I did something this weekend I thought I’d never have the courage to do. I publicly put myself in a position of vulnerability — opened myself up to ridicule and judgement from strangers.
You might think what I did is a small thing, a normal activity that people do every day. But for me, it was a big deal.
So what was this momentous accomplishment?
I launched myself into the middle of my local harbourside in nothing but my gym gear, with only a stick and a big foam board to keep me afloat.
I learned how to paddle board.
I wasn’t particularly good — I fell in the water a lot! And there were plenty of onlookers watching my every move, as you can see in the picture above (that’s me in the blue top, looking very serious!).
It seems a silly thing. But a couple of years ago, I would never have done something like this.
I would have constantly worried about my appearance, scared that everyone would laugh at the idea of me trying to succeed at something so physically challenging. The voices in my head would have told me I was too fat and too unfit to try — that I was out of place, a trespasser.
But none of this happened to me this weekend. I didn’t care about the people watching me, I didn’t feel out of place — I was 100% focused on succeeding and having fun.
Something in my head has shifted — I know longer feel ashamed.
I didn’t feel ashamed in the past because of my size. Yes, I was much bigger than I am now. But the real reason was that I knew I was letting myself down with the lack of attention I was paying my body.
I didn’t exercise, I didn’t eat right — I was lazy about my health. I knew it, so I assumed everyone else knew it too. I thought they were all judging me. Although it presented itself as a weight issue, the real problem was going on in my head.
As soon as I changed my efforts and started to take care of myself, this changed. I felt confident in situations that would have previously had me running scared. Is it because I suddenly had the perfect body? Absolutely not. I’ve learnt that there is no such thing.
I know I’m doing everything I can to be fit and healthy. And my mind believes that everyone else will know it too. This equates to a new found self-confidence, enabling me to do things I would never have attempted before. I’m no longer ashamed of my efforts — I am actively working towards a better version of myself and I want to share it with the world.
What is the key to building confidence?
It’s pretty obvious to most of us that the more time and energy you give to something, the more competent you become at it. But there is an additional by-product of this equation that is often overlooked:
Time Allocated + Energy Expended = Skill + Confidence
Dedicated practice time and the allocation of energy are the two ingredients required to increase both your level of skill and grow your confidence.
This mind shift can be applied to any area of life that you don’t give enough attention to.
Perhaps you’ve been asked to do a presentation at work but haven’t practiced your presenting skills. You will probably feel scared and ashamed when you have to do it. But if you dedicate a little time and resource to becoming the best presenter you can be, you will find a new level of confidence when you are asked to do it next time. You might not be the best presenter in the world, but you are working towards your personal best and you know others will see this.
For me, the more positive things I did for my body, the more my self-confidence grew. I dedicated time to learning about nutrition and exercise. I put energy into preparing healthy meals and working out. Over time, these things became habits — I have changed my way of living, piece by piece, until healthier behaviours have become normal to me.
What is the first step?
Firstly, decide on what it is you need to change, and set yourself a small goal.
If it’s a body weight issue — cut out sugar for a fortnight. Need to be a better presenter? Dedicate ten minutes a day presenting to your cat! Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s something that is challenging but achievable.
When you accomplish this first small goal, your confidence level will go up a notch. This will in turn give you more energy to continue onto the next phase of your success. Because, there is a second element to our equation:
Energy Available is relative to Confidence Level.
The more confident you become, the more energy you will find to dedicate to your cause. Our equation is, in fact, cyclical.
This fact helps to explain why it’s so hard to get going in the first place — without confidence, your energy levels will be low, so taking action is a real challenge. If you can lean on your motivation to change in this first phase and break through the resistance threshold, you’ll find that your confidence boost will carry you forwards.
What stops people from sustaining their confidence and their success?
Three things generally happen to throw people off course. Often, they set the wrong goal — either choosing something unachievable (e.g. losing twenty pounds in a month) or something that is misaligned to their needs (e.g. joining a gym when what they really need to do is change their diet). This inevitably leads to failure.
Sometimes people use the wrong mindset, continuing to lean on willpower (which is, in fact, a limited resource) rather than framing their journey as a growth experience (something to be enjoyed). If your new habits continue to feel like a drag, they will never become fully embedded in your life.
Finally, people mistakenly think that once they have achieved success they can focus their time and energy elsewhere (forgetting that confidence and skill need the continuous input of time and energy). This leads to regression of progress, and ultimately failure.
Each of these situations will knock a person off course, erasing any confidence they may have gained. This in turn dilutes the energy available to continue their progress.
How can I continue to thrive?
- Understand your ‘why’ — your driving force for change
- Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Bound)
- Make a conscious note of the habits that have led to your success and don’t lose sight of them
When did you last do something which previously would have scared you? What tips do you have for building confidence? Let us know in the comments below!