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Closing The Confidence Gap With Sheldon Kerr

Author: Hilary Oliver

July 07, 2014

Chasing first descents in Alaska this spring, mountain guide Sheldon Kerr took a big step toward closing the confidence gap in ski mountaineering. Not familiar with the “confidence gap?” Google it, or pick up Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In—researchers are exposing women’s general lack of confidence compared to men, and how it affects our careers—and progress in outdoor sports, like climbing and skiing. The good news, researchers say, is there are things you can do to boost your confidence—and Sheldon’s putting it all into practice, with mega results in the mountains.

Sheldon put her new methods to the test on a recent ski mountaineering trip to the Barnard Glacier, in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias Range with her friend Lindsay Mann. “We were just going for it,” she said. “We basically got to ski first descents every day from base camp.”

She’s been consciously addressing her mountaineering confidence over the past year, with a variety of different approaches. “All day, every for the last six months, it’s all I’ve been thinking about,” she says. “These recurring themes, from the book Women Don’t Ask, or the Atlantic confidence gap article, or Lean In. To me, they have everything to do with women in high-risk sports. I feel this drive now to go for it in a way that I didn’t before.”

Here are Sheldon’s five research-backed confidence-bumping techniques for the mountains, or the boardroom:

Believe in the skills you’ve built. In the committing moment, remember all the practice you’ve put in—and all the preparation you’ve done to help you succeed.
“I mentally remind myself that I’ve chosen this objective because I’ve had these specific experiences which have prepared me for this 55-degree icy ski line,” she says.

Practice your power stance. “In order to lower cortisol levels—or stress hormones—and raise testosterone—the confidence hormone—in your body, one of the things you can do is stand with an open posture, like a Wonder Woman pose, and just breathe for two minutes,” Sheldon explains. She and Lindsay practiced their power poses during their Alaska trip. “When we got to the top of these routes, even though we were scared and shaking, we would just stand in these Wonder Woman poses for two minutes and breathe, and chemically, it just flooded our bodies with confidence, and then all of a sudden, we were willing to charge the stuff.” Find out more about power poses here [http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are].

Fake it till you make it. Going forward feeling confident, even if you’re not 100 percent sure of the outcome, will help you achieve a positive outcome anyway. “When you’re not confident on a ski line, the way that manifests physically is you tend to bring your hips back, which then makes you more likely to make a mistake, to fall, to not turn well. It’s bad skiing posture,” Sheldon says. “And this is true in so many sports: Your confidence level directly affects your body posture, and that posture directly affects your ability level.”

Improve your self talk. “When you’re scared or you’re in over your head, talk to yourself the way you’d want a partner to talk to you, rather than talking to yourself with your mean inner voice,” Sheldon suggests. “That takes a lot of training, but it’s so powerful.” It may take a while to change your inner mental monologue, she says, but beginning with what you say out loud is a good start that will eventually internalize.

Embrace aging. With age comes experience, and with experience, confidence. “When I started guiding 10 years ago, I was always the only girl, always the youngest, always the least experienced, always the least fit,” she says “People fear aging, and I’m like, What’s wrong with you? Every year past 25 has been 10 times better than the year before. And that’s helped my guiding tremendously.”

Hilary Oliver

​Hilary Oliver is a freelance writer and creator of TheGription.com. She loves climbing, biking and writing about climbing and biking. Her work has appeared on Adventure Journal, The Dirtbag Diaries, Freehub Magazine, Women’s Adventure, The Clymb, Women’s Movement and several other publications and web sites. If she’s not on the trail or up a rock, you can probably find her typing away on her laptop, hopefully within close proximity to strong coffee and hot breakfast burritos.