Published on June 7th, 2017 | by Nancy F. Clark0
What Everyone Gets Wrong About Building Confidence
By Sukie Baxter —
The world— especially online—is awash with cheerleading quotes about believing in yourself, going for your dreams and proceeding as though you had no (self) doubt.
Whether you’re looking to ace a high-stakes presentation, finally start your dream business, or maybe just rock an edgy pair of leggings, confidence— the belief that you’ve got this— is an elusive, yet essential, ingredient that allows you to stretch beyond your perceived personal limitations.
But what builds confidence? How can you expand into opportunity rather than allow fear to hold you hostage in the corner of life, hoping you can blend in with the potted plants?
A quick internet search for self-confidence tips yields recommendations like groom yourself, dress nicely, think positively and stand up straight. While useful to calm minor nerves in the moment, these suggestions ultimately fall short of cultivating body-level confidence.
Psychology Today defines confidence as “a belief in one’s ability to succeed.”
While a positive self-image is integral to self-worth, cognitive strategies like thinking positively or reciting mantras don’t take into consideration the physiological processes that arise when you find yourself in a stressful situation.
Stressful events—whether a career-making speech or just a first date— often push you beyond what psychologist and author Dr. Dan Siegel describes as your “window of tolerance.” This “window” is a range of neural arousal within which you can process and assimilate emotional stimulus without disrupting the functioning of your nervous, cardiovascular, hormonal and immune systems.
The nerves you feel before your big moment could be classified as hyper-arousal, complete with sweaty palms, shaking hands, shortness of breath and possibly an irregular heart rate. These symptoms indicate that you’ve been pushed above the level at which you can maintain psychophysiological coherence—a state of harmony between your cognitive, emotional and physiological systems.
Confidence comes not from a lack of nerves, but your ability to perform in spite of them.
This trait is a result of both expanding your window of tolerance and becoming skilled at maintaining psychophysiological coherence under pressure.
The more high-pressure situations you’re able to successfully navigate while keeping your cool, the more confidence you’ll have in your ability to handle whatever the world might throw your way.
There are three key components to cultivating embodied confidence:
1 Activate Your Stress Response
By engaging in activities or situations that push you to the edges of your comfort zone, you can activate your inherent stress response and build the skill of maintaining psychophysiological coherence.
Let’s say I’m working with a client named Jenny who wants to leave her decade-long career to pursue something completely different. She’s worried she’s too old, is lacking skills, doesn’t have the right connections and will disappoint her family who has supported everything she worked so hard for over the past ten years.
I’ll activate her stress response by asking her to jump on a small box. Let’s assume Jenny is of average fitness and athletic ability and that such a jump would be intimidating but physically feasible.
2 Practice Recovery
Stress causes your body to enter its fight-flight-freeze response. Practicing physical control under a stressful situation is a way of re-centering yourself and overriding the knee-jerk fear reaction.
Jenny needs to calm her breathing and pulse, which have increased due to the stress response, and regain muscular control of her shaky legs in order to successfully make the jump onto the box. Executing the jump will indicate recovery.
3 Include Physical Exertion
Physical exercise can reduce muscular armoring. When coupled with cognitive focus, you’re aligning your brain and your body toward a singular focus.
I’ve asked our hypothetical client Jenny to write her current career title in chalk on the floor, and her desired title on the top of the box. In this way, we’re combining the physical exertion of the jump with the mental focus of moving from one career to the other—her desired change.
The types of practices that can engender these kinds of qualities in your nervous system are more or less endless and limited only by your imagination. Some sports, like rock climbing or horseback riding, can be beneficial over the long term, or you can work one on one with a qualified coach or trainer who can customize activities such as the one above.
Of course, jumping on a box once, or even several times during a single session, isn’t going to ingrain confidence in Jenny’s nervous system for the long haul. Neural pathways are like forest trails; the more frequently you walk them, the wider and more accessible they become.
Decide today if you want to push yourself to form those new neural pathways.
It’s essential to note that you should never challenge your window of tolerance outside of a controlled situation without a trusted and skilled facilitator who has the tools and resources to safely guide you through the process without risking injury or emotional trauma.
Article photo by Shutterstock-lightpoet