The Truth About Self-Confidence

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. — Linji Yixuan

How are you supposed to be confident in something when you’ve never done it before?

Let’s say that you want to start a creative business. You want to make art, share it with the world, and get paid for that work.

In other words, you want to turn your passion into an income.

But you’ve never started or ran a business before. Let alone ask for money in exchange for your art.

And you have little experience in making art for others — it was just a hobby and something you did for fun in your spare time.

You’re also scared about being visible and what others will think or say when sharing your art.

Your inexperience for running a successful business leads to a lack of confidence. With little confidence, doubt and fear of failure stifles your progress and you become stuck.

Making a full time income from your art seems like a pipe dream.

Mark Manson calls this situation the confidence conundrum. He defines the conundrum as, “In order to be happy or loved or successful, first you need to be confident… but to be confident, first you need to be happy or loved or successful.” (1)

That’s a good point. If you don’t have the references for success, how can you be confident or successful?

What if I told you there’s a way out of this conundrum? And it doesn’t involve building any confidence. What you need is the opposite — no confidence.

What is Confidence?

Positive psychology says that confidence is simply believing in yourself.

Confidence is a feeling or emotional state; it’s the perception of oneself regardless of any tangible external reality. (2)

DuckDuckGo how to build self-confidence and you will find a bazillion cheer-leading ways to believe in yourself by building a positive self-image.

You know what I’m talking about…dress for success, surround yourself with positive people, have an attitude of gratitude, be kind to yourself, stand up tall, speak slowly but with authority, blah, blah, and blah.

Recent studies, however, have found that focusing on a positive self-image may lead to a lack of motivation and a decrease in goal-directed behavior, while increasing narcissism and ambition. (3)

Therefore, as we try to boost our self-confidence to have success, we simultaneously further delude ourselves and become raging narcissists.

Lovely. I guess that’s why we have Instagram.

Kill the Buddha

Okay, it’s time to get spiritual for a second.

Ninth-century Chinese Buddhist monk Linji Yixuan said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

One way to look at this Zen koan is that if you believe finding the way or becoming enlightened is found “out there”, then you’re lost in delusion. You need to kill those ideas and teachings and forget the self, so you stop the delusion and clearly see your true nature.

You can apply this koan to the confidence conundrum.

Remember, the reason why you lack confidence is because you don’t believe in yourself. You — the self — has negative thoughts, fears, assumptions, and beliefs that block your path to success.

So why not kill the self?

Not literally, silly.

Kill those blockages — the beliefs, assumptions, attachments, and self-talk.

Positive self-help wants to add layers onto the self. They want you to recite positive affirmations, tinker with your beliefs, and think positively.

What I’m saying is to learn the art of deconstructing the self.

Become unattached to your roles, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions because those fixed perspectives are the problem in the first place. Forget the concept and idea of you.

Forget the self.

How to Become More Confident

You don’t need past references of success to move forward confidently. What you need to do is become comfortable with the unknown.

That’s what confidence is anyway, right? When you’re comfortable with something you feel confident.

Becoming comfortable with the unknown allows you to transcend fear and move forward with appropriate action. Look at what you have right now and work with that. That’s the value of forgetting the self — you don’t need anything to complete you.

Your natural state of being is confidence. When you’re already whole and complete, what can stop you?

If the fear of failure and doubt are stifling your ability to share and make money from your art, kill those fears and doubts. Breathe them in, and breathe them out. Don’t look into the future for what you need to have so you can move forward.

Ask, “What is available to me right now that can help me move forward?”

How to Forget the Self to Access Natural Confidence

There are two tried and true methods for forgetting the self: meditation and suffering.

1. Meditation

Nothing beats good ol’ sitting on a zafu, cross-legged, counting your breath. During my Zen training, we would sit for hours counting our breath. We would start at 1, count to 10, and then start over.

This type of “sitting” is not easy. Not only are you dealing with the physical pain of sitting cross-legged, but you’re dealing with the mental pain of thought and the emotional pain-body.

But slowly and surely, meditation deconstructs the self. At some point, and it always happens in an instance, you become the observer of your thoughts, pain, and emotions; you become unattached to the concept of you.

You realize that you’re not one, but you’re not two, either.

Talking about meditation only points to the Truth. You have to experience it for yourself. I recommend formal Zen training or a yoga practice.

2. Suffering

Pain and suffering are different. You experience pain, but suffering is a choice. Remove the suffering and what’s left is a situation or circumstance. This is when you can access wise and appropriate action. It is a state of natural confidence.

Here’s what I mean:

Right around the 20-minute mark of our sitting meditation, my legs fell asleep and became numb. The pins and needles sensation overwhelmed my legs and I often got sick in my stomach.

To add more onto the suffering, we’re segueing to a walking meditation. Now kicks in the mental anguish: How am I going to stand up? How am I going to walk? I’m going to look like an idiot?

Eventually, and with much training, I was able to separate the two: pain in my legs and the mental suffering I was adding to the pain. I engaged the suffering with my whole body and mind; I concentrated my breath into the suffering. I became one with the suffering.

After that, there was just this odd, numb feeling in my legs.

When it was time to stand up, so be it.

When it was time to walk, so be it.

If I couldn’t walk, oh well — I would fall over, limp along, remain seated, or did a combination of the three.

I did whatever was appropriate in the moment — no past nor future was involved. I wasn’t suffering.

When you engage your suffering wholeheartedly, you forget your “self.” The fears, doubts, shoulds, and I can’ts drop away. Yes, you may have the pain of your situation, you may not have what you want in life, but you’re not adding layers of suffering that prevent wise and appropriate action and your natural confidence.

Conclusion

Your natural state of being is confidence. Your “self” is getting in the way. When you drop the self, you kill those blockages. You now have access to wise and appropriate action. The two tried and true methods for dropping the self are meditation and engaging with your suffering. Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Footnotes

1, 2. Mason, M. The Only Way to Be Truly Confident in Yourself [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://markmanson.net/how-to-be-confident

3. Ackerman, C. (12/14/2021). What is Self-Confidence? + 9 Ways to Increase It [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/self-confidence/

 by the author.

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Writes about conscious growth, stories of separation, and how to human being a little better. https://nickpfennigwerth.substack.com

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Nick Pfennigwerth

Nick Pfennigwerth

Writes about conscious growth, stories of separation, and how to human being a little better. https://nickpfennigwerth.substack.com

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