There is a real aura that surrounds someone who is truly confident. It’s an authenticity, a comfortable relaxed presence that in itself inspires confidence in others. A confident person is someone who knows what they want and how they think, but who doesn’t believe that their perspectives override what others think or want. Examples that spring to my mind are people like Barak Obama, Martin Luther King, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Bear Grylls. I’m sure you can think of many more.
It’s easy to mistake brash loudness and attention getting strategies for confidence. So much so that sometimes people on our Confidence workshop say they are not sure that they want to be confident if it means coming across as arrogant!
However, for me confidence is never arrogant, it is about being comfortable in your own skin - not necessarily having all the answers but open to learning. It’s a deep knowing that each of us has the right to take up our space in the world and when we are challenged or attacked, being able to deal with that without doubting our own right to exist, or our right to believe in what we do.
Confidence is about being prepared to change your mind if you are presented with new evidence or perspectives that, on reflection, you agree with.
So how do we all get closer to this? Here are some ideas:
- “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde
Many performers start their careers by copying others, “I’m going to be the next Adele!” The problem is that this position is already taken and, let’s face it, no one is going to do Adele quite like she does. Of course, we all emulate our heroes as we learn our craft, but it’s what we personally bring that makes our work stand out as special.
While we are trying to be someone else, we often edit out important elements of ourselves, for example, we may hide our sense of humour, or our resourcefulness or our compassion. So how do we come to appreciate that the special quality we have to offer in any situation is our uniqueness?
One way is to become more aware of our inner critic and work on making friends with it. Speak to yourself in a more kindly and supportive way.
Another way is to become aware of how you ‘do’ confidence. All of us have areas in our life where we are already very confident. Identify one of those areas and work out how you do it. What do you focus on, what do you tell yourself about it and how do you address any obstacles that crop up? Then see how you can use those same strategies and approaches in those areas where you would like to be more confident.
When we are comfortable being our unique selves, we don’t try to hide aspects that we are worried might not be good enough. The classic imposter syndrome thinking is, “If they really knew me, they would see what a fraud I am.” Imposter syndrome is very common, you can read more about it here.
Being yourself means that you are actually present in the room, in the job, in the relationship. It means you are not distracted by a lot of self-doubt and self-chatter that takes you off into your own inner world. Instead you are there, seeing and hearing, and able to react in real time to what is happening around you. And, with such focus you feel and appear to be more confident.
- Find your courage
Fear keeps many of us from even trying to take steps in a new direction or from approaching a new opportunity. What are we actually afraid of? Making mistakes, being ridiculed, people being angry or hostile? Wild tigers jumping out of the bushes and eating us? How realistic are these worries? I remember someone saying to me when I was worrying about approaching new clients, “No-one is going to shoot you!” I laughed, but it made me realise that I was behaving as though that were actually a possibility.
So how can we alleviate some of those fears? Well, it’s often a matter of taking a leap of faith and getting on with it. If you make a mistake, say sorry and do your best to put it right. If people ridicule you, laugh with them or if it is cruelly intended, find another job. If people are angry or hostile, find out why and learn from it. Wild tigers? Well… avoid safaris.
On the whole, we treat all our fears as though they are all man-eating tigers. Our physiological responses of anxiety are identical to our primitive reaction to life or death situations. Learning to calm our fears can change our whole outlook.
Many of our fears originate from childhood when the adults around us had all the power and probably for good reasons wanted us to stay quiet, or compliant, or safe. We are no longer in that position and the more you take a chance or a risk, the more you will become comfortable in the knowledge that the outcomes from most situations are perfectly manageable. Of course, I am talking about taking risks in areas such as asking for more money or for a work opportunity. I am not suggesting you start entering tiger enclosures at your local zoo!
- Please yourself
My mum used to say, “You can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself.” While I can think of many situations where she didn’t expect me to apply that (see the point above), the sentiment has stayed with me. I have learned the hard way that when you try to please everyone around you, you usually fail, and you end up doing things you didn’t want to do.
I’m not suggesting that we should all start marching round shouting, “It’s my way or the highway!” While there may be some situations where we do feel like this, there will be many others when we are given the opportunity to choose what we would prefer to do, where we can express our preference honestly rather than try to guess what the other person would like us to choose.
I’ve learned that everybody has a better time when we all take responsibility for ourselves and say what we want. And this is true in our creative careers too. If you spend all your time trying to please different groups, you may end up going down a creative rabbit hole where you have committed too much of your time doing work you don’t care for.
Being confident involves staying in touch with what youcare about and learning when you have the opportunity to choose a path, to choose the one that will most please you.
- Don’t confuse confidence and competence
I often speak to people who feel they can’t be confident unless they are highly skilled in a specific area. To me, confidence and competence are completely separate. Of course, it is likely that if you are highly competent in a subject or skill you will also be confident in this.
But this doesn’t mean that your overall confidence is dependent on being an expert in any field. You can be confidently incompetent! By which I mean you can retain your inner confidence, which we have defined above as being present, open to learning and comfortable in your own skin, without knowing anything about a specific topic. Being confident allows you to admit to yourself that you’re not competent at everything but are open to learning if you choose to do so.
- Keep an achievement file
Most of us to a greater or lesser degree operate a negative bias towards feedback, where we can remember in the most exquisite detail something that went wrong five years ago, while instantly forgetting all the praise and great reviews or comments we received last month.
Because it’s so easy to forget about all the great things you have done, it’s important to find some way to capture them all in one place. I find an achievement file is a great way to do this. Every time you get a complimentary email, letter, or review put a copy of it in this file.
Then, if you find yourself feeling a bit lacking in confidence and need a boost, you can pull this file out and remind yourself of how far you have come, what you have learned and achieved, and how many people appreciate what you do.