Hello there, my name is Angela Mitten, and I am The ACT Counsellor.
I love helping people live more of the life that they have imagined by learning ACT skills and strategies. ACT, or acceptance and commitment therapy, is an evidence-based therapy that has demonstrated great efficacy in improving feelings of wellbeing.
Today I want to talk about the issue of confidence. So many of us can feel like we are lacking confidence, sometimes it seems like it is a national pastime.
Do you feel that you are lacking confidence?
Is it your working life, or your friendships, relationships?
Sometimes we can have loads of confidence in one aspect of our lives and not very much confidence in another.
What areas of your life would you like to develop more confidence?
What do I mean by confidence?
Confidence is a belief in oneself.
It's having the conviction that you have the ability to meet life's challenges and to succeed. Being confident means that we have a realistic sense of our capabilities as well.
Sometimes we're so plagued by self doubt and a lack of belief in our skills that we get quite anxious. Then the anxiety builds on the anxiety, and then to avoid those feelings of anxiety, we hold back, and stop taking action. We wait and wait hoping that somehow confidence will appear, and then we will begin, then we will take a step, then we will take the risk, apply for that job, do “the thing” that we’ve always wanted to do. Until we have that feeling of confidence, we won’t.
This approach can leave us with living a life of regret, missed opportunities and not living out our full potential.
Eventually though the waiting becomes unworkable.
Back in the late 80s, I bought a book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by a woman called Susan Jeffers. I just had a quick Google search on that and I found that this book is actually still around.
It had a quite profound impact on me when I read that book, even just the title became a little bit of a mantra for me, to feel the fear and do it anyway. Even though Susan Jeffers wasn’t an ‘ACT therapist’ as such some of her ideas are aligned with ACT.
Because part of what we teach in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is that you are going to experience fear any time that you step outside your comfort zone and that it is a normal human response when you try something different.
You see, our comfort zone is where we feel confident, where we feel comfortable.
When we step outside that, it is going to be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and maybe bodily sensations are going to arise.
In order to grow and change we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Often what happens is that we get caught in a trap of thinking that when we feel confident, then we will do “the thing”.
The reality is that our confidence grows by doing “the thing”.
Sometimes we have the idea that everyone else who's out there doing “the thing” has got everything in place, and that they didn't have to go through the uncomfortable feelings that we’re going through. We believe that they somehow magically have all this confidence that maybe it was just bestowed upon them at birth.
But that's not necessarily the case. If the truth be told, they felt just as scared as you did, but might have learnt to relate to those feelings differently.
Let’s face it, if I could wave a magic wand and bestow a hefty dose of confidence upon you, you probably have lots of ideas about how your life might be different.
So I want you to take a moment and right now imagine, if I could indeed, suddenly wave my magic wand and bestow upon you an endless amount of confidence, what would be different?
If you suddenly had limitless confidence, what life would you be living? What things would you be doing that you aren't doing now?
Would anything change?
How would you walk? How would you move in the world? How would you talk to people? How would you carry yourself? What kind of clothes might you wear? Just imagine this person for a moment.
Are you kind of waiting for the confidence to magically appear? Because I have to confess, sorry, I actually don’t have a magic wand.
Confidence can indeed be developed and grown, and the way we do that is by taking action.
But the thing that holds us back is the fear of those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that we know we will experience when we're going to try something new. Trying to avoid these thoughts and feelings is what keeps us stuck in life. What ACT tries to do is get you to be thinking more becoming more mindful about what your thoughts are. So what are the thoughts that are getting in your way of doing the thing of having more confidence. So you might be telling yourself a story. If I had more confidence, I would be applying for that job or meeting new people be taking more of a risk.
Sometimes, we’re not really aware of what our minds are telling us. There’s just an underlying feeling of self doubt that permeates everything. When we are not in tune with what our minds are telling us, we can tend to operate on auto pilot, accepting as truth anything that our minds dish up.
I want to suggest today that you start noticing what your mind is telling you. Become still for a moment, notice what your mind is doing, is it judging, worrying, what is it worrying about?
So what I'm encouraging you to do is to make room for the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that will arise when you take a step out of your comfort zone.
You can almost preempt what your mind will come up with when you try and take that step:
“Who do I think you am”?
“What am I doing, everyone knows I’m hopeless, useless, a loser”
“Why don’t I just go back to what I know?”
“I can’t possibly do that “I lack confidence”
These are the kind of thoughts that may arise whenever you step out of your comfort zone. Rather than trying to stop the thoughts or fight with them try and become more curious about them.
