The Confidence Code for Girls

by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

Clock Icon 26 minute read

 

 

KAYLA’S BIG RISK, PART 1

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

CHAPTER 1
THE NUTS & BOLTS OF CONFIDENCE

 

What is confidence, anyway?

Well, here’s the basic, scientific definition:

Confidence is what turns our thoughts into action.

You can also think of it like a math formula: Thoughts + Confidence = Action.

Or picture a chemistry set, with thoughts in one beaker and confidence in another. Combine them and, POOF! You get exciting, explosive action.

Confidence is what you use to help you do anything that seems hard, scary, or impossible. We’re not necessarily talking about extreme actions like jumping off a cliff. (Or maybe we are, as long as you have a hang glider or parachute!) Confidence is what gives you a boost for everyday challenges as well. It’s what Kayla used to get herself to those basketball tryouts in the first part of “Kayla’s Big Risk.”

Imagine confidence as a tiny, powerful coach inside your mind helping you do all the things you want to do. “I know you’re thinking you can’t put your hand up in class today, but come on, I’ve seen you do it a million times before. Ignore those nerves and just throw your hand up there. You can do it.”

QUIZ

Which of these actions requires confidence?

  1. Eve has a best friend, Hannah, and they’re practically twins. When they’re hanging out together, they always just get each other. But then one day Hannah says something a little mean about Eve’s new haircut. Eve feels betrayed, but she doesn’t want to tell Hannah she’s upset because she’s afraid of feeling awkward about it. Still, she goes ahead and brings it up with her and is honest about how she’s been feeling.

  2. Cate’s a fantastic math student. She’s always loved numbers—they just make sense to her. She works hard at math and flies through the homework. Her teacher tells her that she would absolutely make the mathletes team if she wanted to. She tries out, and it’s a dream come true—wall-to-wall math problems!

  3. Isabella knows every part of Beauty and the Beast, the upcoming school musical, by heart. She loves to sing, but she’s never been in a show before and lots of the other kids have. She’s also not sure about her voice because she’s never really practiced. And the auditions are in front of all those other kids who want a part, too. Still, she pushes herself to try out! . . . But the audition is just as hideously embarrassing as she expected.

Answers: Let’s Break It Down


If you answered #1, #3, or both, you’re TOTALLY right. The girl who talked to her friend and the girl who tried out for the play did something that clearly required confidence. Number 2 required a bit of confidence, too, but not as much.

  1. Eve did a hard thing in talking to Hannah, who was upset for about an hour after Eve confessed her feelings. They both learned to be more honest with each other and sensitive about what they say in the future.

  2. Cate tried out and made the mathletes, but she didn’t do something that hard, did she? She basically kept doing something she’s already good at doing. Let’s see her take on a more challenging activity. That would require more confidence.

  3. Isabella really stretched herself when she tried out. She didn’t make it, and was bummed, but she realized afterward that she still wanted to be in a musical. She plans to prepare for the next audition differently. For one thing, she’s going to start training her voice so that, when she’s nervous, it doesn’t get thin and wavering. Lots of people didn’t make it, and their lives aren’t over. The important thing? She took a risk and took action.

The essential idea in all of these stories is ACTION. Think verbs and action words:

Jumping off a high diving board

Talking to a neighbor about babysitting

Trying a new sport, like Kayla did

Try something, do something, make something, join something, say something, be something. Get the picture?

Confidence is _______________________________. (Fill in your action word here—unless this is a library book, or e-book, in which case make a list on paper or in your phone!)

Girls of Action have the most exciting lives ever. Why? Think about it: You can sit there and worry and watch things happening out in the world. Or you can jump in and be part of the fun, creating adventures and success by exploring and doing.

