Recently I spoke at two leadership events; one to HR professionals and one to health professionals. After each event I had the chance to speak with attendees who shared their challenges, aspirations and anxieties.
One of the common threads that wove through our conversations was about their self-confidence. One woman asked me how I’d become such a confident presenter of if I’d always been that way. “No way,” I said. “I’ve built up my confidence to speak on stage simply by doing it again and again and again. The first time I ever got up to speak my legs were shaking. Sometimes they still do. It’s not that my fear has disappeared now, I’ve just got better at overcoming it.”
Of course we often assume that other people don’t suffer from the same self-doubt as us; that they are somehow immune to the misgivings we struggle with – particularly those who’ve achieved success in their field of endeavour. But I know from having worked with many leaders and accomplished people that this simply isn’t the case.
The reality is that even the most successful people sometimes doubt themselves, second guess their decisions, feel nervous about handling conflict and managing change. And while my experience is that women tend to doubt themselves more and back themselves less, the reality is that many people wish they felt more confident, more often.
Whether or not you aspire to positions of leadership, or you simply just want to lead yourself better, here are a four ways to build your confidence, and in so doing, your ability to make positive changes, manage conflict, influence outcomes and pursue the goals that excite you.
- Act as if. Research shows that when we change our behaviour, emotions will eventually follow. It’s important to realise that you should never wait to feel confident before you act with confidence. I’m not talking about being fake but I am talking about embodying the posture, the expression and the energy of someone who feels really confident in themselves. Research has also shown that when we shift how we hold ourselves physically, it can shift how we feel emotionally. So start with your posture and facial expression. Stand tall, walk confidently, look people in the eye, smile warmly and own all that makes you, you.
- Don’t talk yourself down. Your words create your reality. Literally. Our subconscious mind can’t discern between truth and fiction. Rather it just listens to everything you say and processes it as the truth. So when you say to yourself, or others, “I’m really hopeless at networking. I’m a walking disaster in job interviews. I am hopeless at saying no or promoting myself or talking to strangers….” your subconscious processes your words as the truth. In turn, you don’t take the actions that would nurture self-confidence and limit the results you produce. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if you want to feel more confident at something, stop talking yourself down. Instead, re-language your concern in a position and action oriented way “‘Every job interview has provided me with valuable lessons I use to get better at them,” or “I’m getting better at speaking up in meetings.” Whatever you do, don’t dump on yourself. It serves no-one!
- Pursue stretch challenges. If you wait until you know you are going to succeed at something before you try, you can spend your entire life waiting. The real recipe to success is not to wait until you’ve attained mastery before you step out of your comfort zone and pursue a stretch challenge because it’s in the pursuit that you’ll build the mastery. In my book Stop Playing Safe I shared how we are all wired to avoid situations where we put ourselves at risk of failing or falling short or making a fool of ourselves. It’s a natural human instinct to play it safe and protect our pride, status, security and ego in the process. But the truth is that the only way to build confidence is to put yourself in situations that may, in the short term, be uncomfortable. Whether to take on a role that puts your reputation on the line, to take on some challenge that offers no guarantee of success, only when you do things that stretch you, can you grow the competence and skills to take on bigger things in the future. Avoiding situations that stretch you deprives you of the very opportunities to build your confidence in your ability to succeed at bigger things.
- Kick fear out of the driver’s seat. Fear is one potent emotion that is driven to keep us safe and protect us from pain. In this day and age, it’s not actual physical pain or danger that it focuses on, but emotional pain. It is our fear of failing, rejection, criticism or feeling inadequate that holds us back far more than any actual experience of failure or rejection. Accordingly we let our fear run the show and sit at the helm in our life, eating away at our confidence and keeping us from taking the very actions required to build it.
So be very intentional in your choices lest your fears run and shape your life without you even realising it. Ask yourself is this fear serving me, or is it holding me back? If the answer is the latter, then take a deep breath and feel that fear, then stand tall and step right through it into action. The more often you do that, the more confident and courageous you will become. I promise. Just try it.
Confidence breeds confidence.
If you’d like to learn more about overcoming fear My Agenda is hosting a webinar with Margie Warrell tomorrow at 12.30pm. Register here.