In April 2015, we decided to go on an expedition to explore the confidence-building process. On this source-to-sea expedition of the Missouri-Mississippi River system, we are on a real life mission to discover our own sources of confidence. As we make discoveries, we will share them with you to help you navigate your own path to confidence.
What is a Source of Confidence?
Let’s break it down:
Source: origin; beginning or start
Confidence: the purity of action that comes from a mind free of doubt
Source of Confidence: something that inspires, motivates, or sparks you into positive action, even in the face of doubt, fear, or uncertainty
Confidence sounds awesome!
When you have it, confidence is the stuff that allows you to make decisions more easily. It’s the stuff that helps you share your ideas, opinions, creations, and dreams. When you have it, it’s the stuff that allows you to go after your dreams. It feels a lot like belief and optimism; it tells you to go for it, no matter what happens. It takes you from thinking “I can do it” to actually doing it. When you have it, it’s incredible. Confidence, however, can be hard to find and sometimes even harder to hold on to. You can have it one day and seem to lose it the next.
Why is confidence so hard to pin down?
A lot of times, we don’t know where to look. In fact, we might not even be aware that we should be looking! The truth is, confidence is something that you build. It’s like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The tricky part comes in figuring out how to exercise it. We don’t have confidence class in school like we do gym class. It seems like one of those things we’re expected to somehow learn on our own like breathing or not eating the entire bag of marshmallows in one sitting (that’s called impulse control and we’re not going there right now).
Confidence is something that takes patience, practice, and persistence to build. It also involves an element of risk which can be scary. We start building confidence as kids by learning how to use our bodies and minds and how to get along with other people. As we continue to practice and develop these skills in the way that’s right for each of our own unique selves, we gain more and more confidence in what we have practiced. By trying and practicing a broad range of things, you find out what you like and what you don’t; what you have natural talent in and what you don’t. From here, you can decide what to focus even more attention and confidence-building practice on.
The environment we grow up in can have a big impact on confidence too. Our families, communities, what we see in the media, and the friends we choose can help support us in building our own confidence. They can also be destructive to our confidence, without meaning to be. The same goes for you. You can help others build confidence by helping them practice skills, by saying kind words, by being a good listener when someone needs it, and much more.
Some of us do seem to be able to build confidence without paying much attention to it. There’s some great research behind what else those fortunate folks might have working in their favor. For the most part, however, most people struggle to build and maintain confidence. The good news is, it really can be done.
Identify the Source
When we can identify our own sources of confidence, we can more easily use them to our advantage. There are many, many sources of confidence of there and everyone’s will be a little different. A source of confidence can be:
- rituals or routines
- your community
- past experiences
- material things
- role models
- you name it!
Anything goes when it comes to being a source of confidence
Usually, the most mighty sources of confidence are the ones that make you feel really good or that last for quite a while. The most powerful ones are usually the ones that accompany taking a risk. You find them when you step outside of your comfort zone in some way to achieve, acquire, or experience something new.
Here’s something to keep in mind when you are identifying your sources of confidence: are they the leading you to take risks that are positive and healthy for you? Do they sometimes lead you in a direction you don’t want to go or that gets you in trouble? When we talk about taking risks to build confidence, it’s important to remember that not all risks are healthy or worth taking. Sometimes it can really be hard to tell if a risk is positive or not. Sometimes the risk seems way too scary, but in reality, we can handle it. Sometimes something that didn’t seem too risky gets you in way over your head. We’ll have our 7 step guide to positive risk-taking up soon to further assist with your risk-taking decision-making!
What if I take a risk and it doesn’t work out?
That’s the thing about taking a risk – you never really know exactly how it will turn out. That’s what makes the rewards of risk-taking so fantastically meaningful. The greater the risk, the greater the reward, as the saying goes. In this case, we are talking about the reward of confidence. The beauty of building confidence is that even if you “fail” at whatever it was you were trying to do, the act of trying gives you something. It may give you new perspective, different opportunities, increased knowledge, a better understanding of yourself and others. It may give you confidence.
To see these gifts requires a willingness to look at the failure through the lens of building confidence rather than whatever the end-goal you were trying for was. It takes stepping back and looking at the big picture. What skills did you gain? Who did you meet? Where did you go? What did you see and learn as a result of taking that risk? These are things that succeed or fail, no one can take away from you. You earned these things.
These are now tools you have to make more confident decisions in the future about which risks to take and how to take them. Maybe you go back and try again, but this time in a different way. Maybe you abandon that idea altogether and move forward to a new one. No matter what you choose, if you are willing to look at the obstacles as opportunity rather than failure, you give yourself a break from feeling like you have to get things right the first time or do things perfectly. This is really important. Perfectionism and fear of failure are two really big confidence killers. Perfect doesn’t exist and failure is inevitable; your perceptions and expectations influence how you view and react to these realities.
Any time you put yourself in a position that makes you feel the good kind of uncomfortable, celebrate yourself for the effort. This isn’t the “every participant gets a medal thing”, this is you recognizing yourself for facing a challenge. This is you being intentional about identifying and acknowledging the intangible gains of whatever challenge you took on.
