Many of you will know that I struggle with the whole dog-walking scenario, on account of the fact that my littlest, Buzzy, goes bananas every time he sees, hears or thinks he’s seen (yes, really - he does actually get all het up at thin air) another dog.
I’ve tried many different permutations of getting out there. None of them have stuck...until now, when I realised that all the attempts I had been making had been breaking - not building - my confidence.
Confidence in health and fitness, you may remember me saying last week, is about control. Specifically, you feeling like you have some control over your health behaviours, your body and the direction of travel your health is taking.
Essentially, confidence comes from feeling like you can be effective at making the change happen that you want to see happen. In our industry (and no doubt others), we call this self-efficacy. As Wikipedia puts it:
Psychologist Albert Bandura has defined self-efficacy as one's belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.
Believe in your ability to effect a change in your health and you will have confidence. That makes sense, right?
Self-efficacy is one of those things that it’s easy to damage and break, so we’ve gotta be careful when we throw ourselves into trying to create new habits. If you go about it in a way that’s not going to work for you, you’ll add another “failure” to your belt that’ll dent your self-efficacy.
One of the key elements to building a strong sense of self-efficacy is mastery - trying and succeeding to achieve something. Over the longer term, that will include learning to see “failure” as a learning opportunity and not as a sign that you are pants (hence the inverted commas, because, if you look at it this way, actual failure doesn’t really exist!). It’s important that we set ourselves up to succeed.
A lot of people have low self-efficacy in the realm of health and fitness. I see that a lot. And that means that they stop trying, because they stop believing there’s any point.
But there's always a point! Change your self-efficacy, change your results. It’s not the catchiest slogan in the world, but it’s true.
I figured out that I was killing mine off by throwing myself into dog walking too hard, too fast. I saw the goal - a happy Buzz, walking past every dog calmly and confidently, on his daily walks - and I went for it straight out of the blocks. Knowing that I get all kinds of resistance to taking him out (silly as that may be, you gotta roll with the resistance you have, no point in trying to deny it) I still went for the option of trying to force myself into a daily walk. Knowing that small changes, baby steps, tiny forward moves that feel too little, too easy, is the way to create change, I still went for the biggest, scariest, most advanced version of the change I could have.
As predictably as the sun rising in the morning, I quit every time. It might sound dumb, but here's why. There’s a bunch of willpower involved in doing something that freaks you out and taking my boy out into the big wide world freaks me out. There’s a bunch of stamina involved in continually checking and retraining his behaviour in a positive way too. So willpower and stamina, being challenged on a daily basis, with no time to recover, fairly quickly ran out.
Happily, after about my 6th or 7th attempt (it took a while!) I realised I was stuffing my confidence up. My self-efficacy was taking a real battering. I was giving myself the message over and over again that I couldn’t do it.
But there’s no point in giving up, right? And the best way to increase your self-efficacy is giving yourself a task that pushes you in the right direction, but which you know you can’t fail at. So I did that. 1 walk a week. I’ve kept that going for a few weeks now and his behaviour has improved dramatically, as has my confidence that I can walk him safely and train him well. I’m probably ready to move to 2 now, so that’s the next step.
What’s yours? Based on the things you know you want to improve from the answers you came up with last week? What’s the first small step you can take that you know you can’t fail at? That’s all you need for now. Get building your health confidence.