The Inner Game of Confidence is a funny thing. Most people would say they lack confidence. Others might say they need more confidence. These are the self-deprecating people who feel safer in the shadows and not drawing attention to themselves. They are quiet and do not want to be the centre of attention.
And then there are those who would say that they are confident to the world, while deep down they also feel like they lack confidence or need more of it. The world often sees them as confident or even arrogant. They have learned to be loud, larger than life and out-going because they have been taught that portrays a confident air. Yet inside they might be struggling with confidence just as much as the quiet, self-deprecating people. These people do want to be the centre of attention and will talk over others to get control and be seen.
Rarely will you hear a confident person say they are confident. Usually, they are getting on with it, making their way in the world and making people feel great in their presence. They bring about trust and confidence in others.
Historically, I have been in all three places. We all are at different times. It can even change many times throughout the day!!!! Being quiet in social situations or work meetings so that I don’t contribute; brash and loud when I feel I have to be more assertive than I feel; or the centred confidence of speaking and acting in my power with calm, presence and ease.
Owning your Greatness
When your confidence shines through, you own your greatness. There are no self-messages telling you that you are not good enough. Nor are you plagued with self-doubt or feeling overwhelmed with stress. In that relaxed and confident state, you are using your talents, skills and qualities in service of others…………. and it feels great!!!!! It’s like you know you are here to do this thing you are doing, and you are living it, right now in this moment. I wrote a blog about this called The Little Signs of Greatness.
Many years ago, on the way to a martial arts seminar, 2 of the three vehicles we were travelling in broke down. Throughout the experience, I was calm, confident and assured that we would still get to the seminar and be able to return home the same day. In amongst other people’s frustration, doubt and fear, I held the group together. We all attended a remarkable seminar and made the 300-mile return trip home in good spirits. I did not allow the fear, doubt and anxiety to stem the flow of my own confidence, and so I was able to resolve every challenge, conflict and obstacle. I felt alive, empowered and confident. And my leadership qualities flowed naturally from me as a result.
The Inner Game of Confidence
This is an example of the Inner Game of Confidence playing out. In the face of adversity, keeping an eye on the goal and managing my stress and anxiety, I found the inner resilience to creatively resolve the problems we faced. From this confident state, I had access to all the answers I needed. And when we did not have the solution to hand, we created a solution that worked for the benefit of all. And I say “we” because my confidence had a positive and stabilising effect on the others, and we co-created the solutions together.
By contrast, when I cannot manage the fear and anxiety, I am less resourced and resilient and so I feel less confident. As part of my coaching training, we would sometimes practice coaching sessions in front of the class and the teachers. On the days when my confidence was low, I would never volunteer to do these coaching demonstrations. When I was a little more confident, I might volunteer- if I couldn’t self-manage well, the coaching was poor, but when I could manage myself more effectively, the fear and doubt disappeared, my confidence grew, and the coaching went well. And when I was confident, I always volunteered, and the coaching was great- as long as I continued to self-manage the fear, doubt and anxiety if I felt it crop up.
How to Play the Inner Game
In martial arts, you are training to deal with an inherently stressful situation- someone trying to harm you. You learn the technical skills of self-defence. This I call the outer game. But there is a second track called the inner game, which is all about your innate confidence. Without that, you cannot perform the technical skills of self-defence. The stress, anxiety and fear will tighten you up physically and mentally. You won’t remember what to do. This is why the inner game is SO important.
The inner game works like this:
- Know your stuff
- Stand confident
- Focus on the other
So, let’s take each one in turn:
Know your Stuff
Yes, you’ve got to know your stuff. But what skills and knowledge do you need for the situation? A small hand of basic martial arts techniques is all you need to defend yourself, so get to know the basics and work on the inner game so that you can do them with confidence and under pressure. Public speaking? Know your material and learn the skills of delivering to a crowd and all the while, working on the inner game of confidence. Winging it in a meeting? Know your onions and learn the art of spontaneous, creative improvisation. You get the idea…… you want to know enough and learn the art of what you are doing as well as cultivate your confidence from the inside out
It is only possible to be confident if you stand in your power. Feet shoulder width a part, arms down by your sides, tongue and belly relaxed, looking straight ahead and focusing forward, breathe deep. Standing this way brings out the qualities of being ready, engaged, connected, interactive, light, adaptable, aware, focused. Practice it now. Here’s a video for you to work with:
Martial arts teach you to stand this way for stability, strength and readiness for combat. When public speaking, stand tall and take up the space of the stage. Look at the audience. Breathe to them so that your voice carries and commands authority.
Sounds obvious I know. But, under pressure, so many people hold their breath or breathe from the upper chest, which promotes anxiety. When you stand confident, it promotes belly breathing. This encourages calm, deep, slow breathing which increases your confidence. It also gives you plenty of air from which to speak with confidence, authority and carries your voice.
Focus on the other
Often, focusing on you alone makes you less confident. It becomes all about you and your fear, anxiety and doubt. Once you’re standing confident and breathing calmly, sense your inner strength that runs up and down your spine and is grounded at your centre (a couple of inches below your belly button which the Japanese call the Hara and the Chinese the lower Dan T’ien). Now, project forward. As far as you can go, like your blowing up a large balloon. Fill the space as much as you can. A more advanced alternative is to project in all directions, as if you are standing in the centre of the balloon and make that as big as possible. For some reason, this gets rid of the overwhelming nervous feeling I get when speaking in public for example.
It has the advantage of connecting you with your audience. Whether its an audience of one or a hundred, or a thousand, this projection has the impact of creating empathy, connection and trust that builds confidence in both directions.
Practice and make it fun! I don’t know about you, but I enjoy practising things if they are fun. Make practice, to let your inner confidence flow, a game. Have some fun with friends and family standing in your power. Try it with your kids and see their confidence grow. Tell stories, share hopes and dreams, recount your day while standing (or sitting) in your power. What difference does it make? Are you more articulate, more sincere? Do you listen better? Practice with work colleagues by the water cooler or when you give or receive feedback. Are you more focused on the other person?
Practice breathing while you’re sitting in traffic, or on hold, or waiting for the computer to boot up. For some, belly breathing is more challenging because you are out of practice. Here is a good video for building that skill.
I’ll be running a workshop on February 6th, 2020, covering these topics and more in a practical, interactive and experiential way. We’ll be looking at how cultivating the inner game allows you to be more confident- authentically, powerfully and in a truly embodied way. You’ll find more information here.
Over to You
How confident do you feel? What knocks your confidence? How do you get it back? How did the tips in this blog change things for you? What other methods work for you? I’d love to hear your experiences and if I can help in any way, please get in touch.