Over recent weeks we have been having work done on our kitchen, which has been challenging to say the least, but no matter how inconvenient and stressful indoor camping may be, it’s such a delight to have someone come into your home and make everything look and work so much better! We had a new floor laid, a posh Belfast sink installed and with the addition of oak work-surfaces, it all looks very National Trust tasteful; and then we went wild with a funky high-arched extendable mixer-tap with curls of chrome all around! ‘What’s so interesting about a bit of plumbing?’ you might ask. Well it’s not so much the tap that interests me, as my behaviour when using it. You see I’m big on filtering, and like my drinking water to be as pure as I can make it, so characteristically I avoid drinking water straight from the tap whenever I can; however, with my wonderful new state-of-the-art tap, I have convinced myself that the water flowing straight from this tap is somehow purer than the water that flowed out of my old tap! I know full well that it’s the same water that I rejected just a few weeks ago, however I am happily drinking it without filtration!
So what is it about allowing ourselves to be fully convinced of one truth, at the same time as knowing that there is another opposing truth going on in our minds at the same time, that we are not consciously accepting?
Here’s another example. A few years ago a friend moved into our home for a while, and he would often join me in the kitchen during our busy tea-times, to help, and also to just observe as I got into a frazzle. One day, in need of encouragement at this point in the day, I asked him to simply tell me that I was doing really well, and he obliged. Being the joker that he is, this became a bit of a ritual, and anytime I was stressed or in danger of being overwhelmed he would simply say, ‘You’re doing really well Vickie’, with a wicked grin that exposed that this was all tongue-in-cheek; but the crazy thing was, it worked just the same! I knew it wasn’t a deeply sincere affirmation, but it still worked to lift me every time!
And one more….. We have a well known make of vacuum cleaner, that to be honest has never quite come up to our expectations, but the advertising that supports this brand is so very convincing, we believe it just the same, even though our experience of the product has been consistently disappointing. To put it another way, when we need to replace our vacuum, we never even consider buying another brand, basically because we believe in the manufactures belief in themselves!
Apparently, if we believe we have power, then our power actually increases, and when others experience our self-belief, they believe in us too, thus increasing our power exponentially. We know this is true if we are having a good hair day, and our confidence levels rise, allowing interactions to flow better and our influence to be more successful. Of course the opposite is also true, when we feel insecure, unacceptable, or somehow less than others, then that belief can pervade everything we do, and sends out a message that is not so reassuring! We also want people to believe in themselves, in what they say and in what they do, particularly if they are selling us something or giving us advice, and especially if they are a surgeon or a pilot! Mind you, we don’t want them to be too self-assured either, or we start to doubt that it’s all bravado!
So how can we hold two truths at the same time, one that comforts and reassures and another that squarely confronts reality? Nathaniel Branden explains that this is possible in his book, ‘How To Raise Your Self-Esteem’, where he talks about Living Consciously. He states that, ‘The appropriate use of our consciousness is not automatic, but rather an act of choice……we can seek to see more or less - we can wish to know or not to know’. ‘Living consciously implies a respect for the facts of reality……as contrasted with an attitude that amounts to… if I don’t choose to see it or acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist’. We know we do the latter when we, for example, spend money that we don’t have, allow our admin pile to build up without taking action, continue to burn the candle at both ends whilst our body starts to creak or our temper frays, or when we choose not to address our behaviour or that of others, that is unkind, unfair, unjust or untrue, in favour of keeping the peace or remaining popular. Living consciously, according to Branden, involves, ‘Respect for reality, whether pleasant or painful, versus avoidance, and of honesty with self, versus dishonesty’.
This is the tougher side of taking responsibility for living authentically, but it is the foundation of self-confidence and self-respect, so fully worth it. However there is a softer approach which enables us to acknowledge our lacks and failings whilst at the same time recognise our desirable qualities and abilities. It comes in the shape of this lovely little exercise that I came across on the internet which invites statements such as, ‘I can feel vulnerable and still inspire confidence in others’, ‘I can be angry and hurting and still offer forgiveness and understanding’, ‘I can feel weak and still be resilient’ or, ‘I can accept myself as I am today and still reach for improvement tomorrow’.
This means that we don’t have to live in a state of win or lose, when we can happily embrace both the aspects of our lives that need improvement whilst simultaneously celebrating those parts of ourselves that are already worthy. In other words, we neither need to hide from the truth, nor live in a dichotomous state of all bad or all good. Our brains seem to want to choose between clever or stupid, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, happy or sad, when most of life is somewhere in between these, even though sadly the negative statements often take precedence. However, giving ourselves permission to own both our lacks and our gains without judgement, somehow leaves us in a state self-acceptance, more balanced and hopeful about the future than we were before.