“Oh, I'm noticing that I'm having this thought that I'm not confident, I'm noticing that I'm feeling like I can't do this. I'm noticing that my mind's telling me that I can't do this because I don't have confidence”.
You might want to name these as part of a story, all the while staying in the space of curiosity in relation to your thoughts, rather than letting them hook you in.
Allow them to be there, and make room for those thoughts and feelings that arise. Stop struggling with them. It's all part and parcel of life.
When we start to do this, we begin to handle fear and anxiety in a new way. We allow the thoughts to come and go. Just like clouds in the sky. They're moving across our landscape.
We drop the struggle with them and don't not get caught up in them. We spend a whole lot less energy trying to push them away. Wow! What could you do with all that freed up energy when you are not spending it trying to push away stuff that you don’t want to think or feel.T
It can be useful to start considering how do you behave when you allow your thoughts to lead the way, when you buy into them or allow them to control you. Do you these actions take you towards the person you want to be and what truly matters or away from the person you want to be.
In a way, I think what has increased, what increases our anxiety is that we have this culture where we're meant to be feeling good all the time, we're meant to be feeling confident and good and positive. If we’re not feeling those feelings we think that there is something wrong with us that has to be fixed. We start pathologising thoughts and feelings that are part of the normal human experience. The truth is feeling a bit scared, or even a lot scared, before you do something new or unusual is perfectly normal.
IMPORTANT - Expecting to feel confident in every situation is quite unrealistic.
It can be useful to see these thoughts as demons on your boat.
You’re out in the ocean, floating about aimlessly, but where you want to be heading is to the shore. The problem is every time that you start steering your boat towards the shore the demons rise up from below decks and start making all kinds of threats.
I think the thing is that a lot of people think, Oh, well, once I've got confidence, then I'll have it forever. Confidence is a slippery beast, you know, it comes and goes. And as that book, Susan Jeffers feel the fear and do it anyway said is that you will always feel a certain amount of apprehension even whenever you're stepping outside of your comfort zone so that that feeling of confidence is going to wax and wane depending on what you're doing. And when it shows up, that fear shows up. It's because you're stepping outside of your comfort zone. So we need to get comfortable with actually feeling worried or feeling stress, or feeling anxious, we need to get comfortable with some of those things. So we can move forward in our life. That's where ACT steps in.
Susan Jeffers said that “the only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it” this aligns with the other part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which is taking committed action in the direction of what truly matters to you.
When we take action that is deeply connected and aligned with our values it can bring us great confidence. When you know that you are doing something in the service of a value we can feel a lot more courageous.
You might connect to a value of courage or commitment, persistence or justice. These kinds of values can drive us forward to take action, even in the face of great fear.
You can listen to the language that you use. You know when we say to ourselves, I can't handle it. I just can't handle it. What are we telling yourself every time you encounter something that forces you to handle it. Your self esteem is raised considerably. You build confidence and trust that you will survive no matter what happens.
You see, the thing is, with ACT, we're not actually overly concerned about pushing away or eliminating unwanted thoughts and feelings. This can be quite something to try and get our heads around. After all, much of our pop psychology and positive thinking memes have us, ‘just thinking positive thoughts’ and we do have a culture of ‘positive vibes only’
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as a third wave cognitive behavior therapy, and what it's saying to you is, hang on these thoughts and feelings that you've been trying to push away, actually, you know, no matter how hard you try and push them away subdue them, tame them, control them, they seem to pop up again. The harder you resist them, they persist.
ACT is saying, hey, let's get mindful about these, these thoughts and feelings, let's be willing to
open up to the feelings and willing to accept that they are part and parcel of human existence.
When we drop our control agenda over our thoughts and feelings, what might happen?
And we do this, in a mindful present way, contacting the present moment, becoming present with what we are thinking and feeling right here and now, rather than being constantly drawn into the past, or the future. We notice and name our thoughts from a non-judgemental and curious stance.
We're cultivating here a psychological flexibility and the ability to change our behavior, depending on how useful it is, at any particular time. So when we come back to the idea of confidence, is it working for you to be held back by your feelings of low confidence? Is telling yourself this, this “when I have more confidence” story, how is it working for you? Is that workable? Are you ready for something different.
If you would like to find out a bit more about ACT and how it can help you with issues of confidence check out my free pdf ACT in a Nutshell.
I want to let you know, too, that of course, this is not therapy, and it's not intended to be therapy or a replacement for therapy. This podcast is developed for educational and entertainment purposes only. f you do require a therapist and you're interested in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a modality, I'd be looking for somebody with a fairly good grasp on that modality.
Until next time