When we talk to parents about their motive for bringing their child in to try out our programs, one of the #1 things we get asked about helping with is confidence. Parents often feel that their kiddo is too shy and they worry that this lack of self-esteem is going to cause them problems making friends and fitting in as they get older. To me, this seems like a very valid concern. Even adults have a hard time describing how one actually goes about ‘building’ confidence, and so we can’t really expect a child to be able to figure it out on their own, can we?
So because of this common question, I wanted to dedicate an article to talking through how our team handles building confidence in children. My hope is that this will be a great resource for all parents, whether they are part of our program or not! Hopefully, you are able to find some nugget of wisdom that you will be able to use to help your child reach their potential!
The Man Who Moved A Mountain…
Many of set us have a tendency to set big goals. Lose all of our excess weight, aim for the top spot in our careers, ridding ourselves of all our bad health habits. There’s nothing wrong with these goals; it’s good to dream big. The problem with the goals lies in how big they are and how long they are going to take to achieve. We know the destination and direction, but we lose steam because we get worn down in the day-to-day grind of trying to make our dreams real.
In martial arts, the big ‘dream’ goal for many is the blackbelt. That dream, however, takes years to accomplish (which feels even longer for a kid given how young they are). So how do we get children to work towards – and eventually obtain – that dream? The answer is simple; they ignore it and focus on the day-to-day tasks between where they are and where they want to be.
As Confucius once said – “The man who moved a mountain began by carrying away small stones.”
The first step to success is to take our big, long-term goal and break it into more digestible parts that we can tackle on a day-to-day basis.
The long-term goal of a ‘blackbelt’ is already broken into parts, as shown by the different colors of belts that kids can earn leading up to that point (white, yellow, orange, green, etc.) These belts serve as great ‘mid-term goals’ because the timeline for achieving them isn’t years and years away. For most kids who are focused and practice, each new belt only takes them a handful of months to achieve, which is much more manageable for their minds.
From there, however, we break up each belt even further into ‘short-term’ goals. These short-term goals are represented by the stripes and belts that children can earn by practicing both their physical skills and their life skills. In our program, the time it takes to earn one of these stripes is only a few weeks. Something that short-term can be achieved by almost anybody, and so that is where we direct their attention.
Focus on achieving each short-term goal – each stripe and badge – and the long-term goal will happen without any additional effort.
The Logic of Confidence
Confidence, believe it or not, is a very logic-driven process. We get overly nervous, anxious or emotional; and we try to find a way to rationalize and calm ourselves. Perfectly understandable response, since you’re not going to succeed at calming your emotions by adding more emotions on-top. So then, if we want to be confident, what is the most logical thing we can do to build it? One answer – one that we choose to focus on – is simple:
Remind ourselves that we’ve already overcome something worse than the thing we’re currently worried about.
That is, in the most simple form, how confidence works. If I’m a chef that’s worked in a high-quality restaurant, I’m not going to be nervous about making a sandwich. If I’ve spent decades working as a car mechanic on complex problems, I’m not going to sweat changing a tire. The things we’ve done in the past are the only concrete form of confidence we can develop.
We apply this same mindset to the programs we teach. Martial arts is not easy, and there aren’t many people who can push themselves through the point of achieving any belt, let alone a blackbelt. Once progress is made towards the long-term goal, however, that serves as fuel for our confidence and can propel us to do new things – both in and outside of the dojo.
A Story On These Lessons In Action
Time for a story. A few years back, we had a student training who came in upset one day. This was a young and very shy boy, and he was upset because there was a new kid in his 2nd grade class that he wanted to make friends with. Unfortunately, he was too nervous to sit with the new kid and lunch and strike up a conversation, and this problem had been eating at him all day until it finally came out in class.
So we sat him down, pulled out a list of yellow belt requirements (the belt he had already earned) and showed him the list of all the things he had needed to do to earn that belt. At that point, we asked him a simple question: “do you think that talking to this new kid at school will be harder than doing all of this stuff?”
First off, the child was shocked that they had achieved so much in their time at class. That’s the point, though! Had we shown him this list when he started and said “learn to do all this”, he would’ve never found the confidence to do so. But in short, two-week sprints, he was able to manage progress until he completed everything! It didn’t seem like much in the moment, but looking back he could now see how much he had already done.
Once he processed that information, the answer to our question was easy: “no, it’s not even close to as hard.”
Not even a few weeks later, this boy had made friends with his new schoolmate and was also making more and more friends with each passing day! Something that he was worried he couldn’t do, but now was confident in because he knew that he had already achieved something much harder than sitting down and making new friends.
Conclusion: The Next Generation
We want to help as many people as possible be confident and reach their potential. As part of this journey, we’ve seen just how many people in the younger generation are sorely lacking the amount of confidence they want to have to succeed. The common thread across these people – and the things that differ them from those who are already confident – is the amount of “past achievements” they have to reflect on. Those who have done a lot tend to have no issue summoning confidence, while those who haven’t done much struggle greatly.
It is our hope that this idea of goal-splitting and past achievements can help you propel yourself or your child to the next level with their confidence. And if you need help, we are always a question or in-person visit away. If you’ve read to this point, then we have no doubt you have what it takes to make some changes for the better and take the next step in reaching your potential!