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Are you confident?

19 Sep

Ask yourself: Am I confident?

Got an answer?

I anticipate a few different responses:

  1. “Hell yeah, baby! I’ve got it going on!”
  2. “Um, I guess. It kinda depends on the situation.”
  3. “I wish I was more confident. I struggle with having pretty low self-esteem.”

Obviously the answers can vary tremendously, but I’d say that like most aspects of behavior, your answer for your level of confidence will operate on a continuum.

You’re likely thinking that you should be able to answer the question with something close to #1, yet avoiding what would be construed as arrogance and pretentiousness.

Research indicates that lack of confidence is actually healthy. It’s a driver for assessing your weaknesses and learning more in order to better yourself. Don’t confuse this please with a lack of self-efficacy and learned-helplessness. No, you weren’t born with your intelligence being genetically determined. Genes are important, yes. They provide the foundation for what makes us, well, us. However, it’s the environment and how we think and what we do and the activities that we engage in that unlock our genes and govern their expression.

Experience changes our brains in substantial ways. Mindful awareness exercises produce noticeable increases, for example, in brain matter density in the areas responsible for attention and emotion regulation. Why? Because with effort put toward this behavior and our attention being directed in this intentional manner, we increase blood flow to those areas. More blood flow means more nutrients and capillaries growing in those regions.

But back to confidence– if your confidence tank was always topped off how often would you be motivated to try something new, read a book, ask questions, meet people, engage in a challenging conversation, or take lessons to strengthen your skill in a particular area?

competenceIn his book, Confidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains how when you look past confidence, what you find is an underlying desire to be competent. We often confuse the two concepts. In essence, when you say, “I lack confidence”, what you’re really expressing doubt about is your competence level in a certain area.

Competence is actually a key factor in our level of motivation and the determination we implement toward a goal. One of our basic psychological needs, it represents our felt sense of mastery and skill. If we hear ourselves saying, “I doubt I can do this” or “I’m not confident I can succeed with this” perhaps this isn’t negative at all, as many people would think it is. I’ve heard plenty of people comment in reply to statements like this, “Have faith!” or “Have confidence! It’ll happen!” Is it important to be positive? Sure. There’s plenty of research that shows a positive attitude changes the biochemistry in our bodies, results in improved health and immunity, and even changes the outlooks of those around us. But let’s not be unrealistically optimistic. “I doubt I can do this” gives us impetus to ask the next question, “What do I need to consider as I move forward?” and “Are there obstacles that I might encounter along the way, and how might I prepare for them?” Anticipating in this manner creates an environment that leads us in the direction of greater competence, and confidence will follow!


What are you pursuing, exactly?

12 Aug

How do you define success?

Every time I get on Facebook, someone has posted a new quote apparently designed to ooze motivation and enthusiasm for trying harder, being better, striving more, pushing further, and demanding success…and all in the name of what? Most of these quotes have a hard-body in the background, muscles rippling, iron in hand, a look of determination on the model’s face. And again I ask, in the name of what?

Success is great, it is. I love it when I can close my laptop after having turned in my research paper that took me well over 30 hours to complete. I am ecstatic when I walk away from giving a great lecture and even more thrilled when I get emails telling me that the  material really resonated.

I wouldn’t be thrilled, however, if I received a poor grade from my professor. In fact, it has happened, and I’ve just about flipped out. A few expletives later and some deep breathing, and I’m okay. But dang, it’s a bit wounding. When this happens, first I get pat myself on the back for not getting even more angry. Second I waffle back and forth between wanting to send my professor a scathing email and justify why I did what I did or said what I said in defense of what he/she blasted me for versus just getting down to business and peeling back the layers of the comments with a fine-tooth comb to learn and synthesize the info in a new way. Third, I pat myself on the back again for not sending an email and  start digging in with the understanding that this is what I better get used to and find challenging rather than damaging if I expect to complete this PhD. Finally, I remind myself that this is far more than “getting a PhD.” I get to learn a boatload of information and apply it in a way that will help others!

