I’m pessimistic and I doubt myself a lot. There, I said it. I hate that it’s true but I don’t want to live that way anymore so it’s important to say it. While I’m sure my doubts and fears are significantly different from yours, I’m also sure we all have a bit of self-doubt lingering somewhere just beneath the surface. It usually rises to the surface when we are presented with a challenge where our hearts say “Go for it!” but our heads say “Holy crap that looks hard!”
Neuroscientists are discovering that our subconscious mind controls a large portion (some say up to 90 %!) of our actions. This subconscious reaction is our brain’s way of giving us quick responses and alleviating our conscious mind of having to make every decision. Our conscious minds require significantly more energy to operate than the subconscious so this is also a way in which this amazingly complex and efficient body of ours conserves energy. Over the course of our lives, our subconscious mind learns from how we react to certain situations and stores this away. Eventually it uses this stored information to automatically react to similar situations without us having to actually process what’s happening. Usually this stored information is negative and our subconscious learns to react in ways to protect us from the experiencing that pain or failure again. The sad reality is that when we reach a certain age we can become more automatic than conscious. We can become a machine, driven more by our past experience, who isn’t actually experiencing the world today as much as reacting to it.
That’s the reason we are so often afraid to take on new challenges or to push ourselves beyond what’s comfortable. We see something that excites our conscious mind but that’s the moment when that subconscious monster of doubt, grown and cultivated over the years by our bad experiences and failures, takes over and wipes away the dream without us even really knowing it. We are able to get a glimpse through the crack in the door but it’s immediately slammed shut and we remain in our safe room of mental comfort where we can’t experience failure or pain but also can’t grow.
I’m making this sound like our bodies are out to keep us down and hurt us and that’s not the case. This process is the amazing way we stay safe and stay alive. It’s the most fantastic creation on this planet! You have a body that works to keep you alive and safe without much thought on your part. But in its focus on those goals, it can, if we allow it, squelch the rest of our amazing gifts and talents, sacrificing them for safety.
The great thing is that we can control and/or change our subconscious! It’s still learning, even in my extremely old age. We have the power to take control of our conscious mind when presented with a challenge and cage that monster of self-doubt. We can not only cage him, we can teach him a new automatic response! It’s not easy and he will fight, remember he’s been learning our old ways since we were born, but we can change our automatic, fear based reactions and step up to new things and challenges. All it takes is to become aware of our actions, understand if they are truly coming from our heart or our head, and when possible, follow the heart instead of head. It’ll be scary and we’ll probably fail at new things for a while but that’s OK because where you can fail you can also succeed! You can’t have the brilliant joy of victory without the risk of failure. You’ll also realize that failure really isn’t that bad anyway, your mind just makes it look that way when you let it think about it.
I’ve had a dream of qualifying for the Boston marathon for many years. The qualifying time for me is extremely challenging based on what I normally run so I’ve always put that dream in the category of unachievable. Well now I’m making a run at it. I realized my view of this challenge was based on how I’d performed in the past which was limiting my ability to see how good I could be in the future. I’m fighting that automatic response that says I can’t run that fast and committing myself to the training. I might fail. I might succeed. I know I’ll be better for having taken control of the situation and not let my past define my future.