Confidence CycleSep 25, 2023
A confidence cycle is the diametric opposite of the proverbial “downward spiral.”
We all know the downward spiral as it applies to health, for example.
Let’s look at a fictional character, “Joe.” Joe is the epitome of health in high school, maybe an athlete. Health comes easily to him; in fact, it’s just part of his daily life. Joe eats well, stays active, spends quality time with friends, and gets enough sleep.
How It Starts
Then Joe graduates and gets a job. The job is demanding and Joe puts in a lot of overtime to make ends meet. When Joe gets home these days, he is tired. He gets some fast food on his commute after work and then binges Netflix until it’s time to go to bed and start all over with the next morning’s alarm.
Working a job (or two) six days a week quickly becomes stressful, so Joe adds some alcohol to the mix to help him get to sleep. Before long, Joe starts to develop the oft-seen “Monday morning flu” (i.e. still hungover from the weekend) and his performance starts to suffer. Joe’s boss steps up the pressure in order for Joe to produce for the business the way he used to.
At this point, Joe’s life is the product of mass marketing, peer pressure and the path of least resistance. Joe is living an unexamined life, and it is about to take a turn for the worse.
The Downward Spiral
A few years down the road, Joe pretty much feels like crap all the time. He has lost contact with most of his friends, hates his job, is overweight and depressed. (Anyone who has been to a 10-year high school class reunion can attest to the pervasive nature of this phenomenon.) He feels that he can’t quit, because now he has a wife and kids and a mortgage and car payments, and…
The worse Joe feels, the less he wants to socialize or exercise. As Joe socializes and exercises less, he gains more weight and becomes more depressed. You can see where this goes; Joe is one of the tens of millions of adults caught in a spiral of worsening mental and physical health.
One day, Joe goes to his primary care provider to get some help. Joe is subsequently diagnosed with hyperlipidemia, hypertension, generalized anxiety disorder and depression.
To keep Joe safe, his health provider tells him to immediately institute lifestyle changes that will restore Joe’s natural mental and physical health. Exercise, diet, sleep and healthy community are emphasized. Joe learns that he will have to make some difficult changes but that the reward will be increased health and longevity. More importantly, Joe realizes that his quality of life will be vastly improved.
This is what happens, right? Right?
Joe leaves the doctor’s office with a prescription for Lopressor and hydrochlorothiazide; Lipitor or Crestor. While we are at it, let’s get some Ozempic going for that obesity. OK, technically it is a diabetes drug, but hey - a pill that (maybe) helps you lose weight? Yes, please!
Now that Joe’s physical health has been squared away, we can turn to that pesky anxiety/depression problem. First up is a benzodiazepine for the anxiety. Xanax, Librium, Klonopin: there’s a veritable rainbow of options. Then an SSRI, probably Prozac or Celexa, maybe Zoloft or Lexapro. If Joe has a really hip prescriber (SSRI’s are so 2022), he may get Cymbalta or Effexor. And hey, Wellbutrin is good for everything! In addition, Joe will probably get some “off-label” Risperdal or Seroquel, perhaps some gabapentin.
Oh yeah, and if Joe’s back is hurting (because he is sedentary, overweight and has a crappy desk chair), he will get a prescription for physical therapy, regular exercise and diet control.
JUST KIDDING! Joe gets a prescription for oxycodone. But isn’t that highly addictive? Not to worry, Joe can always find some fentanyl from a dealer when the ER cuts him off.
I wrote the preceding rant only partially because I am pissed off. More to the point, that scenario is the result of an unexamined existence; what I have termed elsewhere the “accidental life.”
Here is a challenge for you. If you think I was exaggerating or overstating my case, pick 20 of your closest friends (or acquaintances, if like many adults, you have no real friends) and ask to see the list of meds they are currently taking.
Alternatively, go to your primary care provider and tell them you are depressed, overweight, anxious and have chronic back pain. See how many of the drugs listed above for which you can get prescriptions.
It’ll be fun. Like death and addiction BINGO.
The Case For Creators
This “downward spiral” example could be the case for anyone in the modern world. But what of the creator?
Like any other working stiff, creative types have to make ends meet, do work that may not always be their bliss and still feed the kids (or cats; you know creative types).
Unlike many working folks, musicians, writers, artists, and yes - content creators - also are expected to come up with ideas that are original (i.e. non-derivative). We are expected to create content that is unique and authentic. And for God’s sake, demonstrate that we are thought leaders (whatever that means).
And do it on a deadline. Like maybe every week or every day.
So this is the unique challenge of the creator - to avoid the downward spiral described above and also deal with the pressure of creating fresh, compelling content ex-nihilo (that’s Latin for “out of nothing,” in case your classical languages are a bit rusty).
To do that in a healthy, sustainable manner, we have to trade the downward spiral for the confidence cycle.
The confidence cycle is an intentional, planned series of thoughts and actions that a creator repeats for each new task.
Here are the steps I have taught for many years:
First, take care of yourself. Pay attention to diet, exercise, sleep and friends. Avoid things that you know will hurt you. To thrive, you have to be strong enough to fight the wolves (or become accepted into the pack, if that’s your thing).
Then say “yes” to every opportunity that could help you grow. This step requires some discernment. Many “opportunities” are time wasters that will help someone else more than they will help you, and some come with mental and physical health risks. These are not growth opportunities and must be discarded.
For decades, I have advised my students to, “Go where the butterflies are.” These particular butterflies are of the variety that live in your stomach and make themselves known when you are presented with a challenge that will push you out of your comfort zone. It’s the feeling you get when you have to submit an article, or step up on a stage for a live performance, or hit the “record” button to do that webinar.
Sometimes (most times!) those butterflies grow to become ravenous pterodactyls that destroy your sleep and wreak havoc with your peace. If you have been doing the things that prevent the downward spiral, these transient adrenaline spikes will leave you stronger on the other side.
So now you have chosen a task that will spur your growth and stretch your abilities. The butterflies/condors herald that you have made the correct choice, and you are ready to go in spite of - or more accurately, because of - them. What now?
JUST. DO. THE. THING.
Accept no excuses. Allow no interruptions. Commit with your whole being and produce the most excellent content of which you are capable.
Have patience. There may be a learning curve for you to master a new or modified skill set that will enable you to get where you want to be.
Keep your head down, eyes on the prize, nose to the grindstone and whatever other body part-clichés you need to steadily make progress towards your goal.
THIS is the part where you create magic. This is why you do what you do; the reward for the tens of thousands of hours of practice and thousands of dollars of equipment and rejection letters and missed parties.
This is your purpose - why you are here.
In the end, bloodied and battered but not broken, you will look back on what you have created and realize that you did something you weren’t sure you could do.
This is the ONLY way to create true confidence.
Each experience of confidence builds more confidence for the future as you prove yourself to be competent and up to the task, and so a cycle of confidence has begun.
Just as surely as a downward spiral leads to hell, the cycle of confidence becomes an inexorable climb to excellence and accomplishment.
And the confidence to chase the next flock of butterflies.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Let me know if you are interested to learn exactly how to build or strengthen your own confidence cycle. Come be a part of our growing community of creators!
You can contact me through my JeffWWelsh.com website, or in the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts. If you have found value in this article, come follow my Instagram and Twitter accounts, and subscribe to my River of Creation podcast - The Podcast for Creators, coming this November, wherever you download your podcasts.
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