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Episode 179: Eagles, Chickens & Rescue Dogs

One day a farmer found an eagle's egg under a tree and not knowing if the little eaglet inside was still alive, he took it to his farmyard and put it in a nest of a simple barnyard hen.
The tiny eaglet was alive and soon he hatched alongside a brood of chicks and he grew up with them all of his life. As he grew up with them he did everything a chicken would do, for he was not aware that he wasn’t actually a chicken. He would scratch at the earth for worms and insects, he would cluck and cackle and would flap his wings so as to fly jus a few feet into the air.
As the years went by and the eagle grew old he glanced up into the sky one day and spotted a magnificent bird flying high above him in a cloudless sky. It glided in great majesty among the powerful wind currents with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings. The now old eagle looked up in awe and said to his neighbour “What is that?” “That” said his chicken friend “Is an eagle, the king of all the birds. He belongs to the sky. Just as we belong to the earth. After all” said the chicken “We are just chickens.”
“Yes” said the old eagle sadly “I am just a chicken. But I wish I could have been born an eagle.”
And so the eagle lived and died a chicken for that is all he thought he was. The end.

Sometimes I wonder who I am in that story. Am I the eagle that flew or the eagle that flapped. Or am I a different character altogether, am I in fact a chicken pretending to be an eagle just waiting to get caught out?
I wonder who you are. And I wonder what you grew up thinking you were. Because the only thing holding the old eagle back from trying to fly and realising that he was an eagle all along, was a life long belief and expectation of self. Something that’s really hard to shift.

It’s hard to think of yourself as having great confidence if you’ve only ever had low confidence all of your life. If you’ve always thought that you were a chicken it wouldn’t matter if the flying eagle in that story came and landed in the farmyard and tapped the old eagle on it’s eagley shoulder and said “What the hell are you doing hanging around down here with all these chickens, didn’t you know that you were an eagle?” It would still live and die like a chicken. Because the knowledge that he had the ability to fly is irrelevant. It’s too big a jump. So if you think of yourself as under-confident, insecure or shy then we need some steps that lead you in the right direction. So as to become more confident one step at a time.

Someone asked me recently if we are born confident and learn to be anxious or is it the opposite way around? Are we born anxious and learn to be confident? They'd wondered this because they saw conflicting evidence. They saw children that automatically assume that they deserve to be treated well, and don’t see threats in strangers with no reason to think that their primary care giver won't always be there for them when they call. And they also saw other youngsters who would cling to their mothers skirt because the outside world is a dangerous place.
If you were to go further back into those children’s lives they were likely to have had pretty much the exact same start in life. But even if those initial first few days of life are different, isolated or traumatic. They all started off vulnerable, massively dependant on someone else to look after them and very much frightened of change.
I wonder if we’re all born with the POTENTIAL for confidence but it takes a supporting and safe environment to bring it out. As if we’re all born chickens with the potential to be an eagle. But if we’re only given evidence that we’re a chicken then we’ll never learn to fly.

I guess the question is how do we learn all this as adults? If we’ve been practising being a chicken all of our lives what do we need to do to start changing those foundations that have been holding us back from feeling more confident and self assured?
I think of it as a bit like training a rescue dog. Anyone who's ever done that probably knows the difference between training a puppy and training a older dog, that has been abused. The rescue dog has been taught all it's life that people can't be trusted, that they have to rely on themselves. They've been taught to expect bad things happen to them.
Teaching a dog like that, that it doesn't need to be on guard all the time and that it deserves to be loved is hard, it's slow and quite challenging. It doesn't mater at first how much fuss you give the dog it's still got experiences in it's brain that need diluting down in order to fade. The past needs to feel like the past. And I think that's the same for us adults too.
If you want to be a confident public speaker but you've got a foundation of beliefs that says "I can't do that." Then it's not going to feel right to try and convince yourself that you can, you need to start slowly.
"I can't do that, YET." Is probably the first place to start when it comes to boosting confidence. That can eventually become "I can pretend that I can do that." So that you're doing it but it doesn't feel natural, you're kind of blagging it a bit. But that eventually becomes "I can do that."
But for the process to work it has to be with the right attitude, if you're hard on yourself because you're not where you want to be yet, but you feel that you SHOULD be. Then you probably need to stop a minute and recognise that you're learning to override a lifetime of belief. Be OK with it taking a little while. It's taken you a lifetime to get where you are today with the beliefs you have, but it's not going to be another lifetime to override it.
Just be patient and respectful with yourself. Have the same respect for yourself as you would have with an ill treated dog.
You wouldn't kick it when it's down would you, and if you did you wouldn't expect it to help it become less nervous.
So don't kick yourself either.