by Mary C. Schaefer

How to stand strong with a core of confidence

Jan 11, 2016
CareersIT Leadership

A round of physical therapy reminded me of the importance of engaging my core when facing challenges. The core of our physical selves and our character can keep us grounded and confident when navigating tough terrain at work.

I had back surgery last year. Eventually I went to physical therapy. After an initial assessment, my therapist, Karen, said, “We need to activate your core more.” You might have heard that terminology from Pilates or other exercise regimes.

How we hold ourselves makes a difference

Karen went on to say I was not holding my body in a way that was engaging my core muscles. I’m a Pilates veteran. I knew what she was talking about. I had been coddling my lower back because of the surgery. I was not holding myself in a way that used the strongest part of my body. This worked against my recovery and mobility.

Karen suggested something brilliant. She said for me to imagine how I would stand if a bunch of three-year-olds were running around me. I should imagine I was going to be bumped or knocked down. I got it immediately. I started holding my body differently, standing from a lower center of gravity. I felt more grounded.

I loved the visualization Karen offered about the kids. My body immediately reacted and adjusted to what that would mean.

Envision the challenge

Let’s apply this thinking at work. What challenges are you currently facing? Clients have raised these topics to me lately:

  • Talking with the boss about a performance appraisal.
  • Receiving challenging interview questions.
  • Requesting a development opportunity.

How about you? When have you handled your particular situation well, what were you thinking about? What grounded you? Take yourself back to that successful situation or a similar one and feel it in your bones.

For example, in the past, when I went into a performance appraisal I would know it inside and out. I remember a day my boss gave me feedback I hadn’t heard before. It seemed vague and unfamiliar to me. I asked, “Can you give me an example?” He couldn’t come up with anything. I never heard that criticism again.

I realized later that I was grounded. I knew my strengths, limitations and my performance well. I was open to feedback. That particular feedback didn’t make sense to me. My clarity allowed me to ask a question that resolved it in a moment.

What else you can learn from engaging your core

I love the idea of engaging your core, physically or metaphorically. How do make your values such a part of you that you act from them consistently?

I once had a colleague who would humiliate and bully his co-workers or subordinates then they messed up. He might call them names or ask them if they knew how stupid they were. Fortunately he was aware this wasn’t helping him. He asked me for help.

I asked him to connect with his values (i.e. core). I asked him “What kind of person do you want to be in this situation?” Despite how tempting it was to punish someone for messing up, he didn’t like that about himself either. He hadn’t thought about my question before. He had to tap into the person he wanted to be.

How do you engage your core in tough or challenging situations at work?