Confidence Lab

Wednesday, January 10, 2001 by

Have you ever wanted to change your life for the better? Have you ever wanted to be that bit more assertive, authoritative, confident and in control?

You might care then to acquire one of the many self-improvement books on the market to tackle your inner psyche and unlock your hidden untapped potential to enhance and enrich your life, and of course to line the pockets of authors and publishers. Alternatively, you could take part in this six-part television documentary detailing the efforts of 12 people arriving at a country hotel to have their confidence boosted by a team of experts.

This very amiable documentary, narrated by Dawn French, deals with only two guinea pigs at a time. Nigel and Maria are the first to be put through their paces in a series of workshops organised by psychologist Ros Taylor, psychiatrist Dr Sandra Scott and communications expert Roy Leighton. Nigel, a chef offered a position supervising a golf club restaurant, seeks to overcome his difficulty with administration and paperwork and Maria, a Victim Support Manager with the job of raising awareness of her organisation’s work, shakes with fear at the prospect of public speaking. Almost inevitably, the roots of their difficulties lay in some childhood trauma – Nigel recalls his school essays being thrown back at him by an obnoxious teacher for incorrect spelling whilst Maria’s fears of self-humiliation speaking in front of an audience harked back to being made to recite her times tables by an unpleasant stepfather.

The strategies by which the experts got to work on their two subjects such as Maria being encouraged to chant her speeches before delivering them to help her relax made for some diverting and endearing viewing. It certainly helped no end that Nigel and Maria, ensconced back in their rooms reporting to their own video diaries, were both enormously likeable people and our sympathies were firmly paced with them as they worked to achieve their goals. Gratifyingly, the programme endeavoured to provide a sense of achievement and closure, as we see Nigel and Maria in their jobs in the aftermath of the course, putting in practice the skills they had acquired throughout their seven days in the country. Nigel, having undergone an almost complete metamorphosis and delivering an awesome motivational speech to his fellow participants, seemed almost frighteningly self-assured.

Ultimately, it seems that the course merely serves to reaffirm people’s perceptions of their own worth and ability. Maria and Nigel, both already successful at their jobs, came across as very competent people before their “treatment” had even begun. The very act of participating in a course designed to increase self-esteem indicates both were in fact fully intent on realising their objectives; they simply required an extra boost to send them on their way. One gets the impression that in their cases, all Nigel and Maria needed was a self-help manual and a bit of encouragement. No mention was made of the costs involved in the running of the course and whilst the programme did espouse the very genuine merits of therapy, Confidence Lab displays no real inclination to explore these issues in depth. Nevertheless, the spectacle of Nigel now an inspiring manager at his restaurant and Maria, addressing her audiences with verve and purpose and thoroughly enjoying herself, was wonderfully life-affirming. Emphasising the power of positive thinking and reminding us of the insecurities beneath a veneer of self-confidence that exist in us all, Confidence Lab was overall something of a triumph.


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