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Balance: Does Your Perception Meet Reality?


Last summer for my 32nd birthday, I thought it would be a great idea to climb a tree. I hadn’t climbed a tree since I was very young, but it’s something I used to do all the time. So I thought nothing of it. Our front yard has a perfect climbing tree I’d been eyeing for some time.

We’ve all climbed trees as kids and felt confident in our ability to do it. The last time I climbed it was no problem and I assumed I would feel that way going into this. In fact, I thought getting myself onto the first branch would be easy. I could see a clear path to climb up a few branches beyond that.

But I think we all know where this story is going.

It turns out, climbing a tree is pretty difficult when you haven’t done it for a few decades. Not only did I need help getting up to the first low branch, once I was there I didn’t feel confident in my ability to stay balanced at all. I found myself staring at the ground, both hands on the branch, feeling as though I was hanging over the edge of a cliff. I don’t even want to admit how much help I needed to get down from the branch. Not only did I realize I didn’t have the physical strength, but I had no idea how to sequence my descent.

My perception of my capabilities didn’t meet reality.

This is a more extreme example of what happens to adults as we age. Often our perception of our physical abilities doesn’t match up with the reality of them. And without regular practice to push our boundaries, this worsens over time.

Ever Heard of Balance Confidence?

There are many systems in our body that contribute to our balance, like strength, sensation, and communication between these systems. But, another essential component of balance is our own perception of our abilities.

As the tree climbing story above illustrates, sometimes perception doesn’t meet reality. As you age, it gets easier to overestimate your capabilities and wind up in situations where you aren’t safe. This overestimation can increase your risk of falls over time.

It’s also common for the opposite to happen. You can underestimate your capabilities, causing you to be timid and afraid of movement. Even if you haven’t fallen before, you can develop a paralyzing fear of falling. This fear actually makes you more of a fall risk than having fallen in the past.

So if you haven’t heard of balance confidence now is a great time to learn what it means and why you should think about it.

Balance confidence is your perception of your balance. And it’s strongly connected with risk of falls. The lower your confidence, the more likely you are to fall.

Improving your physical strength doesn’t make an ounce of difference if your perception of your abilities doesn’t improve along with it.

How You Lose Confidence

So how does this end up happening in the first place? How do you lose confidence in your balance?

Most of the time, it happens so gradually you won’t even know it’s happening. It starts decades before you would ever think about falling. Loss of confidence is the result of living in a world that doesn’t challenge you daily. There’s no way around it, you must falter at times to be confident in your ability to recover.

Steps to Improve Your Balance Confidence

Step 1: Block practice in safe environment for positive reinforcement.

Think about what activities you don’t do often enough to feel confident about them. Some examples include standing on one foot, any activity involving bending forward, and getting on and off the floor. Make a list of what you’d like to be better at.

Then set up an environment that makes it impossible to fail. Have someone with you to supervise. Set up your surroundings to make the area completely safe and give yourself an exit strategy if you aren’t able to complete the activity.

Break each activity down into smaller parts and practice each part as many times in a row as you can. For example, if you feel apprehensive about getting on and off the floor start with a seat that is close to the floor. Get yourself on and off the seat as many times in a row as you can manage. Or to practice standing on one leg, stand in front of a countertop you can hold with both hands.

Repeated motion that has a positive result reinforces the movement pattern. It makes you more likely to do these activities and initiates the process of building confidence.

Step 2: Start to vary your environment and push past your comfort zone.

Block practice is a critical first step toward learning and reinforcing any new skill. But the real key to building confidence is to vary your environment. You won’t always have control over your surroundings so focus on your ability to manage in unknown situations.

Practice each activity with an added challenge or with a different setup. For example, once you feel comfortable with getting on and off the floor see how many ways you can do it. Variety is essential to real confidence building.

Step 3: Make this a daily habit.

The final and most important piece is to build a daily habit of seeking activities out of your comfort zone. Confidence building doesn’t happen if you only practice the above steps once every 6 months. This has to be a daily habit. Once you make a commitment to daily practice you’ll watch your abilities and confidence soar!

The above steps don’t just apply to physical skills but are good to think about in all areas of your life. How often are you thinking about confidence building? Make this a daily habit and let us know how it goes!


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