A great number of the clients I see in my one-to-one coaching practice come to me with one request: to help them ‘feel more confident’.
Confidence is one of the easiest and most rewarding things to work on. Whether you have a lot or a little, it’s always a hot topic of debate – at work, in your personal life, in your sex life, as a parent.
If you’d love to feel more confident, but feel like you’re the only one with self-esteem issues, let me offer some solace: you’re not alone. A 2019 study carried out by YouGov showed that around 1 in 3 Britons does not feel confident in him or herself, and that women tend to feel more insecure than men about their personality, relationship with friends and family, self-image, work ability. That doesn’t sound great to me.
However, I’m here to bring you some good news. You can feel better no matter what.
Knowing where your lack of confidence comes from is not necessary to improve on it. And that’s amazing, because it means you don’t have to sit and sift through your past trauma to make a change. You can start today, and here’s how:
1) Think yourself confident
Ever heard of the expression ‘fake it till you make it’? Good, because it works, and there is quite a bit of scientific proof to back it!
Neuropsychologist Donal Hebb, the man behind the popular Hebbian Principle, theorised that things that ‘wire together, fire together’. Which is to say, if you answer confidently when being quizzed by your boss, your brain will code that experience as ‘confident+ answer’, and it will store it as a positive, bold experience. You don’t have to intrinsically feel confident, either. You just have to act it.
Equally, if you work yourself into a frenzy every time you need to attend a social event, your brain will code those two experiences together: frenzy+social event= stress, terrible times.
Visualise, visualise, visualise!
Another really cool way to ‘fake’ it, is to simply imagine the outcome you want. I’m sure you’ve used this technique before: it’s the middle of winter and you’re freezing and miserable, and just the thought of a vacation in the future makes you feel relaxed and warm. That’s because doing and visualising use much of the same neural pathways, that make it hard for our brain to differentiate between a vision or the actual thing. So, if you’re not feeling confident, just think of yourself being confident, speaking up, holding your voice steady, and watch your brain override your insecurity with the new feeling.
Faking confidence also does something else: it showcases the best version of you. People will inevitably respond to that, and their improved interactions might just give you the confidence boost you need. The other bonus is that by thinking you got it, you have no time to think you don’t got it, and fuel the circle of insecurity and low self-esteem.
Try it this technique: Next time you’re feeling your confidence falter, pull your shoulders back, stand straight, and speak with a firm, clear voice. Smile, make eye contact, shake hands vigorously. If you’re scared inside, that’s entirely fine. Just keep going until the pantomime becomes the normal.
2) Silence ‘The Editor’
The Editor, also known as your Inner Critic, or the Impostor, is that nagging little voice inside your head that tells you you’re not good enough, you can’t succeed, and everyone is secretly laughing at you. The Editor will take a tiny failure or misunderstanding and blow it out of proportion. Interestingly, The Editor never celebrates your tiny successes or wins into big achievements, and never does very much to help you feel confident.
Try this technique: Next time the Editor tells you you’re not good enough, take a piece of paper and write down three constructive and positive facts about you that you know to be true. For example: you don’t feel good enough at work. Write about a past project you did well in, or your ability to work with others, or your ability to learn new topics. Note the times your boss praised you. Think of what your colleagues say. When you surround yourself with empirical proof you don’t suck, the Editor tends to be silenced.
3) Reframe your weaknesses
Unless you’re Cher, you probably have some imperfections, weaknesses, or things you just don’t love about yourself. And that’s OK.
Super old-school psychology was big in repressing these feelings down, whilst more recent trends pushed you to accept them and love them. But now, in 2020, we just … let them be, and think of them differently. Reframing is huge in NLP, and it allows you to see the same situation with different eyes, underscoring the positive and allowing you to feel confident.
It’s important to note that reframing is about shifting the focus of the story, not lying, omitting or maliciously disregarding important elements. For instance, your partner says that your mental and physical health would improve if you went outside and walked more, and you take offense to that, thinking he’s calling you lazy or fat. A positive reframe would be for you to think ‘he wants to help me feel better about my body and improve my health, because he cares for me and I’ve been neglecting myself’. However, if your partner is abusive, and he is berating you for being a slob, or having gained weight, there is no amount of reframing that will justify his actions. And you need to remember that.
Try this technique: What if instead of feeling insecure about a work presentation, you felt curious about it, and you thought of cool ways to entertain a room? What if instead of feeling negatively about your aging body, you felt gratitude for its strength and ability to having made it to your age, partied, recovered? What if instead of not having succeeded, you simply haven not succeeded yet?
4) Take stock of your strengths, and celebrate!
OK, so you are objectively not very good with Excel. Maybe you’re not a patient baker. Maybe you’re not the most engaging speaker.
But what are you good at? Concentrate on that, and celebrate it! There is a plethora of work showing the importance of celebration for happiness and self-esteem, including this study that discusses the correlation of happiness and health. Not only that, but celebrating your wins keeps them front and center in your mind, so when your cake fails to rise, you can quickly remember that you aced everything else you baked last week, and … you’re going to survive this setback!
