When I meditate on conviction, that state in which your heart is totally committed to a chosen direction, you absolutely believe in where you are heading even when things are immensely challenging, I am reminded of a video my daughter sent me of her Doberman Kelpie Cross attempting to cross a stream for the first time as a puppy.
Here was this lanky legged black and brown would-be mastiff standing at the water’s edge in a park, hesitating as he looked at the stepping-stones in the middle of the river and the mirror-like flowing water between him and the other shore. It was only a small distance and his legs were more than long enough to make the cross to each stone easily. But he was scared because he had never crossed water before and the movement of his reflection was putting him off a bit like the way we feel self-conscious when being observed doing something for the first time. He reached out a paw to try and touch the first stone, unwilling to jump. His nervousness increased as his attempts to hold on to the safety of the shore and simultaneously touch the stepping-stone failed. He was an intelligent dog and knew that what he had to do was let go the security of the shore and make the leap into the unknown.
I laughed out loud watching the video. Certainly it was a simple example of a puppy learning a new skill, but at another level it was also a great metaphor for the risk-taking everyone faces each time we learn something new, whether that be a skill or a shift in perspective and understanding.
Conviction is a firmly held belief and unwavering commitment to our choices and actions resulting in high standards of excellence. No matter where you are in life, no matter how experienced you are and regardless of the challenge, your conviction is tested every time you attempt to evolve your talents, skills and abilities to new levels of competence. In his psychosocial theory Erik Erickson suggested we are first challenged to develop conviction between the ages of 6 and 12 when we develop confidence in our ability to achieve goals and start comparing ourselves with peers’ achievements. In adulthood things can be a little less clear-cut. Our conviction is tested not just in outward achievements but also inwardly, when life throws us curve balls, and our integrity and moral standards are challenged. Unlike the child who is engaged in developing skills they feel society is demanding, the challenges we often face as adults can only be overcome by developing deeper self- awareness and the ability to let go the limiting beliefs we might have developed back in our early years.
The video ended before the dog made the jump. Based on his level of fear I imagined he would probably end up slipping and falling into the water at which point he would hopefully realise he was still okay, clamber up on to the stepping stone and leap across to the other side. Whether he made the leap the first time or after multiple tries, the important thing is that he would have given it a go. He would have faced his fears, realised they were unfounded and so expanded himself to new levels of competence and trust. So we must remember: taking action, being prepared to give it a shot, is the basis for developing conviction in your capabilities ranging from the simplest skills development through to resolving the deepest moral and spiritual dilemmas. Why? Because the map is not the territory. You cannot know if you have achieved mastery in anything until you put it into action and test it out ‘in the thick of it’ (map out the terrain).
Here are five key steps in the process of going forward with a sense of conviction: develop a growth mindset, allow uncertainty, face fear and self-deception, be congruent and surrender to life (stop struggling and simply be true to yourself).
Develop a Growth Mindset
Our understanding of two different perspectives, a fixed versus a growth mindset, one of which we develop early in life based on our beliefs, stems from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”. If we have a fixed mindset we believe that our character, intelligence and creativity are finite and set. This causes us to tend to be risk averse believing success is an affirmation of our static abilities. A growth mindset on the other hand thrives on challenge. Failure is not due to a lack of intelligence but seen as an opportunity to stretch one’s abilities.
One of the most empowering beliefs you can have is that life is a continual learning process with challenges presenting rich opportunities for expanding into the person we know we are. Developing a growth mindset is an essential first step in becoming a person living with conviction. What is the quality of your thinking? “I’ll never be able to do this” or “I can try to learn how to do this”; “this is too hard I’m not going to try” or “I can try to learn how to do this”; “that didn’t work, I’m giving up” or “that didn’t work, what can I learn?”; “they don’t know what they’re talking about” or “what can I learn from that feedback?”
A fixed mindset can turn life into a grind, limited and unfulfilling with a dubious sense of security. Believing in learning and growth on the other hand can make life an exciting learning adventure full of leaps into the unknown that continually expand us into mature, genuine people with a sense of self-worth.
The challenge my daughter’s dog was facing was the uncertainty. The first time I presented a webinar I talked into the phone speaker and could see no one, just the slides on the screen. It felt a bit unnerving not having the feedback of body language. I said to my twenty-two workshop participants, “Well, here we are, all of us here in a dark room having a conversation. How interesting! Let us feel our way together.” There was laughter on the other end of the phone. I felt everyone relax, including me. We had connected and there was a sense that although still unknown, this would be a valuable experience.
Uncertainty is a natural part of change. Unseen to the naked eye, growth gestates. The uncertainty calls on you to trust (yourself and the benevolence of the universe) and to patiently sit with the unknown allowing things to unfold naturally.
The reality is that we have much less control than we like to think. There is a timing to events and what we need will come to us at exactly the right time. Trying to push things through when the timing is not right usually creates unnecessary win-lose undesirable outcomes.
Face Fear and Self-Deception
Whenever fear arises it is a great opportunity to give some space to reflect on our core beliefs and assumptions. Everyone develops limiting beliefs to a greater or lesser extent during childhood and as adults we need to take responsibility for dismantling these learned beliefs and freeing ourselves of fear that may have been passed on, sometimes for generations. Thoughts like, “I can’t do this,” “I won’t be able to do that”, “I’m not good enough” “I’m too old, too worthless, too stuck” and so on are a red flag crying out to us to take notice of what is driving us internally, what might be sabotaging us, and use present challenges to free yourself a bit more of these often unconscious limitations that drive us to make inauthentic choices.
Develop More Congruence
Have you ever experienced the feeling of liberation when you call things as they are? Wow, you think, I really am being self-interested here; or, gee, I really want control here because I’m feeling so darn insecure; or, I am feeling so not up to this that I must keep up the pretence of being all-knowing. Committing to being genuine and really connecting with people helps you to achieve congruence. What we say and do is aligned with our truth. That is, who you are inside is who you are showing the world. This is liberating. You will be able to trust yourself and so other people will trust you too. Everything becomes simpler.
In her talks, Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has pointed out that there will be times in your life when you will feel as if all security blankets have been pulled out from under you. Such times can really highlight just how precarious our foundations are. With nothing to hold on to – you might have lost your job, a loved one, possessions, family, country, your very identity – you are forced to accept that the nature of reality is that things are constantly shifting. This can cause fear to arise. Fear is a universal experience, the natural reaction to seeing reality clearly, the impermanence of everything, and that we really have no control over the course of events.
To surrender means to let go wanting things to be permanent when they are not. Crises pull our stories apart, can even smash them to bits. Rather than falling into apathy and depression, surrender on the other hand invites us to enter a state of acceptance of what is. Times of uncertainty and loss not only highlight how fragile life is, we are challenged to give up a few more of our pretences and stand tall for our priorities, what truly matters to us.
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