Sunday, November 18, 2012

Three Steps to Unconditional Confidence

There are two kinds of confidence: the kind you pump up and the kind to which you wake up.

Conditional confidence comes from some kind of credential. If I read a book about cooking, I'm confident I know something about cooking. If I get a promotion at work, I have confidence that my colleagues see me a certain way. But if I get fired I might lose confidence in the way my colleagues see me. 

Sometimes I'm walking down the street, totally wrapped up in my thoughts: "How can I be better at my job? Do people really like me?" Blah blah blah...
That is living in the world of conditional confidence. I constantly have to prove my worth.

Conditional confidence lives and dies in the mind. There's nothing wrong with this, but we have to know that it isn't solid. It's based on stories we tell ourselves about the way things are.

Maybe I tell myself that I'm married, so I'm confident that my relationship is stable. But this falls apart quickly if my spouse falls in love with someone else. Nothing in life is totally stable. 

Unconditional confidence is different. It exists all the time, whether we know it or not. It isn't magical. It just is.

Knowing unconditional confidence can be described as resting in the way things are. This is probably not unrelated to what Buddhists refer to as experiencing Shunyata, which is often translated as "emptiness." 

3 steps to
conditional confidence?
In the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche described the experience of unconditional confidence as "basic goodness."  This is not about goodness versus badness. It is beyond good and bad. It is beyond concepts altogether. It is totally basic and it takes practice to get familiar with it. 

Unconditional confidence is a deep confidence. It rests in the knowledge that things are the way they are and that we are very small. It's not a tough-guy kind of confidence. It's wiser and more genuine (no offense tough guys). At the same time, it is "embodied" in the sense that you feel present in your body. 

The good news is that you can get familiar with unconditional confidence. You can practice opening to it. That is what we do when we practice meditation and become familiar with our minds. 

But there is a shortcut you can try as well, especially when you need to rouse confidence and feel present on the spot. This includes 3 steps, and there are many ways to do this, but I'll offer one example:
  1. Stop whatever you are doing. This is like cutting through your distractions.
  2. Take a deep breath and feel what it feels like to be in your body. Hold that feeling for a moment.
  3. Just be. Let go of whatever you are hanging onto and relax. 
You can remind yourself of these three  steps by saying, "stop, breathe, be." It is important to bring your attention to your body when you want to be present. You can either take a minute to do this, or you can do it in a few seconds.
Snow Lion is free from doubt.

Next time you are about to give a speech or make some other great leap, you may think to yourself that you need some confidence. Sure, you can remind yourself about all the great things you've done in life, to rouse your conditional confidence. But if you can rouse unconditional confidence, you can have this confidence even when you have no answers and no experience.  

If you are interested in reading more, check out these related posts on Capital Dharma:


  1. Ah those 3 wonderful words - stop, breathe, be. Thanks for the reminder.

    I just found your blog and like it very much. I'd added your link to my blog under, 'like-minded blogs'

  2. Thanks HH. What's your blog URL?

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