Self-confidence is a fundamental quality to living an effective, empowered, and fulfilling life. Being conscious of and reliant upon your own powers and abilities is what allows you to think, speak, and act purposefully and believe that you have the inner strength and courage to succeed.
Like everyone, there are times you can lose confidence in yourself and slip into bouts of doubt, insecurity, and uncertainty. Lacking self-confidence, you may fear and suspect that you are weak or incompetent and thereby hesitate to speak or act with assertiveness, missing out on potential opportunities for growth or success. You may sabotage and hold yourself back in your work, relationships, or personal lives. As anyone who has slipped into ruts of self-doubt and insecurity can tell you, this is not a pleasant state to be in. But how do you avoid it? How can you maintain a healthy level of self-confidence in who you are and what you can do? The answers, in part, lie in the Bhagavad Gita (Gita).
The Gita, arguably one of the most revered texts in all the Vedic literature, is a vast storehouse of Yogic knowledge and philosophy. A part of the epic poem, The Mahabharata, it encapsulates the essence of Vedanta in the tale of Arjuna, the finest of warriors who is caught up in an epic battle between the forces of good and evil. Gathered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the forces of good (Pandavas) and the forces of evil (Kauravas) are preparing for war. The mighty Pandu warrior, Arjuna, asks his divine charioteer, Krishna, to place his chariot between the two armies so he can see who he has to fight. To his dismay, Arjuna sees in both armies friends, family, teachers, and respected elders, all willing to fight and die. Overcome with sorrow, Arjuna sinks into despair at the thought of the inevitable bloodshed. The resulting dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna expounds on the path of yoga as a means of liberation from suffering.
In the second chapter of the Gita, The Yoga of Knowledge, Krishna instructs Arjuna in the ways of yoga, essentially giving him a wakeup call from his despondency and sadness, saying:
This despair and weakness in a time of crisis are mean and unworthy of you, Arjuna. How have you fallen into a state so far from the path to liberation? It does not become you to yield to this weakness. Arise with a brave heart and destroy the enemy. (C2, v2-3)
The lessons that follow are powerful tools for restoring Arjuna’s self-confidence. Like Arjuna, you can also benefit from these timeless teachings in your quest for self-confidence and self-determination. As you read each of these five principles, allow the profound wisdom of these teachings to resonate within you and feel your confidence grow as a result.
1. Know Your True Self
In Krishna’s first teaching to Arjuna, he explains that the material world you perceive with your five senses is not the true expression of reality. It is an illusion, albeit a convincing one. Your ultimate essence is pure spirit, pure timeless awareness. It is independent of the good or bad opinion of others, feels above no one and beneath no one, and is fearless of all challenges. When you lose sight of this important understanding, you forget your real identity. You take the impermanent roles you play too seriously and feel disconnected from the source of your power. Krishna reminds Arjuna:
The impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal. Those who have seen the boundary between these two have attained the end of all knowledge. Realize that which pervades the universe is indestructible; no power can affect this unchanging, imperishable reality. The body is mortal, but he who dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable. Therefore, Arjuna, fight in this battle. (C2, v16-18)
When you truly embody this understanding, it becomes impossible to harbor doubt, insecurity, or fear. In living from the level of your soul, your thoughts, speech, and actions embody the essence of pure unbounded spirit—fearless, sure of itself, and courageous in all things.
2. Follow Your Purpose in Life
Krishna then goes on to remind Arjuna to follow his dharma, or his purpose in life. Arjuna’s dharma is that of a warrior, both literally and metaphorically. Arjuna has been a mighty warrior all his life; it is what he was born to do. But Krishna also encourages him to be a warrior for righteousness and the pursuit of knowledge. This knowledge is the understanding of the negative forces that grip the mind and rob you of your sense of purpose in the world. Whenever you lose your sense of purpose, you feel lost, adrift in a world that wouldn’t care if you existed or not. But Krishna reminds Arjuna that performing his dharmic duty is the key to salvation:
Considering your dharma, you should not vacillate. For a warrior, nothing is higher than a war against evil. The warrior confronted with such a war should be pleased, Arjuna, for it comes as an open gate to heaven. But if you do not participate in this battle against evil, you will incur sin, violating your dharma and your honor. (C2, v31-33)
While this passage may sound as if Krishna is advocating violence, the battle described is actually an internal one in which you are called upon to seek out the causes of your own ignorance. When you pursue and fulfill your dharma or purpose in life, you feel driven, deliberate, and purposeful in what you do. An important, valid, and unique piece of a universe that has no spare parts, you can be confident knowing that what you do in the world matters and makes a difference.
3. Take Action
What comes next is a hint at what will be discussed at length in future chapters of the Gita. Krishna reminds Arjuna that he is here in this world to take action. Self-doubt, worry, and anxiety are the results not of action, but of mental turbulence, compulsive over-thinking, and analysis paralysis. When you fail to act, and get caught up in the endless “what if” loop, nothing is accomplished and you only doubt yourself more. If you act, however, you will either accomplish your goals and find fulfillment, or fail, but learn from the experience. This lesson teaches you to not just sit on the sidelines of life and wonder, but to take action and own the consequences. As Krishna teaches:
You have the right to work, but never to the fruits of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind. (C2, v47-48)
In other words, take action! Make that phone call; apply for that job; ask that special someone out on a date; and write that book. Don’t worry about the outcome; taking action is the important part. The more you act, the more comfortable it will become. If nothing else, your confidence will grow from being able to say, “I did it!”
4. Build Experience
Krishna points out that every action leaves an impression, but only through disciplined practice are you able to improve. When you take action, you build up a surplus of experiences. Your skills grow and you become more capable. You develop the know-how, the understanding to navigate your activities with skill and ease. This is a fundamental key to self-confidence—regular, dedicated practice. As Krishna says:
Arjuna, now listen to the principles of yoga. By practicing these, you can break through the bonds of karma. On this path, effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear. (C2, v39-40)
Put another way, keep going. You will always progress. I’m reminded of the answer one of my martial arts instructors gave me when I asked him the secret to become a confident and effective martial artist. His reply was simply, “Mat time,” which was another way to say, just keep training. Repetition is the mother of all skill, no matter what the endeavor. If you want to get better, and therefore more confident, keep practicing!
Finally, Krishna teaches Arjuna the profound knowledge for tapping into the wisdom of yoga: meditation. Through the practice of meditation, the voices of doubt, indecision, fear, and worry soften to distant whispers, ultimately fading away entirely. In addition, meditation allows you to have direct experience of your soul—the infinite, immortal, unbounded, pure spirit. Stepping into this field sets you free from the need to seek the approval of others. Krishna describes those established in this wisdom like this:
Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established in meditation, they are truly wise. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers. (C2, v56-57)
When you make regular contact with your true self, the soul—the field of infinite consciousness—you experience self-confidence as your ground state. From this state of self-referral, you know intuitively that you can accomplish anything.
These five lessons provide you with powerful tools to harness the innate self-confidence that already lives within you. Use Krishna’s teachings as a regular reminder that you don’t serve the world by playing small. Arise with a brave heart and fight for knowledge.