New year, new you: cultivating confidence

I’m doing something radical this year; I’ve decided to do away with traditional goal setting. The reason? I’m not sure it’s the most effective methodology to follow. In my experience as a coach, and through implementing many goal-setting strategies in my own life and riding, I’ve seen countless incidences of goal paralysis, goal shame and […]

New year, new you: cultivating confidence

New year, new you: cultivating confidence

Jane Pike

I’m doing something radical this year; I’ve decided to do away with traditional goal setting. The reason? I’m not sure it’s the most effective methodology to follow. In my experience as a coach, and through implementing many goal-setting strategies in my own life and riding, I’ve seen countless incidences of goal paralysis, goal shame and goal panic from riders working to fit themselves into the traditional model, and finding that it’s left them feeling more depressed than motivated. And what’s more, they rarely follow through on the goals that they have set for themselves in the first place.

It’s not that goals and results aren’t important or are superfluous; it’s just that focusing on attaining a specific result creates a glaring disparity between where it is you are currently and where it is you want to be. It creates a dynamic of pass and fail. Of can I or can’t I. And heaven forbid, if you do ‘fail’ to actually achieve your goal, we gather those sticks of feedback up and use them to fuel our barely-suppressed feelings about not being good enough or not being up to the task in the first place.

What were we thinking, we tell ourselves. That was never going to happen.

With that in mind, I’m all about focusing on what it is you can control, what you can commit to, and what you can do consistently. In other words, I’m passionate about taking care of the process. If you take care of the process, the results take care of themselves.

How does this relate to cultivating confidence? Well, in many ways.

The thing about confidence – actually, the thing about anything that you want to experience more of – is that you need to reframe them as actions, as ‘doing words’, as opposed to static experiences that you hope to be a part of at some point.

In order to feel confident, you need to practice confidence. You need to intentionally and actively invest in its cultivation with the same diligence that you eat, drink or take a shower. You need to make the decision to practice confidence rather than wait for it.

Let’s look at a few ways that you can begin this process.

1. Decide what you are going to commit to

I’ve made up a word for this; what you can commit to I call your Commitables. Your Committables are the practices and processes that you are going to pay attention to on a daily basis in your quest to practice confidence.

A good way to get started is to decide what confidence looks like for you. What does it mean to be confident? What are the ingredients?

A sample list could include self-belief, trust, resourcefulness and consistently managing your focus. Great start. Now we know what that looks like, how are we going to take the theory and bring it alive as a practice? What would you need to do to practice self-belief? To practice trust and so forth?

Choose to step into the practice of confidence every day. Mark down your Commitables.

2. Don’t believe everything you think

One of the keys reasons that we experience fear, anxiety and frustration is that we fall into the trap of cognitive fusion. Cognitive fusion is believing in the absolute truth of our thoughts. The thing is, just because we think it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

If you take a step back and observe your thoughts, you might start to notice some familiar threads that run through your mindscape. Some of it will be harmless, some supportive and some downright defamatory.

Self-talk is different from the background, white noise chatter in our mind. Self-talk is specifically how it is we talk to ourselves when we do so with intention. However, even the intentionality of our self- talk does not equate directly to truth.

The self-talk that we pay attention to essential formulates the identity framework that we are operating from. If you are seeking to cultivate confidence you need to be proactive about how much energy and investment you put into the conversations that you are having with yourself and choose wisely.

If you are talking yourself down, treat yourself with compassion and empathy. Let those thoughts go and start to create a dialogue that is supportive of what you want to feel rather than unwittingly digest a mental narrative that is destructive and disabling.

3. Focus on what you can control

Along with your Commitables, you want to get on board with your Controllables. Your Controllables are the elements of your plan and process that you are directly able to control and influence. If you are faced with a challenge or crisis of confidence, ask yourself what is it that I can control about this situation?

It may be that nothing external is within your control, at which point the only thing that is within your control is your response and your perception of what happened. It may not feel like it but this is always a choice that is available to you. The skill of creating mental strength and confidence lies in your ability to frame everything within an empowering context.

If there are elements within your control, then figure out the way forward from there. Take action, reflect and continue on.

4. Are you in it to prove or improve?

One of my favourite questions! Are you in it to prove or improve? Firing this through your brainspace during moments of uncertainty will instantly clarify whether you are operating from a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

A growth mindset sees us as ever-evolving. Our skills and capabilities aren’t fixed but in a constant state of growth and improvement that is directly proportional to how much discomfort we are willing to handle.

All development requires periods of discomfort. It’s a necessary part of the mastery process, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Avoidance of discomfort –which translates to any experience outside of your comfort zone – will not only see you stagnate, but see you regress.

Embrace discomfort as the opportunity to embrace improvement and experience the satisfaction inherent to elasticising the edges of your comfort zone.

5. Recognise how fear and anxiety manifest for you, and then practice everyday braveness

I know we are talking about confidence here, but an important aspect to address is how those feelings typically associated with a lack of confidence such a fear, shame and anxiety show up for us. When we view emotions, especially emotional challenges, as a part of us rather than an experience we are having, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of negative feeling until it spirals out of control.

Fear and anxiety can leave us feeling like there is something wrong with us. They can make us feel embarrassed or ashamed and as a consequence, we retract and retreat, which only serves to compound the cycle.

This pattern is typically set off through the experience of a shame trigger. A shame trigger begins with an event or circumstance that makes you perceive what is happening as a direct reflection of your inadequacies or how “not good enough” you are.

I’ll put this out there: if you identify with any of the above, join the club. So do the rest of us. The triggers might be different but all of us have questioned our worth, lamented about not being good enough or had our buttons pressed in a way that makes us want to run away and hide.

Retreating, as appealing as it might be, doesn’t work. What I practice now is what I call everyday braveness. I practice this in my riding and in my life. If I’m in a situation where I feel those “shame triggers” arise, I notice the familiar patterns that come up. We all have them and if you start to pay attention, you will notice what yours are.

Secondly, you can remind yourself that your worth is never in question. Full stop. No arguments. Never in question. What you are feeling right now is an experience, so off the back of that, ask yourself, what is the brave response here?

The brave response is whatever requires you to lean in and reach out. It might mean that you talk to someone and get some help with what’s going on. It might be to take a break and come back to whatever it is that you are facing. It might be to get back on and give it another shot.

Whatever it means for you, practicing everyday braveness will see you continue to grow your confidence muscle and put you in control of confidence as a practice that you are able to invest in and put energy behind.

  • This article was first published in the January 2019 issue of NZ Horse & Pony

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