I used to believe that confidence can be reached by achieving goals. After all, when we achieve our goals we get a big kick out of it and it feels good, right? This is what we have been conditioned to believe in. From a young age, when we do something good we get rewarded for it. At school our intelligence is measured mostly by the types of grades we get, completely ignoring the notion of emotional intelligence. So it comes as no surprise that most of us feel more confident only when we manifest something externally and the confidence levels raise even higher when we get acknowledged for doing so. For the last few years I have been pushing myself to achieve goals and become a better version of myself, instead of acknowledging who I already was. I’d set milestones in my career, to become the professional I always aspired to be. I created goals for myself to improve my body, to tone and feel better in my own skin. I started eating healthier foods, to cleanse my body and detox. I set financial goals so that I’d feel more secure in my life and be able to purchase things that I desired. But what happens when we achieve these goals?
Well science tells us that when we successfully tick something off our to do list, the brain releases dopamine, a chemical also known for making us feel good by increasing our sense of reward. But dopamine is also associated with addiction, so ultimately the more we achieve, the more we become addicted to achieving. But it makes us feel good, so we continue to search for more to do’s so we can get our next kick of feeling good and this continues until we habitually create a cycle of doing the action, achieving it, get the reward and then start again by finding new goals, creating more action and receive more rewards.
Endorphins are also released by the brain which give us a boost of energy and feel good vibes. These endorphins are great for our well-being when released in a balanced active lifestyle and amongst other functions they have, endorphins are also known for hiding away the pain. For example, when we engage in physical exercise and go for a long run, endorphins are released so no matter how far we run and how much strain we put on our muscles, we don’t feel it because endorphins hide away the pain. We get a boost of energy and we feel so good, almost unstoppable. But what happens when we stop running? After a couple of hours, we feel sore, our legs start to feel like jelly and the muscles start to hurt. This is because the endorphins that were released during the run helped us not to feel the pain, but once we finished, it all felt different because reality has kicked in and the high we felt from the endorphins has now disappeared.
So if we take all this in consideration, what happens then when we base our confidence levels on the accomplishments that we gain throughout life? The problem comes when we need to feel the next kick of dopamine and want to do more, because once that’s gone, we feel empty and our self-worth diminishes. So instead we continuously find new goals to achieve and create more to do lists just to feel empowered again, almost as if we deserve a reward for everything we do and that reward adds to our self-confidence. In the past few years, I have accomplished a lot. I say this, because looking back at all my to do lists I created for myself, I managed to somehow tick most of them off and made them happen. With this came a sense of self-confidence and I felt incredibly proud; it felt as though I can do anything and that the more I do, the better I feel about myself. But I also felt exhausted and identified this over achieving state to be interfering with my true self, because I was no longer embracing the experiences in the moment but instead pushing through these, just to get my desired outcome, which resulted in a boost of self-confidence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to push ourselves to get out of our comfort zone and achieve the things we want to, because this helps us discover new areas of the self we perhaps never had an insight into. However, when we start to base our confidence levels solely on what we achieve, this can become detrimental. It’s as if we are saying to ourselves we are not good enough unless we do this, or get there, or become that.
The best example in today’s modern society is social media. We are now living more through our Instagram and Facebook accounts, than actually being in the moment and living as we are. We take selfies and impatiently wait for the likes to start showing in our notification centre so that we can feel good about ourselves. We want to be liked, so when people like our photos, it gives us a big boost of confidence. We seek validation in the way we live our lives from both our loved ones and strangers on these social media accounts who like and comment on our images. These images show our reality the way we want to portray it to the world so that others can see just how amazing we are and how great our lifestyle is, but in fact what we are doing is creating an illusion that is slightly influenced by the actual reality and mostly influenced by the desire of how we want others to see our reality. So, if we need to seek that validation for that external reward, this simply means that we are relying on that next kick of dopamine to be released so that we feel good about ourselves. We get a like, and we get a kick from it. The same goes for when we look at ourselves in the mirror. Instead of facing the person looking back at us, we swap this experience for our phone camera. We take a quick photo, add some filters to it and post it for the world to see; then we add hashtags that are supposed to represent what we see and then we wait for others’ response to it instead of our own. We might also be tempted to reach for our make-up bag to paint over our imperfections so that we can see ourselves as perfect, instead of acknowledging that these imperfections are actually what make us unique and wonderful, just the way we are. And through all these conditioned behaviours, we have become masters of living as somebody else, a created self by our own ego in order to feel protected, liked and confident.
What I have learned through this process of almost obsessive goals setting and accomplishment is that we do not need to seek external gains in order to find our value so that we feel more confident. We are already complete human beings, we have been created this way. Our physical self helps us manifest everything that our soul is guiding us towards. But deep inside, we are complete and nothing we do externally should affect this. Instead the goals we set for ourselves should be congruent with the true essence of our soul. How can I best serve the world with what I already have? What is it within me that I can offer to the world, to those around me, to the environment that will add value to their lives and to all that’s around me because I want to not because I need to do so in order to feel better about myself? Confidence has nothing to do with how much better we become, or the more glamorous version of ourselves we reach. We must learn to start appreciating ourselves as we are, the complete beings we are in this present moment and regardless of all the amazing things we can do, those are just physical manifestations of our self. What really matters is how we respond and accept who we are internally. Instead of going to social media for the answers or achieving goals that validate just how amazing we are, we can start practicing meditation which takes us within, to connect with the true essence of our self, to explore the world as it is in the way that we are. We can start our day by doing yoga or going to the gym, focusing solely on being in the moment and enjoying our bodies and the amazing ways we can nurture ourselves, instead of jumping on the scales to see how much weight we lost or how much muscle we gained in order to create our next goal to be achieved during that morning exercise routine. We can start enjoying food simply by realising that it is the fuel to our body and not there to comfort us or to make us skinnier or happier. We can engage in actual real-life conversations and truly let ourselves experience those moments, instead of pressing pause on the experience to take a photo and turning this reality into an illusion on our social media channels and then inviting others in this experience, without them actually being part of that reality. We can choose what we do professionally based on who we really are, and not for the kick we want to have from reaching a higher status. Money can certainly make life easier at times, but to truly emerge yourself in experiences, without expecting any external gains to follow, that's true freedom! We can release our fears of not being rich enough, because wealth has more to do with our journey and how we walk our path than the size of our wallet or the digits in our bank account! And most importantly, we must feel grateful for the fact that we are here, in the present moment and truly embracing every bit of our own selves by allowing it to just be, instead of constantly trying to deny ourselves of it and reaching better versions of our self which are just illusions created by our ego so that we feel like we matter. The truth is, we all matter and our existence is very much needed and welcomed in this world, for if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t exist.
So the next time you reach for that to do list, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it so that you can get your next kick of reward and recognition from others, or is it something you are ready to do simply for allowing yourself to be part of an experience without expecting the outcome to add to your value, self-confidence and state of happiness.