That last sentence is important. You might want to reread it. Studies show over an over that goal achievement in anticipation of feeling good (imagine all those times you said, “I’ll finally feel like I measure up when….” or “Once I complete ________, I will actually believe I can do it”) will leave you largely unsatisfied. Self-esteem, defined as our overall sense of self-worth, if measured by our successes, is super fragile.  So I ask you, what are you pursuing, exactly?

Sure, having high self-esteem confers some benefits. It does make us want to persist. People who have higher levels of self-worth also report less depression and greater feelings of happiness. A study by Baumeister and colleagues found, however, that a significant disadvantage of high self-esteem could severely override the positive consequences, namely poor estimation of our personal frailties or deficits. What are the drawbacks to this?  Ever met someone who won’t take responsibility? Who blames others or the “thing” when they perform poorly (the teacher or the test)? Ever heard anyone say, “how dare he treat me that way!” ?

Yes, you know what, you are important, you do matter, and you need to be cared about and loved. But most people don’t even have low self-esteem. A study conducted in late 80s showed that the overall American self-esteem score was far above the midpoint, and it’s growing exponentially. In 2008 a similar study was conducted  on high school students and scores were significantly higher. Yet higher self esteem barely has any impact on grades, relationship quality,  or even likelihood of engaging in substance use.  Why am I telling you this? Because if you’re pursing self-esteem, you need to get over yourself!

If you want to feel lousier because you base your worth on mistakes or failures; be a victim of circumstance; find that your motivation roller-coasters like your weight does; and avoid trying new things or taking risks for fear of failure, which actually has you falling short even more, well keep saying, “I’ll feel better about myself when I….” The benefit of happiness as it relates to achievements doesn’t last long. It’s fleeting and even after achieving something major, it returns to baseline levels fairly quickly. I was surprised after I earned my first pro card at just how UN-monumental it felt. And each subsequent win after that was even more anticlimactic. I have  medals and trophies and tons of competition photos, and I’d be happy taking all of them to the dump. More than anything, it’s the memories that are most meaningful to me, and not even the memory of winning. The events surrounding the win, the effort that went into preparing, and the friendships I developed through the process stick with me.  NOW, I can say that. Earlier in my competitive career, I couldn’t. I was chasing self-worth.

My point to this is that I have clients who I know have their self-esteems tightly wound to their accomplishments, and it never ceases to surprise me–and them–just how horrible they feel when they fail and how just barely elated they feel when they succeed. This has much to do with what motivates us also. Self-determination theory explains how it is those intrinsic, value-oriented, internally-based drivers that create a long-standing and enduring motivation to persist toward a goal (Check out my article in the next issue of Oxygen Women’s Fitness, as well as that coming out in Alpha–The Evolution of Fitness)– not the hard body you see on a poster with a get ‘er dun look.

So where do you go from here? First, ask yourself what you’re pursuing, exactly. Second, maybe consider doing what Joey did in an old Friends episode. Stepping out of his typically selfish, ego-driven, me-centric world, he decided to act with selflessness and found the benefits to be tremendous! (I wish I could find the clip!)

Acting with compassion toward others and showing support and responsiveness leads to a greater feeling of connectedness and self-trust! When you do make a mistake,  acting with compassion toward yourself means you’ll fall a little softer. Think if you don’t beat yourself up that you won’t work harder the next time? Think again! Studies show that the likelihood of taking responsibility for your behavior happens more often, and you’ll approach the issue from a more solution-focused perspective as opposed to feeling discouraged and wanting to give up.

Hmm…sounds to me like a worthwhile goal to pursue. Makes me wonder how someone like Lance Armstrong would have behaved if his self-esteem weren’t tied so heavily to success.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm ~Winston Churchill

Face the Space…and Speak Your Truth

6 Aug

Victor Frankl said, “Between the stimulus and the response this is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

On my recent vacation I noticed the spaciousness that I felt- a sense of boundless energy unencumbered by the familiar minutiae of my days and the never-ending task list. I felt free.  Free to explore, free to be curious, and free to just be.

now clockWhat I encounter so often with those I work with however, is not this sense of space, with time and opportunity opening up to them. It’s a confining, imprisoned clinging to a pseudo-safe space. The space is small and not so tidy. It’s filled with fear and distrust of themselves. And it leads to a gravitation toward certainty, extremes, and control. The client who binged, for example, and then went immediately to setting up a new, rigid structure with which to follow for the next week.