Also, if you go for it AND achieve what you set out to do, CELEBRATE. It is 100% acceptable and encouraged to take pride in your accomplishments be they at work, school, in sports, arts, relationships, or goals. That doesn’t mean you should go around being all boastful, but you shouldn’t belittle, dismiss, or negate the things that bring you confidence and success either. It’s okay to think and say “I’m proud of…”, or “I feel good about…”, or “…makes me feel awesome/dazzling/respected/accepted/creative/energized/excited/etc.”, if that’s how you feel. Life is way more fun that way.
Confidence in action
Alyce had a dream to canoe the fourth longest river system in the world, Lisa had a dream to put herself to the test through adventure and writing, and Viki had a dream to share her creativity through film and photographs. Together, we came up with Source of Confidence to support all three of our dreams. Right now, Lisa and Alyce are becoming the first all-female team to canoe the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers while putting their skills and knowledge to the test. Viki is helping to support, document, and share the experience with a wider audience. Our mission as a trio is to encourage and support other girls and women in navigating their own paths to confidence.
We planned for this expedition for an entire year. We brainstormed, researched, gathered supplies, and did a lot of fundraising to put our shared dream into action. We worked long hours, taking on many, many new tasks that felt overwhelming and scary a lot the time, but we knew we had the basics covered. With Lisa and Alyce being professional explorers and educators and Viki a professional artist, we had a foundation of confidence (that we built over many years of practice) to take on the challenges of preparing for our big adventure.
In early May, we drove to Montana where Viki and some friends dropped Alyce and Lisa off at the base of a mountain to hike to the ultimate source of the Missouri River – Brower’s Spring. Lisa and Alyce both had some experience mountaineering, but are mainly canoeists by trade, so this was a new and risky experience. By making sure we had all the supplies we needed and a strong foundation of teamwork and backcountry skill, we set out for the source.
Right from the very beginning, our confidence was called into question. At 8,600 feet of elevation, the spring was covered in snow, which we expected, and the trail was nearly impossible to follow, which we did not expect. Doubts crept in. We’re we skilled enough to be here? What were we thinking? What if we can’t find the source? What if all our hard work goes to waste? We had to stop that negative-thought train in its tracks right then and there if we were going to survive in the remote wilderness and be successful in our mission.
So, we did.
We called upon our past experience, our sources of confidence, to face the challenge ahead.
It took us three days to locate the source of the river system, a feat we had expected to accomplish in one. It was cold, confusing, frustrating, and plenty of things went wrong. Our maps weren’t very helpful, our stove didn’t work, Alyce’s sleeping mat wouldn’t inflate, our packs were unnecessarily heavy, and we climbed to the top of several peaks only to realize we’d gone in the wrong direction and needed to turn around. There was a moment when we really questioned ourselves and thought that maybe we should turn around, gather more info, get better prepared, take more time…
That’s not what this expedition is about. It’s about relying on the strength, capabilities, and resources that we have now to get to where we want to be. To wait for everything to be perfect would be to wait forever. We knew where we were, we knew where we wanted to go, it’s just that the way we expected to get there wasn’t as straightforward as we anticipated.
Despite the setbacks, we had a TON of fun. The mountains were beautiful, the sun shone every day, and we ditched the plans to follow the trail and followed the creek instead. We felt a tremendous surge of empowerment going off the beaten path. We relied on our skills and reveled in the fact that WE got ourselves there (wherever we were) and WE knew how to get ourselves out. By staying focused on the goal, supporting each other, being honest with each other about our fears, and trying different solutions, we eventually made it.
Standing at the source of one of the world’s longest rivers after working so hard to get there felt like winning the emotional lottery. Jackpot. What an awesome place to be. Unfortunately, the magic of the moment was short-lived as we had to get ourselves back down the mountain. We were exhausted, but had no choice. After another day of hiking, following Hell Roaring Creek, we met up with Viki again to resupply our food and swap out some gear for the next phase of the expedition.
We continued on foot for more than 100 miles (blisters!!!), following the path of the water from the source to Hell Roaring Creek, Red Rock Creek and the Red Rock River. When we finally had enough consistent water to float our canoe (which Lisa’s parents dropped off at Clark Canyon Reservoir), we couldn’t be more thrilled to get off of our feet. With the challenge of hiking over, we had the next 3,900 or so miles to enjoy canoeing the Beaverhead, Jefferson, Missouri, and eventually, the Mississippi River.
It will take us about 200 days to travel this route from source to sea, making us the first women in history – or HERstory – to do it in a canoe (only one woman, Janet Moreland, has done it in a kayak). Now, about half-way through, we can look back on our time hiking to the source and see what an important decision we made to trust ourselves, each other, and all the work we had done to that point. Finding the source of the world’s 4th longest river system has become a source of confidence for us to continue to face the challenges and embrace the triumphs of the rest of this 4,000 mile journey.
The gift that keeps on giving
Remember that confidence is like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets. The more positive risks you take, the more mistakes you make (and learn from), the more confidence you build. This is a process so be patient with yourself and those around you. Eventually, you’ll find yourself on top of whatever mountain, real or metaphorical, you wanted to climb and when you do, remember to say “I DID IT.”
- Describe a time when you have felt confident. What were you doing? Where were you? Who were you with? Do you remember what was going through your mind?
- What is your biggest source of confidence? Do you have more than one? What are they?
- Are there any people in your life who are a Source of Confidence for you? What do they say or do that helps you feel confident?
- Describe one way in which you are or could be a Source of Confidence for someone else.