Frequently Used Tools
As you work through the strategies in my book Confidence Lost / Confidence Found, you’ll find suggestions for certain tools that will help you reclaim the unstoppable you. Although none is the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, you’ll find yourself using them again and again.
Let Oxytocin Help. If there were a master tool for confidence, it would be oxytocin. It is the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone.” Of all the tools described here, it is the one I use most often. I’m not confessing to drug addiction. Oxycotin is a dangerous synthetic drug. We hear so much in the news about oxycotin and opioid deaths that it’s easy to be momentarily confused, given the similarity of the names. The two are very different. Avoid one; embrace the other.
Men’s hormones and brain structure may have given them a head start on confidence, but women produce more oxytocin. In addition to facilitating bonding, it also reduces stress and is linked to optimism.
According to psychology professor Shelley Taylor, this may increase confidence by “encouraging more social interaction, and fewer negative thoughts.”
As author Linda Graham suggests, oxytocin is “the fastest way to regulate the body’s stress response and return to a sense of calm.” This hormone provides a neurochemical prompt for the sense of peace, well-being, and tolerance. Although there are commercially available “oxytocin” sprays, they can be expensive, and their formulation is not regulated.
Twenty seconds of a full-body hug from someone you feel close to and trust will also trigger the release of oxytocin. If no one meets that description, you can generate oxytocin with your own gentle touch. Putting your hand over your heart for a few minutes is a simple and direct way to get an oxytocin hit. I do this most mornings before I meditate as a way to settle my mind. I find it’s doubly beneficial if I think of those who love me.
You can also stimulate oxytocin by massaging your scalp, forehead, jaws, ears, or nose. Within a few minutes, your anxiety will diminish and you’ll feel more content.
Write in Your Journal. Journaling is a tool to build the self-awareness that will bring about change. You can do it by hand with pen and ink, at your keyboard, or by dictating. Although some psychologists suggest that the tactile experience of writing by hand is more effective, what’s vital is that you actually do it. If possible, set aside time each day to write, and consider that a nonnegotiable commitment. Fixing a time to journal will help make it a habit. Some swear by Julia Cameron’s morning pages; others prefer to write before bed to reflect on the day’s events and insights.
Journaling allows us to become more objective by acting as a reporter and diminishes an emotional charge. Try writing in a continuous stream of consciousness without correcting for grammar or style. Don’t edit or censor your thoughts. Studies have shown journaling to be helpful even if the writer never goes back to read it again.
Open Your Heart. Caring underlies many of the strategies described in this book. You can think of caring as affection or as warm hearted consideration. Whether you experience caring from another or you experience caring for another, your confidence will increase. That “other” may be your partner, your parent, your pet, your friend, or even your garden.
Caring will be helpful even if no one else is involved. Your act of directing care and concern toward yourself will boost your confidence too. Caring for yourself is vital for self-compassion and assertiveness. Resilience—bouncing back from adversity—happens because you care about yourself. Caring for yourself is the reason you minimize your perfectionism to eliminate the discomfort it causes you. The same motivation is at play when you muzzle your inner critic or reduce the time you spend ruminating.
Caring for others is the launch pad for connections. Attending to your relationships with others and receiving their care is a practice that will unquestionably nurture your confidence.
Similarly, caring about the goodness that we witness every day regardless of the source is an expression of positivity. Notice and relish the butterflies, the smiles, and the ice cream.
Visualize Achieving Your Goals. Visualization harnesses your subconscious to install a “preferred future” in your brain. By repeating the images you imagine yourself performing, you create a new neural pathway that prepares your brain to act in the manner you visualize. Think of visualization as mental practice for what you want to do. Many athletes visualize how they’ll compete, and the images help them succeed.
To use this technique, find a place where you can be comfortable and focused, with few distractions. Start by clearly identifying your goal—maybe it’s delivering a speech. Then identify in detail the chain of events that will lead to reaching that goal. Creating a richly detailed picture will make the visualization more effective. Consider what personality traits or feelings will help you accomplish that goal, and superimpose them over the events. Go through the process again and again.
Visualizations can increase your confidence. When I suggest visualizations in my book, I provide clues as to what you might picture to create confidence in that circumstance.
Meter Your Breaths with Box Breathing. Taking your breaths in a pattern described as “box breathing” or “square breathing” is popular with those seeking to calm their mind, ranging from yogis to Navy SEALs. It breaks each breath into segments done to a count of four:
Inhale: silently count 2, 3, 4
Hold In: silently count 2, 3, 4
Exhale: silently count 2, 3, 4
Hold Out: silently count 2, 3, 4
Pay Attention to Posture. Sit tall and stand tall. When you do this, your body’s internal feedback loop will send a message of confidence. Your body’s erect posture tells your brain that you feel good about yourself. Good posture also increases the availability of oxygen to the brain and reduces back and neck pain as well as muscle fatigue that all come from slouching.
Use Positive Self-Talk. This tool is another favorite of the SEALs. The U.S. Navy found that when soldiers participating in SEALs training were taught to use positive self-talk, their success rate rose dramatically. Each of us says between three hundred and a thousand words to ourselves in our head every minute. Those words can be negative: “I’ll never get the hang of this self-compassion business. It’s just a way of making excuses for my screw-ups.” Or those words can be positive: “Just keep at it. It will feel great when you master it.”
Test Your Perceived Reality. This tool refers to the series of questions suggested by spiritual teacher Byron Katie as a tool to test belief against reality:
Is this thought or belief true?
Can you know this thought or belief is really true?
Can you think of one good reason for holding on to this thought or belief?
How would you be without this thought or belief? (Or when you accept this thought or belief, how do you react?)
Use “I” statements. “I” statements are a form of communication which helps you to clarify and express what you want. It can also be helpful to use “I” statements when a conversation centers on conflicts with or criticisms of others—whether at work or at home. It allows you to state a problem while avoiding an accusatory “you.” Instead of saying, “You’re ignoring my opinion,” you could say, “I want you to consider my opinion.” Instead of “You’re always late,” you could say, “I need you at your desk promptly at 9 A.M.” Rather than saying “You’re wrong,” say simply, “I disagree.”