Friday, January 18, 2013

Working outside your confidence zone

Years ago I used to teach modeling at the New Haven Barbizon Academy. I had many students over the six years I taught there and the majority of them were not there to become fashion models. They were there for enriching their own lives. Whether it was to learn how to present themselves professionally or walk with grace the underlying reason was to gain self confidence and a sense of self worth. Many introverts came through my classes.

One tool I used to explain "fear versus confidence" was the confidence meter. It is an imaginary scale starting at your feet and fading off into the distance. The scale starts off at a save green color indicating your comfort zone and progresses on into a red color representing your anxiety zone. The green represents those situations and environments where you are comfortable and at ease with yourself and your surroundings. Your confidence is high, your attitude is positive and you feel good about yourself. There is a sense of familiarity.

Comfort zones are different for everyone. My comfort zone will be different than your comfort zone because we both have different levels of confidence. You will also notice that the zone is flexible and changes according to the situation or action you find yourself in. For example, put some drawing paper and an assortment of pencils in front of me and my comfort zone is pretty broad. Now put me at a piano with a bunch of musicians and ask me to play a tune and you will see my comfort zone shrink ridiculously. I will feel out of place and unsure of myself.

When the comfort zone diminishes, our imaginary scale progresses into the red. This area is the anxiety zone or the area that raises our apprehension level. As photographers we can encounter this in any number of situations. Whether it's working with a model, setting up studio lights while trying to capture a family portrait, or taking photos of strangers on the street. Any foray into the anxiety zone causes sweat to stain our armpits, our voice to crack and our impulse is to retreat back into the safety of our comfort zone.

It is in these situations you need to steel yourself, take a deep breath and take a huge step into the red. Go deep into the anxiety zone. Take that risk and explore the areas that make you uncomfortable because when you step back into the safety of your comfort zone something interesting will have happened. The green part or the confidence meter has now advanced a bit. You may not notice it at first. you may not even notice it until someone else points it out to you, but it will have advanced.

Anyone who knew me back when I was a teenager will tell you that I was a real introvert. I was painfully shy. To the point where I understood how disabling that could be. I made a conscious decision to step outside of my comfort zone every chance I could. Now if you put me at a piano in front of a bunch of musicians the green on my meter will be small but I will take that big step into the red and play chopsticks on the piano. Or maybe it'll be twinkle, twinkle, little star. Either way, I'll be pushing that comfort zone forward.

When you find yourself in a situation where you are under the gun and people are expecting you to perform, just keep that visual in your head. Take a deep breath, steel yourself and plant two feet well into that red zone.

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