The space I felt operated on a continuum…like the circular motion of the clock hands. No end and no beginning. Just perpetual motion. The space I see so many others contort themselves into is a narrow, limiting, suffocating space.

We keep looking for perfection...This type of space is what the pursuit of perfection feels like. And perfection grants us no choice but to strive to be someone better, someone smarter, someone prettier, someone with more willpower…you name it. Perfection says to us, “Once you accomplish __________(fill in the blank), THEN you can__________________.”

As a woman I think we’re faced with a different space than men. We have varied challenges to contend with. Sure, I’m speaking in generalities, but think about it. Our space has historically been the home. Our space has historically been with the children. Our space has culturally been to accommodate the needs of others and fill the care-taking space. Our space is genetically and biologically more emotional, yet so often we’re chastised for showing our feelings and “being emotional.” Hence, our space is often rife with a twisted, confused, and desperate longing. Our space is gradually opening up to allow us to speak our truths, however, and some of us take that space more readily than others, but it’s a conflicted space.

Trust YourselfThe space demands that we learn how to trust ourselves. And in trusting we learn how to let go of the expectations that we’ve let cling to us–the unrealistic expectations that we’ve created, the expectations of others, and the assumptions we make about what and how we need to be. We’re not victims. Far from it. And we’re not criminals for wanting to have a voice and our own truths apart of what we believe we SHOULD be.  But we can erroneously begin to take on that role and end up building our own prisons- a space with solid, iron bars and minimal light to allow us to grow into who we really are.

I described this compelling imprisonment to a client of mine just this morning: so often we’re navigating our days in automatic pilot mode. We’re putting out fires, we’re crossing off the items on our lists, we’re accommodating the needs of others, and we’re barely aware of what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, and what space we’re in. Until the day is over or we MAKE a space, intentionally and deliberately, to check in with our truth in the moment, and we finally breathe and realize just how much of a magnet we have been all day. We look down at ourselves and we’ve got stuff just hanging on us. And we can pick it off, piece by piece, and decide what can stay and what needs to be let go of. But without the space, we become everyone else’s truths, just dragging our own behind us…or barely aware of what they are at all.

Your Truth Sounds Exactly Like FreedomAnother client today spoke directly of perfection being a problem for her. If she were to step into a freeing space, we could examine together how her perfection is less a problem but more a signal of a deep desire to be and do something, to experience a sense of mastery, of purpose, but taken to an unrealistic extreme.  Underneath the behaviors and black and white thinking is intelligence and wisdom and talent. It was just taken too far. Stilted from ever getting past a certain point in various areas of her life she wondered why she couldn’t follow through. Perfectionism. With the goal of being perfect, a setback would annihilate her self-confidence and be the proof that she just wasn’t good enough. If she were to face the space and step into it intentionally and vigilantly every time she felt that controlling pressure to “succeed”, or every time she heard that voice that says, “See, you can’t do it” or “How come you can’t get it right…” she could then ask, “What is it that I can let go of now?”

If you were to face your space, step into it, honor and embody it, what truth would you speak? How would you respond differently? How would your life blossom?

Afraid to get excited?

3 Aug

“Everything has been going so well, I’m afraid to get excited,” my client stated emphatically. “What if it doesn’t last?”

“Guess what…” I said, “It won’t!”

I know what you’re thinking. Dang, Kori; way to burst her bubble! You always talk about how powerful our thoughts are and how important being positive is!

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I do. And I’m also a realist! Positive thinking is beneficial, if we’re still operating in reality– objective reality.

