Do you know how it feels to wear uncomfortable shoes? Maybe you have dressed up for an occasion, gone to the trouble of really grooming yourself. You put on clothes that make you feel good. If you’re a woman you will have gone to trouble over your hair and make up.
And then the shoes… Ah,the shoes. You’ve chosen the shoes that best grace your outfit and support the look you want to project. But here’s the thing; most stylish shoes that make a statement aren’t… well, comfortable.
“Nobody ever said they were meant to be comfortable” you might object. Of course you would be absolutely right. It wasn’t comfort that was uppermost in your mind when you chose them. Still when it comes down to standing and sitting in them for hours, you can’t help but notice that they aren’t comfortable. They may rub, pinch, hurt… or all three. And however enjoyable the occasion, you can’t help noticing the nagging complaints from your poor feet….
Lack of confidence is a lot like that. It’s the kind of nagging pain that can percolate through to the forefront of your mind, whatever you happen to be doing, wherever you happen to be. It’s caused by old constricting beliefs that you have actually outgrown.
When people talk about wanting to have confidence, they are making the assumption that they need to acquire something that they don’t already have in order to function properly. “I would be able to do this, that and the other easily, if only I had confidence.”
It’s almost as if they are doing a curious kind of mental arithmetic in their head, that goes something like this: “In order to behave like X does in this situation, I would need 5 lbs, 20 lbs, or half a ton of confidence.” The problem is: how do you come by confidence in industrial quantities?
I’d argue that you don’t. You actually don’t need to. It’s not as if you could anyway. Not until you get rid of the old constraints that stand in the way.
Now there are a couple of interesting things about old beliefs:
First: people don’t recognize them as beliefs; they mistake them for fact, because once upon a time, usually back in the dim and distant days of childhood, they were taught those limiting beliefs as fact.
Second: they don’t think that they can ever shed that old programming.
There is an old story about how to train an elephant; maybe you have heard it, maybe you have not. It is a tale that bears retelling, I believe.
The first step in training an elephant is to make it believe it can’t run away. Get your elephant – preferably a baby one – and tie it to a strong steel stake in the ground, in the same way as you would tie a horse to a hitching post. The baby elephant will try to break free, but it won’t have the strength to do so. Eventually, it will give up and stop trying to escape from the rope and the stake that limit its range.
Once the young elephant has learned that it cannot pull the stake from the ground, you can replace the strong stake with a smaller wooden one, even though this smaller wooden one doesn’t have enough strength to restrain the adult elephant.
An elephant trained in infancy to believe that the stake is strong and won’t budge is ultimately fettered by belief. It won’t attempt to break loose and run away–even after it has grown strong enough to pull almost any stake out of the ground, because, early on, it learned two things:
· It wasn’t as strong as the stake
· It’s futile to question what you know to be so.
Have you ever had cause to change your beliefs? Have you ever discovered that the beliefs you once held were no longer true? I bet you did. You stopped believing in Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, the inevitable triumph of Good over Evil and many, many more things besides. You changed friends, partners, jobs, maybe your view of your parents. Too many things to mention. Things happened and your beliefs changed.
Old beliefs about lack of confidence are actually like uncomfortable shoes: you can remove them at will. And then what happens? Your feet and you start to luxuriate. Well, yes. Provided you only wore those shoes for a day or two. But what happens if, like most women, you have made a habit of wearing uncomfortable shoes for years? Then you deform your feet. Your feet end up shoe-shaped, rather than your shoes becoming foot-shaped.
In that case it case, it can take years, at the very least, for your feet to return to an approximation of their original shape. And, of course, you may find it awkward to walk in more ‘anatomically correct’ shoes, because you are not used to them.
Are you ‘getting’ the parallel? Somewhere along the line, maybe in childhood, maybe later, something happened to make you feel acutely awkward. It may only have happened once. It may have happened repeatedly. But at that time in your life it exercised considerable power over you to make you feel small. It still does.
No matter that years have passed. No matter that it is not how the way the world sees you. No matter that that is not how you conduct yourself these days. You are still firmly tethered to a small, fragile stake in the ground by old beliefs.
What is the most constant thing about you, given that you are forever renewing your entire body at the cellular level? Most likely it is your beliefs; specifically those sad, outmoded beliefs about you not being X enough or Y enough, and needing more confidence before you can feel good about yourself and behave the way you would really like to behave.
The uniqueness of human beings lies in our capacity to think about and change behaviours that are no longer serving us. In Dogs Never Lie About Love” Geoffrey Masson recounts how dogs do not have that capacity. If they become trapped in a place, they will keep trying the same escape route until they exhaust themselves. They will not explore what other possibilities there are. This limited thinking can prove fatal.
Isn’t it great that we humans have all the resources we need to think differently and do things differently. Provided we use them.
So how does this relate to growing your confidence? Simple really. Start testing the stake. Why not start taking tiny risks, the ones you would usually tell yourself you dare not take. See whether anything terrible happens when you do so. Trust me, it won’t.
I’ve worked for years with clients who expect the sky to fall down on their head because they took a small, new initiative. It didn’t. But it did grow their confidence to take the next step and the next. Do you know, they didn’t even notice when the stake came out of the ground altogether. They were too busy focusing on the direction in which they were heading. They were enjoying themselves too much.
That can be you. Only take that tiny, first step and get ready to enjoy the journey. If you really don’t feel ready to take that step on your own, then engage an expert to walk alongside you the first few steps of the way. It’s always ok to get help when you are learning a new skill. Successful people in all walks of life have teachers, mentors, role models. Get yourself one – and look forward to the day when you can ‘pay it forward’ by doing the same for other people who are struggling right where you are now.
(C) 2008 Annie Kaszina