Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Confident Behavior Leads to Confidence Inside

The number of times I've listened to people beating themselves up over nothing. Some fret, cry, get angry, give themselves a good dressing down and really struggle to put things into some kind of perspective. Then again, some very stressed-out folk deny anything is wrong or seem incapable of understanding why their approach to say, work, other people, various aspects of life don’t quite work. Sometimes they invent scenario’s or stories they hope will raise their esteem in the eyes of others. Yet in both these cases the root of the problem often comes down to one thing, self-confidence.

I’ve also listened to people say how they try to think confidently in the hope this will lift their spirits. This, and other forms of self-talk can be useful, up to a point, but it needs to extend beyond the brain. For this to happen they need to create a feedback loop in which thought is translated into action and then adaptions to feedback can be made in order to refine the process. Only be experimenting with confident behavior does a person begin to develop a kind of mastery over their environment. There’s an intimate link between the way we feel about ourselves and the associated mood. Generally speaking, the more confident you feel the better your mood.

Regulating your behavior is easier than trying to regulate your emotions. Lots of people do this in situations where they feel less can confident, but by acting confidently they put others and themselves at ease. This is really a case of using behavior in order to drive emotions and it makes perfect sense. Confident people tend to have a well-developed sense of self. Our self-image is really a cluster of different techniques and memories. Very few people portray to others the person they know themselves to be. The seeming confidence of some people can be fairly fragile and if put under too much pressure will implode. This should tell us something about the importance of not trying too hard and stretching our public persona to breaking point.

Understanding how we ourselves tick can take years. Along the way we’ll make all kinds of errors but it’s the way we learn. Eventually, with time, practice and perhaps a little luck, we’ll find a way of operating in the world effectively and with confidence. Of course confidence isn’t a requirement but it helps. This fact has helped spawn a huge industry in self-help material often from people who have nothing but their own self-confidence as the selling point. But it doesn’t really matter how you package the message because it boils down to a requirement for you to make changes in yourself.

There is no magic formula. Confidence is something that grows and develops over time but it doesn’t necessarily follow you around. You may be highly confident in some situations and not in others. If however you begin to speak and act with authority you will quickly find that others, then you, believe in yourself. The upside of this is not only do you feel better, you’ll find a reduction in stress, an increase in self-worth and your mood lifts. What starts out as a contrived and possibly difficult exercise will quickly soon become a part of your character. Keep in mind that confidence is a state of mind and that it’s up to you to nurture it through practice.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Dismantling Stress Effects Through Positive Emotions

The way we shift from situation to situation can certainly be stressful. Each event has its way of making demands on our personal resources and there seems little doubt that many people already function at the upper tolerance of their capacity. For them, just a bit more stress is enough to tip the balance from health to illness or to begin shaping a once accommodating and pleasant personality into something else.

Everyone knows that people react differently to stress. Some have short fuses and explode in fury, others implode and simmer, yet others seem permanently calm and collected. How do they do it and what can we learn from them?

It’s possible that some people have a genetic advantage when it comes to stress. They seem more resilient, more optimistic, less inclined to take things personally. It’s difficult to prove that these Teflon-coated personalities are the product of some genetic accident however and perhaps this just becomes one of the convenient ways to explain something we don’t really understand? Just as compelling are the suggestions that a solid loving foundation as a child provides the necessary scaffolding for life as an adult.

We’ve come to understand a great deal about stress, the way it depresses mood and can lead to ill health. Much less is known about optimism or what might generally be thought of as positive emotions. To what extent might positive moods protect us against the negative effects of stress, or even repair the damage caused by stress?

The past few years has seen a growing level of interest in and around the psychology of positive emotions. What evidence there is seems to point to positive emotions being associated with favorable health outcomes. Positive emotions are known to have a positive effect on our nervous and endocrine systems. People with more positive outlooks have consistently lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and on heart rate and blood pressure.

We’ve spent a lot of time and resources looking into the negative effects of stress and potential buffers to stress. The emphasis has tended to be towards people as victims of stress. We use anti-stress techniques as ways of combating the enemy and of protecting ourselves. I’m certainly not dismissing these anti-stress mechanisms and techniques, they are much too important. What’s interesting however is the fact that attention is slowly turning towards ways in which the effects of stress might actually be dismantled through positive thinking. This, to me, points to an interesting line of enquiry and one I’ll be keeping an eye on.