You want to try out for a team, even if you’re not so sure how good you are? Confidence will give you a boost. You want to write a blog and tell the whole world what you think, even though you worry you don’t have interesting thoughts? Confidence is key for that, too. You want to be yourself, even if that self is totally different from all the other kids? Confidence makes it happen. You want to dye your hair or shave your head, skip dresses and wear what you want? Confidence . . . well, you know the rest. Ava, in the story below, uses her confidence to do something that’s really important to her.

 

CONFIDENCE CLOSE-UP

Ava loves to take pictures, using all kinds of apps and filters on her phone. She does it endlessly, posting photos on her Pinterest boards and on Instagram. For her birthday, she got a beautiful old camera. Now she is totally obsessed. She practices on everything around her all the time: cracks in the sidewalk, the sky, litter blowing down the street, gates, bicycles. But what she really wants to do is take pictures of people. She is fascinated by people—all the different shapes and sizes of them, from chubby babies to wrinkly old ladies. It’s rude to take people’s pictures without permission, she knows—and she’s way too shy to approach strangers and ask them. But she’s longing to snap that fascinating guy with the tiny mustache waiting for a bus, or the woman juggling armloads of groceries while strutting down the street. Ava practices what she could say to them. A couple of times, she does manage to walk up to a stranger, but immediately panics and turns away. That makes it worse because she’s mad at herself for not even trying.

In the park one day, Ava is watching some women doing tai chi, their arms raised gracefully toward the sky. She can’t stand it any longer—she’s tired of missing out on what she wants to do! Ava shakes her head to clear the panic, takes a deep breath, and approaches the women, telling them she loves the way their shadows look with the sun behind them. She asks if she can take their pictures, and they say yes! Ava ends up shooting some of her favorite images ever. It’s still not easy for her to go up to people on the street, and when she does, plenty of people are rude and crabby. But as people start to agree, her pile of photos grows, and so does her confidence.

 


USING CONFIDENCE


 

Of course, different people will need confidence for different things. The many girls we spoke with gave us a big and varied list.

 

 

“Asking my friend why she cropped me out of a picture on Instagram.”


 
 

“Telling people I’m gay and not hiding any part of myself.”


 
 

“Speaking up about bullying, even if kids get mad at me.”


 
 

“Trying out for track, even if I only run when I’m late.”


 
 

“Staying quiet, knowing how to listen, and not making it all about me.”


 
 

“Speaking up in class.”


 
 

“Showing people the real me. They might not like me.”


 
 

“Going to gym class. I am afraid of looking totally uncoordinated.”


 
 

“Telling my friends I want to be by myself. But I don’t have the nerve to say no when they want to hang out.”


 
 

“Meeting new people. It’s scary.”


 

 

CONFIDENCE WARM-UP

Now YOU take a crack at it. First of all, gather the tools you’ll need to start building your own Confidence Code: a pen or pencil, and a notebook or journal (a stack of loose paper works, too). You can also use your phone, if you have one, to keep track of stuff if you’d rather, though scientists have found that writing things down imprints them on our brains better. Whatever you choose, this is your Confidence Notebook. You might be rolling your eyes and groaning about extra homework, but this isn’t math or history, after all; it’s about you being AWESOME.

Start by thinking of the things that really challenge you, the things that might take more confidence, and jot them down. On another page, write down the things you are good at doing. Here’s an example:

Like to Do:

Hard for Me:

Lacrosse

Science test

Video games

Talking to a waiter

Science labs

Just being me

 

Sometimes it does take huge amounts of confidence just to be yourself. At your age, feelings are bigger, stakes seem higher, and your impulses can be confusing. You have the urge to define yourself and show independence, but it also feels absolutely essential to FIT IN. And what about when you’re facing other realities that might make you feel different? If you’re one of only a few girls of color at your school, for example, it can take confidence and courage to show up as yourself instead of trying to fit into a mold. And for LGBTQ kids, deciding to talk about what you’re feeling and who you really are for sure requires confidence, since it may not be what other people are used to. Anytime you challenge what seems “normal” to most people, you need confidence in who you are at your core.

