Having self-confidence is beneficial in all areas of our lives, and developing confidence is an important part of personal and professional growth. We intuitively understand that lack of confidence can hold us back from achieving all we want and being who we want to be. The experience of fear, insecurity or nervousness can be debilitating if we don’t understand ways to build confidence. I hear so many people share the desire “I need more confidence” or the lament “I’m not a confident person.”
Let’s talk about this.
A common misunderstanding I see when working with people who want to become more confident is the false belief that having confidence means NOT experiencing nervousness, insecurity or fear. While it’s true that someone with high confidence may experience less nervousness or insecurity, it’s a false belief that to be more confident you must first rid yourself of nervousness, insecurity and fear. Also inaccurate is the idea that confidence is a personality trait that you either have or don’t have.
Does it surprise you to hear that living with confidence is a competency you can master?
Before we move to the “how -to" of building confidence, there is a fundamental idea I want you to hear and it may surprise you:
Try this: stop for a moment and consider a time, situation or setting within which you felt at ease, without fear or insecurity– maybe it's when you’re with certain people, maybe it was a time in your childhood, maybe it’s at home or in a previous work experience – any small or significant moment when you felt ease and comfortable with yourself. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and connect to that place within you, notice it - find even the smallest glimmer. That is the strong and confident you within you. Feel it, notice it, acknowledge it. Practice tuning in to this place of ease within yourself so you can come back to it when you need it. Consider making this connection to your strong self a daily meditation.
“But I still feel anxious and insecure. I don’t feel confident” you say. That’s ok.
Let me invite you to shift away from black and white thinking, the false dichotomy that someone is either confident or insecure. This either/or style of thinking keeps you trapped in an assumption where you're choosing to understand yourself as only one of two options. This is simply not true.
Having confidence doesn’t mean we never experience nervousness or anxiety. It means that even if you are feeling insecure, you can learn to find that part inside of you that is confident (even the littlest bit) and connect with that part to move forward, even while holding the nervousness alongside it. Can you be gentle with the nervous part of yourself? See it, acknowledge it, not have to chase it away, yet choose to not be hijacked by it? (More on the “how-to” in a minute.)
When I used to teach public speaking, I helped students understand that the physical manifestations of nervousness and anxiety are almost identical to the physical sensations of excitement and anticipation. The difference between the two is our mental model - our perception - our interpretation - of what is happening. Once we know this proximity of nervousness and excitement, we can practice consciously shifting our mindset to avoid being hijacked by the sensations of nervousness and insecurity and the negative inner dialog that accompanies it. One simple way to do that is you change the way you talk to yourself about the experience. I picked up the use of the newly coined emotion from a colleague – we call it “nerv-cited.”
The state of being nerv-cited perfectly captures the idea that we can be more than one thing at once. We can experience multiple emotions at the same time and we can acknowledge more than one part of us at the same time. We can allow space for the part of us that is nervous and a little insecure as well as open up to the part of us that is excited, eager, comfortable, and confident. There is no need to chase away, deny or resent the insecure part - we can choose to “let it be there” alongside the place of ease and confidence that exists deep within us. Once we acknowledge that we can be and are both, we can choose to act and respond from the part of us that feels strong and stable while gently allowing the other part to sit on the sidelines. We don’t have to get rid of all of the nervousness, but we also don’t need to give it more power than the confidence. We can tell ourselves, “I’m feeling nerv-cited about speaking in this meeting so I’m going to respond using my inner confidence instead of my insecurity.”
You are nerve-cited. You are large, you contain multitudes.
But, you say, what if my scared, insecure part is way bigger and more active than my confident part? Ok, so now you know that and you’re equipped to start training the small confident part and releasing the fearful part. Over time and with practice, you can turn up the volume of your confidence and turn down the insecurity. Many confidence strategies focus on mindset and your connection to yourself while others are action oriented which means you really do have the power to make the change you seek. (Yay you!)
So, let’s get practical…How can you give your confident part a stronger voice in your actions, in your way of thinking, in your interpretations of context? Here are some ideas to help your confidence emerge. No one practice will be the magical solution, but each one can be helpful in some way. Allow yourself to be playful and experimental – try as many of these as you can and give them more than one shot before you decide if they helped – practice makes progress.
You already possess the confidence you need. Find it, nurture it, trust it.
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