Confidence from a Polyvagal Informed Perspective

Confidence is essential in order to consistently performs skills and tasks towards our optimal capability.  The polyvagal informed paradigm provides a robust framework for developing confidence.

For the opportunity to reflect on this article and earn CE/CME credits, see the instructions below.  Check out all past articles which are also eligible for reflections and CE/CME credits.

Confidence is an important skill which is typically considered to be mind-based.  It is often considered as the belief in one’s self to accomplish particular skills or goals.  As such it is often outcome based in orientation.  It is also possible to reframe this attribute in terms of being more closely related to the process of performing a task such that confidence is not as strongly linked to the outcome.  Doing so can reduce the emphasis on an outcome, which frequently is not within our direct control.  It is widely thought that it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to perform towards the limits of our capability without sufficient confidence.

Within the realm of performance psychology, there is common discussion regarding how best to train and develop confidence.  Typically, such processes include reflection on past experiences, in particular successful instances, a focus on the ability to perform the necessary skills and tasks in other scenarios, and self-talk which is reinforcing of the ability to perform identical or similar skills.  Without question these are all important and valuable tools to increasing our confidence.

It is also important to consider additional situations in which these traditional methods of training and exhibiting confidence may be less successful.  In particular it is informative to consider the situations in which our mindset is questioning of our capacity to perform the necessary skills, when there is discordance between our mindset and thoughts and the feelings within our body, and what to do when we are faced with novel situations.  Each of these possibilities is best considered, in my opinion, from a polyvagal informed perspective.

The first situation for further consideration is that in which our mindset is questioning of our capacity to perform the necessary skills.  This scenario is similar in nature to those in which our thoughts and self-talk are negative, pessimistic, or generally not consistent with our true capabilities.  In general these occurrences require disputation of our thoughts, reframing, and other cognitive skills to be employed.  As has been discussed in past articles, this requires sufficient ventral vagal activation.  This, then, indicates that in order to address this particular circumstance, it is important to employ polyvagal informed skills and strategies to increase ventral vagal activation, thereby allowing for utilization of cognitive skills.  This scenario has been discussed in further detail in past articles.

Similar in nature to the previous example is that in which our mind and body are discordant.  As has been discussed in previous articles, it is often difficult, bordering on impossible, to solely utilize mind-based skills in order to bring the body in alignment with our thoughts.  For instance, if we are neurocepting cues of uncertainty, risk, or threat and are shifting towards sympathetic and/or dorsal vagal states, it is necessary to utilize body-based skills in addition to mind-based skills.  In this situation, it is typically not possible to only employ mind-based skills in order to bring the body into a ventral vagal stabilized state.  The mind-based skills become more effective once we have increased our degree of ventral vagal activation.

The final scenario for further consideration in this article pertains to those situations in which we are performing either new tasks or familiar skills in a novel context or situation.  In this situation, the typical strategies outlined above for training and exhibiting confidence are not likely to be maximally effective.  The reason being that we do not have past experiences upon which to base our self-talk that we are capable of performing the skills.  In this situation, the polyvagal informed paradigm can be effective.  Instead of considering confidence to be based upon the ability to perform tasks, we can conceptualize confidence as emerging from the capacity to leverage our biology in alignment with our objectives.  This ability, while difficult, is more within our control.

Within this framework, by developing the ability to employ the skills within the polyvagal informed toolbox, we can develop, exhibit, and work from a place of confidence in our ability to optimally align our physiology and psychology.  Essentially, the determinant of our confidence results from our ability to leverage our biology in alignment with our goals and objectives through aligning our physiology and psychology within the polyvagal informed paradigm.  This provides the best biological platform from which to perform any, and all, skills, as well as adapt to whatever circumstances may emerge.  Through this perspective, we are able to, essentially, optimize our ability to perform the desired skills and achieve our best possible performance and outcome. This reframing of the concept of confidence within the polyvagal framework has been further illustrated by Michael Allison in his work with athletes.

From my perspective, the consideration of confidence within the framework of the ability to optimize our biology towards our ability to perform tasks is highly and readily applicable to healthcare professionals.  Within this professional domain, it is often the case that skills, decision making, and tasks are required to be performed in new scenarios or different contexts.  As such, particularly during training and the initial years of practice, it is often the case that there are not sufficient past experiences upon which to base confidence, utilizing the traditional paradigm.  In such a scenario, the polyvagal informed framework is particularly beneficial.  This framework also accounts for the reality that it is difficult, if not impossible and impractical, to train for every possible eventuality such that we have a sufficient range of past experiences upon which to base confidence.  Rather, by developing our confidence from a foundation of our ability to leverage out biology towards our performance, we are able to remain confident in new situations on the basis of our ability to optimally align our physiology and biology.  In so doing, we provide ourselves the best possible opportunity to perform to the best of our ability, thereby also optimizing the chances for the best possible outcome.

The development of confidence from the polyvagal informed paradigm provides a robust platform from which to promote sustainable high performance in alignment with the Practices of the Healthcare Athlete.  This framework is also ideally suited to the frequent changing and evolving scenarios which are encountered within the healthcare system, which limits the effectiveness of basing confidence on past experiences.  

The CE experience for this Blog Post / Article is powered by CMEfy – click here to reflect and earn credits:

This experience is powered by CMEfy – an AI-powered platform that directs learners along a pathway to capture reflections at the point of inspiration, point of care. Clinicians may earn CME/CE credit via ReflectCE, the accredited activity portal. Learn more at


Allison, M.  The Play Zone:  A Neurophysiological Approach to our Highest Performance.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.