 

Power Positions

Want some quick confidence? Try this power position: Stand up and hold your arms outstretched, like you’re trying to touch the walls on either side of you. Press your palms out, like you are a stop sign. Hold it. KEEP holding it for three minutes: count to sixty really slowly three times. (It’s a workout, too!)

Or, just focus on sitting up straight! We know, that one sounds like something your grandmother might say, but scientists we interviewed found that both of those moves can increase your feeling of power and give you a temporary confidence boost!


 
 

CONFIDENCE IMPOSTERS


 

You probably know this already, but sometimes the people who seem the most confident aren’t confident at all.

IMPOSTER BEHAVIOR

♦ Being phony, bratty, or arrogant

♦ Having the loudest voice in the room and talking over your friends

♦ Making other people feel bad and putting them down so that you can make yourself feel better

♦ Always getting your way

♦ Trying to look awesome so you can make everyone envious

♦ Being the BEST and making sure everyone knows you are the best


ONE BIG THING THAT CONFIDENCE IS NOT:

IT’S NOT ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK.

IT’S ABOUT HOW YOU ACT, AND WHO YOU ARE.

 

CONFIDENCE CLOSE-UP

Eleven-year-old Karah was proud of her long, wavy, thick hair. She tended to flip it around, making sure people noticed it, and she loved the attention. But when her cousin Ali got cancer and her hair fell out, Ali wanted a wig. Because of Ali’s illness, Karah found out lots of people need wigs when they are being treated for cancer. She decided to cut her hair and donate it to make those wigs. She was scared that she would look weird, that people wouldn’t think she was pretty anymore. But she really wanted to help someone who might need her pretty hair more than she did. So Karah cut off almost all of her hair. Not quite a buzz cut, but close to it. At first, she thought she looked ugly without her hair, and then after a few days, she felt powerful. She was more than her hair! She intends to grow it back, but who knows—once she does, maybe she’ll cut it off and donate it again.

 

CONFIDENCE WARM-UP

By now you’re getting good at seeing what confidence is and what it’s not. Start to spot it in the people around you.

  1. FIND ROLE MODELS—other daring, incredible girls and women you know or have read about. What’s the best part of what they do? Write it down, because going back to it later will inspire you!

  2. LOOK OUT FOR FAKERS—all those people who use counterfeit confidence to be mean or put other people down to puff themselves up. Fakers may roam the halls acting like they have confidence to spare, but that’s phony, and you can spot it from a mile away.

  3. SHOUT IT OUT—grab your phone and send a confidence compliment to three people you know. Like your friend who works at the recycling drive. Or your sister who stood up to a bully. Or your mom, who asked for a raise at work. Let them know that you see their confidence in action—that you notice what they do. Research shows that when you hand out that kind of a boost, you build your own confidence!

 

MAKING MORE CONFIDENCE: THE BIG PICTURE


 

At this point, it should be pretty clear what confidence is and why it matters so much. And you’re probably thinking: Duh, it’s obviously great. But what if I don’t exactly have buckets of confidence sitting around for that moment I want to try something? What if I want to try out for the debate team, and all I can think about is people staring at me, and I don’t want to get off my couch? Well, that’s why knowing how to make it is so important.

Scientists have studied people’s genetics and behavior for years. They now believe that while we’re each born with some confidence, we can always make more. And here are the basic mechanics of doing that: when you take action, especially when you do something even slightly risky, you not only use confidence, but you also end up creating more!

Imagine some gears in your head. Confidence is the grease that helps you turn those gears of your thoughts and generate action. And the fabulous result? That action generates more confidence for next time.

 

Action is fundamental to making your Confidence Code. In “Kayla’s Big Risk,” for example, Kayla doesn’t yet realize that she’s built more confidence simply by trying out for the basketball team, even though she didn’t make it. She’ll soon learn. But back to you sitting on that couch. Let’s say you get up, try out for debate, and don’t say the smartest things at the first session. You prepare a bit more for the next session. You get on the team as an alternate, take it seriously, and eventually make the team as a full member. That kind of process is what really builds up your confidence supply: all that trying, risking, messing up, struggling, and eventually getting good at something. Creating confidence is less about the result—the success or winning.

