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The Confidence of Control

What is confidence made of?

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 others. (For more on this, I recommend the 11th chapter of Getting Things Done by David Allen.)

This self-trust is generated by a delicate balance between (1) your ability to effect change in your life and immediate environment, and (2) the expectations currently resting on your shoulders (whether they are placed there by you, others, or society in general). In other words, your self-trust depends on how well you can keep your responsibilities within the realm of what you are actually capable of achieving.

Creating and then maintaining that balance requires being aware of your current skills, abilities, and responsibilities. It requires creating, honoring, and protecting boundaries and filters that limit new responsibilities or agreements. This is control.

Step 1: Know Your Abilities

  • Be honest with yourself about where your skills and energy levels are at now.
  • You may need to go through a period of trial an error while you figure out how different types of work effect your energy levels, and how much of each type you can resonably expect from yourself in a day, or an hour.

Step 2: Know Your Responsibilities

  • Know your areas of responsibility (work, home, community, etc.) or roles (job title, parent, spouse, coach, volunteer, etc.)
  • Make a habit of collecting/recording/listing all of your tasks and responsibilities. You can’t handle things you haven’t admitted to yourself, but they can still sap your energy. Regularly empty your mind of anything preoccupying you, and make it explicit.

Step 3: Know Your Priorities

  • Know what your long-term goals are, the kind of life you want to have, the kind of legacy you want to leave behind.
  • Identify the work that will provide the biggest gains toward long-term goals.
  • Contextualize your short-term goals in terms of your long-term ones.

Step 4: Set Boundaries and Filters

  • Set firm boundaries around your most important work. Block off your most productive 1-3 hours of the day to perform the most important and difficult tasks you need to complete.
  • Separate work and home, and make sure you’re getting enough rest. Protect your home/family time by ending the work day with a review/reflection and planning the next day. Turn off work notifications.
  • Learn to say “no” to things that don’t serve your long-term goals and the person you want to be. Learn to recognize when your bucket is full and taking on more work will only result in poor quality all around.

Step 5: Review, Reflect, and Stay Honest

  • Review and reflect upon these different areas regularly. They will change as you learn, grow, and move closer to your goals. Keeping them fresh and up to date will prevent you from getting stuck.
  • As you practice your skills and learn new ones, your abilities will change and therefore your capacity for work will also change.
  • As you find and narrow your focus on the things that truly matter, your responsibilities will change as well.
  • In response to the changes mentioned above, you will need to update your boundaries and filters to make sure you’re on track to where you want to be.

Remember, when your bucket begins to overflow trust and dependability will disintegrate. You’ll fail to follow through on things you’ve agreed to do, you’ll let people down, feel guilty, feel like a failure. Your confidence will suffer and you will start on a negative, downward spiral.

But, if you can remain honest with yourself and maintain this balance, you will see yourself consistently check things off your list and follow through with the intentions you’ve set. Your confidence will grow, and the negative feelings that are holding you back (fear, anxiety, guilt, etc.) will begin to evaporate. You’ll feel lighter and have a bit more energy to put toward maintaining that balance and working toward the life you want.

And so the balancing act continues.

(For more on balance, see Balance Within Chaos.)

Photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash


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