The Thing About Confidence
So, as anyone who follows English football knows, my team, Arsenal, is going through a pretty bad patch right now. There are a host of contributing factors to this, which I won't get into, but they've all culminated in a lack of belief within the team when they're on the field.
When our manager, Arsene Wenger, was asked about this, he gave an interesting answer. Of the side’s confidence, he said “you go up by the stairs, you go down by the lift".
You go up by the stairs, you go down by the lift.
That's a telling statement - one that speaks to the fragility of something that is so essential to our ability to not simply succeed, but flourish, to become our best self.
As anyone who has struggled with a lack of confidence in some aspect of their lives (i.e. all of us) knows, it can be a hard road to bring yourself out of it. It's not something you simply "snap out of". You don't just get over it. You have to work towards it.
It's made all the more harder buy the fact that to lose it is far easier than gaining it. Gaining it requires work, effort. It requires a number of ingredients, thoughtfully blended together.
Belief - in yourself and your ability to get there. No matter how small, no matter how difficult. I've found it's worth remembering our own wins in the past, no matter the magnitude. The message is, you've done it before, you can do it again, regardless of our self-perceived odds.
Language - be careful to talk appropriately to yourself. Positive, self affirming. Words matter, including and especially, those we say to ourselves. This is not to suggest sugarcoating any situation. Just state it for what it is, not what it could be.
That voice - we all have it, and it keeps popping up when we don't want it to. That inner voice that talks back. Push back. Don't let the inner monologue take control. It's hard but we have to keep at it. When it pops up, change the tone, change the language, understand that it isn't operating in your best interests, no matter how it rationalizes itself.
Others - forget about them. It's easy to get sidetracked by the criticisms - no matter how well meaning - of others. But only you know you. Only you know what you want to be. Who you want to be. Their expectations - and many times our perceptions of them - become the obstacles we don't need. (This is something I wish we could tell our younger selves.)
Take chances - go ahead and try things. Work off of your instincts. Trust them more than the views of others. It matters when you do so, and succeed, because it sets off a chain of positive events, momentum to drive forward, to keep building. Go ahead, trust yourself. Do it.
Small wins - go for them. No matter how small. Take the wins where you can. They all matter, they all help. And don't let anyone - least of all yourself - rationalize those wins as being inconsequential. They all matter. They all add up. They all mean something.
Compassion - give yourself license to be compassionate. We will mess up now and again, and that's ok. In the grand scheme of things, everything is recoverable. But we tend to beat ourselves up, much much more than we should. Give yourself a break.
Keep going - Be persistent. Don't stop. Even when it gets worse, even when you relapse, when you slide backwards, get back on, and try again. Start again. No matter how many times. One foot in front of the other.
One other idea I've found helpful is to think beyond yourself. Life shouldn't just be about what we want for ourselves but what broader mission we're serving. Who are we serving? What cause are we all about? What question are we trying to answer? What problem are we trying to solve. Redirecting ourselves back to a higher order mission allows us to have a center, a focus, a path forward.
All this is to say, confidence is a work in progress. We need to keep working towards it. We need to be conscious of building it. That it won't just magically come.
We need to take the stairs.