Meditating through self-doubt

A personal note / book review

In recent years I have become acutely aware of my internal critic. You might not see it from the outside, but I often ask myself questions like “Am I smart enough? Successful enough? Rich enough?” I may not say it, but I randomly compare myself vs. friends and acquaintances. Sometimes I match myself up against a complete stranger, with no real basis for comparison! When I answer “yes” to these questions, a sick sense of satisfaction washes over me, and “no” spirals me into questioning my self-worth.

Suffice to say that both conclusions are unhelpful! ‘Pathetic’ is probably an apt description – but that does not help either. Believe me – I have tried 😊

It is weird… Most of the time I am a level-headed, content person with little desire to compare myself to others. I certainly do not express these thoughts in public…

I know that everyone deals with self-doubt, so I am not a special case and I am certainly not looking for sympathy, or medical attention. But I want to do something about it, and sharing the journey is part of my process

It turns out that taming the critic is harder than you think.

Initially I thought I would just persevere, work harder, deal with the adversity and the achievements would follow. There is a lot to be said for this approach and I am sure it works for many. A-type personalities and masculine characters probably respond positively. These types of people seem to push through the barriers to success, using their inner critic as a motivator towards triumphs. That’s great and all the success to them, but this approach does not work with me.

For me, negative self-talk tends to push me into procrastination and distraction. My biggest weakness is social media, Twitter in particular. There is some combination of the expression of best ideas, best life, best everything and the affirming likes that ignites my negative self-talk. I could be researching away on an important project, become frustrated with my progress, get distracted, find myself on Twitter and… before I know it… I am questioning my status in the world. After wasting 10 minutes I would usually force myself back to the research, but the self-talk would negatively impact the quality of mind, the excellence of work and make me fragile to further distraction.

Clare Josa’s Ditching Imposter Syndrome was powerful in overcoming this vicious psychological cycle, which she labels as “imposter syndrome”. I do not like labels and I do not like to think “I have imposter syndrome” but it certainly helps to identify an obstacle and find techniques to remove it. Clare’s technique resonates with my skill set and personality. Rather than push harder, she encouraged me to integrate meditation with work. I was already grateful for my meditation practice. Starting with a singular morning session I reaped benefits in all aspects of my life, including work. I became less reactive, more patient and less angry. But clearly that wasn’t enough to cure this self-doubt cycle.

Now I try to meditate all the time, particularly at work, which brings strength from within rather than a more superficial confidence I may have possessed before.

I meditate on my purpose and goals to make sure they are really what I want. I meditate on the week ahead and month ahead to make sure they align with my goals and purpose. I meditate on work at the start of each day to make sure I have prioritized the day ahead. And MOST IMPORTANTLY as soon as I notice that I am questioning myself, comparing myself to others or feeling distracted, I meditate.

Maybe it’s 1 minute, maybe 5 or perhaps I need to sit down for a full 20-minute stint. I ask myself questions like, “Where does this thought come from? How does it serve me? How do I want to think? What do I want to do with my time? What is my purpose? What is my goal?” How do I work towards that purpose and goal?” Observing and questioning these dangerous self-doubting thoughts dissolves their power.

This strategy may take me away from my schedule and slow me down for 10 or 20 minutes, but the benefits are astronomical. I re-strategize on the task at hand, I return to it without distraction and nip the negative self-talk in the bud. I sense a virtuous cycle emerging where I gain confidence in the process, leading me to be more assured in my skill set and ability to effectively handle challenges which inevitably emerge. Noticing this positive cycle makes me aware of the unhealthy cycle that existed before, filled with doubt, angst, and inner conflict. I do not know how I got anything done before.

I am not sure my experience of the book would have been as effective if I had not been working on my personal meditation practice for the last few years. Plus, I have been on a journey of starting up my own business, which has really raised the importance of removing the psychological obstacles in my way. But I cannot discount the impact of this book in the process! I am very grateful for the recommendation from my old friend Rob Waite.

It took genuine perseverance to get through this short book. Its only 300 pages but it completely derailed my reading plans over the past year as I hacked away at all the exercises. I am not exactly where I want to be personally and professionally, but I am closer than I was last year. Now I have a process and technique to improve my mindset towards work. This may seem trivial to others, but it’s monumental to me.

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