Confidence isn’t something you have or don’t have, a personality trait you’re blessed with or not. Even when “trying new things” is something you love doing and consider a strength, and even if you feel you’re generally a confident kind of a person, every so often you’ll come across a situation that puts you right outside your comfort zone and leaves you feeling you need to increase confidence to get through it. And, by definition, that’s uncomfortable. To say the least.
But when you’re ambitious and want to achieve more with your career or your business, stretching yourself and doing new things is a necessary part of developing and improving. Sticking within your comfort zone means doing the same things or doing different things but in the same way, time and again – hardly a recipe for growth and development. But the anxiety and lack of confidence you can feel when facing something new or different in this way can be crippling, and can stop you totally in your tracks if you don’t get a handle on how to deal with it.
Faced with this, the instinctive question most people ask themselves is: “How do I increase confidence so I am not afraid to do this any more?”
Unfortunately, the truth is, if you wait until you feel totally confident and comfortable and stop feeling afraid altogether, it’s likely you will never do it: the feeling of confidence comes after the event, when you’ve experienced it and come out the other side, and have found you are still alive, well and everything hasn’t imploded around you.
So what can you do, when faced with having to do something that is pushing you outside of your comfort zone, resulting in your feeling less confident and more anxious than usual?
Lying underneath your anxious, unconfident feelings are your thoughts. What are you actually worried about?
You know those little birds inside your head that are tweeting away at you (described beautifully by the wonderful Carmel Fell during my coach training as “the itty bitty shitty committee”!) – listen to them. What are they saying?
Name it. Label it. Recognise what the fear is for you here. You might already start to recognise that there’s no logic to these thoughts or fears. But just being honest with yourself can be a relief, and it allows you to focus on dealing with what is actually causing you to feel anxious, rather than going round and round in circles, tying your brain up in knots of emotion and possibilities, which is, frankly, exhausting and stressful.
These thoughts you’re having – they are just that: thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less. They’re your views, your opinions, your assumptions, your fears. What they are not, is fact. Thinking something doesn’t mean it is true. Or that it will turn out to be true. It doesn’t mean it will happen. It’s just a thought.
Put your thoughts to one side for a while
Having named the thoughts, the fears, the worries, and paid attention to them, find a new perch for your little birds and their chirruping for the duration of whatever it is you’ve got to do, to give your brain and your emotions a rest, and allow you to focus more clearly on what it is you actually need to do.
Visualise your lovely little birds chattering away, and then, still visualising, lift them off your shoulder and put them out of sight, into a dark corner of the room (or even next door) for a while. You’re not dismissing them totally – you can collect them again later, when you’re done, and allow them to start talking to you again then…but give yourself a break while you’re tackling the task in hand.
Your lack of confidence is really a lack of experience. Worrying about what lies ahead shows that you care. You care about what you want to achieve. You care about giving it a go. You care about the outcome. Neither worrying nor caring makes it easy to achieve this. But knowing that you’re worrying because you care, and not because you’re a bad person or because you don’t believe you can do it, may help you find the courage to keep on going and give you the increase in confidence you need to push ahead.
If the situation that’s causing the lack of confidence is something that is happening at a particular time (for example an important presentation, the first time you’ve had to do something particular at work, a meeting with people that you feel in awe of, a competitive pitch or performance of some kind), it sounds obvious, but do make sure you take time to prepare in advance.
Preparation is confidence’s biggest friend. Going into a challenging situation unprepared can cause anxiety even for those who are very experienced. So give yourself some time and space to prepare, in whatever way works for you, to allow you to go into the situation you’re facing feeling you know your stuff as well as you’re able.
Confidence coaching can help you prepare and get ready for all kinds of challenging situations in work and in life, leaving you feeling more sure you will be able to cope with whatever is thrown at you.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? And what would the impact of that be on you?
It’s often something along the lines of “I don’t know if I could cope if….” or “Others might think I’m not good enough if….” Or even “These people will see me as a failure and reject me if…”.
Make a plan for how you will cope and what you will do if that worst thing does indeed happen. Write it down and take it in with you. You almost certainly won’t need it, but if the worst does happen – you will be prepared and will know how to react and what to do.
Knowing you have this Plan B in place can help take the pressure off, increase confidence, and allow you to focus on what you’re actually doing, rather than worrying “what if…”.
The worst thing that could happen may seem pretty terrible, and this is why you’re feeling anxious and unconfident. Perhaps it could impact significantly on your career development in the short-term, or lead you to miss out on a piece of business that would give you some serious stability and security.
If you drew a line, with a scale of 0-100 at either end, what would you place at 100 (ie the worst possible thing you could imagine anyone having to experience)? Having established what 100 looks like, where along that line from 0-100 would you then place this, if the worst happened?
While not removing the fear totally, and not making the situation any more comfortable of and in itself, a little perspective can sometimes help remove some of the pressure you are placing on yourself because of the potential impact of the worst possible outcome.
If you’re feeling anxious about what you’re about to do and can feel the stress levels physically rising, stop them in their tracks and give yourself a genuine, hormonally induced confidence increase by striking a power pose. Open up your upper body, puff out your chest, put your hands on your hips and make like Wonder Woman – it sounds strange (and you may want to find yourself a quiet corner for this one if you’re really going to go to town with it!), but this will help your body to communicate to your mind that you are ready and confident…and tests have shown it reduces cortisol (stress hormone) levels by 25%. If nothing else, it will probably make you laugh, and relieve some pressure that way!
Another way to reduce the symptoms of anxiety you may be feeling ahead is to take a “mindful minute” to focus on your breathing.
I particularly like the so-called 7-11 technique (although there are others out there): Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose for the count of seven, then out again, through your mouth this time, for the count of 11, and repeat, for a minute. Again, this allows your body to communicate to your mind that you are not in an emergency state, resetting it back to “normal”. It also allows you to gather your focus onto your breathing, stopping the whirlwind of thoughts and their associated emotions you may have been experiencing.
Take a few moments, regularly, to think about the challenge you’re facing and visualise things going well. Look at it in as much detail as you can. What will you do? How will you behave? What will the outcome look like and feel like?
The more attention you can pay in this way, the more likely you are, consciously and subconsciously, to take action that leads towards and matches the positive outcome you’re visualising. Once you find yourself in the situation that you were feeling unconfident about, it will feel more familiar and the natural way to behave will be the positive way that you’ve visualised
And, if you just want ONE big tip to increase confidence when you’re feeling way outside your comfort zone, it’s this:
In all probability, there’s nothing worse than the the anxiety and lack of confidence you’re feeling, wondering if you’re going to be able to do this and worrying about how you’ll feel if you can’t.
If there’s one thing that will take the fear of “what if” away, it is to go ahead and do the damned thing, whatever it is.
If even just a part of it goes well, you’ll feel so much more confident about that for the future. Whatever happens, you will have something concrete to base your future development around – you’ll know what worked, what didn’t, and be able to decide how to do it better in future.
After all, there is nothing better for your confidence than experience, and knowing you’ve faced something tough and come out the other side in decent – maybe even great – shape, is there?