Beat the Confidence Monster in 2016
Whatever goals you might have for 2016 (whether you call them ‘resolutions’ or not is unimportant), you’ll need a boatload of confidence to pull them off. What is confidence? Confidence is that magical energy that wells up within you when you know you can face down any problem or situation and find a solution even when you can’t tell the future.
Confidence is the main tool we use to face the unknown, and (don’t die of surprise here) generally speaking women have far less confidence than their male counterparts. Why? There are many, many reasons almost all of which can be traced back to the differences between how boys and girls are socialized to fail. Boys are often encouraged to try risky things even when there’s a particularly high chance of failure. Girls are often encouraged to ‘be good’ which tends to downplay taking risks and failing.
These are the things I’ve found over the course of 2015 that help me with confidence issues. I suffer from them just as much as anyone else - even more so since I’ve gained some internet celebrity thanks to ConTessa and my other initiatives and projects. It’s my hope that by sharing some of these things with others, we can spread confidence and change the world.
Channel Wonder Woman
This is my favorite thing lately because it’s backed by science! Powerful leaders share a few things in common, but the most hackable thing is the magic potion of hormones their bodies produce - higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. When you feel powerful your testosterone levels go up, and your cortisol levels go down. When you feel powerless your testosterone levels plummet and your cortisol levels spike.
Cortisol is the hormone you create when you’re stressed out. It’s part of the human ‘fight or flight’ mechanism - specifically ‘flight’. Testosterone is also part of the same mechanism, but in this case it’s the ‘fight’ part. The great discovery that Amy Cuddy and her team at Harvard came up with is that your body language can actually affect the hormone levels in your body. So, you can adjust the way you sit or stand and get some of that magic potion changing you from someone who feels powerless to someone who feels powerful in as little as two minutes.
Try it! For two minutes, stand up with your legs apart and your hands on your hips, just like Lynda Carter, above. This is just one of the power poses, but my favorite because of the ‘strong woman who takes no shit’ quality of it being a superhero pose.
The amazing thing about this is that it only takes about two minutes to get those hormones running through your body, so you can do this virtually anywhere. Stand like Wonder Woman, sprawl out like a dude. Open yourself up, make yourself big, and pay attention to how your body responds.
Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED speak for more of her great insights:
Dare Greatly, Take Risks, Fail Big
Brené Brown also caught my eye this year with some ideas on dealing with shame, which can be a terrible confidence killer. Her wisdom also comes to us from TED where she talks about vulnerability, shame, and you might recall her voice as also added to this YouTube cartoon showing the difference between sympathy and empathy.
I recommend all her TED talks, but the one that falls into the confidence category was her speech in 2012 entitled, Listening to Shame. She speaks about some of her own troubles overcoming the lack of confidence that results from playing to the critics. In it, she talks about her great connection with a well-known quote by Teddy Roosevelt:
Many women develop a tendency towards perfectionism because we’re raised on the principle that girls should be “good”. I was a 70’s child, so I literally heard my parents tell their friends, our family members, and anyone who they chatted to about their kids that their daughter was oh so sweet, quiet, and good, while their son was a handful.
At the time, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being good, and quite liked the idea that I was somehow not a total pain in the ass like my little brother. What I didn’t know was that I was being conditioned not to take risks or stand out in a crowd.
Taking risks is the key mechanic behind growing your confidence. It’s the first step, the fulcrum, the keystone, the most important part. When we’re rewarded for not standing out by taking risks, it makes it harder for us to take risks, so we don’t - and as a result we don’t build up confidence. To break out of that habit, we have to start taking risks. Testosterone helps with that, too.
Try it out. Give your game to someone else to GM before it’s ready - better yet, make sure there are some holes in it when you do just to see how the GM and players fill in the holes. Run a game with little to no preparation. Learn and play games in genres you dislike using systems you otherwise wouldn’t be interested in. Play with or run for a group of total strangers. Done that before? Run a playtest of the game you scribbled out in your journal for a group of strangers.
I won’t sugar coat it. You’re going to fall flat on your face more than once. That’s okay, though… the big point of the risk mechanic is that it teaches you confidence by placing you in less than perfect situations so you learn to adapt. It’s to teach you how to fail - how to fall. Failure really isn’t the end, it’s the beginning, but you really have to experience it to understand that.
