How to be RESILIENT: Why is it so hard to STAY confident?
Several questions sent to me, and my own experience with clients and students – reminded me that one big concern is how to build SUSTAINABLE confidence.
Many people go on workshops or courses and come away inspired with confidence, and indeed feel confident and relaxed for quite some time. Then, one thing happens (the horse spooks, or a friend falls off) – and suddenly the nerves are back.
What is happening here is that whilst the surface issues of confidence are being addressed, the underlying foundation for confidence is not being solidly constructed.
This can be for many reasons: it might be that there are other things on your life that affect you, so even though the horse side of things is sorted out, the rest of your life is not, so as time goes on that comes back into your mind and erodes your confidence from the course or workshop
It might be that the course DID sort out your confidence – but now something NEW is affecting it – and you don’t have the tools and strategies to deal with this new thing….
It might be that in the excitement of feeling confident again, you have pushed yourself through some of your own thresholds, ignoring your inner voice saying “be careful!” so your unconscious has decided it has to frighten you to get your attention back and make you careful again!
It could be for many reasons – which is why it is important that each one of us understand about confidence, how to build it – and have our own toolkit with tools ready to use when things don’t quite go as planned.
Having a toolkit and knowing how to use the tools is one key aspect of having sustainable confidence – of being resilient. After all, if we have a flat tyre, but know how to change it – then is is less of a big deal than if we don’t have the tools or knowledge….
However, there is something even more fundamental that affects our ability to build sustainable confidence, or resilience – and that is a facet of ourselves that can make it harder or easier to be resilient: whether we have an external or internal locus of control.
A “Locus of control” is where we see control of our lives. If I have an external locus of control, then I tend to believe that everything that controls my life is OUTSIDE me, and therefore outside my control.
Someone with an external locus of control, when they are late to work will say “ah, well the traffic was bad — what could I do?”
If I have an internal locus of control, then I tend to believe that everything that controls my life is INSIDE me, and therefore within my control.
Someone with an internal locus of control, when they are late to work will say “ah, the traffic was bad – I should have left earlier”
See the difference?
There are a few things to know about this locus of control thing before we get carried away using it for anything:
1.If we look at the population as a whole, we will see that there tends to be a distribution with a pretty wide spread: (just imagine the line is smoothly curved!)
Most people will fit in the middle where their locus of control isn’t really very extreme.
2. For those in the middle of this curve, our locus of control can vary depending on the situation – when I am dealing with bureaucracy for example (eg the recent interaction with the DVLA, the UK driving license authority) I KNOW I am not in control! Therefore in that situation my locus of control is external and rightly so…
However, I will TEND to inhabit a place where I am more external or internal MOST of the time – for example, with my recent run in with bureaucracy while I couldn’t control what was happening, I COULD control how I felt about it – I could choose whether to go around ranting and raving and feeling angry – or I could choose, using the self management skills I have learned over the years, to step back from it, accept it as how it is and make the best of things, using it as an example in a blog perhaps!
3. And this is the key: for 99% of us, our locus of control is LEARNED and therefore CHANGEABLE!!!
In a study where they looked at 5 year olds in school, they kept track of how many comments a child received in a day that reinforced an INTERNAL or EXTERNAL locus of control.
Comments that reinforced an EXTERNAL locus of control would be if they were playing with blocks and the blocks fell down “oh never mind, the blocks are uneven, no wonder they fell down”; an INTERNAL comment there would be “look, if you put the blocks like THIS they will stay up”…
Can you guess how many of each that 5 year old got?
Would it surprise you to know that in one day at school, the child got 197 comments reinforcing an EXTERNAL locus of control, and only 9 reinforcing an INTERNAL locus of control?
A friend of mine used to stop her child from crying when he fell or banged into things by slapping hte offending pavement or table and saying “bad pavement, bad table” – it made them laugh and stopped the tears BUT – it also started building a strongly EXTERNAL locus of control in her little boy – when she shifted gears to emphasising more INTERNAL comments, she noticed a significant change in his behaviours – and decisions.
