I was listening to one of my go-to podcasts, Balanced Black Girl and this episode about boosting confidence got me thinking about body confidence. This is particularly true during this time of year, when the warmer days invite us to shed winter layers that we've been finding refuge behind.
So what exactly is confidence? The willingness to risk it.
TLDR: skip to the exercise to increasing your tolerance for risk-taking
The definition of confidence shared above was offered by Les, the podcast host of Balanced Black Girl and I gotta say, it makes sense. According to the dictionary, confidence is the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
In the context of body confidence, it's the feeling or belief that you can rely on yourself or your body. I think its interesting trust is also named in the definition. How does one build trust? Brené Brown has a whole talk about the Anatomy of Trust and spoiler: you have to take a risk.
In conclusion, the key ingredient to building confidence is taking risks.
I always say we get better at what we practice and we can also practice taking risks. I recommend beginning with something that feels like a lower risk and increasing from there. Here's a little exercise you can try around taking risks.
INCREASE YOUR RISK TOLERANCE*
Make a list: consider the things you want to experience that feel like risks to you. Be specific. Maybe it's wearing a certain kind of shirt in a certain location or being seen by acquaintances in a certain kind of outfit.
Rate your distress: imagine yourself doing each thing on the list and rate the level of distress you feel when considering the item from 1 to 10; 1 being no big deal, 10 being a panic attack.
Low-hanging Fruit: find the items that are rated 6 or less on the distress scale to begin. 6-7/10 distress is considered just on the edge of our window of tolerance so we're pushing our edge but we're not re-traumatizing ourselves. (Massage therapists have called this, "therapeutic pain.")
Baby-Steps: identify incremental steps toward the "big-boss" experience you originally wrote down. Sometimes considering what it is about the experience that causes distress can help inform the baby-steps.
Practice a New Response: as you do the baby-step, practice the response you want to have or different grounding skills to keep you rooted in your parasympathetic nervous system. When the experience is done, I recommend some self-care like words of affirmation or connecting with a trusted friend.
Repeat: do these baby steps, starting at the first one, until your distress reduces to a 4 or 3, and then do the next step. Sometimes this takes over 10 times of trying but the more frequent the attempts, the higher your tolerance becomes.
*This is based on a therapeutic process called Exposure Response Prevention (ERP).
Wearing shorts, wearing a tank top, wearing a bathing suit, shopping for any of these items.
Wearing shorts among acquaintances (6/10), wearing a tank top in front of strangers (7/10), wearing a bathing suit (9/10), shopping for any of these items (5/10)
"Wearing shorts among acquaintances" and "wearing a tank top in front of strangers" are both in the range of "therapeutic pain." For this example, we'll work with shorts.
Wearing shorts among acquaintances is hard because I don't know what they're thinking but I care about what their opinion. Shorts are also hard because when I see my legs I often have negative thoughts about them. Potential baby steps:
wearing pants I feel comfortable in and practice saying positive things about my legs
wearing longer-shorts that aren't as hard as shorter ones and practice saying positive things
wearing these longer shorts in public where there are only strangers and doing fact-checks: are they thinking about me or could they be thinking about something else?
I'm going to do baby-step C and finish with quality time with my dog who loves me.
I'll practice a lot, always checking-in with my capacity to take the risk and respecting my nervous system is I feel too activated to practice.
What are some experiences you would like more confidence around? I'd love to hear from you either in the comments or via email!