Checklists: The unexpected, simple tool for gaining sexual confidence

How often do you break the promises that you make to yourself? Most of the womxn in my sex coaching & couples’ counseling practice share they wish they prioritized themselves more. Self-described “people pleasers,” they know that constantly showing up for others pulls them away from their priorities or goals, stops them from feeling as positive about themselves as they could, and holds them back from finding freedom in pleasure in their lives and relationships. 

Becoming more confident is a process—there’s no single right way to start feelin’ yourself more. Instead, it’s about taking tiny steps daily, a process called building your “self-efficacy.” According to the American Psychological Association, self-efficacy is  “an individual’s belief in [their] capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.”

There are many ways to build your self-efficacy and therefore, your confidence. Using checklists, when done well, is one way to do just that. I checked out Alexandra Franzen’s new book, The Checklist Book to understand more of how this is possible.

Why Checklists Help You How to Feel Sexually Confident

In short, checklists help you create the ideal context for intimate, exciting, and fulfilling sex. Here’s how.

Franzen has developed her own unique method for creating and using checklists. As she writes, “It’s not just ‘writing down a bunch of stuff I need to do.” The book walks you through her exact method—which is informed by her experiences practicing yoga, training in the arts, becoming a helicopter pilot, conversations with experts, and good old experimentation—for a variety of different checklists including daily, seasonal, loose ends, and more. Each of these has a role to play in helping you build up your sexual confidence.

In the foreword of the book, psychologist Sasha Heinz writes, “There’s a direct connection between your level of personal integrity (promises kept, boxes checked, intentions fulfilled) and your self-esteem, happiness, and well-being.” By building your self-esteem, checklists help you feel more confident—in the bedroom and out.

Checklists also help you reduce stress. “Making a checklist is like creating an extra storage tank for your brain,” Franzen writes. This, in turn, “creates a feeling of emotional relief […that] feels soothing, which can help reduce the levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with panic, threat, and stress) throughout your whole body.” Less cortisol means less stress and more openness to exploration, fun, and pleasure

Furthermore, checklists reduce what’s known as “decision fatigue,” a mentally exhausted state that results from making lots of decisions. Being in a state of decision fatigue makes it harder to live in your integrity—think grocery shopping when you’re hungry! Just as living in your integrity is directly related to your confidence, so can living out of it reduce self-esteem, making it harder to get out of your head and enjoy the moment.

Lastly, checking items off of your list gives you a hit of dopamine, the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that gets you to repeat pleasurable activities. Usually, we talk about dopamine in a negative light—it’s the brain chemical thought to be activated in addiction. However, you can also get dopamine from nourishing experiences as well, whether that’s a yoga class, an orgasm, or, indeed, putting a checkmark next to an item on your list. In this case, it can be a benevolent, rather than vicious, cycle.

How To Use Checklists To Feel More Sexually Confident

Figure out how you want to show up sexually

While Franzen talks about creating a personal approach to your whole life, you can also apply this wisdom to specific aspects of your life, like sex. Start by paying attention to what lights you up in the bedroom. What kind of sex do you most enjoy? Does it change throughout your menstrual cycle? What sex acts turn you on? Which turn you off? 

From there, explore some different ways to approach your sex life. Franzen offers nine different approaches, through the lenses of faith, sexual energy, values, and desires, as well as the reminder that there’s no one best way to do this—you get to choose.

Tune into your “hut”

While the checklist making method that Franzen provides is certainly rooted in neuroscience, with much evidence to support it, actually using your checklist is much more of an art, and one that invites you to tune into what she calls your “hut,” or “heart and gut.”

Ultimately, the more you practice tuning into your hut, the easier it is to maintain integrity, build your esteem, and feel more confident. 

Create a ritual

Creating and checking items off your list doesn’t have to be boring—you can infuse the process with pleasure by creating a ritual around it. Rituals work on multiple levels. They allow you to practice tuning into your hut. They make the process more fun, which means you’re more likely to follow through with it. And, rituals set you up for success.

Here are some things Franzen recommends for your checklist ritual—these are also great to use for any forms of journaling and even talking to your partner about sex.

  • Make sure you have a quiet peaceful space
  • Play inspiring music
  • Light a candle
  • Set aside some drinks and/or snacks

Daily and seasonal checklists

What do you want your sex life and relationship to look like day-to-day? How about on a larger scale? Are there goals you want to achieve? New things you want to try?

Franzen recommends having both daily and longer-term checklists. On the daily list, you’ll be checking off not only your to-dos but also moments. Moments, as in “an experience that feels pleasurable, delightful, enjoyable, beautiful, meaningful” or that makes you feel “thriving, flourishing, happy, healthy” or just “more alive.” Moments are a fabulous way to prioritize sex and connection without necessarily “scheduling” it. They’re also a way to prioritize your self-care and love. Put all together, the structure of the daily checklist serves as a reminder that every part of your life impacts every other part, and the more you’re in integrity, the more fully and confidently you can show up.

The longer-term checklists, on the other hand, can be used in a variety of ways, from ensuring you wrap up all those loose ends that drain your energy, to creating a personalized list of sexy fun things to try. 

Do the self-esteem checklist

If all of this feels too abstract and you’re looking for a practical place to dive in, Franzen has you covered. On page 141 of her book, she provides a self-esteem checklist aimed at “tak[ing] care of our emotional hygiene daily/consistently.” Core to this checklist is answering this question: 

“What are some small things you could do to boost your self-esteem, confidence, and sense of wellbeing?”

The examples she gives are all practical and powerful—think activities that take less than five minutes and cost nothing.

Troubleshoot

The follow-up sessions for my coaching and counseling clients are called “Spark Troubleshooting Call.” This is intentional—because you learn from what doesn’t work as much as, or more than, when things do go to plan. That’s why I love Franzen’s last chapter, which addresses common issues and objections to check-lists. This allows you to customize and make them work for you, further building your self-efficacy, integrity, and confidence.

Feeling sexually confident is about sex and so much more

Franzen’s book gives you a system to build your sexual confidence and so much more. It reminds you that you aren’t alone in struggling to feel sexually confident, of the power of community, and how all aspects of your life and pleasure are connected. 

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