Confidence is one of those things that can either propel you forward to achieve your dreams, or hold you back for fear of failure. Everyone faces this issue to some extent, at some point in their lives. The questions become, how confident are you, when do you feel the most confident, and how can you build that confidence in times when you need it?
Confidence is really important for most people in most situations. If you’re lacking confidence, it can be difficult to get up the courage to go after what you want, whether it’s giving a presentation at work, asking someone to be your mentor or volunteer for a committee at your child’s school. It impacts people everywhere.
There are two main elements that make up confidence: self-efficacy and self-esteem. When we have a sense of self-efficacy, we have the belief that if we work hard in a certain area we will be able to achieve our goals. This belief helps us take on difficult tasks and keep working through obstacles when we face them. When we have high self-efficacy we are working in what Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, calls our growth mindset.
Self-esteem is essentially what we think and feel about ourselves, a judgment of our own self-worthiness. Our esteem of ourselves is a predictor of relevant outcomes such as job performance, academic achievements or personal habits. Expert Nathaniel Branden defines self-esteem as “the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness.”
Some people have such healthy levels of confidence that they are bordering on arrogance. Others have a cripplingly low level, which impacts every aspect of their lives. And research tells us that women are prone to lower levels of confidence than men. In the recent The Atlantic cover story The Confidence Gap, highly respected journalists and authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman reported that ‘under qualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and over prepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.’
And even those who are brimming with confidence in some areas of their lives can be much less so in others. Take Oprah Winfrey for example. Most people would look at Oprah with her commanding presence and global platform and think that such a woman would never have a crisis of confidence. But even Oprah herself has stated that while she thrives being on stage in front of thousands speaking on matters of the heart, emotions, and finding your purpose, give her a problem of a mathematical or technical nature and her confidence goes straight out the window.
The important point to remember is that it’s not an all or nothing game. And the good news is that you can build confidence, both in yourself and in others. Here are five areas you can start working on today to help establish and build your confidence so that it can have a positive flow on effect to every area of your life.
1. Take stock
Often when we lack confidence we have forgotten about our achievements, the great things we have accomplished, and skills we have developed that make us who we are. Our brains are wired for negativity, meaning that we have a bias to focus on the problems in our lives and what can go wrong. This is great when we need to run away from danger, like that bear in the woods, but not so helpful when we are about to give a major presentation or a speech at the local school. When you feel less than confident about your abilities, take some time to write down a list of your recent wins, things you have done that you are really proud of, or that other people have commented on. It could be anything, from the dinner party you hosted on Saturday night, to finishing your book or PhD. It is also helpful to write down a list of your skills so that you can reflect on them next time you feel that wave of negativity crashing down on you.
2. Focus on your strengths
Just like we are wired for negativity, we are also geared toward looking at our weaknesses rather than our strengths. There has been significant work done over the past twenty years, pioneered by the Gallup organization, around what happens when we focus on and use our strengths instead of our weaknesses. Our strengths are those things that we are good at and enjoy doing. They give us a rush of energy and take us into the state of flow, where we lose time because we are so absorbed in what we are doing. When we use our strengths our wellbeing, happiness, productivity and engagement at work all increase. When we feel less than confident it can be all too easy to start honing in on our weaknesses. When you need a boost of confidence, try instead to pick one of your strengths and use that to propel you forward. The more you can use your strengths in your days, the greater your confidence will be and the more it will build over time. There is a great free character strengths test you can take through the VIA Institute at viacharacter.org.
