observe our thoughts without being drawn into them. In the Headspace app, we are invited to see our thoughts as vehicles passing by on a road whilst we sit at the side and watch. Other metaphors I’ve come across include clouds drifting across the sky or leaves floating down a stream. In all cases, the idea is that thoughts are transient, they come and they go, but we don’t need to go with them.
So how does this help with self-confidence?
When we are in a mindful state, we are suspending judgement. Those negative thoughts are simply thoughts, neither good nor bad, neither true nor untrue. We can be curious about them but we do not need to identify with them. And we can choose to let them go if they are not serving us. With regular practice, we become adept at distancing ourselves from the storyline of our thoughts.
Mindfulness is grounding and with that groundedness comes a much stronger sense of self. We learn to accept ourselves as we are, without reference to external comparators. Our self-knowledge increases and with it our ability to interrupt unhelpful thought patterns.
Another side effect of mindfulness is the calming effect it often has on the body, which can help to switch us from a state of anxiety or stress into what’s known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This is when our heart rate and breathing slow down, our blood pressure reduces, we become relaxed, and the creative areas of our brain are reactivated, enabling us to feel much more resourceful.
How to practise mindfulness
Given that mindfulness is the art of being present, with curiosity and without judgement, it can be done any time we are awake. We can be mindful when cleaning our teeth, working on a jigsaw puzzle, weeding the garden, doing our accounts, and so on. However, there are additional benefits to actively practising mindfulness via meditation.
Why not try it now? Take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breath. Follow each breath as it enters and leaves your body, noticing how your chest expands and contracts. Become aware of your thoughts and the busy-ness of your mind. Allow your thoughts to happen as if you are separate from them. Be curious and non-judgemental. You may even want to do a quick body scan to explore any physical sensations in different parts of your body. When you’re ready, you can return your attention to the room and open your eyes.
You may have heard mindfulness practitioners talk about building your “mindfulness muscle”. Like weight training to develop and maintain muscle mass, regular mindfulness meditation helps strengthen our ability and tendency to be more mindful. It doesn’t need to take long, even short practices of 2-3 minutes at a time can be very beneficial.
It’s important to note that the aim of your mindfulness meditation is never to empty your mind – that’s pretty impossible for most of us anyway! Instead, you are learning the habit of letting go of your thoughts so that you can return to the present moment. Each time your mind wanders, bring it kindly and gently back to the focus of your meditation, which in many cases will be your breath. Just as you need weights in order to practise weight training, so you need mind-wandering in order to practise mindfulness!