If you tell someone that they are not a confident person they will probably be shocked and disagree with you, but it is actually true – no one is a confident person. Confidence is not a constant, it is a set of manufactured strategies that we can use in a situation – or not! Think of a situation where you have felt supremely confident, perhaps it was a meeting, or in a presentation, or selling something. Now think of a situation where you were not feeling so confident – chances are you were in a similar situation. Perhaps the people were different, or the subject was different but it was still a meeting or a presentation or sales pitch, so it felt somehow different? Or you just didn’t quite feel yourself that day, you were feeling under the weather, sleep-deprived or just not feeling good about yourself and how you looked? Or perhaps you walked in feeling confident and someone said something that caused you to start to stammer, lose your way or even forget what you had planned to say. It could even be that before the event you had another difficult meeting, read an email or making a call that unsettled you and this baggage went with you to the next event. So, when you consider all of these variables, perhaps you can now understand why I say that no one is a confident person – everyone will have their moments, but some people are better at creating confidence in any situation which is why you perceive them to be so confident.
On our RISE Women’s Development programme this discussion often dominates, with people declaring that their crippling lack of confidence was holding them back in all sorts of situations. For some, it is affecting not just their working life but also their home life, with some declaring that they don’t sleep for a week before a presentation and other people getting themselves into highly anxious states that cause them to become quite ill. But why does this happen? First, let’s just get a little perspective around this, if your presentation doesn’t go quite as planned, or your meeting doesn’t work the way you wanted it to, what is the worst thing that can happen? At the end of that day, will you still have your health? Will you still have people who love you? Will you still have a roof over your head? And will you still have a job? The answer is yes, it is very rare for a person to be fired for doing a mediocre presentation.
So, what is the real issue here – what stands in the way of us feeling confident about ourselves and our performance on a daily basis? I am pleased to tell you that the answer is you. Why am I pleased? Well if you are responsible for feeling underconfident then you can be responsible for manufacturing your confidence. Hard as it is to believe, in every moment of every day we choose how we feel, so if we are choosing to feel nervous then surely, we can choose not to feel nervous? The first place to start is to consider how we are talking to ourselves. The brain is a very responsive tool and when we ask it for a ‘state’ it does a search to find it for us. Therefore, if you keep telling yourself how nervous you are the brain constantly has to look for that ‘state’ for you. In my experience, people reinforce these negative pathways frequently when they talk to themselves and others. For example; if they are about to do a big presentation next week and people ask how they are feeling about it, often their first words will be “I am feeling a bit nervous”, and they can continue that dialogue both internally and with colleagues and loved one for a whole week! It is then compounded when they start to say “I know I won’t sleep worrying about this” and guess what? They then have the most awful nights sleep and wake up feeling dreadful. Can you see how this is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for them! Does it sound familiar?
If it does, what can you do differently? There are two key things that will help massively. Firstly, you need to learn to adjust your internal dialogue and only speak confidently both in your head and to others. Using positive language such as “yes, I am well prepared and I am confident we will have a good meeting”, or even “I am looking forward to it, I love a challenge!” will set your brain up in a completely different way. And you will find that you actually have a totally different experience and may even find yourself enjoying it.
As for that adrenaline, well a shot of adrenalin can help you to higher performance if you use it to your advantage. The brain is primed to protect you and when it senses a threat it will automatically send adrenalin to prime you for fight or flight, by pumping the blood around the body faster to the organs that need it most in these situations. Which of course, means that the brain is temporarily deprived of sufficient blood for you to think clearly. If you have ever found that you go to speak and you go completely blank, or your voice croaks or your knees are shaking, that would suggest that you had too much adrenaline. In fact, I once got myself into such a nervous adrenaline-charged state that I stood up and introduced myself as someone else! So, what you have to do is intervene early, as soon as you get that first shot of adrenaline and you need to convince the brain that you are not in danger so that it stops sending more. How do you do this? By taking deep breaths, asking questions, distracting yourself or positive internal dialogue – all things that you wouldn’t normally do when faced with danger.
Or laugh at yourself getting so worked up! If you are laughing you are clearly not in danger which will interrupt the process, relax you and the people around you and generally make you feel more confident. Remember, you choose how you want to feel, it takes some practice but the impact is so worthwhile.
Over the last 5 years, we have coached senior women and run women’s programmes around the world. This has resulted in our model Elev8te, the 8 Traits of Successful Women, our development programme RISE and our Empowered Women’s Development App. At the end of each programme, we collate impact statements and we will be sharing these alongside a series of tips for women. If you would like to hear more tips then download our App now or contact us for details on the RISE programme.
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