It’s more about the doing. You’d be much more likely to try out for other things now, since you have some confidence stored away. Try it and see.

But we’d be kidding if we told you that the doing is super easy. How do you deal with the butterflies, the wanting to throw up, the feeling that you’d rather stay in bed or hide in your closet or sit glued to that couch?

 

How do you take that critical first step toward being a Girl of Action, toward building a confidence stockpile when you don’t already have extra confidence to get the process going? Well, you have to RISK IT.

 

 

GIRLS OF ACTION

Nine-year-old Gracie Kuglin has always loved all creatures, even the noncuddly ones like spiders and scorpions. She plans to be a vet when she grows up. She sold some of her old toys and used the money to buy toys for the dogs at the Humane Society. Then she found out that the Humane Society branch in her North Dakota hometown was desperately short on money for essentials like vaccines and food. That’s when Gracie knew she wanted to figure out a way to raise more money to benefit these animals. Even five dollars can make a difference—it can feed fifteen animals for a day or pay for a vaccination.

Her grandma was having a garage sale, so Gracie and her mom decided that would be the perfect opportunity for a lemonade stand. Gracie can be shy about talking to people, but she was determined to help these animals. Once she gets it in her head to do something, she definitely does it! People came from more than twenty miles away to donate to Gracie’s stand, including the principal of her school and several teachers.

For her next step, Gracie has even bigger plans. “They need a new dog fence,” she told us. “They need dog toys, dog and cat food—they need a lot of stuff!” So for her birthday, she’s asking her friends to bring gifts for the Humane Society rather than for her. And she’s expanding her next lemonade stand to include a bake sale. She says she’s surprised herself by how bold she could be on behalf of her furry friends who couldn’t speak for themselves.


 

CHAPTER 2
RISKY BUSINESS!

 

Taking a risk is like taking a big leap of faith. It’s using whatever confidence you have, and maybe some courage and bravery as well, to sail over the dark abyss of whatever scares you.

Just listen to how different dictionaries describe risk:

Risk:

  1. the possibility something bad or unpleasant will happen

  2. a chance of getting hurt or losing something

  3. peril

Peril? Getting hurt? Um, no wonder our instinct is to avoid risk. But remember: action, especially action that’s hard, is what builds confidence. Risk is exactly what Kayla confronts in “Kayla’s Big Risk” (yes, the title kind of gives it away). She worries about embarrassing herself, or failing. But she goes for it after getting help and good advice from her friends—“What do you have to lose?”

Sometimes, if you don’t have a supply of confidence, you have to rely on boosts like that, or even sheer will, to fuel your first move. But once you start, you’ll get into a confidence-creating zone pretty quickly. In this chapter we’ll offer you a seven-step plan to get you through your early risk-taking jitters. One girl we talked with, Lucy, said she “totally hates risky stuff” and “wanted to puke,” but she finally figured out how to take a leap.

 

Your Risk List

Make a list of five risks you want to take. Nothing huge. No saving the world, quitting school, or telling that annoying history teacher what he can do with his textbook. Scientists have found that when people take the time to write down a goal, they are 42 percent more likely to make it a reality. So, what are things that you’ve had on your mind, but that seem a little hard or risky? Try a new instrument? Talk to that funny kid in your class? Get your Confidence Notebook, or a scrap of paper, and take the risk of just declaring them. That already means they’re more possible.


 

 

CONFIDENCE CLOSE-UP

Starting when she was eleven, Lucy had a regular babysitting gig, taking care of a little boy while his parents did laundry or caught up on chores around the house. But after a couple of years, the boy’s parents started having her babysit at night when they went out. Lucy got to do the whole bath time/story time/bedtime thing. It was fun but also lots more work and responsibility.