“It won’t last,” I confirmed. “And that’s the entire reason I need you to relish in the excitement you’re feeling right now. I hear it in your voice, I see it in your face. Your entire body relaxed when you were describing for me what you’ve noticed lately, how well you’ve been eating, the different ways in which you’re taking care of yourself, and how motivated you’ve been during your training sessions!”

Life- ScrabbleLife.

I can go from feeling blissfully grateful to depressingly disappointed in the span of 60 seconds!


Memories are created by emotion. Events that  stand out for us have feelings, driven by hormones, attached to them. You could be sitting in the middle of a movie theater and recall something you were involved in years ago because of a similarly felt emotion evoked from the movie you’re watching currently.

My client has disappointment, discouragement, frustration, hurt, and anger entangled around her previous weight loss attempts. Happiness– if that’s felt for her, it’s like traveling to a foreign land where she stands among throngs of people unable to speak the language. What? Huh? Where am I? What is this? Yet she knows what it feels like because she has experienced it in other areas of her life.

Unable to make sense of it in this context, however, with it being such a rare occurrence, not only was she uncomfortable about acknowledging it but she began attributing it to some magical phenomenon.

She said, “Everything that’s happening has to be pure coincidence….or magic…or luck.”

Self-determinationTo which I replied, “You’re right. It couldn’t be that you’re taking proactive steps toward planning ahead, thinking through your actions, defining for yourself how you’d like to feel at the end of the day, playing your behaviors forward, and moving away from the belief that you need to be perfect in order to be successful… It can’t be that stuff.” I winked. “You’re developing a sense of competence through engaging in meaningful behaviors,” I said. “Roll around in that!”

When was the shoe going to drop? Who knew. But what I did know was that eventually it would, whether big or small, but it was the sense of mastery and competence she was developing that I needed her to feel and take advantage of while it was there, that she could draw on when the shoe did drop. She needed to sink into the gratefulness for her successes and the excitement she was feeling. With that would come more happiness and optimism and importantly, a new narrative that she could write to explain where she was headed.

The self-handicapping, a term coined by Knee and Zuckerman (1998) needed to erode away into an objective level of responsibility-taking when the negative would pop up and setbacks would occur. In other words, I wanted her to understand that she didn’t need to defensively prepare herself for possible failure by not attributing her success to personal efforts.  If we could acknowledge that there would be failures along the way, and expect them, she wouldn’t need to make excuses “just in case.”I write...

Her new narrative, her story, that she would write about herself, or explain to others, when they would eventually ask, “How’d you do it? You lost so much weight!” would be an amalgamation of the events in her life that she would craft and connect in ways that would define her identity as a persistent, determined, competent woman who set her sights on health, and put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again; rather than a victim of circumstance, untoward events, and the cosmos colluding in creating a fate that has her resigned to believing “I guess I was just meant to be fat.”

Dan Abrams, a Northwestern University psychologist, explains how stories give our lives coherence and meaning. Simply, they put the events we’ve experienced into perspective and help us create patterns. I wanted my client to begin rewriting the story she had been living for so long– that she was broken, unsuccessful, and a failure– and put herself in the role of a self-determined, cunning, clever, intelligent protagonist that could navigate even the toughest stuff and come out the other side. I wanted her to write a new story that had her as the hero!

Often the stories we’ve written are unconscious– think of all the times you’ve wondered why you act a certain way and have such trouble doing something different. We begin writing our stories at a very young age, and oftentimes we’re the main character in a story that is no longer true or valid for our present selves. Even if an event happened when we were a child, the meaning we spun around it then is often irrelevant for us as adults and keeps us stuck and frustrated. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we keep reliving the same events again and again and again.

Great stories happen to those who can tell them...So think positive. But think realistically positive.

Proofread your stories and proofread them well.

Demand excellence from yourself, but not perfection.

Don’t wait for the shoe to drop– expect that it will. Then go put it on and tie the laces tightly.

And finally, get excited. Go experience and take risks so you can write new stories in which you’re thrilled to be the main character!

