Get comfortable where ever you're reading this, on your bed, in a chair, an airplane seat, or with a fox in a box. Take in one long pull of air, feeling your lungs expand and chest rise; then exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this two more times. With your next deep breath, unclench your jaw and relax the muscles around your eyes.
Now I want you to think back to the last time you felt self-confident. When was the last time you remember being who you wanted to be, laughing with your friends, walking taller, wanting to take pictures, or being spontaneous? Can you see that time in your mind's eye? Do you remember what it felt like to be that person?
Visualize and reflect on who you were then, what your life was like, and how you felt about yourself.
Continuing to breathe in and out with a relaxed focus, summon one precious memory and flip through it like a deck of cards. Catch a glimpse of images in swift succession and feel the warmth of that picture book as it replays in your thoughts. Let the memory come, breathe it in.
Spend four relaxed breathes pursuing that memory; a time when you felt most at ease in your skin, a time your smile was genuine, and you were truly content.
Remember to pull your shoulders away from your ears.
After four breathes of reminiscing, ask yourself: What was different then?
If you're anything like me, your mind will answer with who, what, when, and where. Voices will pop up and try to answer the question with a pointed finger in your face, but remember those voices are just thoughts, and thoughts are just noise. Acknowledge their existence, but don't try to talk back, it'll only make it that much louder.
Focus back to the question, "What was different then?" Except for this time, let the answers be positive. Instead of saying to yourself, "I felt better 'cause that's when I was exercising and eating right," (which creates a guilt mentality) try saying to yourself "I was in great shape and working hard at eating healthy."
Initially your brain will want to argue with you. "...and you just got lazy and stopped working out..."
"No, I got sick for like a week then I just fell behind," you chime back.
"Excuses!" your brain screams.
"We're trying to save money, so I can't eat freaking Whole Foods every day anyway..."
"It wasn't exactly like those egg McMuffins you ate Saturday were free; I'm just sayin'."
And you're off to the races. That discussion is a guilt trap. Nobody comes out of it unscathed. The more you argue with yourself, the further you plummet towards the rocky bottoms. And trying to claw your way back up leaves you bleeding and exhausted, giving you yet another reason not to feel self-confident, and undoubtedly deepening the well of guilt for the next time you fall into its trap.
Avoid the inner voices fighting for attention. Turn to face the light: the warmth of that positive memory you just retrieved. Recall what made you proud. Did you fight like hell? Did you learn something new? Did you step out of your comfort zone? What was different? What feelings did you experience?
Remember to slowly inhale and exhale. If your breathing is shallow, you're hyperventilating. And as I recall, you just sat down to get comfortable, so breathe and loosen those jaw muscles.
Running my first mile is one of the happy memories I like to draw on when I'm feeling defeated or unusually enthusiastic in my desire to dig my guilt trap deeper.
I remember that night so vividly because it was Eat2Live's 1st anniversary. After working in the office that day and reflecting upon all that the last 12 months had brought, I was invigorated to try and make that first-mile run.
I don't recall what music was playing in my ears as I pushed myself further, but I remember the sun setting on my back creating long shadows in front of me until all the street became a shadow and light slowly left the world.
Halfway through the run I stopped and took a sweaty-faced selfie proclaiming my utter jubilance over Eat2Live's birthday. It was dark outside, and I didn't care how bad I looked; I was just so proud of what I had accomplished. As a matter of fact, I still have that picture somewhere on Facebook, and I beg you not to go looking for it.
The second half of my run which lead me homebound again felt easier than the first half. I had this pulsing animation in me saying "You did it."
That phrase pounded on the drum of my heart over and over to the rhythm of my feet falling on the shadowless asphalt.
You did it.
You did it.
You did it.
Tears chased sweat down my face, and as always, I was grateful for the darkness to hide what must have been one of my ugly crying faces.
Once I reentered my neighborhood I knew I'd be able to keep running all the way home, and I could almost see a gigantic finish line taped across my driveway with big bold letters congratulating me for one year and one mile. I was daydreaming (or maybe hallucinating from lack of oxygen) of confetti falling and sticking to my sweaty shoulders.
You did it.
You did it.
You did it.
Running that first mile was a personal victory I'll always cherish. When I'm feeling incapable, I like to go back to it and relive it. Wouldn't you?
Perceive memories in their entirety, and it changes how you view the present-day you.
Here's what I mean:
Let's go back to my running story. It seems victorious, doesn't it? Using our earlier exercise, I can tell you I felt proud, in-control, and excited about the future. I felt a sense of completeness and wholeness. I did it. It was done. I was whole. The future felt like something I could finally conquer.
I perceived the story correctly, but not in its entirety. Sure, it's nice to remember how strong I felt, but I'm still doing myself an injustice by not seeing this memory in its completeness, in its wholeness.
I felt proud, what was I proud of? Overcoming.
I was in control again, which means I was previously out of control.
And if I felt excited about the future, it was because I wasn't afraid of the future anymore.
To reach the one year mark in my business, I had to build something that never existed. Ideas had to be actualized. And I was scared out of my mind the whole time. Every day it was like waking up and saying to the world of business, "Hello, my name's Linda, and I have no idea what I'm doing."
A beautiful website took shape only after months of repeatedly (and nearly in tears) calling tech support to figure out how to do the simplest of things.
I had no money to start the business and only had a few faithful Members who supported me. It became a running joke and a blatant slap in the face that no one wanted anything I had to offer. And running a mile? Don't even get me started. It took me two years to be able to run at all, anywhere.
It's less about what I achieved, and more about what it took to get there. And that's what I want you to focus on: what it took to get there. What did it take for you to be the person you remember?
I want you to see your past victories correctly, without the need to relapse into an argument over how you fell from grace and were so much better "then."
Allow yourself to be genuinely happy in that moment of recollection and let go of the desire to talk back.
I want you to envision your fondest memories in their entirety, and recognize that the same fears and doubts that were present then are present now.
Become conscious that your proudest moments are the moments you overcame self-doubt and self-fear to give birth to the self-confident person you remember.
So what was different then than now? Looking at those happy memories correctly and in their entirety uncovers that there isn't a damn thing different. You're the same person. The same voices that are whispering right now in the background telling you there's no point in trying are the same voices that were harassing you then. And you did it anyway. You. The person who's sitting here reading this, jaw clenched shut, shoulders too tense, and thinking they're a failure, is the same person you see in your happiest memories.
You prevailed over your circumstances then, and the same power that gave fire to your proudest moments is still burning in you today.
Who knows, maybe in five years when you're doing this exercise again, you'll be envisioning today as the day you dragged yourself out of the guilt trap, stopped arguing, and saw outside of your present doubts to reflect on the entirety and completeness of who you really are.
You are the warrior you remember.
Linda Lavender writes articles to help folks with Auto Immune Disease, Depression, Anxiety and other health related illnesses.