Developing Resilience #2

Be Confident. The first in this four-part series on leadership resilience focused on Being Calm. Being calm doesn’t mean being passive or non emotional. It is based on the reality that God is in control. He sees you and knows your situation. And though we don’t know how a situation is going to turn out, having sustained anxiety doesn’t make it better. Staying calm in the storms or when facing a roadblock helps you move toward the next step.

Be Confident. In moments of crisis or dramatic change, it’s easy to lose confidence, and then the fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in. However, by first remaining calm, we can allow confidence to take over.
But here is what often happens instead. We replay a narrative that focuses on our weaknesses, past failures, and inadequacies. But those are only part of the story. Surely, we’ve all failed and have our Achilles heel – or several heels! – but locking in on those stories don’t really help us be confident. Focusing on where I’ve failed before is about as helpful as standing over a 3-foot putt and remembering that I missed one earlier in the day. This is where our ability to focus works against us. We focus on the wrong things to build confidence.

Instead, try what David the shepherd and soon to be warrior did in his battle with Goliath. When chastised by his oldest brother and put down by King/General Saul for thinking he might be able to take down Goliath, David responded with a quick reference to his past experience and success. But consider – had David ever killed a giant before? Answer: zero giants killed on his resume. But he had killed a lion and a bear as part of his shepherding experience. So, although this battle is very different, he remembered what he had done and applied it to the new scenario. Yes, he had confidence in the rightness of his action – God’s honor was at stake. But he also had confidence to step up in the moment, based on his previous success with a slingshot out in the wild. Let’s face it, I can have conviction that something is the right thing to do, but have absolutely no experience to help me do it well. Like surgery. I shouldn’t attempt it even if I do feel confident its the right thing to do. Getting a good night’s sleep is Not a qualifier for experience.

I recently heard couples therapist Laura Heck interviewed on a podcast describing something called “habit stacking,” where you keep track of your partner’s positive traits each day in order to stop focusing on their little habits that bug you. (By the way, for an enjoyable 30 minutes each week, check out Dan Heath’s podcast series What’s It’s Like To Be… Its so insightful about different jobs.)

I’ve adapted a version of this with a slight twist for myself recently, and asking others I’m coaching to do the same. At the end of the day, I think through the good and successful things I’ve done, even small things that may seem insignificant, like, “that was a really good interaction with Johnny on the phone”. Or, “I kept my cool in that conversation when it got heated.” I start stacking my “wins” during a day. I did that for about a week, and I was amazed at how naturally confident I started feeling about myself, what I do, and how I interact with others. I was also able to catch quickly when I didn’t show up the way I wanted to. So I had immediate an feedback loop to instruct me – like a video in real time that allowed me to correct. And of course, this works when you do that regarding people in your life as well

I also started doing this after I played golf, and instead of focusing on the shots I missed, I locked in on the shots I hit well. The after-effect was that I felt better about playing and looked forward to playing again, instead of rehearsing the missed shots I had. I’m also rehearsing positive behavior or skills, which actually helps me the next time I need to use them.

Another skill I’ve been learning is when it comes to something that seems like a big challenge, to ask myself, “what is the next doable risk this week?” I got this thought and phrase from Michaela O’Donnell’s book, “Make Work Matter.” In other words, I break down a big challenge I’m facing (like re-engaging with writing on this website) into some smaller pieces that are actually doable with the resources I currently have at hand. Often times challenges seem grandiose and impossible, but broken down into smaller pieces they can become possible, or at the very least, be tested for do-ability.

Here’s how habit stacking and the next doable risk can work together to build confidence. Recently I was invited to give a presentation on a topic I’m familiar with to 40 ministry leaders, but I have never done. I really want to do it for a variety of reasons, and instead of focusing on the fact I’ve never done that before, I remembered that I have used the material frequently, and I have talked to my own teams about this topic, and it’s gone well. Plus, I’ve done tons of speaking presentations before on other topics. Then, I thought about if I had time to prepare it adequately, which I do. And also, that the risk level wasn’t high (I wasn’t doing the topic for Fortune 500 leaders!)

I could have focused on the times I’ve given presentations that didn’t go well, which wouldn’t have helped me be so positive. But instead, my response switched from an initial, “wow, I wish they’d ask me to do a topic I’ve prepared already”, to “okay, let’s do this. It will be enjoyable, I have the time to prepare, and I’ll develop another tool that I can use in the future.” Positive habit stacking and next doable risk.

Confidence can feel like an oasis mirage. I can seem to be hopeful one minute, only to watch it disappear right when the moment for implementation gets close. Remembering that what I have done before has prepared me for this, and acknowledging that this is my next doable risk, helps me to be reframe the challenge so that I can be confident. Of course, with risk, there is always the chance for failure, or at least marginal success. But if there is no risk, there is no growth.

What’s the challenge you are facing today or this week/month? How have you been prepared for this moment? You probably have never killed a giant, but you have seen God use you and develop you. Draw upon those moments, those past skills and abilities and victories. Keep a daily record of even the small wins for a few weeks, and watch the wins stack up. Be prepared to feel more confident and tackle the next challenge. You can do this!

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