You lack confidence. But you weren’t always this way. Babies do not come out of the womb doubting themselves. They believe that if anyone around them can do something, there is no reason they can’t do it, too. They have no fear of failure or of falling. They fall numerous times over without hesitating to get back up again. They may get frustrated, angry, and give in temporarily, but they don’t quit until they have mastered the skills they need to get where they want to be.
How did you get here?
What changed? When did you stop believing that you could achieve things? When did you start doubting that you were capable of doing anything other people could do, too?
For most of us, we started to loose our confidence when we began receiving negative messages from the people around us. These were the people we trusted. The same people who cheered us on when we began to take our first steps and when we began trying to form our first words began to discourage us from trying things. Those people weren’t trying to hurt us. They were trying to protect us from an inevitable collision course with the real world. Suddenly, instead of being cheered on we began to receive a different set of messages:
“You’re too little.”
“You’re not strong enough.”
“That will never work.”
“You can’t do that.”
“The world just doesn’t work that way.
There may have been even more damaging messages, messages that were sent to us indirectly by parents who were never pleased with our efforts no matter how hard we tried, or who constantly compared our efforts to another sibling who was always able to do it better and faster than we were, or we may have been told outright that we were too dumb or too weak to be able to ever do what other children could do. And we believed it. Because we trusted them.
The power of belief
Your brain is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Its operating system is built on belief. Your belief, formed through your personal experiences and your interpretations of the meanings of those events, from the moment of conception through the age of 22 when brain development finishes. That belief system operates in the background just as the Windows or Mac operating systems do, determining which new “programs” – the habits and changes you are trying to make in your life – you attempt to install will be accepted and which rejected, how to process and file the information that is received throughout the day, what things you should devote your energy to, and which things simply aren’t worth the work.
Your operating system needs routine maintenance and periodic upgrades
The operating system you use must be regularly maintained and periodically upgrade through a process of self-examination. Failing to do so is the cause of most of the massive failures and persistent problems in our life and in our relationships. One belief, acquired at the age of 5 during an encounter with a school bully, can shape and form the choices you make for the rest of your life by altering the beliefs you hold about yourself, about the nature of humanity, and about the world in general. Imagine letting a 5 year old make your decisions for you from that day until the present moment! Yet, that’s exactly what most people do. They never go back and re-examine the incident to see what new insights and lessons can be gained from that negative experience.
Belief shapes interpretation, interpretation shapes decisions, decisions shape behaviors
Let’s go back to the incident with the school bully at age 5. That bully caused you to feel worthless. The fact that they were able to get your peers jeering and laughing at you left you feeling powerless and helpless to change things. You carried that feeling of being worthless, powerless, and helpless with you from that point forward.
Because you believed you were worthless, when you met someone who treated you special, you doubted their sincerity. Rather than making a new friend, you interpreted their behavior as a possible trick. You decided not to accept the gift they were trying to give you and to avoid them so you wouldn’t risk getting hurt by them. Your decision led you to reject the gift and walk away. Your belief led you to miss out on an opportunity to make a friend because you were too afraid to risk getting hurt all because you hold this unchallenged belief that you are worthless.
The stories you tell yourself
We all have stories that we tell ourselves. These stories come out of those past experiences. They are stories about who we are, about what really matters in life, about what to expect from ourselves and others, and about how the world works. These stories are the source of our beliefs, which make them an integral part of the operating system that runs our brain. They are also the key to making lasting change in our belief systems possible.
To change the belief, you must find and rewrite the story that drives it
Changing a behavior is like trying to install a program on your computer. If the program you are trying to install isn’t designed to work within the rules that your operating system uses, the computer is going to reject the program. It just won’t allow you to make the change. No amount of will power or effort is going to work. The underlying belief must be changed first. And to change that belief requires that you find and alter the story that is driving that belief and rewrite it.
The cornerstone to confidence
Love is the cornerstone to confidence. If you believe that you are loved and that you are lovable, you will have no hesitation to talk to strangers or to meet new people. You will expect people to receive you positively when you meet them, you will expect that people will love you once you get to know them, and when they don’t react the way they expect them to, you will chalk that unexpected behavior up to a problem on their end – not yours. You will believe that you can do anything, and you will continue to try until you prove yourself right. If you don’t, however, you will believe that there is nothing you can do that is right, that nobody cares, and you will behave accordingly.
Rewriting your stories with love
When you do find the stories, it is important that you approach the story with love for all parties involved. Love the vulnerable five year old self who was being bullied and didn’t know how to fight back. Love the equally vulnerable five year old who felt that the only way for them to overcome their own sense of powerlessness was to pass it on to someone else. Love the classmates who were too afraid of the bully to stand up for you. And love the teachers who were so distracted by their own cares and concerns that they didn’t notice what was going on. Love is the only way to conquer these stories, and to replace the hurt with love you must be ready to forgive everyone who was a party to the events that happened.
Bring your current perspective into the old story
Look at that story from the perspective of who you are today. What do you see now that you didn’t then? What do you know now that you didn’t know then? Reach out to your five year old self and pass on the wisdom you’ve gained since that day. Comfort them and let them know that this incident doesn’t prove anything except that people can sometimes do terrible things to one another out of their own pain and insecurity.
Finding forgiveness for the unforgivable
If you find a situation that you find difficult to forgive, pause for just a moment. When have you done something similar to someone else? When have you allowed yourself to treat you this way? If you’re religious, when have you done this to God? Think about where your head was at when you were doing this. Try to understand what you were thinking and feeling at the time. Take that knowledge and apply it to the person who hurt you. Forgive both of you for the wounds you’ve caused and release your grip on the wound you received.
Don’t expect change to come easily
Getting to the root of the problem is often difficult. The mind hides the core stories as a protective measure to prevent external tampering. It will resist the attempt to rewrite those sections of its programming because the circuitry is there to support the old way of thinking and the brain doesn’t like to have to work to create and develop new paths. It is important to write down the story the way you remember it initially by hand and then rewrite it by hand. Dive as deep into the story as possible. Remember as many details as you can. Allow yourself to experience all the old aches and pains exactly as they are, and then do the same thing when you’ve revised the story. Rewriting it by hand while bringing these new emotions and sensations to bear is the fastest and most reliable way to carve a new path in the brain and insure the change you are trying to make sticks.
Next Week: The Power of Zero
One common way to insult people is to call them a zero – but let’s examine the story of zero and begin to rewrite it so that it’s never able to hurt you again. I’ll also talk about the common use of labels and why labels should be avoided unless being used on canned goods or boxes.