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October 03, 2018 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily

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worked as a software engineer at
a startup in Ann Arbor over the
summer, and for the first several

weeks I was marred with a recognizable
inner turmoil. I would get a task, try to
do it, eventually stop making progress
and then begin to think I was in over my
head and bound to fail. This overwhelming
sensation would spread, affecting the
rest of my work tasks. It would follow me
home, eventually leading me to question
my decisions and self-confidence in
situations beyond work. I might wake up
the next day feeling dejected because I’m
not good enough and start my day on the
wrong foot.

After a month of this cycle, I realized I

needed to make a change. I had started daily
meditation a couple years back because of a
class recommended by a friend — Jazz 450:
Contemplative Practices. Additionally, I
had been using a workbook called “The
Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron, for
the past month in order to improve my
creativity and become a better writer.
Both of these pushed me to reconsider my
idea of self-conception, which ultimately
pushed me to better my thinking habits.
The changes I’ve experienced have had a
huge impact on me, inspiring me to write
and reflect on them.

Self-conception is a sense of self

based in one’s beliefs and experiences. It
affects things like how outgoing we are,
how we tackle challenges, and how we
treat ourselves and others. If a person
believes they aren’t good looking or
charismatic, then it’s likely they will lack
the confidence to try things at which
they might otherwise succeed. Given the
impact of self-conception, it’s worthy of
more attention. It’s something that crops
up from our successes and failures, how
others have treated us and life events over
which we have minimal control.

By disassociating from my negative

thoughts over the past few weeks, I’ve
been trying to actively engage with my self-
conception. I’ve been searching my past for
events that have significantly influenced
me while also using affirmations to
redirect my self-vision. Two insights have
led me in this process.

The first insight stemmed from my

daily mindfulness meditation practice.
An important part of the practice is the
ability to recognize thoughts without
identifying with them, and choosing to
refocus attention back on the breath.
When meditators realize they are getting
distracted by their thoughts, they label
them “thinking,” “self-doubt,” “future
to-dos,” “jealousy” and so on; then they
refocus on the breath. By labeling them
and choosing to focus on the breath, the
meditator distances themselves from their

This brings me to the first insight: I

can detach my thoughts from my self-

conception. For example, I realized just
because I had a thought, such as “I’m
not good enough,” it didn’t mean I had to
identify with it. A pretty simple realization,
right? But we’ll see its power in a moment.

The second insight comes from “The

Artist’s Way”. It provides weekly exercises
to help the reader nurture and heal their
creativity. In the first week of using the
book, I excavated my past to find the
roots of the beliefs I held about myself,
my abilities and my motivations. The
workbook asked me to break my past into
five-year increments and recall specific
instances within each time frame that had
been memorable and formative, whether
positive or negative.

An important aspect of this self-

excavation is the idea that forgotten past
experiences are often the roots of one’s self
image and actions. Unfortunately, a lot of
these experiences can be negative because
of humans’ uncanny ability to over-focus
on negativity. Sometimes these negative

doubts and beliefs regarding the self.

This exercise helped me uproot self-

incriminating beliefs through affirmations
and gradual lifestyle changes. This leads to
the second insight: The underlying beliefs,
values and assumptions I hold about myself
and the world can be re-directed, changed
or abolished. Through this practice, I
began to interact with the scaffolding
that defines who I am. This comes with

the implication that not questioning these
underlying beliefs leads to not having a say
in who I am becoming.

Once I connected these ideas and

realized I had the power to question my
thoughts, I was able to both separate my
thoughts from my self-conception, label
from where the self-doubt came and
redirect my beliefs. Here’s how it went.

When I was at work, got stuck and had a

thought of self-doubt, I would take a deep
breath and think about how 1) I hadn’t
even failed yet and 2) Even if I did fail, any
single failure didn’t constitute who I was.
I didn’t have to identify with the failure. I
would remind myself of positive qualities I
did want to identify with, like having grit,
being optimistic and being resourceful.

I then incorporated self-excavation. I

searched my past to find the roots of the
monsters whispering in my ear, “You’re
not good enough. You’re going to fail,”
and identified they were connected with
forgotten memories of a soccer coach
being too hard on me in high school and
older teammates telling me I wasn’t good
enough to be on the team.

Labeling the roots of the issue really

lightened my mindset on the subject.
While at work, I had been worried I was
failing and everyone else thought so too,
but realizing “everyone” was really just
thoughts floating around in my head that
stemmed from past experiences helped me
loosen the hold of these beliefs.

“I have important things to say.”
“I will move forward; I will land on my


“Being myself will lead to creative


“Be calm; take one step at a time.”
These are a few of the affirmations I

read aloud to myself every morning and
whenever I felt overwhelmed throughout
the day. Affirmations are one of the biggest
steps I’ve been taking toward actively
engaging with my self-conception.

Now, when I am at work and get

overwhelmed, I’m able to stay positive,
keep moving forward as best I can
and disassociate myself from negative
thoughts. Sure, I’ll fail sometimes. But
failures are slowly becoming less of a
personal problem than a pragmatic issue.
It’s much easier to pick myself back up
when I don’t identity with them.

The cool thing about this process is that it

requires me to think about who I currently
am, why I am that way and who I want to
be. Disassociation between thought and
self helps me to recognize which voices in
my head I do and don’t want to listen to.
Self-excavation helps me address issues I
might otherwise ignore or run away from.
Affirmations help me engage with myself
in ways that lead to positive self-growth
in directions I’ve explicitly determined.
I believe this process can be used more
widely, and to help others get on track
toward happier lives, too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018 // The Statement


Engaging with my self-conception



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