Lucy realized she wanted to ask the parents to pay her more. But the thought of actually having that conversation made her anxious. She really liked them, and they were always nice to her and left great snacks. . . . What if they got mad? What if they got offended, thinking that she didn’t like the little kid? What if they thought she didn’t deserve more? Her stomach hurt just thinking about the conversation.

By talking the situation through with her own parents, she figured out a way to bring it up. She also made a mental list of what she could say: “I love working here. And I feel confident that I’m doing a good job. My responsibilities have gotten bigger, and I think it would be fair for me to start charging more money.”

So . . . when the boy’s parents returned after a movie one night, Lucy blurted it all out. Maybe not as perfectly as she’d practiced it in her head, but she put it out there. Immediately she felt better. And the parents totally agreed, coughing up more money on the spot. They even said they felt bad about not thinking of it themselves. They still called her to babysit just as often, and the whole process allowed her to create some confidence.

Lucy took a risk, and it paid off. And maybe this story makes it sound pretty straightforward—but we know it’s not always that easy. These steps will help you build your appetite for risk-taking:

STEP 1: EMBRACING RISK

Before you can go out and attempt a lot of risk-taking yourself, you really have to believe in the benefits. Almost every situation you face will hand you choices. And often the most frightening choice is the right one.

QUIZ

How good are you at spotting the upsides of a risky move?

  • 1. Jaylen is new to her Arizona middle school and hasn’t made any friends yet. She’s noticed a group of girls in the cafeteria who seem fun, and she thinks one of them smiled at her the other day—maybe even waved her over. Should Jaylen:

    1. Try wandering over one day at lunch, even if they shut her out?

    2. Think about it for another week or so, see whether they show any more signs of friendliness, and then try?

    3. Resign herself to being alone for a few months? No chance of utter embarrassment that way.

  • 2. Libby loves animals. She spent a fantastic week on a school project at an animal shelter, and she came up with an idea for matching abandoned dogs and cats with nursing homes, like the one where her grandmother lives. The residents get so happy when animals visit. Should she:

    1. Do more research, and maybe propose it when she’s older and has more information? She could probably learn a lot that way.

    2. Just focus on her homework and leave this to the grown-ups? She’d avoid risk of humiliation.

    3. Head over and speak with the director, even though talking to an adult she doesn’t know makes her nervous and there are probably a million reasons why it won’t work?

Answers: Let’s Break It Down


  1. A is the real risk Jaylen should take. Her gut says the girls will be friendly. And she’ll never know if she waits too long. B might work, but she also might miss her chance. C is clearly not a good move!

  2. C is where Libby would take the biggest risk, and it’s the best move. A could work, but it’s so cautious. She doesn’t really need to perfect her idea. She might learn a lot from the director if she tries now. As for B—don’t get us started.

STEP 2: DECIDE WHETHER IT’S A SMART OR DUMB RISK

This part isn’t that hard. We want you to embrace smart risks. We’re not talking about diving into the shallow end of a pool or giving out your address to someone online you don’t know. Don’t do anything that feels wrong or that someone else is pressuring you to do.

Smart risks are things that you might typically shy away from but that, in your gut, you know could increase the fun, adventure, and powerful parts of your life. Think about both Jaylen and Libby. They might be disappointed or temporarily embarrassed if they take these risks. But smart risks usually pay off eventually, even if they don’t work right away (more on dealing with that in the failure chapter).

QUIZ

These risks are straight from the mouths of girls we talked to. What do you think—are they smart or dumb?

  1. “Joining a new club. It seems scary, but fun.”

  2. “Sneaking my phone out during school.”

  3. “Posting a picture of me and my friend on Instagram, even though I didn’t ask her first.”

  4. “Talking to new people.”

  5. “Trying out a new move on my soccer team but falling on my butt.”

  6. “Running for student council to protest the dress code.”

