Wouldn’t it be great if there was a do-over button to rewrite life’s flubs? My own life, much of it spent paralyzed by insecurity, is full of moments I’d repeat to speak my mind, share witty comebacks and charge into action. I was on a long journey to find my confidence cure — from therapy to coaching to self-help books — but stumbled on an unexpected mulligan button: meditation.
I didn’t start meditating with the intention of boosting confidence. Likely, no one does. You meditate to chill out, center yourself and recharge your batteries, so when it started helping me feel bolder and more assertive, I was surprised. A colleague mentioned how helpful she found a meditation app called Headspace. I gave it a try. It didn’t stick at first. I struggled to find the time, quiet and even the desire to check out from everything else going on in my day. I was a dabbler at best.
But something changed when I began meditating at night. I’d listen to the Headspace prompts on my phone while trying to coax Isabella, my then 8-year old daughter, to sleep in a sea of pink pillows and stuffed animals. I’d wear ear buds and hide the glow of the cell phone under a mermaid-sequined pillow, so not as to disturb her. One night, she asked to listen in.
Isabella had experienced a mindfulness program at her school which she complained “was boring,” so I thought I was in for an uphill battle. But the sleep gods came to my rescue. We’ve been meditating together ever since. Every night we listen to a 20-minute recording that focuses us on our breathing, instructing us to take deep breaths in through our noses and out through our mouths and then guides us to be aware of how our body feels, from the tips of our toes to the top of our heads. It’s so simple there is no need for any further instruction, but it’s our routine. Not only are the two of us better rested as you’d expect, but we’re also both more confident.
Isabella, who previously cried during math tests, and sometimes after getting her grades, is now taking exams tear-free and hitting perfect scores. After crying at her first dance competition, she now is awing her instructors with her “fierceness,” volunteering to perform at dance conventions and dancing hip-hop solos. From school to dancing to playing ball with the boys, she’s developed a new level of self-assurance, even chutzpah. It’s not a coincidence, as my experience is similar.
I’ve never been good at speaking my mind, at least not when it mattered. I’d sit through a meeting wanting to add something important to the discussion. But the remark would just stay stuck in my brain like a splinter and harden.
Since I’ve been meditating regularly, I’ve found a path for self-expression that had not previously shown itself. I am now speaking up with colleagues and my family, and communicating more assertively with my husband (sometimes to his dismay). Friends and associates are noticing. “Something is happening to Arielle,” someone at work remarked. I completed my first global speaking tour for an executive women’s organization The Quorum Initiative. I’ve also moderated several events for Ellevate Network, a network for professional women, and even had chance to open one of the events by introducing the panel and career idol, Sallie Krawcheck, Ellevate’s founder and formerly head of wealth management at Bank of America.
There’s a growing body of research suggesting that meditation has a long list of benefits, from stress relief, greater cognitive function and improved metabolic health. There is less evidence that meditation boosts confidence. Yet, there is interesting data that supports my experience. Researchers from Harvard found after just an eight-week meditation program there were measurable changes in brain regions associated with sense of self. They found that meditation essentially helps to calm the amygdala, which plays an essential part in regulating anxiety and stress together with finding “increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”
Another group of researchers from Georgetown and Miami University found that meditation helped people disengage from upsetting images to focus on a cognitive task. Insecurity is not a picture, but it often prompts disturbingly vivid thoughts. Meditation essentially helps its adherents dismiss negative ones with greater ease, delivering a degree of mental clarity that can boost confidence.
Academic studies aside, whenever we struggle with our confidence there is typically a voice in our heads — sometimes several competing voices — that can cause us to freeze with indecision. All of us have been taunted by a doubting chorus of voices telling us we’re ugly, dumb, an imposter or otherwise unworthy. Eventually, such misgivings become hard-wired into our consciousness. But meditation can interrupt this harmful cycle. It allows you the unexpected opportunity to catch yourself thinking that you are unworthy and to challenge it and overcome that perception.
This exercise in concentration and head-clearing, isn’t a do-over switch, but it allows those who regularly meditate to press pause on their automatic reflexes of self-doubt. At least that is what has happened to me. As my practice has showed me, someone may say something that still has the potential to lower my self-esteem. But now, I am able to pop that thought bubble. It’s as if my world slows down with a burst of inner energy. I feel like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, but instead of dodging bullets, I am letting negative thoughts float harmlessly by. Of course, it’s a blessing that I am sleeping better and feel calmer too. But the greatest benefit for me is that meditation is my now not-so-secret confidence elixir.