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How do you Play the Inner Game of Confidence?

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

Authentic confidence comes from within- an inner sense that is genuinely YOU!!!

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:

  1. Know your stuff
  2. Stand confident
  3. Breathe
  4. Focus on the other
  5. Practice

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

Stand Confident

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.

Breathe

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

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.

Seven steps to Presence

You are about to go into a challenging meeting or give a public talk and you can feel the butterflies in your stomach. The saboteur voices are loud in your head telling you that you are not good enough, who are you to be doing this, what if they don’t like me….. and you are listening!!! What confidence you had is draining away, your throat gets tight, your tummy tense, your breathing is quick and shallow, and you are finding it hard to make eye contact with people in the room.  You are about to race into whatever prepared speech you have with nerves, anxiety and fear.  And then you remember that you have a choice about how you show up in this moment…… and you choose to show up with confidence, power and presence.  You take deep, calming belly breaths, centre yourself, take in the room, make eye contact, pause……….. and then begin.

Confidence, presence and power

Perhaps this scenario is familiar to you?  The details may look a little different- it may be a challenging conversation with your partner or children or a potentially unpleasant conversation with a work colleague; perhaps it is an e-mail that has you reacting from fear and frustration and you want to snap back a rapid reply; or maybe it’s an unkind comment that has your saboteur giving you a hard time.  Whatever the scenario and whatever the reason, you can choose to react from fear and anxiety, or you can choose to respond with confidence, presence and power.

In my experience, confidence and power come with presence.  Presence is the foundation or corner stone of your confidence and power.  This is the place where everything works really well, and you do your best work and show up with the best version of yourself without effort and with an easy grace.  But what is presence?  Do you have it?  How do you lose it?  And what can you do to get it back?

The Power of Presence

Children and animals are always present and shining their presence.

If you want to know about presence, there are two easily accessible places you are guaranteed to see presence- animals and young children.  They are always present and shining their presence.  There is an aliveness, curiosity, spontaneity and playfulness to them.  They are alert to what is here and now, be that around them or within them.  Awareness with an ability to dance with whatever comes up in this moment.  The aliveness of seeing animals and children playing in the park.  The curiosity they had as they discover, explore and experiment.  The alertness and spontaneity as they switch in a moment from tears to joy, or from sleepiness to wakefulness.

It is a beautiful place to be.  There is a keen connection with your experience and the world around you.  So that rather than shrinking away and disengaging from the event, you are actively engaging and co-creating with the event itself.  Steering it, guiding it and creating it with everyone else involved.  As adults, we may know this experience when we are in flow.  Common examples of flow might be performance related like in sport or public speaking, intimate moments with loved ones, an awareness and connection with the vastness of nature as well as your insignificance, or when you are at your edge (at the limit of your ability) and all your senses are tuned in.

Accessing Presence

So, how can you access your presence in everyday situations.  How can you avoid falling into the fear and anxiety of your saboteur and instead find your presence and the confidence and power that brings?  As with so many things, it is down to practice.  Yet, you do not need to practice presence- it is a natural state that comes intuitively.  You are born with presence and born to presence.  What we all need to practice is getting there and staying there.  We spend so much time in the past and the future, being present almost totally eludes us.

Past and future are not the present

You know the experience- you’re daydreaming about some past event or thinking about the future.  Or you’re worrying about something you said to someone and the impact that might have on your relationship or career.  Or you’ve done something you regret and think about how you might put things right.  These are not bad things in and of themselves.  But we tend to make a habit and a lifestyle about thinking of the past and the future.  And not being alive to what is present with us here and now.  We miss special moments with loved ones, magic events that may enrich our lives.  And theirs.  We lose connection with the present and so lose our presence, power and confidence.

All you need do is get that connection back.  Fortunately, there are thousand of ways to reconnect to the present and therefore feel your presence.  Here are 7 simple exercises to practice that I use regularly:

Breathing

Breathe to the wall. Before a presentation or meeting or when you are about to speak, practice breathing out to the far wall.   Feel that connection between you and the wall and notice how your awareness expands to fill the space between you and the wall.  You can also do this with a person- you will become more present to them when you do this, enabling you to listen and engage better in the conversation.

Expanded listening

Broaden your awareness to the sounds around you. First, the sounds in the room (the voices, the clock ticking, the air conditioning unit).  Then reach out to the noises in the room next door or the corridor (muffled voices, footsteps, the humming and whirring of machines).  Lastly, listen to the sounds of the world outside (traffic, bird song, dogs barking, construction work).  How does it change your presence to be more alert to the broader sounds around you?

Expanding your visual focus

Rather than laser focused vision which our lifestyles encourage, soften and expand your focus instead. Focus on a point on the wall in front of you. Now expand that focus to the right and left of that point as far as you can go.  Can you get to the corner on both ends?  How about even further round for full 180o vision?  What impact does this have on your presence?  How are you more present to the room after practising this?

Exercise

Raising your heart rate and breathing, releasing those feel-good endorphins and focusing on an intention to run a certain distance, lift a certain weight, perfect a specific move or improve on your time all bring you to greater presence. How much more productive, creative and present are you after a workout of some kind?

Play

Something as adults we tend to do very little of except with our children. Yet, play is an excellent access point for presence.  Try an improv class or have some spontaneous fun with the kids.  You will be more present with the people you share the experience with.  What does it feel like to play?  Frivolous?  A waste of time?  Enjoyable? Alive?  Foolish? Fun? In a way, all these strong reactions are a sign of presence. The more you practice play, the more you will notice the positive impact it has on you and the people around you.

Centring

Spend a minute focusing on your breathing. If you are anxious and overwhelmed, and you want to calm down, focus and lengthen the OUT breath.  Conversely, if you are withdrawn and disconnected, and you want to engage more, focus and lengthen your IN breath.  Try it now and see how it brings you to a more centred and present place.

Walk in Nature or around the streets of your neighbourhood or work environment

This one includes a version of all the others if you allow it. Don’t just walk from A to B, head down, getting it done as fast as possible.  Allow yourself to connect to the experience.  Feel your feet on the floor, the wind on your face.  Look around and take in the sights, sounds and sensations.  Feel your attention expand and welcome the input.  Notice what impact this input has on your presence.  How much more present do you feel to yourself and the world around you during and after your walk?

What is alive within you?

Then once you are present and feel your presence and power return, you are in a stronger position to take action.  Rather than act from your worried place of the past or from fear of the future, act from the power and presence of the present.  Connect to what is already alive within you- your authenticity, uniqueness, talents, qualities, skills, values, heart, soul, spirit.  Bring all of that present to this moment. You will create and give great presentations and performances from this place.  Conversations will be so much more powerful, alive, authentic and productive.  And your relationships will take on a flavour of honesty and openness that will of great benefit both personally and professionally.

Over to You

What impact is presence having on you?  How do you get into presence?  How do you stay present?  When you are present, what difference does it make to the quality of your work and relationships?  What brings you out of presence?  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below or interact on social media (Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn) or by e-mail.

And if you’d like more support in achieving presence for personal and professional growth, I will be running an event in Cambridge around the topic of presence in business (for both people in employment and self-employed).  You can find out further details and book tickets here. If you’d like to know more you can e-mail me at david@potentialitycoaching.co.uk.

Pass it on

Found this blog useful?  Why not send the link to friends, family and work colleagues?  Most of us would benefit from stepping into our presence more often and more deeply.  It could make a huge difference to someone you care about.