Confidence is one of those topics that comes up over and over again in coaching sessions. I am always amazed that so many highly intelligent, skilled and successful people secretly still think they’re a fraud. They feel that they’re just bluffing their way through their job and fear that one day they will be found out.
Increasing your confidence can be easy if you first narrow down what the actual issue is and then design simple, manageable steps to grow your confidence in your chosen area.
Here is how I do this with my clients:
Get to the core of the issue
When my clients come to me to work on their confidence, the first thing I do is to narrow down what the problem is. I ask them what specifically they lack confidence in. If you just say “I lack confidence” and leave it at that, the problem can appear huge and intangible. This makes it difficult to tackle. It sounds as if you lack confidence all the time and in everything, but that’s never the case. When I ask my clients to list all the areas that they already are confident in, they always come up with quite a few things.
For example, you may be very confident driving a car, completing a spreadsheet and talking to a shop assistant, but you are not confident when having to present an update on budgets at the weekly finance committee at work. Now we have narrowed down the problem and can start working on it.
Decide on the right course of action
Once we have established the areas in which you would like to improve your confidence, we can decide on the right strategy. This depends on the specific issue you have identified:
Lack of Knowledge: Your lack of confidence may be due to a lack of knowledge. Maybe you think that you don’t know enough about a particular topic. If this is the case, then a course of action could be to learn more about the topic. As your knowledge increases, you will become more confident in the relevant area.
Lack of Skills: If your lack of confidence is about a skill you would like to hone, then practicing that skill will over time create more confidence.
Fear: Sometimes your fears may be holding you back. For example, many people have a fear of public speaking. In this case, I would explore those fears with you. I might encourage you to make friends with the worst-case outcome and to foster an attitude of courage that allows you to dance with the fear rather than avoiding it.
Sometimes those fears are about failure, but quite surprisingly they can also be a fear of success. As strange as it sounds to be afraid of success, this fear is quite common. It can happen when we are afraid of the consequences that success might bring. Being successful could mean that you would suddenly be in the limelight and more vulnerable to criticism from others. It could also mean that you no longer have any excuse for not excelling in that area; and once you have created success, there may be even more pressure to repeat or exceed that success.
Performance: If you lack confidence about your performance at work, then we can get feedback from your manager and colleagues to find out whether your concerns are justified. If they are, we can work on specific skills or behaviours that will gradually improve your confidence. If they are not, we may have to work on the mismatch between reality and your own perception of yourself. We may have to work on your self-worth.
Self-worth: Sometimes the issue has nothing to do with your actual performance or capabilities. It sits at a much deeper level. You may have all the required knowledge and skills, as well as the trust and praise of others, and still, you don’t feel confident in what you do or want to do. In this case, logic may not work to convince you that you are doing well, neither may the encouragement from others.
In this scenario, we would have to drill deep into the things you believe about yourself. We would bring them all up into the light and dissect them until you can clearly see how they are not true. The next step would be to create new, more empowering beliefs and to program them into your mind with practices such as affirmations. We would basically override your old disempowering beliefs with new ones that are more effective in helping you live the life you want.
When a lack of confidence is beneficial
A word of warning: Too much confidence can be just as harmful as too little confidence. There are circumstances where a lack of confidence is actually just right. It prevents you from making decisions too quickly and to be cautious before you rush into action.
For example, if you have been hired as the new CEO of a company, you will need time to understand the business, its people, culture, history, challenges and strengths. If you are too confident, think you know it all and apply a solution based on false assumptions, you can cause significant damage. It may be more prudent to hold back for your first 90 days and to listen and watch before you introduce new strategies.
Or imagine you are a junior surgeon. If you were overconfident you might agree to perform a medical procedure for which you do not have enough experience and practice. You could endanger a patient’s life. In this situation, a certain lack of confidence may be an appropriate reflection of your actual skills. It may help you be aware of your current limits.
It all starts with courage, not confidence
Often we think that we need to have confidence before we can take action; for example, speaking in public. But, in reality, confidence is the result of doing something that we are not confident in. It’s not a pre-requisition. Take the example of learning to drive a car. Most people do not feel confident at all during their driving lessons. They may even feel completely overwhelmed by the task of remembering so many things and operating the steering wheel, pedals, and gears at the same time as monitoring the street in all directions. Over time, though, all these things become second nature to them. They perform them without thinking and can even have a conversation at the same time.
If you want to increase your confidence, it starts with courage. You will have no choice but to persevere despite your misgivings and your confidence will grow.
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.