In my experience as a coach, the issue discussed most often is confidence, or rather the lack of.
In this blog I demystify what confidence really means and outline some tools and techniques that you can use to overcome this.
Confidence as a word is very broad and it is context dependent: There are things we feel very confident about and others we don’t. We may feel confident baking a cake but terrified to do public speaking. That means that although there is a common approach to rebuilding confidence, the actions will need to be tailored to the context.
Now what is a lack of confidence? It’s nothing more than a feeling of fear, a way for your brain to tell you to get ready for something “dangerous”, in our modern world simply something we get anxious about.
And where does it come from? Usually it stems from a bad experience: a bad meeting, a rejection or some other type of failure which made us feel bad and we therefore try to avoid a similar circumstance whenever possible. In other words, we have conditioned ourselves by creating a story and living that story rather than the reality.
So, what to do?
We’ll take a few examples, the ones most mentioned in my coaching sessions, and work through how to review your beliefs, change your pattern and take massive action.
Face your fears, but plan for it
You might have heard that public speaking is the number one fear for many people, higher than scary spiders. Even if not relevant for you directly (you’re not planning on a TED Talk anytime soon), the logic is, as it follows similar principles to anything you’re scared to do.
In terms of perspective, it’s important to recognise that fear is just an emotion: you know that nothing bad can happen, apart from feeling humiliated – nobody’s going to get physically hurt from a bad speech!
If I told you you’d have the opportunity to rehearse a number of times in advance with someone coaching you, your level of stress would greatly decrease and conversely your level of confidence would greatly increase.
So the lesson is: face your fears, but plan for it. Practice where you can “fail safe”. And get feedback.
Building on the public speaking example, that would be joining a Toastmaster or other public speaking group, where you can learn and practice safely.
However, the issue is usually broader: if you avoid public speaking, you probably also avoid situations where you have to put yourself forward, in other words situations where you could have shown some leadership, and left that to someone else.
How well has this lack of confidence served you so far? What would your career, your life look like if you were more confident? Much better? Then let’s make it a “must” to change, rather than a “should”.
Tackle self-limiting beliefs
The second situation we’ll explore is very relevant to many executives, especially amongst women due to cultural conditioning: it’s called the impostor syndrome, when you feel you don’t deserve what you’ve got, or feel worried about getting a promotion. You might have leadership skills but don’t consider yourself a leader.
The barrier is what we call a “limiting belief”, a story we keep telling ourselves about our limitations: I’m not good enough, I’m not worth it. Without wanting to go down the Freudian route, it often comes from what we’ve been told in our infancy and made part of our life story. Lots of research has been done on stereotypes, showing these beliefs impact our performance, and that changing these beliefs do change our performance.
The lesson here is a different one: our past is not future.
“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
If, rightly or wrongly, you’ve believed for many years that “you’re not good enough”, “you don’t deserve it” or “you’re not worth it”, you can change it. It is easier with coaching support, but in a nutshell here is the approach:
Argue with yourself: if you have been using words like always / never, then find examples when you’ve done it, to prove to yourself you can do it again.
Make it a compelling future, and change it from ‘’hope to’’ to a ‘’must do or expect to’’: being more confident means you’ll get promoted faster, will get a bigger pay rise or bonus, can pay off the credit card or mortgage and maybe even a nice treat for yourself!
Take physical action: emotions are influenced by motion, so start by taking more power pauses – if you look confident, you will feel confident. Force yourself until it becomes a habit: your posture, your voice.
Just like the public speaking example above, practice safely your “executive presence”, so you can become the alpha male / female in the room. Don’t confuse confidence with aggressiveness though, it’s actually the opposite: that feeling of being calm, assertive, centered.
You can use a few tips to relax at the beginning, such as breathing exercises, visualisation exercises or even short meditation / mindfulness exercises.
If it sounds like “fake it ‘till you make it”, it’s because it is; except in this case it’s scientifically proven: your body influences your brain, and thereby your thoughts and attitude. As proof, just consider: how do you stand when lacking confidence vs when fully confident? Slumped or straight? What about your breathing? Your head posture?
Start by changing your physiology and your state will follow, until it becomes a habit.
Using the power of neuro-linguistic programming
Lastly, we will consider the example of relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but also working relationships, such as going to interviews.
There’s an element of physiology as well here, but we need to add an extra layer: you need to build a connection with the person opposite you, you need to get in sync.
So here is the lesson: it’s not about you – show empathy and try to relate to the other party.
Once again, to get you kick-started until it becomes natural, here are a few tips, coming from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). In short, people like people who are like them, so try and be more like them: use the same type of words, the same type of gestures, the same pace… It’s called mirroring, and it works because neurons mirror each other in an empathic way.
Practice first as you might feel awkward to start with, but then you’ll see how quickly you can build a relationship with the other person, even in a few minutes!
So, in conclusion, there is no “one way” to build your confidence as it is context dependent.
You need to list the situations where you lose your confidence and start working on your action plan for the ones you must change to make your life better. Get a role model or help from a coach.
The common point is actually mindset: as Carol Dweck has put it, you need a “growth mindset” (as opposed to a “fixed mindset”); in other words, you need to believe you can change and grow.
After all, facing difficult situations stretches us, makes us grow, makes us feel more alive.
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And if you’d like to discuss further, please contact Caroline Bonpain on Caroline@corefusioncoaching.com