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What is self-confidence?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as follows:
“A feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities”.
People with self-confidence have a belief in themselves and a positive mindset. They seem to hold their own, know the right thing to say and come across as being at peace and positive.
There are many reasons for struggling with self-confidence:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapists refer to this mode of thinking as ‘compare and despair’.
Comparing yourself to others can make you feel negative and jealous. When we think of others we will often focus on their strengths and then compare them with our perceived shortcomings.
In reality, you aren’t seeing the full picture. You don’t know what else is going on in a person’s life or what demons they battle with every day. They could have problems at home or have crushing debt. You are only seeing the part of that person that they choose to portray to the world.
Rather than comparing yourself with others, compare yourself with yourself. What I mean is to keep track of your own achievements. Refer to your successes and accomplishments. Remind yourself how far you have come and how much you have improved.
Work on becoming a better version of you. You are unique.
2. Stop thinking that the world revolves around you
Sorry to be blunt, but it doesn’t! Even though I know this, it is something I am particularly guilty of… I have an inbuilt fear of (and over-reaction to) ‘looking stupid’.
If I think I have said the wrong thing, I replay the moment in my head, worrying about the situation and how I could have handled it better.
Here’s the thing, on occasion I have gone back to the people who were present when I said the thing I thought was wrong. Guess what? They have no clue what I am talking about!
I recently read about an experiment conducted by researchers at Cornell University designed to test what is known as the ‘spotlight effect’.
They gathered a group of students in a room on the pretext of undertaking a test. They then arranged for one of the students to arrive late for the test and to wear a particular item of clothing. This item of clothing was a t-shirt with a picture of Barry Manilow emblazoned on the front!
The room was set up so that the seats were facing the entrance. A couple of minutes after the late arrival of the Barry Manilow attired student, they were escorted out of the room and were told that they were too late to start the test.
The Barry Manilow student was then asked to estimate the proportion of students they thought had noticed the t-shirt. This estimate was compared with how many students had actually noticed. The individual would consistently over-estimate, thinking that around a half had noticed, when in reality it was about a fifth.
So, if you think everyone is looking at you, think Barry Manilow!
Be specific about the areas where you would like to be more confident.
Then work on those.
You may say ‘I’m not confident’. Is this really true? Consider which areas you are confident in and which you need to work on.
For example, I have no problems with going to the cinema, travelling or going along to a new social experience by myself.
Things that I know fill some people with dread!
However, ask me to speak up in a meeting and my voice shakes and my legs go to jelly! So that is an area I’m currently focusing on.
Can you increase your skills in the areas you identify? For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, could you enrol in a course. Get some practice and ask for (constructive) feedback from someone you trust.
Although this book was written in 1936, this advice remains fresh today. There is so much criticism and condemnation now, on social media and in the news. Rise above it, don’t criticise others and certainly don’t criticise and condemn yourself.
5. Be excited!
Say to yourself ‘I am excited’ rather than ‘I am nervous’.
The physical sensations (butterflies in the stomach, shallow breathing, clammy hands etc.) are very similar for both emotions.
Research by Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School demonstrated the control and influence we have over our own emotions.
Re-framing how we feel about an upcoming task as excitement rather than nerves has been shown to positively impact on confidence and performance.
6. Stop seeking approval
In today’s world of social media, seeking approval from others has become an epidemic.
Relying on the approval of others can be exhausting. You are always searching it out and what happens when it doesn’t materialise? It can feel like being on a roller coaster and one bad word can send you hurtling downwards.
Try not to worry about what other people are thinking and instead focus on what makes you happy.
Try to understand why you seek approval from others. This can make it easier to eliminate the behaviour altogether.
When you find yourself seeking approval, stop and ask yourself ‘why don’t I trust my own opinion here’ and ‘why do I need approval?’ You may find that you are seeking approval because you are unsure about something. Alternatively, you may feel sure but you want someone to like or accept you.
