Do you doubt yourself constantly?
Does a little voice in the back of your mind whisper incessantly that you’re not good enough, productive enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, whatever — enough?
Congratulations, you’re human.
Your Pain is Someone’s Profit
We live in a world of bikini diets, buttock implants, face lists, Botox, boob jobs and muscle supplements, lest we ignore the male half of the population. And it’s not just our bodies. Feeling depressed? Ask your doctor about xyz.
The problem, of course, is that many of the commercial “solutions” to our pain are seldom based in anything remotely resembling reality or efficacy.
If diet pills worked, the industry would have gone out of business decades ago. And that’s not even discussing the dangers they can pose, like the man who needed a liver transplant after taking diet pills.
Self esteem is a coveted state that has spawned a billion dollar industry. And of course it is, because anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows your pain is someone else’s profit. We’ll get to the nonsense of “self-love” in a minute.
We are hard-wired for doubt
In August, 2012, researchers pinpointed the part of the brain where doubt arises. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is an oval-shaped lobe about the size of a softball, right above your eyes.
Researchers discovered that patients with brain damage to the vmPFC are more than twice as susceptible to fraud and deceit as people who have no damage to that part of the brain.
Why seniors are targeted for fraud…
The ventromedial prefrontal cortex deteriorates in old age, which explains why elder fraud exists. A report by MetLife indicates that in 2011, the annual loss by victims of elder financial abuse was over $2.9 billion.
People suffering from vmPFC damage become more gullible, more vulnerable to false claims and lack the capacity to learn from mistakes, making the same decisions over and over, even if they lead to negative consequences.
If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…
Your ventromedial prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain where doubt arises. But the existence of doubt is also what allows you to make good decisions. It allows you to question, assess and make a decision.
If you didn’t have doubt, you also wouldn’t have the ability to make sound decisions or contemplate whether something sounds too good to be true.
Long story short, if you have doubts you aren’t broken. It’s when you stop doubting and stop questioning that you become broken.
Thoughts aren’t facts
Have you ever noticed that your reactions to people and events change based on what else is happening around you?
You walk out of the bosses office distraught after getting chewed out and reprimanded and a friend walks right by and doesn’t even look at you. You wonder if she’s mad at you, what you did wrong, what’s her problem, etc.
Or, you walk out of the bosses office pumped because you got praise and a raise and a friend walks right by and doesn’t even look at you. You wonder what happened and if she’s okay, because that’s not like her at all.
These are normal and human reactions because we don’t live in a vacuum.
All aboard the thought train…
A lot of people mistakenly think meditation is about silencing your mind. A better description would be to say it’s about noticing your own thoughts.
I read a marvelous example written by a meditation practitioner. He says to sit quietly and just notice what you’re thinking. Imagine putting little thought bubbles on each thought as it arrives and floats away, replaced by another.
The idea is to notice that you can observe your own thoughts.
There’s a myth that we have up to 70,000 thoughts per day. Despite that no one can find a reliable source for that data, if you sat and observed your own thoughts for 10 minutes, you’d see how wildly active your brain is.
Your brain is like a small child that literally never stops talking.
So you think, all day, and some of those thoughts will be doubt because your brain is working normally. And those thoughts are going to be affected by what’s happening around you and with you. Welcome to the human race.
Why Self-Love is a Flawed Concept
Oh God, I suck. Why do I suck? Because I don’t accomplish enough. Why don’t I accomplish more? Because I’m lazy. I don’t deserve better. Blah, blah, on and on.
Oh wait, that’s negative self talk, so I need self-care. I better go light a candle and have a bubble bath and read that self-help book I bought so I can learn to love myself because I can’t accomplish anything if I don’t love myself first.
Mama don’t put band-aids where there’s no boo-boo
The problem, of course, is that every time you do something out of “self-care” to feel better about negative thoughts, it’s like confirming your brokenness.
Except, you’re not broken. You’re human. You are going to have doubt for as long as your ventromedial prefrontal cortex is intact.
When you’re 95 years old and susceptible to every fraud some morally questionable person can think up because the doubting part of your mind is deteriorating, you’ll have much less doubt. That’s a promise.
But for now? You have doubt. You’ll question yourself. Incessantly. Unless you’re a psychopath, but that’s a whole different topic.
To Habit is Human
What you do with your doubts and negative thoughts, that’s the issue, because habits aren’t just for smokers and nail biters. We also have habitual thinking patterns and negative loops that become default thought patterns.
You can’t change those habitual thinking loops if you don’t notice them first. And once you notice them, you call call them what they are. Habits.
As anyone with a habit knows, the first step it to identify and interrupt.
If you know anything about neural pathways, that makes perfect sense to you. If you don’t, think of neural pathways like driving to work. There’s dozens of routes you could go, but we tend to take the same route because it’s familiar. Our brains do that, too.
I wish I could tell you how to interrupt your own thought processes, but what works varies wildly from person to person. Sometimes even from day to day.
Some people meditate, while others do something physical. Some people need nature and quiet, while others need crowds and laughter.
What I do know is that the more often you interrupt your own negative thought processes, the more you’ll grow to understand that they’re thoughts that come to visit, not facts, and they don’t define you.
It was never about being broken, because you’re not. You’re just human.