I trust me, I trust me not
Reframing self-confidence as self-trust
I finally got to try axe-throwing at the weekend and quickly discovered that hurling an axe at a wall is actually quite fun, if not pretty difficult for someone with the coordination and grace of one of those inflatable ‘air dancers’.
As the axe went clattering down the lane, the instructor turned to me and said, “Don’t be scared of it.”
I didn’t say this aloud (thankfully), but the first thing my little inner voice said to me was: “I’m not scared of the axe, I’m scared of myself.”
I’ve been trying to ‘question my thoughts’ recently as part of my mindfulness practice (trust me on this one). So, whilst everyone else was having fun throwing a deadly weapon, I gave myself a little interrogation - what about myself was I scared of? And I realised that, actually, it all came down to trust - I didn’t trust myself. Specifically, I didn’t trust myself not to take my own ear off. Or to somehow accidentally murder someone.
I had never held an axe before. I also have no track record of accidental murder or lopping off one of my body parts. I’ve never even broken a bone. There was no reason why I should expect that disaster would strike.
The idea of reframing confidence as self-trust came from one of my favourite podcasts, How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, and specifically the episode featuring Deborah Frances-White of The Guilty Feminist fame.
Whilst discussing confidence, Frances-White pointed out how the root of the word ‘confidence’ is the Latin confidere, which essentially means ‘trust’. Self-confidence is simply self-trust.
Self-confidence is something I’ve often struggled with, and as a result I have been on the hunt over the years for that magic formula to boost my confidence. However, no amount of motivational quotes or self-help books seemed to do anything. It eventually became clear to me that an abundance of self-confidence was not something I possessed. You know, maybe confident people are just born with it.
I do believe some of us are just more predisposed to a level of quiet. I’m not bothered about being the life and soul of the party or commanding a room, but that doesn’t mean I have to lack confidence - to lack trust in myself. However, those who are quieter are often made to feel like their quietness is a problem, a flaw. I’m still learning to be comfortable with being quiet as a result.
Yet reframing self-confidence as self-trust has been a game-changer. There are some things I do not trust myself with - I wouldn’t trust myself to swim the English Channel, for example, because I can just about execute a doggy paddle and I’m terrified of being in the sea - and that’s totally okay. However, there are so many other times where I have lacked confidence when there was no reason for me to.
Take setting up this newsletter! I wasn’t bricking it, but there was some apprehension mixed in with the excitement. What if it totally bombed? What if someone emailed me to tell me my writing is dog shit?
But why worry about that? There are no guarantees in life. This newsletter has as much chance of making me some kind of household name among book-obsessed, anxious young millennials as it does attracting absolutely zero readers (thankfully, there are a few more of you than that).
Instead, what I can put trust in is myself - will I try my best? Yes, and that’s all I need. Gold star to me.
So, do I trust myself to always try my best in life? Do I trust myself to have my best intentions at heart? It’s a yes to both. And so, I have self-confidence.
This idea of confidence being trust is also useful in terms of building habits and achieving goals. Yes, I cannot swim the English Channel right now, but that doesn’t mean I never will. I mean, I won’t, simply because I have no desire to, but that doesn’t mean I can’t. If I trained, if I put my mind to it and tried hard, it might well become achievable. There is no reason why I couldn’t trust in myself, couldn’t trust that I could do it, until I had at least tried to.
I did actually manage to hit the target at axe-throwing. Not consistently, mind, but I scored a few points. I also didn’t maim myself, or fatally wound anyone else. Yes, chucking an axe about is a little scary and dangerous, so no I’m not advocating you walk in there with total confidence and hurl that axe with abandon. However, have a little trust in yourself. You can hit the target. You can ace that job interview. You can definitely learn to play that instrument. Uncertainty is a given, and your success is not guaranteed, but there’s no reason you cannot trust yourself to try.
What I’m reading…
This wonderful post on the hedonistic treadmill and placing your faith in epiphanies by Haley Nahman of Maybe Baby.
This post from one of my favourite authors, Alix E. Harrow, about time and fearing you’re missing it.
This interview at The Creative Independent with art therapist and artist Olivia Clear about creativity and being kind to yourself.
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