I experience doubt every day. Nagging questions. Am I good enough? Am I doing enough? My noisy neighbour, the one living in my head wakes early. So I get busy proving him wrong, again.Where does that doubt come from? Maybe it served fitting in and meant survival.
Studies of the performance gap between men and women in spatial skills found confidence plays a huge role. Women asked their gender before taking a spatial skills test performed worse than those who weren’t asked. Both genders performed better when they were told that their gender is better at the task. The gender gap almost disappeared when participants were required to answer every question. Apparently, when allowed to skip questions, women did so not due to lack of knowledge, but lack of confidence.
So what is confidence and how does it contribute to a sense of calm? Confidence is comfort in your own skin that allows you to deal with discomfort from others. True confidence is not cockiness. Bravado belies a lack of self-belief.
How do you build confidence? Think of truly confident people you know – those who believe in themselves. What do they do? How do they behave?
Confident people are true to themselves. This needs clarity, knowing who you are. They become comfortable in their skin because they practise. This involves being vulnerable but long-term it’s less stressful than pretending. Others admire this authenticity, even if it doesn’t get as many likes.
Before I run a workshop, I experience doubt. I remind myself I’m just there to help. While no expert, I have something to add. I’m prepared and will do my best. That’s all that matters. For me, happiness is liking what I do, how I do it, having fun and making a difference.
Nobody is perfect, but I believe most people are doing their best with what they have got. Give yourself credit. You are enough. Worth comes from inside, how you behave, not how others perceive it. Confidence dependent on praise is narcissism. Don’t seek attention. If it comes, accept it gracefully.
And be yourself. That all being said, make sure that self dresses, speaks, moves and behaves how you want to be.
Confident people believe in their own ability to change something
They are realistic. They identify what they can control. As they work within that circle of influence, it expands.
We all say “I should do this” or “they should do that”. People with confidence don’t wait for permission. If they think something should be done, they do it. They focus on what they can do. They don’t make excuses.
If you feel helpless, do one small thing. Make one small promise to yourself and keep it. It might be just asking for help. That’s a promise kept.
This year I chose the word “Grie” to help me remember Gratitude, Relentlessness, Intention and Trust. Trust is the belief that good things will happen if I practise the other three.
As Vincent Van Gogh said: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Confident people take chances
My boss once advised me to stop seeking permission, that the work I did was high quality and that it would be more effective to back myself and ask for forgiveness on the rare occasion things went wrong. He created an environment in which I could fail. I don’t use the term fail here because failure is stopping. It may be the biggest confidence booster I ever got. I’ve been taking risks ever since. Nothing crazy, just small bets.
Most weeks, I think about a free bet. A chance I should take, someone to help, someone to ask for help. One week, I asked The Irish Times could I write about my experience of coming back to Ireland after 16 years. Twelve articles later and I’m still writing. One week I helped run a workshop for ex-colleagues because I thought I had something to offer their wellbeing and productivity. Eighteen months later and it’s a new business.
So don’t get too comfortable. It leads to complacency and onto stagnation. When you feel comfortable, use it as a trigger to push again and expand that circle. Discomfort is good.
Comfort is the enemy of progress
Confident people embrace struggle. Most of us don’t like setbacks. But we must accept that they are the inevitable consequence of real improvement. When they arise from endeavour, we should view them as proof that we are making progress. We can then learn and improve – and keep going. Why complain about the only thing that is a natural part of real progress?
In business, I ask customers for feedback. It’s sometimes hard to hear but also inevitable. It doesn’t change my worth and it’s my opportunity to learn. But it’s still hard. Embrace the very process, struggle, that leads to happiness or success.
Confident people are positive and grateful. They ask ‘Why not?’ rather than ‘Can I?’ Every day is a blank canvas for you to paint. You can find 10 reasons you will fail or 10 reasons you will succeed that day. Choose the latter. I have a red notebook at my bedside. Each night I write three things I’m grateful for. They are mostly simple things but the important ones – family dinner, someone helped, a coffee alone. I want to be grateful so I practise. I’m rewiring my brain.
Each evening, write down what you enjoyed. Each morning, jot down one thing that will make the day great.
“Stop listening to yourself and start talking to yourself,” says Irish rower Gavan Hennigan, the fastest Irishman to cross the Atlantic.
Confident people move forward, relentlessly
My favourite way to overcome doubt is to take one tiny step towards it, rarely a giant leap that scares but enough to set me on my way.
I learned to surf with an old friend in Sydney. I remember the moment we caught our first wave. The same wave, same time. Anyone passing might think we cracked it quickly but it was the culmination of three months floundering in the whitewash, every single day. Baby steps, consistently repeated.
Want to speak at a conference? Host a lunchtime session with your colleagues. Want to start a business? Each day, take one step towards creating something of value that people will pay for.
You cannot steer a parked car.
How to build confidence
There’s quite a lot we can do to build confidence. But for the lazy, here’s a bunch of stuff you can just drop right now. Procrastinating, judging others, making excuses, comparing, consuming negative news and social media and wasting time watching others for fear of missing out.
Action is the crux of it for me. Baby steps build an unstoppable momentum. A small promise kept every day. Build confidence in myself first and the rest will follow. Now you know.
But knowledge without action is not wisdom. So get out of the stands and climb into the arena.