Episode 145: Skill confidence vs self confidence

If you’re in the middle of a work session and things aren’t going the way you hoped do you lose confidence?
How does this impact your time with your horse?
In this episode I propose the idea that we can have different types of confidence. I outline ’self’ confidence vs ‘skill’ confidence and explain why knowing the difference could improve your results with your horse.


Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. In this season of the podcast I’m going to talk about some of the most common challenges I see when teaching riders. Today, I’m going to be talking about confidence. Do you consider yourself a confident rider? What do you envision when you picture a confident rider? How can you tell if a rider is confident? Now, here’s another way to look at it. If you’re out riding your horse and you think you might have started with confidence, at what point do you lose your confidence? If you’re in the middle of a work session and things aren’t going the way you hoped they would do you lose confidence. If you’re in the middle of the week and you’ve been riding and things aren’t going the way that you think they should do you lose confidence? How about if you’re in the middle of the season of riding in wherever you are? See where I’m going with this? When I was thinking about this topic, it came from observing a lot of riders having self-doubt. And this shows up in a lot of different ways. But for this podcast, I’m just going to say that self-doubt is the flipside of self-confidence. And when I was thinking about this, it got me thinking about skills vs. mental confidence, a belief confidence. And that got me thinking about people that I’ve seen over the years that I saw in their very beginning stages. So I saw them when they didn’t have all the skills that they now present with. And when I think back to seeing these people, myself included, in the early years, the vast majority did not have special talents that stood out except one thing. They were committed. And when I see people like this, sometimes I see people and when I meet them, I can see that commitment that I’m going to tie back to confidence in a minute. I can see that commitment. And then there are other people that I meet and start working with, and I can see that commitment develop, like they start to choose to be committed. But the one thing that really stays across the board with people who I’ve seen, you know, start and really achieve exceptional things, big things that they set out to do in the horse world is that they were committed. And this is where I think the idea of breaking confidence into a couple different ways to look at it, a couple of different parts, is kind of interesting. What I want to propose is the idea of there being something different between self-confidence and skill confidence. The way that I would describe it is that when I see people that have self-confidence, there’s a level of commitment that they have to the process. So for me personally, when I decide I’m going to learn something, I commit to showing up and learning it. So when I was learning to podcast, I had no idea about podcasting, but I decided I wanted to learn it and I committed to it. And I did have a confidence in myself that I would show up and I would study and I would be a student that would learn to podcast. Now, that is my definition of self-confidence, this idea that you are confident in yourself in that ability to show up. Now, to me, the difference that I see in a lot of students is that they’re tying self-confidence and what I’m going to call skill confidence together. Now, to me, skill confidence is completely separate. So–and again, back to podcasting. When I first started podcasting, I had no skills when I signed up for the class. I had no idea about any of the equipment, about audio levels, about editing audio. I didn’t know any of that. So I had no skills. So I had no confidence in my skills because I had no skills. So if there had been a pop quiz, I would have failed on skills, even though I had confidence that I would show up and study and do the work. Now, when I watch students working with their horses, it often shows up when they are working with their horse and let’s say they’re doing groundwork or trailer loading or something. The ability to handle the tools, whatever that is. Let’s just say that that’s a rope and a stick and string. The ability to handle the tools goes into a skill. Reading the horse in the situation and deciding how you want to respond to what they just did and how you’re going to give them feedback, that is also a skill. Now, the good news is skills can be learned. Skills can be practiced. But here’s where people often get tangled up. Let’s go ahead and use the trailer loading as an example. If someone is having trouble loading a horse in the trailer they could lack confidence or they could lack skills or both. So if someone has confidence that they can figure this out, that they’re going to figure this out, if they’re determined, if they’re committed, then the interesting thing is they’re going to show up in a different way during that interaction at the trailer. And I think this, again, is interesting with horses in particular, because in the podcasting example, I can show up and turn knobs and do different things, but the knobs don’t actually respond differently depending on what, you know, vibes I’m giving off. But the horses, the horses do. So when I am showing up at the trailer and I have self-confidence, even if I lack the skills that knowing that I’m determined actually helps influence it. Now, even if it doesn’t influence it in the way that the horse gets on the trailer that day, just me standing there, learning, knowing, learning from the failing of not getting them on the trailer, what I see in people who are in this type of confidence is that they tend to be more open and more curious and more willing to try different things in the situation of, let’s say, the trailer loading. And what’s interesting is that openness and that curiosity actually helps them because of what the horse reads from them, but also just because they’re not blocking themselves with the way they’re thinking about it. So they find new ideas even easier. Now, if you take somebody in that same situation and in both of these situations, let’s say their skills are lacking, but one had the confidence like self-confidence and the other one is in the same situation. What often happens is that they’ll depend on the–the outcome to give them confidence. And what happens there is they start to take the horse to the trailer. The horse says, no thanks. I think I’ll go over here and eat grass. And every problem that the person runs into is an opportunity for them to kind of judge themselves for not being enough because it’s really challenging if things aren’t turning out right. But you’re looking for confidence from the thing turning out right. It’s not a great circle to be in. And so a lot of times when people are, let’s say, trying to load the horse in the trailer and they’re having trouble because the skills are lacking, but they’re also lacking confidence, it will sound a little bit like I’m just not getting this. I’m not any good at this. This just isn’t going well. Which is kind of interesting because you could have a different person in that same situation. They still lack the skills, but they’re confident that they’re going to stick with it and figure it out. And it will sound different because even if they’re not getting the horse loaded on the trailer they’ll be, I’ll figure it out. I’ll keep on going. I’ll do as much as I need to. I’ll work as hard as I need to. And so even if the result at the end of it is that they don’t get the horse in the trailer, like so the outcome is the horse is still not loaded on the trailer. It is just really interesting to see that the way that they approach it with that confidence, that self-confidence. That self-confidence actually really impacts not just the experience at the trailer and not just that, you know, idea that the horses are feeling some of what you’re giving off there. But also, it shows up in the fact that it’s really hard when you’re saying you’re not any good at it to look for the ways that you could be seeing little things that are working in that session that might not work perfectly that session but could pay off down the road.