3. Watch for your triggers
Often when we feel our confidence waning, or when it just disappears altogether, there is usually a trigger that sets us off. By trying to pinpoint those moments where we feel undermined, we can learn to short-circuit them at the gate. Think of these situations as examples: it’s Monday morning and you have over slept, raced out the door without breakfast and you barely had time to run a brush through your hair let alone find the right jacket for your suit. You arrive feeling less than fabulous when your boss calls a meeting where you need to update her on your latest project. Not feeling great about yourself, you do a less than stellar job and walk out feeling dejected. The trigger here was being rushed and not being physically put together in a way that instilled confidence in yourself (and in others no doubt). Or think about this one: you have that friend that always seems to make a comment about you that gets under your skin just the right amount to leave you feeling undermined and less than sure of yourself. This is another trigger that can zap your confidence. Work out what your triggers are, then set strategies in place to either ensure they don’t happen, or to fast track your way past them.
4. Change your story
A few interrelated things that dramatically impact our confidence is our negative self-talk, our self-limiting beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves. We have somewhere between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day. When you really start to tune into them, it can be astonishing to notice just how many of those thoughts are negative stories about ourselves that we would be just horrified if anyone actually heard articulated. Yet we allow these stories to ramble around inside our heads, impacting everything we do. When we can start to tune in to our negative self talk, understand where our self limiting beliefs are coming from, really hear the story and learn to change it when it is not helpful, we can radically impact our confidence levels, and even change our lives. Build quiet time into your days through meditation or mindfulness practice, so that you can really tune in and start to discern the voices. When you here a story or a belief coming up, the first and most helpful question to ask yourself is ‘is this true?’ If it is true and it’s helpful, then there’s no problem. But if it’s not, think about what a more helpful and confidence raising story could be and go with that instead. By doing this over time, you will create new stories that will help you, not harm you.
5. Build your support network.
Who do you have in your corner, who is your best cheerleader? Who in your workplace is your greatest advocate? And which of your friends or family do you love spending time with because they make you feel so great about yourself? Hopefully you have someone in your life that makes you feel like the very best version of yourself. You just feel that little bit taller, brighter and shinier when you are around them. These are the type of people you want to surround yourself with as much as possible, and certainly they are the people you want to call when you need a boost of confidence. Think about who in your life can play the role of cheerleader and supporter. It could be your best friend, your boss, your mum or even your child. When you need that little extra boost before a job interview, a big meeting or perhaps even a date, your support team can be invaluable to help get you through. If you don’t have someone you can call on, or they aren’t available at your critical moment then build yourself a confidence toolkit. Your toolkit could include a favorite song that you blast as loud as you can and dance around your living room. It could be a favorite piece of clothing or pair of shoes that make you feel great. Or it could be that fabulous red lipstick or spicy aftershave. Have these things ready and on hand when you need them. And even if you do have your best friend on speed dial, having your favorite things ready to go can only add to your confidence inducing state. The more tools the merrier.
Confidence is a muscle you can build. It doesn’t matter where you are starting from, just that you move forward with positive intention and know the direction in which you are going. Start small. Little successes in increasing your confidence can make a big difference over time, and you will grow as you go. Use the strategies here and you may find that over time your confidence blooms like a beautiful rose, and it will be a magical sight to behold for all around you.
Follow these 8 steps to enhance your confidence levels:
1. When you feel most confident, what are you doing?
2. When you feel you lack confidence, what are the triggers? Try and pin point the moments or situations that undermine your confidence and write them down.
3. Our confidence often suffers due to stories we tell ourselves. What are your stories that come up when you are lacking confidence?
4. When you have identified your story, ask yourself ‘is this true’ and write down your answers. Do this for each story that you have identified as a confidence robber.
5. What are the new stories you need to create for yourself that will replace the old limiting beliefs?
6. Write down a list of your achievements, skills and key wins over the past 12 months. Use this as a source of strength when you need a confidence boost.
7. Who in your support system sees you as the best version of yourself? How can you utilize these people as a resource when you need a confidence boost?
8. What are some of the small things you can integrate into your day to give yourself a boost? Think about things that add to your confidence like getting your hair or makeup done, a particular outfit, a lucky bracelet, or a certain way you give a presentation.
This has been an excerpt from my new ebook Rise and Shine: Creating the Career and Life You Love. Get your copy here.
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