Chasing Color…

27 Jul

If you find a path with no obstacles....Our lives are ours to polish; to brighten in the ways that will illuminate our souls; to dive into head first with consciousness and appreciation; to paint with a creative palette of colors; and to write with twists, turns, and new experiences.

Are you chasing color in your life? Desperately clinging to something or someone rather than stepping into the color that is right here around you?

If you’re suffering, do you see the shades- the depth- that is this ‘suffering’? Is the ‘suffering’ a masterpiece of your own creation? If you believe you should not be suffering, you believe that you are not capable of growing and emerging from your safe and sheltered cocoon.

Embrace your suffering. Stop chasing and start acting. Move with passion. Remove the complaints, the whining, and self-fulfilling barriers. Step away from the wishing and explore the possibilities that are right there in front of you. Check your ego at the door. No, you don’t “deserve” anything. No, you shouldn’t “have it all.” Go make it happen. Turn on the light.

“Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of ego.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

My Week-long Wanderlust: Day 1

13 Jul

At 2:30 am Central time,  yesterday morning, I arose from a not-so-deep slumber. Anticipating heavy eyes for at least the first couple hours before the sun would emerge above the horizon, I readied my mountain blueberry coffee and had a small breakfast while waiting for my friend to text her familiar, “Here” that would signal she was sitting in the driveway waiting.

A month, maybe longer, ago we planned a week-long trip to Vail. It was the furthest west she had been, she told me. I had moved from Colorado five years ago and had been through Vail many times. We him-hawed back and forth about driving or flying and finally landed on saving money by driving the 18 hours it would take to get there. I was just looking forward to not doing much of anything while we were away. I’d take my work with me, of course, but my intention was not to plan anything, and just take the trip day by day, enjoying not operating on a schedule. Find some fun restaurants, go on some amazing hikes, and enjoy the scenery.

And so we were off. The back of her jeep was stuffed with more than we’d need if we had decided to stay for a couple months, but we packed it because we could.

Leaving at 4am we made our way through the south-western most tip of Indiana and into Missouri. Seven hours into the trip when we stopped to eat lunch we both looked at each other and excitedly agreed that the first leg was easy. “Wow, it really doesn’t feel like we’ve been driving that long,” we mused. An hour later after a leisurely meal, we were off again. Every couple hours or less there would be a hesitant, “Uhh…just giving you a warning that I’m going to need to pee soon.” I know I’m not the only female who Kansas Windmills 7.12.13has taken a road trip wishing I were a guy who could easily pee into a bottle and just keep driving. So it was though– it was good to get out and stretch. My Thursday leg workout had caught up to me and a few times I awkwardly poured myself out of her jeep, hobbling into the gas station.

As we moved into Kansas it got hotter and hotter, reaching temps of over 107 degrees outside. I was brought back to my adolescence living in Nevada with the very dry heat, then to Wyoming, and finally to Colorado. So different from what is typical of the drenched air of Indiana. Passing through the rolling hillsides spotted with the wind turbines, I thought about the vastness of the terrain, the lifestyles of people tilling the soil of those fields. Some of the homes and the landscape surrounding them were tidy and neat, the tractors parked with precision and the barns, silos, and yards structured with thought. Other yards were strewn with dilapidated automobiles, the lawns unkempt, paint peeling from the sheds, looking as if whatever wasn’t needed over the last 10 years was simply thrown out the front door hoping someone rambling down the road in a beat-up truck would stop to peruse what might become his treasure. I thought, “what different lifestyles we all live…”

Sirius provided us with engaging listening material as we made our way through the western half of Kansas…ironically, I found a talk on religion vs spirituality and the truth we live through our openness to experience. When my friend and I weren’t conversing, my mind would drift to the familiar questions of how often I was spinning my experience into something outside of reality. Was I creating an alternate world that facilitated the blinders staying on, the biases being molded and solidified, and my impressions and expectations being approached not creatively and curiously, but in pushy Colorado Sunset 7.12.13and aggressive ways. This trip, this day 1 of my wanderlust journey was not the beginning of an acknowledgement of my truth, as that had begun years ago. But it was more an active treatise to it. Kristen and I didn’t talk directly of this, but the topics we were broaching were in line with it: our approach to relationships, our career paths and aspirations, what we’d come to understand along the way to where we were now, and reminiscing about how we had changed. We asked how our lives would be different had we taken even one varied step or made one minute decision differently.   And it was this conversation that brought me back to the importance of being here now–being mindful within each moment. Life is a highway– it whizzes by at a frenetic pace some days and a crawl others, but when you look back you don’t want to say you missed the scenery.