  7. “Letting my teacher know she graded my test wrong.”

  8. “Letting my BFF know she hurt my feelings.”

  9. “Reading my poem out loud to our class.”

  10. “Skipping school with my friends to hang out at the mall.”

Answers: Let’s Break It Down


To us, most of these seem like terrific, smart risks. EXCEPT for numbers 2, 3, and 10.

#2: Breaking a school rule is likely to get you in trouble. Just wait to use your phone until later.

#3: Posting a pic on Instagram without permission might seem OK, but the right thing to do is ask your friend. So much easier to avoid a problem before it happens.

#10: Well, it pretty much goes without saying: skipping school is not a brilliant move.

STEP 3: COMFORT ZONE = DANGER ZONE

Of course, the very hardest part of risk is leaving your comfort zone. After all, our comfort zone is just so, well, cozy and comfy. Picture it now, your very own CZ. It’s warm and inviting, full of beanbag chairs and gigantic plushy pillows. Or maybe twinkling lights and plenty of snacks and your furry dog or cat.

We all have them—safe little pockets. It’s so much easier to stick with what you know. Not rock any boats. So much nicer to hang out with the friends you already have, who are already chill. Why not just hide there? The girls in our next Confidence Close-up told us that for a long time, they never wanted to venture out of their CZs.

 

 

CONFIDENCE CLOSE-UP

Wyatt loves to draw. She’s never happier than when she’s hunched over in the art room, scribbling away amid clouds of charcoal dust. She doodles in the margins of every sheet of paper that comes her way and covers all the junk mail in her house with her sketches. Sometimes she thinks sketching with a group, maybe making comics together, might be cool. But Wyatt is so comfy within the colors and swirls of her own art zone that she stays put.

Feng is an outfielder on her softball team. She has the whole right field to herself and she’s super comfy out there. The girls who play first base and shortstop are awesome, so balls rarely come to her. When they do, there’s plenty of time to get under them. She plays her position well, and never has to deal with feeling nervous. She isn’t eager to shake things up and try a different position.

OK, we all need our comfort zones. But we have to be able to leave them to take on new challenges. If we stay, it could get suffocating or boring. Even though doing anything for the first time is scary, trying new things is how you keep learning about yourself and finding out what else you might like. If you’d stayed in your baby comfort zone, you’d still be sitting on a blanket, waiting for all the food and toys to come to you. INSTEAD, you pulled yourself up and started toddling around to see what the world has to offer. Keep exploring!

STEP 4: WHAT’S RISKY TO YOU?

Risks are different for everyone. Start to narrow your mental risk list. Zoom in on what makes you nervous.

QUIZ

What seems risky?

  1. Camping

  2. Performing in a band

  3. Having a lab partner you don’t know

Or what is scary?

  1. Water slides and roller coasters

  2. Trying out for a team

  3. Sharing a song you wrote with other people

Any of these make you feel sick to your stomach?

  1. Skiing

  2. Giving a presentation to your class

  3. Submitting your drawing for the yearbook cover

Answers: Let’s Break It Down


If you picked mostly As, then physical actions likely tend to make you nervous. If you picked mostly Bs, then performance seems risky to you. And if you chose Cs, then it looks like sharing something with the world, being vulnerable with strangers, feels like the bigger risk to you.

And keep this in mind—risk varies for different kinds of kids. Immigrants from other countries, for example, can face challenges that can make their daily lives feel full of risk. Maybe it’s about a struggle to speak English, or maybe it’s about looking different from the people around them. Farrah is from Yemen and wears a hijab, a traditional Muslim head scarf, in her suburban school. Nobody else has one, so for her, simply going to school can feel scary or risky, knowing some people are staring at her. She reminds herself she has a right to be there, like everyone else. And maybe the staring is not mean, just curious. That makes her feel better, and she tries to show them that she is really just like they are.

