Can you achieve greatness without isolating yourself?
On the one hand we can isolate ourselves by conformity; not taking risks, and following the path of others. On the other, we strive for greatness and become so preoccupied with ourselves that we become unbearable. In order to reach our fullest potential, we must learn to walk the line between humility and arrogance in order to truly attain what psychologist Abraham Maslow calls self-actualization.
The growth of self-actualization refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them. But it can be difficult to live a life of purpose with a nagging, defeatist inner dialogue that most of us deal with on a daily basis.
Ask yourself honestly: is what you’re telling yourself building confidence, or destroying it?
We tend to go through various stages of this in a cycle of confidence and doubt throughout our lives. While reading this, you might be in either end of the spectrum. Using the guide below, where do you currently reside?
It is difficult to navigate a healthy balance between both ends. We want to have humility, but not too much where we are self-deprecating, scared, or doubtful. We also want to be confident and have a strong belief in ourselves, but not too much where we have an inflated ego and become arrogant. Neither of these ends of the spectrum represent true confidence that guides us towards pursuing what's most meaningful to us. But how does one train confidence?
Is what you’re telling yourself building confidence, or destroying it?
Confidence fundamentally comes from within. Specifically, the things we tell ourselves on a daily basis. Take a moment to reflect on a moment in which you were proud of yourself for accomplishing something, or when you were performing strongly at a particular activity. What were you saying to yourself in these moments? Chances are it was pretty positive and task focused. This in turn felt really good, and reinforced the behaviour.
On the other hand, when we are not at our best we tend to do and say the opposite. You see, most of us are not even aware that we tend to be more negative by default. This is also a space where we tend to compare ourselves to others. We shift from a task focus, to a self-focus; how am I being perceived by others? Will they like me? Am I doing this correctly? etc.
We all cycle through these stages, sometimes feeling good, and other times not so much. The first thing to realize is that this is completely normal. However, with the right mental training we can learn to train ourselves to direct our thoughts and attention to the things that will guide us to thinking and feeling our best.
The beginning stage is awareness. Awareness of what your default mind is telling you. Where does your mind go when you make a mistake? When you feel under pressure? Don’t try to answer this right away, or judge yourself. We all have a negative mind from time to time. The goal here is to just bring whatever is present to the surface.
After practicing awareness for a while, you will naturally get better at catching yourself in these negative default states of mind. The next step is to challenge some of these thoughts and feelings. For example: are you basing this off of a fact or feeling? What is the evidence for this thought? Is the outcome 100% in my control?
Be humble enough to know there is more to learn, but confident in your ability to meet the demands of the moment no matter what your mind tells you
This exercise creates a little more space for you to view thoughts more objectively, and thus regain control. In most cases, we react to situations emotionally rather than fact. For example “I am the worst athlete on this team” might not actually be true, but just your emotional reaction to making a mistake, or getting called out by a teammate. This type of thinking is more likely to put you on the doubtful end of the spectrum.
True confidence comes from the way you speak to yourself. This doesn’t mean “faking it till you make it” by constantly telling yourself you’re amazing. But rather, it means allowing yourself the space to make mistakes and trusting yourself to overcome the challenge. Be humble enough to know there is more to learn, but confident in your ability to meet the demands of the moment no matter what your mind tells you. It is a difficult line to walk, but with the right self-talk we can guide our thinking out of a rut when we get stuck on either end of self-deprecation and arrogance.
To live a life full of purpose and self-actualization we must understand that there are going to be setbacks along the way. Life and performance will never be always positive. For Maslow, a person is always 'becoming' and never remains static in terms of positive or negative. Self-actualization is a continual process of becoming rather than a perfect state one reaches of a 'happy ever after'.
Maslow believed self-actualization could be measured through the concept of peak experiences. This occurs when a person experiences the world totally for what it is, and there are feelings of euphoria, joy, and wonder. This is when one experiences “no-mind”, or what philosopher Alan Watts calls “a state of wholeness in which the mind functions freely and easily, without the sensation of a second mind or ego standing over it with a club.”
We can’t get to no-mind through a negative mind. There are too many distractions and things pulling us away from the moment. It is only when we learn to hang out in the positive mind space long enough that we can attain a quieting of the ego and continue on our path of purpose.
So become more aware of your habitual patterns of thinking, and ask yourself if they are serving you any benefit. Most of our thinking doesn’t hold up very well in court, lacking any sufficient evidence. Once we become aware of this, we can shift our attention to what is actually in front of us. The more we do this, we naturally string together moments of prolonged attention and are better suited to be our best selves. Life doesn't happen to us, but rather through us, so we best learn to navigate its waters. With the right internal dialogue it makes it that much easier to row!
As always, feel the force, and don't force the feel!