When I was eleven years old, my family moved. That meant starting sixth grade at a new private school that spanned Kindergarten through eighth grade. It was a small school with roughly fifty kids per grade; most of the students there had started their education together in Kindergarten and had built relationships for years by the time I came around. To say that I was nervous was an understatement. Would they like me? Would I fit in? What if I’m not as smart and can’t keep up? My confidence during this transition in life was really lacking.
To compound my nervousness, this school started team sports in fifth grade as opposed to my old school system which started in sixth grade. All these kids had a full year of playing together and building their skills. As volleyball season approached, I really wanted to try out for the team. I had never played volleyball aside from goofing around in the backyard with friends, but I thought it would be fun to try.
Unfortunately, I let my lack of confidence in my abilities take over and never tried out for the team. I never actually shared with anyone that I wanted to try out; I just kept it to myself and let my self-doubt steer my decision.
Often times we let our brains focus on the worst case scenario, and we play that loop again and again before we talk ourselves out of trying anything new. One brain hack that I have been using and teaching my kids is instead of thinking about all the ways we could fail, think about all the ways things could go right. The second you catch yourself going down the doom and gloom path, reframe and focus on you succeeding and achieving whatever it is you want to do. What we think about intensifies and grows. Do we want to to grow fear and anxiety or success and confidence?
I reference that story often with my kids to try to teach them that the only way to build confidence is by trying new things, failing, and keeping at them. The absolute only way that we can grow confidence within ourselves is to do things that we may find uncomfortable. It is like a muscle—a way of thinking we need to practice and strengthen.
We can model confidence for kids by talking with them about times in our lives when we knew we weren’t skilled in something but we gave it a try anyway. Just like my attempts to surf, we can build confidence by trying new things, normalizing failure, and choosing to think about success over failure. Over time and through practice, we can gain the skills to grow confidence and our kids will have a healthy role model for being courageous.