Twenty years ago, I latched onto a definition of self-confidence that has helped me over the years: Self-confidence is knowing that once you get there, you'll figure it out. For example, if I ask myself, "Which line do I stand in at the Department of Motor Vehicles?" I can answer, "I don't know, but once I get there, I will read the signs and/or ask someone. I'm confident I can figure this out." This definition doesn't imply that I have all the answers right now; it means that I have the wherewithal to ask the right questions, make the right mistakes, and do what needs to be done to eventually figure out what I'll need to figure out. It means I am confident I will have the inner resources necessary to act. In essence, I have faith - faith that comes from the heart - the inner resources to guide me (hey, being in the right line at the DMV is a big deal).
Just recently, I added a new definition to my working repertoire of helpful ideas. This one is about anxiety, and it goes like this: Anxiety is my brain trying to solve a problem that's unsolvable, or for which I don't yet have enough information. So, for example, if my boss asks to meet with me first thing Monday morning, I could spend the whole weekend being anxious about it because it fits the definition: my brain wants to figure out what is going to happen, what I should say or not say, and my brain doesn't have all the information necessary to figure this out because we (my brain and I) don't even know what the boss wants to talk about!
Sheesh, anxiety. Not a great way to spend a weekend.
The amusing part (to me) about discovering these definitions 20 years apart is that the second one, if it is to be optimally helpful, is actually a prequel of the first. It's like when they added a Star Wars movie that theoretically came before the FIRST big major blockbuster. This was a confusing and somewhat unsettling cinematic event. Because really, (back to my definitions) calming anxiety about any given situation - knowing that my brain was just doing its brainy thing! - would have really been helpful in giving me faith that I would have the means to figure it out when I got there.
Well, better in mid-life than not at all.
My brain is a good one. I've used it a lot over the years. Its real and major function is to solve problems and keep me safe. That's what a brain is designed to do. So when my brain meets a problem it can't solve, such as what to say to my boss when I don't even know what she wants to talk about, it spins. You can practically hear it whirring and stirring and trying so diligently to figure it out, like a good brain would. But it can't. Poor brain, its intentions are so good, but my brain is not equipped with a crystal ball, so it just keeps trying. That's anxiety.*
That's until I say (to my brain), "Hey quit it! Stop trying to figure this out. It's not possible right now with this information." And THEN I invoke the first definition, or really now the second, about self-confidence: you can figure it out when you get there! Lovely! Anxiety be gone - self-confidence takes its place.
I love to think about my brain wanting to solve problems to keep me safe. It's looking after me. And even though I'm well into my grown-up years (I keep mentioning that), it's really nice to have this entity care so deeply for my well-being. It wants to help me keep my job and figure out which line to stand in at the DMV. My brain is like a bulldozer, pushing dirt and heavy obstacles out of the way with logic and plans and research and investigations, and creating a path so that my heart can, with all of my best interests, walk through the cleared out path. Then my heart can do its job, which is to guide me, that is, to do the right thing when we (my brain, my heart, and myself) all get there.
Whatever it is my boss wants to talk about, isn't it best to show up with a kind and guiding heart and a peaceful mind? Wouldn't it be great to get business done with the DMV and still have a kind heart and peaceful mind?
Stay tuned for the next pre/sequel. Who knows what definitions I will have 20 years from now, but I'm excited to find out.
*My definition of anxiety is purely my own and may not come close to fitting the circumstances for anyone else or for any other kind of anxiety. Anxiety, including PTSD, takes many forms, ranges greatly in severity, and stems from many different issues.