I know from my own experience that this is changeable – I grew up a highly internally focused person, and my first job (as a sales rep for a major pharmaceutical company) was making huge progress – until a new manager came on board and within three months I was an externally focused person thinking nothing was in my control! Thank goodness I left that job and found my balance again – but it ws proof to me that locus of control IS changeable
Think about it for a minute: what are the kinds of things that cause you to believe things are OUT of your control (ie they will move you to the LEFT on the curve above)?
Some things include: being told what to do; being told of all your mistakes with no tools to help you correct it; not knowing how to predict a situation (eg not being able to read your horse); not knowing how to fix things (what can I do to calm my horse down when they get agitated, for example); doing things MECHANICALLY rather than understanding them…….what others can you think of?
And what kind of things will move you to the RIGHT – -ie to a more internal locus? – knowledge, tools, techniques, knowing you have all of these – having support – knowing others who have dealt with the same situation – all of these things will increase your capacity to feel that you CAN manage things, you CAN control them – it’s just a matter of learning HOW to.
WHY does this matter?
Well, if we have an EXTERNAL focus about our confidence, it is easily knocked. If our confidence depends on external things which we have no control over – then the slightest thing will set us back as we will not believe we have the resources to sort things out.
If we have an INTERNAL focus, then when there is a set back, instead of going “it was the wind, it’s my horse, it’s the situation” we will go “hmm, looks like I don’t know HOW to cope in the wind, or read my horse, or HOW to handle these situations….I had better find a way to learn…..”
In the first example, there is nothing you can do to change things.
In the second – well it might be a lot of effort and take some time – but it CAN be done….
Which one is better for sustainable confidence?
One last thing about this locus of control – it IS possible to be TOO internally focused!
Yes, seriously, it is – when you are TOO internally focused, you take responsibility for EVERYTHING – and this can start what is called a “neurotic spiral” — “It’s my fault I can’t read my horse, I am no good for my horse – I am a terrible horse-owner – my horse would be MUCH better off without me, I should get rid of my horses and find them better homes and give up now!”
I think we all go there now and then – the trouble is if we stay there, it is very hard to get out again and it’s a very miserable place to be – if anyone reading this is in that place, drop me an email as I can help you climb out again…..
For sustainable confidence – to be RESILIENT in the face of challenges and changes, we need to do two things:
Identify what the challenge is – and turn it into something where we can ask these question: “HOW can I manage this with confidence? What CAN I do to feel more confident here?
A recent example is a friend of mine who had her horse starter by a very good horseman, and rode happily when on the handover workshop – but then got home and realised she was VERY worried about her horse’s reactions to her now she was alone.
While she was focused on the worry and what she HADN’T got control of (eg I have no instructor here, no one to help me if things go wrong, I can’t control my horse’s excitement and energy) she felt horrible and “stuck”.
When she refocused and asked herself – “well, I know all that but what CAN I do to feel more confident here?” she came up with several answers:
– I can do a few days of groundwork in the arena and field to just remind myself that I CAN do things by myself
– I can make a point of sticking to the plans I make – -that will help my unconscious to trust me
– I can do a lot of saddling and mounting practice with a lot of on and off so I can prove to myself my horse is ok with me on him
– I can break things down and do them small steps at a time and check I am below a five at each stage – and check my HORSE is below a five at each stage too
– I can use patterns to help us both relax – make things predictable but with a few obstacles now and then to keep him interested
Here’s what she said after this conversation:
“Once I had a list of things I COULD do to stay confident, it was like a weight lifting off my shoulders – instead of focusing on what I COULDN’T do, I had STACKS of things I COULD do and that changed things COMPLETELY! Since this discussion I have been making huge progress in my confidence and Hannibal and I are back to where we were at the handover workshop – but by ourselves!”
We can’t always change the facts – what we CAN change is what we DO about the facts…..
What example do you have of things you have done to become more resilient? To make sure the confidence you have is sustainable confidence?
Yours, in confidence
PS: some of you may know that earlier this year I published my first novel as an ebook — if you like psychological thrillers take a look