Writing is one of my favourite tools, when it comes to feeling confident. Make it a habit to reward yourself for your successes with words of praise or things that make you feel good. Then read it over and over again to remind yourself on days your confidence falters.
Try this technique: Buy a journal, and keep stock of all the times you are proud, you feel empowered, successful, you ace meetings, you feel loved and accepted by your group or your family. Aim at writing once a week at least, then challenge yourself to write something positive about yourself every day. If you stumble on a day when you don’t feel confident, read back on what are actually good at.
5) Stay away from confidence-suckers
We all know someone who thinks his/her well-being is acquired by bashing others. This person might be someone who sees your life as a bit of a disaster no matter what, who doesn’t accept your choices or views, who only has a kind word for themselves. And you don’t need that.
The same is true of tasks, clothes, sports, or jobs.
Stay away from trying to squeeze in a size 2 dress that used to fit when you were prepubescent. If it doesn’t fit you anymore, donate it and take your new-size-self to the shops. Trying on clothes that don’t fit you simply tell your brain ‘your body has failed to maintain or achieve a certain shape. You suck!’
Equally, if you’re in an environment that praises mathematical ability, but your passion is the English language, all that’s going to do is make you think you’re not intelligent. How are you ever going to feel confident that way?
Try this technique: Unsure if a person or thing is sucking your confidence? Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and place your hands on your tummy (or when you usually feel anxiety or stress). Think of the person or thing you’re unsure about, and listen to how your body responds. Your gut is a great indicator of those feelings you are yet to make sense of, but that your instinct knows are bad for you.
6) Care less about what others think of you
People’s (negative) opinions about you have nothing to do with you. Your confidence will come from your self worth, and knowing you have done right by you, not by someone else. Trying to please others takes time away from trying to please yourself. Equally, we often assume we know what others think and feel about us, and that’s quite unfair. Imagine if someone else decided your thoughts for you. Would you like that?
It’s also important to keep an objective perspective when relating to others. If you’re trying to fit into a group that parties all night, and you much prefer a good Steinbeck novel, you are never going to impress them. Or yourself.
Try this technique: When you find yourself plagued by other’s opinions, put yourself in their shoes and flip the situation. Are they plagued by your opinion of them? Do they know you enough so that their opinion holds some value? Are you being objective in this situation?
And if they still don’t like you or care for you, can your life still continue?
7) Be direct
Want something done by a certain time? Ask for it.
Unhappy with someone’s behaviour? Speak up.
Need to write an important email? Do so without writing sorry, perhaps or could I possibly every three words.
Asking for what you need, or saying what you want in the most straightforward way will not only make you more efficient and confident, it will waste less of yours (and everyone else’s) time.
Try this technique: Next time you write an email, double-check for sentences that make you sound dubious or insecure. Remove any apology that doesn’t need to be there.
Next time you want something, challenge yourself to ask for it in 15 words or less (this is great in relationships and sex too; if you want something different from your lover or in bed, say it straight)
8) Don’t compare yourself to others
They say ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, and whether you think you might be better or worse than someone else, it’s a pretty pointless exercise to do. Comparing yourself to someone whose journey or ability is not like yours is an unfair test – it would be like racing against Usain Bolt, and then being upset that he was a little better.
And at the same time, if Usain Bolt was asked to make that cottage pie you’re so good at making, and didn’t know how to, would you consider him a failure?
However, there is something to be said about positive comparison – the one that doesn’t come from a place of jealousy or envy, but admiration and inspiration. Take Usain Bolt again; comparing his successes to yours might be unfair, but learning his techniques or studying his training regime are both really positive and empowering.
Try this technique: When you feel the devil of jealousy creep up, and you find yourself comparing your life with that of someone else, ask yourself more constructive questions, like ‘what are they doing that’s objectively better than me’ , ‘how could I learn from them’ and ‘what could I implement in my life to reach their same result?’
Equally, it helps thinking of how your favourite celebrity, politician or author would go about a task. How did Beyonce’ go about getting back in shape after having twins? What is Ken Follet’s writing regime?
This might seem like a given, but if you don’t like your appearance, don’t think your presentation skills are up to scratch, or think that your socialising could use a refresher, then do so! There is absolutely no shame in realising you’re not good at something and you need to improve it. Realising you don’t have something, but it’s in your power to get it, is a great way to feel confident.
I often find that clients who are no longer in their twenties think change is impossible, or at least impossible for them. Surely you can’t leave a partner of 30 years, right? Surely you can’t lose weight at that age. It’s unlikely that they can learn French.
But who says? Where is it written that you can’t or shouldn’t improve or change your situation? Your life is yours.
Try this technique: Pick out the one thing you’re not feeling confident about. What do you need to improve it? Where can you find the resources? Who could you ask for help? How much time or money would it cost?