The Confidence of Control

What is confidence made out of?

I think confidence is built from self-trust and dependability. In the sense that you know you can rely on yourself to follow through with the agreements you’ve made with yourself and with others. (See chapter 11 of Getting Things Done.)

That self-trust is generated by a delicate balance between (1) your ability to effect change in your life and environment, and (2) the expectations currently resting on your shoulders. In other words, it all depends on how well you can keep your responsibilities within the realm of what you are actually capable of achieving.

Maintaining that balance requires being aware of your current skills, abilities, and responsibilities. It also requires creating and honoring boundaries and filters that limit new responsibilities or agreements. This is what control looks like.

Step 1: Know your Abilities
  • Be fully honest with yourself about your skills, abilities, and energy.
  • This may also include a period of trial and error, where you figure out exactly how much (of each type of) work you can handle in a day, or in an hour, etc.
Step 2: Know your Responsibilities
  • Know your areas of responsibility (work, home, community, etc.). These can also be the different roles you play (employee, coach, parent, etc.)
  • Make a habit of collecting/recording/listing all your tasks and responsibilities. Empty your mind of anything preoccupying you.
  • Don’t let anything slip through the cracks here. Nothing is too small to count. Even the small things can distract you from important work if you’re not confident that it’ll be taken care of because you’ve refused to write it down.
Step 3: Know your Priorities
  • Know what your long-term goals are. Have long-term goals to strive toward, and prioritize the work that will get you there.
  • The only way to make effective use of filters and boundaries is to know what to prioritize and what to place those protective boundaries around.
Step 4: Set Boundaries and Filters
  • Set boundaries around your most important work. Even 1-2 hours of uninterrupted work each morning on the highest priority items can do wonders for making strides toward your long-term goals.
  • Set and honor boundaries around work for the sake of your personal life and rest. Cement your work hours as much as possible, especially if your work tends to leak into other aspects of your life. Turn off your work notifications when you’re at home. Prep the next work day before leaving work so you’re not thinking about work at home.
  • Say “no” to anything that doesn’t serve your long-term goals. Say “no” to anything that would cause your bucket to overflow. Saying “yes” to something you can’t reliably handle will only result in low-quality work and dissatisfaction all around.
Step 5: Review, Reflect, and Stay Honest
  • Continue reflecting upon and updating your understanding of all of these areas because they will change as you learn, grow, and move closer to your goals.
  • Your abilities will change as you learn new skills and practice old ones.
  • Your priorities and responsibilities will change as you shift and narrow your focus on the things that will get you to your long-term goals.
  • Your boundaries and filters will need to be updated in response to all the above changes as well.

Remember, trust and dependability begins to disintegrate when your bucket overflows. You’ll fail to follow through on things you’ve agreed to do, you’ll let people down, feel guilty, feel like you’ve failed, and your confidence will suffer.

But if you can be honest with yourself and maintain this balance, you’ll be able to consistently check things off your list and follow through with your agreements. Your confidence will grow, and the negative feelings currently holding you back (fear, guilt, anxiety, etc.) will begin to evaporate. You’ll be able to dedicate a bit more energy to maintaining that balance and working toward your goals. The balancing act continues.

For more on balance, see my three part series on Balance Within Chaos.

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