A poem by Roger McGough called The Leader neatly describes where my head was after I wrote The Confidence Project. Just substitute the word ‘Confident’ for ‘The Leader’ and you’ll have it. There I was, all dressed up with my great new attitude and nowhere to go. But then I began to say yes instead of no to things, some small, some more significant. Instead of panicking loudly at whoever is foolish enough to listen, I started forcing myself to do things for other people. Make stuff. Turn up. The thing is, I don’t like to commit. It puts me under pressure to live up to some expectation or requirement I’m not certain I can meet. But Confidence says yes where I would usually say no. I haven’t been this busy or satisfied in years. It is possible that I have finally grasped the blindingly obvious fact that confidence isn’t a superpower that is imparted all in one go, fully formed, but grows gradually, as experience teaches you. Replacing the long perfected and amusing excuses to say no with reasons to say yes is like learning a new language. That’s okay. I’ve learned new languages before.
And then there’s No. Starving myself of my usual negative behaviours. This means observing more and saying less. Trying less hard. Breathing out more. Allowing myself to relax before the event, not afterwards. Switching off the internal commentary. Relaxing for whole minutes at a time. I didn’t realise this until the church picnic I organised at the weekend. Tell you why. Because I fell off the wagon, big time. Instead of saying no to the first negative thought that sidled up to me, I let it in and shortly thereafter slid off into full-on sweaty-palmed panic at the thought of all that could go wrong (go wrong? At a picnic? Are you kidding? I hear you say…) no, really. It was a pitiful catalyst for an adrenalin overdose, but I felt powerless to stop it. And then I remembered to say no, enough. I shut my mouth and opened my eyes. These lovely people I was worried about were talking, laughing, eating, and playing games. In short, enjoying themselves. All was clearly well. Like it usually is.