For kids who are in wheelchairs, or are blind, or deal with anything that makes navigating the world a little trickier, taking a risk is a whole other ball game. It’s a constant battle to navigate the physical world and a constant battle to ignore other people’s staring.

STEP 5: SMALL STEPS

Researchers have figured out that when you think about a BIG challenge, it can seem overwhelming. “How the heck do I get from where I am to all the way over there? Ugh, I might as well quit now.” They’ve also discovered that when you pause for a few minutes and break the challenge down into a bunch of small steps, it’s lots more achievable.

For example, when Lucy wanted to talk to those parents about her babysitting, she broke it down. Her goal was to be paid more money. Asking for it seemed almost impossible—until she divided it into four steps. She listed her reasons, and then she talked to her parents and rehearsed her lines with them. Finally, she picked a time to bring it up. She didn’t do it all perfectly, but having a plan and small things to do along the way helped. Sometimes it helps to start with some bridge challenges—a series of little risks, like little bridges, that will eventually lead you out of your CZ and right over all of the scary stuff you’ve been imagining.

 

CONFIDENCE CLOSE-UP

Wyatt, the girl who was living in her art comfort zone, started small. She was tired of being by herself all the time, but she only wanted to open herself up to other people bit by bit. First, she spent a few weeks thinking. She imagined a gathering of people who liked the same kind of stuff she liked, who wanted to draw or make comics, sketching and coming up with funny captions. Ultimately she felt a little bolder and came up with the idea of an art magazine. The next move was the big one. She put up a poster at her school announcing the new magazine and invited other kids to join in. At first, nobody signed up and she felt miserable walking by that pathetic poster with its empty sign-up spaces. But then one kid, and then one more, and then another THREE kids put their names down and came to meet Wyatt at lunch. Now they’re working on their first edition, full of totally out-there drawings and cartoons. It’ll be scary to make a bunch of copies and hand them out to strangers, but it’s better than sitting all alone in the back of the room.

STEP 6: GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

Risk isn’t usually fun. It can be very, very uncomfortable. But you will get used to it. It’s like eating something you’ve never tried, wearing something new, or getting over a fear of dogs. The only thing that works is eating a little bit over and over, or wearing that shirt a few times until it feels familiar, or learning to approach and pet dogs again and again. Sticking with stuff that doesn’t always feel good is literally like vaccinating yourself—it’s a big shot in the arm against future nerves. Naomi told us how she learned to tolerate severe discomfort and how she made her pain and fear work for her eventually.

 

CONFIDENCE CLOSE-UP

Naomi spends hours riding horses. It can be risky and dangerous sitting atop an animal so huge and heavy, but she loves it and wants to be really good. She went to an intense camp where she was given a horse named Lulu. Lulu was totally wild and nearly ruined riding for her. For five days in a row, the horse kept bucking and knocking Naomi off. Or the horse would pull down to nibble the grass, making it hard for Naomi to lead her. And she was in SO much pain from all the falls—her back felt broken and she had purple and green bruises all over. It might seem like what Naomi was stockpiling was a bunch of hurt and humiliation, but all that week she was building confidence because she was sticking with it.

One time, Naomi fell so hard the wind was knocked out of her. She was curled in a ball on the ground thinking, “I give up. Forget it. I hate this. I am going to ask for an easier horse.” But once she got up again and nothing was broken, she realized she had to stick with it—if she gave up now, all that pain, all those falls, would be for NOTHING. She realized she was feeling stronger, if nothing else. And, she told herself, the worst had likely already happened! So she kept going, imagining herself as a graceful, strong rider on a beautiful, powerful animal, in sync and connected. Pretty soon, she started riding without fear. If she could handle getting thrown by Lulu, she could handle anything!

STEP 7: BE YOUR OWN COACH

When you’re finally ready for action, you’ve got to learn to be your own coach. Here are some tricks of the trade.