Stacy Westfall: So I guess another way to say it is that this lack of confidence actually overlaps with self-judgment. And a lot of times if self-judgment starts to creep in, it becomes making things worse with the way that you’re thinking about it. So if I have confidence in my commitment to learning how to load my horse in the trailer. Then it makes learning the skills less threatening. But if someone is looking for their skills, which are currently lacking, to give them confidence was really interesting, is a lot of times they get really tied to the outcome of getting the horse in the trailer and they start to get this like more desperate feeling. And it starts to look like if they do get the horse in the trailer, I’m going to use some–some words. If they do get the horse in the trailer, they quote–when they “succeed,” which are both ways of kind of saying good enough. But if they don’t get the horse in the trailer, they’ll, “lose” or “fail.” Or another way of saying it is they’re not good enough. And it’s just a really interesting thing to watch this dance. I think it’s really interesting if you can pause for just a moment and see the separation between the idea of what I’m calling self-confidence vs. skill confidence because lacking the skills doesn’t mean that you’re never going to figure it out. It just means you’re gaining skills right now, even in the process of figuring it out, making mistakes. There are times that I still will sit down to record a podcast and I’ll hit a button wrong and I’ll get to the end and the audio file won’t be correct. But because I’m approaching 150 episodes, I’m more skill confident. But I’ve also practiced in other areas of my life self-confidence that well, I guess I will rerecord it, and I guess that this will be an opportunity for it to be even better than the first time when I thought I was recording it but I really didn’t get that button quite right. So it’s just an interesting thing to watch because this idea of confidence being separate than your skills could be very useful for a lot of people. So here’s a list of some questions that instead of saying to yourself something like, how can I be confident when I’m not any good? Instead of saying something like that, you could actually just start asking better questions and you could say, how can I choose to be confident when I’m learning a new skill? And maybe that comes back to commitment for you like it does to me. And what does confidence look like in action? What does confidence look like when things aren’t going well? I love the idea of how our confidence and commitment connected. Because they’re connected in my mind, but it would be interesting for you to explore that for you. I just–I sit here and I reflect back to the fact that the bareback bridleless ride was first–before that I did a bridleless ride and I did that bridleless ride three years before the bareback and bridleless ride. And it took me 10 years to go from the first time that I dreamed about riding in a freestyle reining without a bridle into making it a reality. It took 10 years. And if somebody were to say, did you have confidence along the way? I would actually hesitate there because of the way that I spent a lot of my life defining confidence. I’ve now switched it to more of what I was describing today, that self-confidence that stick to it. I would always have said that I felt committed, which is why I think it’s interesting to kind of look at your view on what goes along with confidence. To me, I was committed and that meant that I was showing up. I was exploring different options. I was learning. I was trying new things. I was failing and failing and failing and failing. And I was using one of my strongest skills that my husband labels stubbornness. So even though I didn’t feel confident at the time now, looking back, I can see that if somebody had told me that self-confidence was the ability to be committed to something for as long as it took, I would have identified as being self-confident. Now, one last thing I do want to say that I still feel the temptation to feel lack. I’m tempted to say the lack of confidence, but I feel this feeling of lack in myself, especially when I lack skills in a certain area. So back when I was podcasting, I felt a lack that could have been labeled a lack of self-confidence by some people. But I’m going with it was a lack of skills. I still feel that when I am taking dressage lessons, when I am showing in dressage, I can feel this lack of, you know, because it’s a lack of the skills as still kind of a lack of the knowledge. It’s a lack of some of these different things. And so there is this temptation when I feel that sensation of lack to think that it’s a lack of confidence or a lack in myself personally. But I have practiced and I now have the skills to understand that I do have confidence in my ability to stick with things as long as it takes. And so I realized that even though my skills might be lacking, I am totally committed to taking the time it takes to change that. So interesting way to look at it. I’m curious, where do you have confidence? How do you define the word confidence? How do you see it showing up? And what words do you connect with it? Like I connect the word commitment with it. What word do you think goes well with it? Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

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