Gain Courage and Confidence By Taking an Athlete's Approach
"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Though we don’t always intentionally do scary things, to move forward in life sometimes, we just do. Through progressions and confidence ladders gymnasts and circus performers learn skills and come to do really physically scary things. They also have techniques and approaches to help them work through fears and blocks. I’ve started using some of the techniques that I used to use to overcome physical barriers to help me become braver in everyday life. Here are my favourites:
I am a great fan of mentally practicing the movement/ situation. This is safe place to work through all possible scenarios while at the same time activating the motor cortex in the brain and creating new neural paths for this movement/situation.
Our first response with any situation that calls us to be brave is to trigger a fight or flight response. So it is really important to tune into your BREATH. When we breathe calmly and fully we tell our body that there is nothing to worry about. Use your breath to inhale strength, determination and confidence and exhale any unhelpful thoughts.
The next thing to do is to use your WORDS. Positive self talk is using best case scenario words. It is saying to yourself things like:
“My new business will touch people’s lives”; “Our conversation will be a smooth and fluid communication of ideas” or; “I am going to engage and enthral this room of people.”
Because we cannot change our situation it makes sense to imagine that it will work out in the best possible way. This is being open. Shifting to a bravery mindset helps you achieve what you want. With a negative mindset you are defeated before you even start. You can shift feelings of anxiety or nervousness to excitement, instead of suppressing the butterflies in your stomach, imagine them dancing with anticipation.
In a moment of stress I often find that what I had planned to say has entirely left my mind. This is called ‘choking’ and this is when Cues come in handy. These are words or short sentences that pull us back into our bodies and help us focus. If I am public speaking these words are linked to what I want to say. If I am having a heated discussion these are words to help me stand my ground such as “strong”; “clear”; and “win:win”
Because stepping out of our comfort zone doesn’t come naturally to most people we can turn to ANIMALs for inspiration. Try choosing an animal to be your role model. Use its energy for guidance, pick one that has the qualities and attributes that you’ll need for the situation.
If a shark or a dragon doesn’t do it for you perhaps it is easier to channel a HERO. Let their persona model the positive changes that you want to make - step up and be a hero too.
understandably you may feel doubt that you can do something - until you’ve done it. Doubt doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. do you remember learning something as a child that you thought that you’d never be able to do, until that day when you actually did it? Step into the future and try on what it will feel like if you don’t at least try.
Confidence and bravery require practice and incremental progression. Here is where the idea of stretchinging helps. Find challenges that stretch you just a touch further than you have been stretched before. An example might be asking for a discount on something - every day. It might be adopting a policy of speaking up for less able bodies on public transport. Practice speaking up or making cheeky requests to get comfortable with discomfort. Discomfort accompanies everything worth birthing.
Something to consider about how you feel about discomfort is whether there are deeper issues at play. Do you put too much pressure on yourself? Do you overthink things?do you feel unsafe? Are you a perfectionist? Are you afraid of failure? Is there too much outside pressure? What do you need emotionally?
Are you AWARE? Like the preprogrammed settings on a computer we have behavioural and emotional defaults. Unless you know that these behaviours and feelings are automatically operating you won’t react differently. Are you able to create distance from yourself so that you can give yourself the time and space to listen to all of the thoughts and feelings that race through your mind and notice and listen without jumping in? Through viewing discomfort and fears with compassion and curiosity you might not feel the need to hide, pretend, retreat, react or melt down. This is one of many reasons why meditation is so good for us. It is allocated time to just observe and pay attention to ourselves, our bodies, our feelings and our thoughts.
This is also why sometimes we just need to feel too. There is a saying that goes along the lines of: “If I do not express my tears my body will weep instead.” Emotions are information and are a guide to what we need. Suppressed emotions can show up as digestive discomfort, shoulder pain, neck pain or headaches. They can explode as a rush of stress hormones and anger. When you give yourself permission to feel, you understand a little of what your body wants to communicate to you. Is it letting you know that you are skipping steps and progressing too fast? or that your strength and flexibility underpinnings are not what they should be for the situation? Is this why you don’t trust yourself? Or are your emotions letting you know that you are afraid of what might happen? Once you know that then you can flip this fear on its head by focusing on what you want to happen instead. In Nelson Mandela’s words "The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
Here is the last thing to remember:
Enjoy the time spent working towards achieving scary things. The process is important and shouldn’t be rushed. Trust that you have chosen the road that best suits you and will find happiness as you stop along the way. It is important to pay attention to all the good things in life and enjoy them. If today is all we have, then the process is what really matters. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says: "Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realise that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”
I don’t know what scares you. I do know that being told to “just do it” doesn’t work to get me out of my comfort zone. That’s why a few little tricks from sports psychology are a nice springboard - they’re worth a try…