The Good Life Institute, LLC » Counseling for Couples, Individuals, and Families

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Practicing confidence

I’ve been thinking a lot about confidence lately.  Many people come into my office requesting to work on building more confidence.  They often want to be more confidence with people, have more confidence in their job, or simply more confidence in themselves.  So what is confidence?  What makes us actually feel confident?  Here are my thoughts on the subject:

Remember when you were learning how to ride a bike?  I do.  I had a purple bike that I had received for Christmas.  I remember having training wheels and thinking that I could ride that bike wherever.  I didn’t really need the training wheels to come off because I could get around pretty well with them on.  But the bike was limited.  It couldn’t go as fast as it was designed to go with training wheels.  Somewhere I knew I wasn’t REALLY riding a bike.  I was kinda “getting by”.   I don’t remember exactly when we took the training wheels off but I do remember my dad holding onto the back seat of my bike and telling me I could do it.  I do remember being scared and hoping that at some point I would  learn to do it without fear.

I must have eventually learned, because I can now ride a bike.  For a while I even got so good that I could ride with no hands!  I can’t do that anymore.  Haha!  But, I do remember vividly two instances where I fell off my bike.  One year after school was out for the summer, I took off around the block as fast as I could go, skidded on some gravel, and scraped up my arm.  I remember having my mom having to pick out the gravel out of the scrape.  Not a pleasant memory.  Another time I fell, I fell over my handle bars, walked back home bruised and scraped, and actually passed out in the chair while my mom was cleaning me up.  Despite the clear memory of these two falls, I have still chosen to ride a bike knowing the risks, knowing that I could fall.

How did I do that?  How did I continue riding a bike as a kid knowing that I could fall?  How did my brain let me get back on the bike?   Why on earth would I get on a bike now knowing that I could fall again?  Ironically, even though I remember those moments pretty well, I have much more evidence that riding a bike is pretty safe, generally fun activity.  I could only develop that evidence by actually engaging in the activity and practicing over and over and over.

As I have been thinking about the concept of confidence, I have come to the conclusion as a cognitive-behavioral therapist that confidence is a set of identified behaviors and thoughts that have been practiced over and over until they have become so routine and usual that they don’t feel out of place or cause a sense of fear.  Think about that for a moment….a set of practiced thoughts and behaviors that are practiced and practiced.  That means, if I want to be confident, I have to identify confident behaviors.  Then I have to practice them.  Or, I have to identify what are confident thoughts, and then practice them.  As a child, in order to ride a bike, I had to get on the bike and actually engage in the behavior of riding the bike, but I also had to say to myself that it was possible, I had to tell myself that I would learn, and I had to practice these types of thoughts every time I got on the bike.

So what are confident thoughts that are behaviors?  In Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Skills, there is one skill that is called “Appear Confident”.  I love that she calls this a skill.  Working on appearing confident, though we don’t totally feel confident, is about practicing those thoughts and behaviors that actually lead to genuine sensations of being confident.  The more we practice, the less we have to appear confident, and we find that we ARE confident.

The opposite is also true, however.  If we practice thoughts and behaviors of being self-conscious, guess what the outcome of that will be?

If you’re struggling with confidence, consider what your thoughts and behaviors might be if you actually felt confident.  Perhaps you would make more eye contact.  Perhaps you would say nicer things to yourself.  Perhaps you would say or do a lot of things differently if you had confidence.  Then, do these things!!  Don’t wait until your emotions change, change your thoughts and behaviors to see if your self-conscious feelings can transform into new feelings of confidence.

Until next time,

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