We are all unique wonderful butterflies
Tackling self doubt & belonging
Non-judgment, the act of being kind and accepting towards oneself, is an integral part of mindfulness practice. As with many mindfulness concepts, it is a simple to say, but not so easy to actually do.
When I introduce the idea of non-judgment, I often ask people to share about ways that they judge others and themselves on a daily basis. Examples often include judgments around our appearances, and actions (do I look good enough?, did I sound smart enough?, why couldn't I have explained that better?, etc.).
Judgments towards ourselves are little acts of unkindness that we perpetrate—consciously and unconsciously—against ourselves all day. They add extra worries and stress to our already busy lives. As a grad student, I have enough to think about everyday without adding additional stress about my worthiness!
I bring this up because I have been noticing that I sometimes find myself in situations where I wonder if I am enough (for example, the first day of my PhD, meeting all the other medical science students, or joining a new research committee). I am lucky that I have enough drive, excitement, and personal resiliency that these thoughts don't stop me from diving into new situations and experiences. But nevertheless, they pop up anyway and eat up my mental energy.
And here is the irony: it inevitably turns out—after I start a new project or join a new research group or start teaching a course—that actually I'm totally cool, everyone is pleased and impressed with my work, and there really wasn't a reason to have had those worries or thoughts in the first place. Being aware of this ongoing dialogue of has made me wonder if we aren’t all just wonderfully unique butterflies who should stop worrying so much.
So the next time you notice any self doubt or concerns about belonging, I invite you to try what I've been doing: instead of ruminating on these thoughts, smile to them and remind them that they aren't facts, but come from a place of being human and self-aware. And with this awareness, let them go as soon as possible. It's important to be kind to the thoughts, but it’s also much more fun without them.
Suggested Practice: Mindfulness Of Thoughts
Below is a summary of a meditation practice that can help you to let go when your mind has become full of judgmental thoughts. This practice is from the wonderful book “The Mindful Teen” by Dr.Dzung Vo (a few small adaptations have been made).
In this exercise, you imagine you are observing your thoughts drift by like clouds. By watching the thoughts, instead of trying to control them, you may find it easier to observe and be more at peace.
Exercise: Mindfulness of Thinking
Try this meditation for 3-5 minutes, sitting or lying down. If you are comfortable you can close your eyes, or pick a point in front of you to focus on.
Begin: Anchor yourself in the present moment by becoming fully aware of your in-breath and out-breath. You may like to think the word in as you breath in, and the word out as you breath out.
Next: Observe your thoughts as clouds in the sky. Noticing as they come into view, for however long they stay in the picture. Notice whether you’re having lots of thoughts, fast thoughts, or slow thoughts. Obverse your thoughts with kindness and curiosity, without getting caught up in them. If no thoughts are arising in your mind, simply notice that.
Experiment with silently labeling each thought using one word, according to category, such as “planning”, “worrying”, memory”, or “rumination”.
You don’t need to try to figure out whether your thoughts are true or not. You don’t need to suppress certain thoughts or judge yourself for having them. And you don’t need to get carried away by the story your mind creates. Every time you feel lost, confused, or overwhelmed remember that mindful breathing is always there for you. Simply come back to the next breath, and return to the present moment. When you’re ready, bring your attention back to your thinking, and observe what thoughts are arising now. You can go back and forth this way as many times as you need.