Confidence Mapping – Using Your Confidence Highs to Deal with the Lows

So often we talk about confidence as an ‘all-or-nothing’ quality. Taking this black-and-white view distorts our perceptions. Some people who are less self-assured, or with lower self-esteem describe themselves as having ‘no confidence’. But is there any such thing as zero confidence? Doesn’t it fluctuate depending on our mood, where we are and who we are with? There’s a lot of life lived out in the ‘excluded middle’, the bit between the polar opposites of ‘zero’ and ‘total’.

In my workshops I ask people to rate their general confidence on a scale from zero to ten, where zero equals ‘no confidence at all’ and ten equals supreme confidence. Some people choose zero. However, if I add a bit more detail about what zero means, I can immediately create a shift for them. I usually ask them to think of the last successful thing they accomplished, however small. Sometimes I am met with blank looks and ‘no, nothing’. However, I ask them how they managed to get to the workshop? They begin to see that confidence must have been involved. When we view the world through black-and-white filters, a great deal of detail is lost.

Mapping Your Confidence Highs and Lows

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn Unlock Your Confidence I present a chapter on Confidence Tracking, designed to explore all the stuff that an ‘all-or-nothing’ view might overlook. I call it ‘looking for what sparkles’, a phrase borrowed from the Solution Focused Brief Therapy approach, which also informs my coaching practice.

First I ask some simple questions, again these are the type of things I ask in the first life coaching session with clients. On one level they help to put people at ease and help build rapport. These are also great small-talk questions if you’ve exhausted the topics of ‘what do you do for a living?’ and ‘What do you think of the weather?’ So here are a few questions to consider:

  1. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  2. What hobbies, pastimes, and sports to do you enjoy?
  3. How do you like to relax?
  4. With whom do you enjoy spending your time?
  5. What are you favourite places to visit?

I suggest that you would feel more confident in any of these situations than being asked to speak in public, asking the boss for a raise or tackling a problem that you’ve never met before. How do your zero to ten ratings differ? So the next question is ‘What can you ‘borrow’ from any of these situations to take to a ‘difficult’ situation?

Life Spheres – Roles, People and Situations

Consider the various ‘life spheres’ you belong to: Family life, work life, social life, leisure time etc. Note where you ‘shine’ and how confidence may fluctuate. How do your ratings differ? Again, what can you borrow from the life spheres in which you feel more confident. How might you apply this to another sphere where you feel less so?

Now think about your various ‘life roles’ such as friend, parent, child, colleague etc. Again note the variations in confidence ratings. What can you take away from this to help you to deal with people who present a little more of a challenge?

What about the various people with whom you interact such as older people, younger people, children, colleagues and so on. How do your confidence ratings vary? Again, what do you deduce from this?

Working through these exercises you begin to create a map of where your confidence levels peak and where they dip. The peaks are resources that you can bring to other situations.

Recently, I did some speed coaching at well-being festivals (MInd, Body Spirit; and Mind, Body and Soul). It was part of the promotion for the book, to show how quickly the book will help you to gain insights and make changes. Each ‘client’ had just 15 minutes and one of the techniques I used was the scaling question. The notable thing is that everyone wanted to talk about ‘difficult people’ or ‘difficult interactions’. When I asked them how things differed from ‘non-difficult’ encounters, everyone recognized that they were more tense approaching these people and situations in contrast to more pleasurable encounters. I didn’t make any suggestions but everyone came up with the same solution: Relax, smile more and set the scene for a positive reaction. Often we think that we are reacting to difficult people whereas we are helping to co-create the encounter. Sometimes a little push in the ‘right direction’ is all that it takes.

At the heart of this is true empowerment  and is self-esteem building as none of this process involves learning ‘new-fangled’, convoluted techniques. Real confidence is all about tapping into your existing resources. It’s all about transferable skills, that is. finding out what you do already and then just moving it around a bit! So get mapping.

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Oh No They Can’t! Oh Yes They Can! Self-Help Mantras With Evidence-Based Psychology Can Help!

Self-help affirmations are a common techniques designed to improve a person’s sense of worth but many self-help books offer the technique in uniformed and uncritical way. Unfortunately our inner critic is not so forgiving. So, if you endless repeat ‘I am a gifted, lovable, dynamic, outgoing person’ over and over again your inner critic may just respond each time ‘No you’re not! NO you are not!! NO YOU ARE NOT! NO YOU ARE @&%*ING WELL NOT!’ So, it’s no surprise that new research has found that low-self esteem felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves. However, ‘let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater’. As welcome as this research is, affirmations can still be helpful if you use them in line with evidence-based psychological insights. Let’s look at why and how.

As I explain in Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It, the problem is that many self-help gurus do not have even a fundamental understanding of attitude change, although many have recognised that the over-blown affirmations do not work. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a negative person and tried to offer suggestions you will know why. Invariably your attempts will be met with ‘yes but, yes but, yes but’. As we know ‘yes but means no!’. It’s like aiming ‘well intentioned missiles’ at the Starship Enterprise when the deflector shields are up. You ain’t gonna get through!

The secret is to recognise that attitude change is often a slow and subtler process. If we combine the psychology of attitudes with some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) and insights from Positive Psychology then we do have a recipe for change. All of these already drawn on a body of research whereas the ‘repeat things you don’t believe’ approach, does not!

The secret is to use small incremental steps that are difficult to disagree with. Focus on continual improvement. So for instance, compare these two statements:

  1. I am a lovable person
  2. I am becoming a more lovable person

Statement 2 is still not perfect but it is not so easily discounted as statement 1. Furthermore, statement 1 is most likely cancelled out by the existing statement running over and over in a person’s head, which says ‘I am an unlovable person’. This has already set up a perceptual filter that looks for evidence to support this statement and filter out anything to the contrary. This how negative attitudes and stereotypes are maintained. Statement 2 can easily be tagged on as a ‘but’:

  • I am an unlovable person BUT I am becoming a more lovable person

So if you are running negative statements, what you need to do first is spot them and use a method to cancel them. Just saying ‘Cancel’ makes the process more conscious. You can then substitute a ‘becoming’ statement.

Another technique is to add an ‘up until now clause’ which opens up the possibility of change. For instance:

  • I’m crap at maths

This becomes:

  • Up until now I’ve been crap at maths

Now add the ‘but’:

  • Up until now I’ve been crap at maths but I’m improving

After you’ve used this for a while, your inner critic is  much more likely to be receptive to the affirmation:

  • As I work at it, my maths is improving

Whereas, ‘I’m fantastic at maths’ is likely to be met with the immediate response: ‘No you’re not, you’re as thick as pig sh*t’!’ Clearly, your inner critic recognises the lie and tells you so and you end up feeling worse. To make progress you need to write affirmations that are unlikely to be rejected.

It’s only really possible to scratch the surface in this post, but hopefully I’ve demonstrated that it’s not self-help affirmations that are at fault, it’s how they are written. Knowledge of evidence-based psychology of attitude change (and therapeutic techniques) can help us to structure statements, that slowly peel back the defences.

One of the main motivations for writing ‘Don’t Wait. . . Swim Out‘ was to dispel self-help myths and put some evidence-based insights back into equation. Here’s a short video that explains more about my approach to affirmations and turning that inner critic into an inner coach:

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