In my own case, I often find myself seeking approval after the event. Questioning myself about this reveals that I am seeking reassurance that I have done the right thing and that I want people to like me. Over time, I have come to realise that I can trust in my own abilities and that I have ‘done the right thing’ many times.
7. Just do it!
In the words of Nike, ‘Just do it’!
Practice makes perfect.
I remember when I was at University having to do my first ever presentation (on the subject of pot noodles, yes really…) It was terrifying! I didn’t sleep for weeks and I had sweaty palms and the shakes on the day itself.
Guess what, I didn’t die!
The audience were supportive (they all had to do a similar presentation so were very understanding) and I got my points across.
I remember my overwhelming emotion at the end of the presentation was one of relief. In amongst that was a little bit of pride at having got up there and done it!
I still won’t win any prizes for public speaking, but by doing it on many occasions now in my job, it is way less terrifying.
It can also help to take yourself out of your comfort zone a little. Think of something you would like to do but that you don’t feel confident about. What small steps could you take to move you out of your comfort zone and towards your goal?
For example, if you would like to have the confidence to go to places by yourself from time to time, start small. Go for a coffee by yourself (take something to read or do so that you feel less conspicuous). Try going to the cinema (you will be in the dark, no-one is looking at you).
Afterwards, assess how you feel, do you feel a sense of pride? Note that and then plan to push yourself a little bit further next time.
8. Surround yourself with positive people and messages
Keep toxic people at bay. Find yourself a cheerleader and surround yourself with positive people. If others are negative and you can’t escape easily (e.g. family or work colleagues) then be the positive one in the group. Don’t criticise or complain.
Listen to and/or read positive messages each day. Read blogs (such as this one!) Listen to podcasts or inspirational audiobooks. I find it useful to listen to a positive podcast or audiobook on my commute into work, this sets me up for the day.
For the best range of audiobooks, click the banner below to get a free book to start plus a 30-day trial with Audible.
I am guilty of forgetting this one. I will jump in with both feet and then worry that what I have said has made me look like an idiot. (Which is probably not the case…see point 2).
Remember, it is OK to pause when faced with a difficult question.
Obama, the king of the pause, used this to good effect on a regular basis. For example, when faced with a question he didn’t have an immediate answer to, he said: “I haven’t given that enough thought, let me think on that to give you a smart answer”.
10. Fake it and 10x your self-confidence!
Yes I know, I said being told ‘just believe in yourself’ isn’t enough….I like the point Venus is making though. If you are struggling to believe in yourself then pretend that you do!
To help with this, try to think of a time where you felt confident. How did you feel? Competent, content, on top of the world? Bring that situation to mind whilst you tackle whatever is making you feel less confident.
Also, pay attention to your body language. One tip is to use the ‘power pose’ right before you go into a challenging situation. I was sceptical of this technique at first (and felt a little bit silly trying it out) but it works. The most well-known power pose stance is the ‘wonder woman’. (The impact of this pose is as relevant to men despite its name). Do this for a couple of minutes and I promise your confidence levels will increase!
Once you are in the midst of a situation, try and make a conscious effort to keep checking your body language. Take your space. By this, I mean make sure you aren’t hunched over (trying to shrink?) Sit or stand straight, throw your shoulders back and don’t fold your arms or fidget.
Remember no-one is confident all the time. I had a situation recently where I was tired and a bit down and I felt I said the wrong thing in a meeting. Because I was tired, I really beat myself up about it and indulged in a bit of ‘all or nothing thinking’.
I felt like all the good work I have done to increase my confidence was all for nothing!
Luckily, because I practice all the strategies I’ve shared with you, I quickly realised that I was having one off day and that it wasn’t the end of everything!
Sure enough, on the following days, I felt better and my mojo and confidence returned.
I hope that the tips above will lead to increased self-confidence for you too. You’ve got this!
I’d love to hear about any other tips or tricks you have which have worked for you. Leave me a comment and let me know!