  • Visualize. Picture in your mind what you want to happen, what it will really look like. Time to move beyond the what ifs and focus on what it will be. All the big athletes and singers use visualization to get from practices and rehearsals to big moments on the court or on stage. It’s what Naomi did on her horse. Scientists have found that by visualizing what you WANT to happen, you’re more likely to MAKE it happen. Really!

  • Talk yourself up. Here are some micro–confidence boosts to help you leap. Keep these phrases handy, and use them often.

  • Practice. Repetition makes it all feel natural, like it’s just part of what you do, not a huge stretch. Rehearse what you want to say or what you want to do. No need to overdo it. But some prep is really useful.

  • Pick your team. Every coach knows a great team is essential. You need to know who’s in your corner—which adults and friends will give you the kind of support Kayla got. Start a list and double-check it when you read the friendship chapter.

  • Remember this story. One scientist who studies confidence told us that he noticed men kept scoring much better on a puzzle-solving math test he had given many times. Then he studied the women’s answers closely. He noticed something. They were skipping a lot of the questions! He realized that when the women were unsure, they often wouldn’t take a risk and guess. He told the next group of men and women that EVERYONE had to answer ALL the questions. What happened? The scores were almost identical. So, not taking a risk, not acting, has consequences.

  • Game time. Time for action. If none of the above has worked, and you’re still terrified, tell yourself you’re going to DO IT AFRAID. It’s a powerful phrase we got from a young girl in New Mexico. Because you can’t always wait for those nerves to vanish. What if they don’t? So admit you’re nervous, but decide to act anyway. Shrug and declare: “I’m going to just do it afraid.” You have the power to do it.

 

CONFIDENCE CLOSE-UP

Feng eventually decided to start pushing herself, because standing in that softball outfield got really dull. Counting the clouds and watching other girls make exciting plays stopped being fun. She knew that she hated the pressure of diving for a ball (and usually missing it!), so she thought, “What if I were way better at doing that?” She started practicing. She spent hours throwing a ball against the side of her house and then racing to catch it. She was definitely getting more comfortable, but the idea of doing it FOR REAL in a game made her feel queasy. Still, when the girl at first base got injured midgame and they needed a sub, the coach waved Feng over and she decided to just run into position despite her nerves, without giving herself a chance to reconsider. Time for action, even if she still thought she might puke. She did miss a ball. Actually, she missed a bunch of balls. But she caught a bunch of other ones and had a blast. And now she’s excited for next season. Who knows—maybe she’ll try pitching!

Feng took a risk, fumbled a bit, but did fine. And now, in her mind, some exciting doors have opened. What she really discovered is what we hope you see, too—there’s no way to think yourself into being confident while sitting in your comfort zone. Action and risk are required, and usually—we hate to say this, so we’ll make the print really smallsome failure too.

 

 

 

GIRLS OF ACTION

Amaiya Zafar is used to risk and struggle. She’s always been pretty small, and when she told her friends, at thirteen, that she was taking up boxing, they rolled their eyes and said, “Yeah, right.” As a nurse, her mom had doubts, too, worrying that it would be dangerous. But, Amaiya says, “Then my mom started to see how boxing helped me hold my head up high.”

It also hasn’t been easy for Amaiya to box in her hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering she’s always worn. That’s been more controversial than she imagined. She was disqualified from her amateur bout because she wouldn’t take it off. “My hijab is my crown. When I walk down the street, I automatically get respect. I value it with my whole heart. I would feel like I’m missing something essential.” After a two-year struggle, USA Boxing finally gave her permission to wear it—but the International Boxing Association still hasn’t. So she can’t box in any Olympic qualifying matches.

Still, she keeps pounding away at her grueling workout schedule—ferociously competitive—often beating bigger opponents, even men. “I’ve always wanted to beat the boys at everything,” she laughs. She hopes her battles in and out of the ring can be an inspiration to other girls.

“Boxing is my whole life,” she says. “Everything I do revolves around boxing. And my hijab is my whole life. I don’t want to have to compromise one for the other.”


 
Related Reads