“Whether you think you can or think you can’t
– you are right.” Henry Ford
Self-confidence plays a vital role in almost every aspect of our lives, personally and professionally. It determines how we present ourselves, how others see us, what risks we are willing to take and how we cope with challenges and setbacks.
When we like ourselves and have a healthy self-respect, we are engaged and present in the world, and open to new experiences. We have trust in our judgements and capacities, and have self-determination and the resilience to handle difficulties.
The reality is that many of us get stuck in unconscious cycles that reinforce negative self-beliefs that undermine our confidence. The good news is that there is a way out of this cycle – self-confidence can be developed, nurtured and grown.
What stops us pursuing what we want is fear. It’s fear of the unknown or fear of failure. Fear is a universal emotion, and everyone knows how it feels to be afraid. But avoiding it makes it worse; the more willing you are to feel the fear, the less you will feel it.
Our comfort zones are very pliable. They will stretch to accommodate new, unfamiliar experiences. But they will also narrow down if we continually avoid new situations. Know that feeling anxious is OK. It’s normal, it’s human.
It’s true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. And fear isn’t a killer.
Our sense of self, and our confidence in who we are is greatly determined by our childhood experiences. It will be shaped by parent’s attitudes and behaviour, and by those of our teachers and friends.
As adults, how we cope with criticism, or missing out on a promotion, a financial problems or a romantic rejection, will be influenced by our early experience, which has become unconsciously internalised. These can easily develop into negative self-beliefs, “I’m not ……. enough”. Fill in the blank.
Increasingly there is evidence that we can change self-beliefs, expand our emotional capacity, and grow our intelligence. This means we can also learn new skills and behaviours.
Your past, is past. We all have more tools, experience and resilience than we did as children, and we need to update our attitudes towards ourselves, so we can challenge old beliefs and grow into our potential.
Thoughts are not facts
Thoughts are mental events that appear in our awareness, stay for a while, and then leave. But thoughts have a very powerful influence on our experience of ourselves in the world, on the actions we take, and on our interpretation of what is going on around us.
The first step is to cultivate a more flexible mind-set, to be more open, accepting and curious about yourself.
When you have negative thoughts, write them down and identify your own thinking errors. This gets it out of your head and makes it easier to explore.
1. Examine the evidence – is it true? look more broadly at the issue, ask others how they see it.
2. Have compassion – its easy to be harsh with ourselves, but try talking to yourself as you would a friend or colleague.
3. Change the language – become aware of semantics, notice your negative or rigid thinking, and use other words. Drop words like ‘loser’, ‘idiot’ etc
4. Widen the picture – rather than blame yourself, look more broadly at the whole situation. What other factors influenced the outcome? It helps to define your area of responsibility and focus on solving problems, rather than blaming yourself.
5. Cost-Benefit analysis – list the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (e.g. getting angry when plane is late), thought (I try hard but always mess up) or a behaviour (not taking a lunch break when stressed). Weigh up the cost of what you are doing now.
It’s fear that stops us from developing a competency in what we want to be confident in. Fear is a feeling, and we don’t have to behave according to our feelings, we can behave according to our values.
Know why you want to be more confident.
It helps to know the clear reason or purpose for wanting more confidence. What is the lack of confidence preventing you from doing or being?
Imagining in detail and focussing on the positive, actually shifts our emotional state, as it recognises that part of us has already achieved this goal
The key to change is to do things differently.
Our brains are made up of billions of neurons. The more we do the same thing; the more established the neural pathways. A habit is the easy repetition of a behaviour.
When we do something new, our brains have to create new neural pathways, which it does pretty rapidly. But we have to keep practicing, then the easier it becomes, and the more proficient we become, the faster the neurons travel.
This is true if it’s playing the piano, cooking, or on-line gambling. It’s also true of avoiding confronting situations, the more we resist, the more it persists.
Changing behaviour takes practice. Be prepared to practice
1. Recognise the fear. Accepting that it exists is the first step to overcoming it. Acknowledge it. This doesn’t mean we like it, it doesn’t mean we have to respond or engage with it. Just make room for it, allow it.
2. Explore the fear. Why am I afraid? Is it rational? Is it imagined? If it is both imagined and irrational how can it be overcome? The more we notice, the lesser the impact.
3. Confront the fear. Accept you feel afraid, but take action regardless and do so repeatedly. As Susan Jeffers said, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’. Facing challenges is what makes you grow and develop.
4. Be courageous. Equip yourself with the power that comes from courage and watch your resilience and self-confidence increase.
When you step out of your comfort zone, take a risk or face a new challenge, you will feel anxious. Confidence is not the absence of fear; it’s a transformed relationship with fear.
Remember action comes before feelings of confidence, and here are some simple, yet powerful actions:
1. Be Present
Notice the negative thoughts, and let them pass by. Make room for the discomfort, but pay close attention to whatever you are doing. Be mindful, aware and fully present in the moment.
You don’t just smile because you are happy and confident – you can smile to make yourself feel better. The act of smiling is so strongly associated with positive feelings that it’s almost impossible to feel bad while smiling.
Smiling is much more then just a facial expression. This simple act releases feel-good endorphins, it helps relax the face, makes you feel good about yourself and you will appear more open and confident to others.
3. Eye contact
Give people your smile by meeting their eyes: you’ll almost certainly get one back, and being smiled at is a great self-confidence boost. Like smiling, eye contact shows people that you’re confident and engaged. Avoiding eye contact reinforces feelings of self-doubt and shyness.
Particularly in work-related situations, make eye contact with interviewers, or with the audience for your presentation, it keeps their attention.
4. Look Good
How we look affects how we feel, and vice versa. Buy and wear clothes that make you feel good. Before a meeting or a date, attend to your appearance, smile at yourself and check you’ve not got parsley between your teeth. Being confident in your physical appearance will help you to feel more confident in yourself. And it will create a positive impression to others.
5. Speak slowly
A person with authority speaks slowly. It shows confidence. A person who feels that he isn’t worth listening to will speak quickly, to get it over with faster.
If you gabble, you’ll feel rushed, and others will finder hard to listen. Slow down and pause at the end of phrases and sentences – you’ll be better able to think ahead, and it helps others take in what you’ve said.
6. Contribute something
Don’t just sit through a class or meeting without saying a word, and feeling lousy afterwards – contribute something. During an evening with friends, get involved and speak up. Whatever the situation, you are there, so make an effort to contribute. By making an effort to speak up you’ll become a better public speaker, more confident in your own thoughts, and listened to by others.
People who are confident are not afraid to let others see them as they are. They are accepting of their strengths and weaknesses, their human condition. They are present to the moment, rather than devoting attention and resources to winning the approval of others and side-stepping their fears. This is what real confidence is, and everyone can increase their confidence.
“The process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.”
For more expert tips on how to build your self-confidence visit our Video Moods series, or access some of our self discovery eBooks to discover more about how to develop confidence for a new job.