7.26.2017

Meditation and Self Doubt

You may not know this about me, but I sometimes have a lot of self doubt. Not nearly as much as I did in my younger days, because somehow in almost 50 years of life I have managed to pull off a pretty happy and fulfilling existence, but still some. For example, I am entering a new field of study and (eventually) work, marriage and family therapy. I applied to a prestigious graduate program and successfully made it through the rigorous selection process. I start classes in about a month. All my past successes in school and work notwithstanding, I still sometimes doubt my ability to succeed in future endeavors such as this. I know it's irrational. If I am passionate about something and work hard at it, I always succeed. If I am not passionate about something, success is kind of a moot point. I don't want to do something I don't feel HELL YEAH about. Sure, I've worked a few crappy jobs solely for the money, but I've also walked away from them when they became intolerable. I've never been fired from a job. I have always chosen my destiny and fared well in whatever I set my mind and body to. I even found my soul mate, Deborah, and married her. Life is great!

All things considered, in my first 50 years on Earth, I have rocked a pretty solid and successful life. Thanks to discovering how to slow and reverse the aging process, I fully plan to rock the next 50 as well. So I am not sure why I sometimes still have episodes of anxious self doubt. I guess it is a form of learned hopelessness from my less successful early formative years that gets triggered by certain things, even though it has no real connection with reality anymore.

That being said, I have found that daily meditation is a very useful practice for eliminating anxiety and self doubt when I experience it. The essential mechanics of meditation are designed to help alleviate negative emotions like sadness or anxiety.

In meditation, the goal is to center yourself in the moment (the present) and sequester yourself from extraneous thoughts about the past or future, often by focusing on your breathing (I also sometimes use music, a very temporally present medium). Of course, extraneous thoughts creep in during meditation and the "practice" of meditation is recognizing when this happens and recentering your thoughts on the present moment.

I have found meditation very useful in combatting my self doubt when it arises. Self doubt is essentially irrational anxiety about one's ability (or lack thereof) to succeed in the future, especially regarding life's bigger challenges. In the present moment, these worries are just abstract thoughts without merit. Since the future hasn't happened yet, we can't know if we will succeed or fail at something in the future. All we are really doing is extrapolating from past experiences in which we might have succeeded or failed, but that's an inaccurate way to generate expectations about future outcomes for a couple of reasons. First, no two situations are ever exactly the same, so outcomes can vary based on many different variables, both intrinsic (inside us) and extrinsic (in the world around us). For example, in college I might have failed a hard math test because I didn't have a calculator. If I had to take a math test tomorrow, I'd feel dread. But it might be a really easy test that doesn't even need a calculator. My worry was based on a prior experience that was different from this one. Second, we learn from past successes and failures, so even though we may have failed at some task in the past, we learned from it, and when a similar task arises in the future, we can approach it differently based on what we learned from the prior experience (I remember to bring a calculator). We may fail again, but that is just more learning experience to log in the brain banks. The tragedy is avoiding future situations and tasks because of a fear of failure (anxiety). Then you don't get anywhere in life and don't progress toward self actualizing as a human being. Sometimes when I have self doubt about my ability to succeed in graduate school, I briefly consider quitting rather than facing the challenge. That's equally irrational and I immediately push those thoughts away to focus on what I can do RIGHT NOW to lay the groundwork for future success (such as getting ahead on the huge volume of reading I will have during the first year of school).

When I have self doubt, as most people do, I use the same recentering process I use for meditation to eliminate it, pushing out the extraneous negative thoughts and focusing on the present moment. It works. Meditation has also helped me to more quickly become aware of when extraneous thoughts creep in and then I can expediently recenter my mind on the present and when applied to self doubt about the future, I consciously make myself have positive thoughts instead ("I will succeed!").

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