As the day wore on, and we were about 4 hours from Vail, each minute seemed to tick by with agonizing slowness. Kristen hadn’t complained once until she said that her neck was getting stiff. We’d been driving for 17 hours and it was time to kick into a new mode. I threw on the music- a bit of Rascal Flatts, some Jars of Clay, rocking BRMC, and I took her through a playlist of my favorites. If the music didn’t keep her awake, my shrieking would! I paused between songs to relish in the beauty of the sunset through the bug-spattered windshield. “How fleeting our lives can be,” I thought.

After a total of twenty-one hours  we arrived in that uncomfortable, desperate, I-so-badly-want-to-close-my-eyes-but-I-wont, sleep deprived stupor.  Day 2 was going to be a good day of practicing how to just “be.” All we could think of was rest.

The colors are there– you just aren’t seeing them…

29 Jun

Living in Full ColorI’ve heard a lot over the last week, “I’ll try, Kori.”

On the other end of the continuum I’ve heard, “I won’t _____________ (fill in the blank)” or “Every day I will _________________.”

On one extreme are half-hearted attempts at changing a behavior (perhaps unconscious), and on the other are absolutes that just might fall through the cracks and result in feelings of failure and discouragement (also often unconscious).

The middle ground? The space between the event and the response.

The space where breathing takes place, slowing down, critical assessment of what needs attention in the present moment, and an honest noticing of what is right here, right now.

It’s a space where we recognize what holes we’re dragging ourselves into through our distorted and unrealistic, completely off-base thoughts and perceptions.

A space that welcomes creativity and a turning over of our well-worn beliefs and stories that so often were not written by us but that we’re living out.

A space that reveals the fresh earth beneath the hardened and biased outer shell that we barely take notice of.

It’s a space of vulnerability that often unveils the shame driving our behaviors. It’s a gap filled with ‘aha’ moments we’ll never have unless we give ourselves permission to step into it.

It’s a time where we realize we’ve adopted someone else’s goal.

A moment when the fog lifts and even if painful we decide to let someone or something go that we’ve been clinging to.

A glimpse of our power and our courage.

A reach toward compassion for what we’ve left behind and forgotten, or actively thwarted and stuffed away because we erroneously believed it needed to be hidden from others.

This middle ground– the space– is always there. We rarely, however, give ourselves permission to experience it. It’s inside of us. Ever taken the time to finally clean off your computer monitor and you’re struck by the clarity of the screen? The vibrant colors that pop out at you? The colors have always been there- you just weren’t seeing them.

Behavior change is hard. Just thinking about being different or doing something different is exciting. Totally different ballgame when you’re in the throes of the intentionality and practice that comes along with it.

If you’re not used to looking for the colors, you have to start looking for them. And you have to look for them constantly. You have to stop running from yourself and what you give to yourself, be it a thought, a feeling, or a behavior. Each of these may be inappropriate, ugly, or incongruent from what or how you believe you should be thinking, feeling, or behaving, but none of that matters.

They are colors. And when you see them, you can paint with them. You as the artist. Your life as the canvas.

The middle ground is a place of opportunity. A place where we can ask “What if?” and see what comes up rather than an obstacle in our path. It may be fear. It may be doubt. It may be excitement. Or it may be anticipation. But with each of these also comes a choice. Will you give yourself permission to see the full spectrum of the fear? Can you walk from the deep, pulsating reds that screaming “Stop! Don’t take another step!” to the calming “Come this way, it will be okay” life-giving greens?

I think you can.

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