Don’t overdo it, though. To keep yourself from getting too frustrated while you’re going through the failure process, make sure to break things up by also doing things you know you’ll be good at and you know you’ll enjoy. Learn to recognize when you’re reaching your frustration limit and do this before you get there. Believe me, it’s incredibly important.
When you’re in the Arena, it makes no difference whether or not you fail or succeed. The mere fact that you choose to be there has an impact on the lives of both yourself and everyone else. Entering the Arena is never the wrong choice. NOT entering it is, which brings us to the next part…
So What, Do it Anyways
The other part of Brené Brown’s message focuses on the critic itself. The voice in your head giving you all the wonderful reasons why what you’re about to do is bound to fail, and why you’re not pretty enough, smart enough, qualified enough, liked enough, reasonable enough, etc, etc, etc…
I have a tendency to want to mollify that voice through perfection, and based on what I’ve heard from others, I’m definitely not alone. Perfectionism can be a good thing at times - leading you to create with quality. It drives us to learn ever more and to not settle for things that aren’t 100% what we’re looking for.
It can, however, also cripple us by getting us trapped in the dark, bitter, lonely hole of, ‘I’ll just take a chance and do that thing once I know everything there is to know about it and can do it in three different languages’.
You know what I’m talking about.
“I really want to run this game, but I need to read all 557 pages of the main rulebook as well as the twelve supplements that go along with it.”
“I really want to moderate a panel on this subject, but before I can do that I need to learn everything there is to know about it.”
“I really want to write this game that’s been kicking around in my head, but I need to take some classes in game design or something before I can do that.”
We set these completely unrealistic goals to know everything about what we’re about to do. We keep telling ourselves that those goals aren’t unrealistic because they’re necessary to beat off the imaginary critics who are going to give us what for if we don’t know absolutely everything about the subject at hand. We get stuck, and our ideas die on the vine.
Brené Brown tackles this problem by acknowledging the critic is going to be there, then making the conscious decision to walk into the Arena, anyways. I call this philosophy ‘Do It Anyways’, and it’s been a touchstone of mine this year whenever I’ve felt the need to battle my own inner critics.
‘Do It Anyways’ means to be aware of what’s holding you back, acknowledge that it exists, then proceed even though it’s still there. Instead of trying to deny or process what’s going on or wait for it to go away, roll with it.
For example, when I’m having a difficult time focusing on working on something, I stop and try to pinpoint what’s making the experience so frustrating I want to pull my hair out. Did I just rewrite a paragraph seven times in a row because I’m trying to assuage an internet critic that may or may not actually exist? Did I put off answering an email because I’m afraid I won’t live up to this person’s expectations of who I am and what I can do?
If I don’t voice these things, they fester inside of me and I procrastinate until I absolutely have to do something. If I voice them, then say “But, I’m going to do it anyways,” I still feel the awkwardness or nervousness or fear… it just doesn’t stop me from completing the task at hand. In fact, it occasionally benefits me. Most of the time, though, whatever was holding me back in the first place evaporates as soon as I start working. Once acknowledged, it fades into the background.
So, if you find yourself avoiding completing something or it feels like pulling teeth whenever you sit down to work on a particular project, consider the ‘Do It Anyways’ philosophy. Really think about why you feel held back, look the problem in the eye, then do it anyways.
Above All, Be Yourself
I learned many things in 2015. About myself, about others, about the world… through it all I’ve tried to maintain one consistent message… I no longer want to apologize for who I am. I don’t think anybody should. I’ve met a lot of women around the industry this year, and each one had a unique take on the state of the world around them and their place in it. I wouldn’t want any of those people - any of you - to be anything but the wild, wonderful, and varied individuals you are.
Stick to that, even when it means that sometimes you might get taken for a ride, or sometimes it might get you in trouble. Own who you are and be proud of that. Confidence means ‘trust’, after all, so to have self confidence you need to be able to trust yourself… and you can’t trust what you don’t know.
Have a great and happy new year everyone, and may you have a fantastic 2016! I look forward to seeing all the great things you make and do!