Life is a daring adventure. Or nothing at all. – Helen Keller
Life is an adventure, or that’s how I like to see it. It’s just that once in a while I hit a snag on this adventure that I’m not so keen on. And this particular snag I know a little too well.
Call it lack of confidence, self-doubt, fear of failure, it’s often there, lurking in the background – ready to come in as the uninvited guest to the party. We’ve known each other for some time now, and while we’ve become much closer, we’re not quite best friends yet. Self-doubt has the uncanny ability to make me feel vulnerable. I wish it away, asking myself why I’m not more confident, wanting the feeling to just go away.
But the moment I expand, grow or even start thinking about doing something new, there it is, showing up as one of my most loyal friends. I’ve come to realise that this friend is always going to show up to the party in some way or other – so we might as well find a way of hanging out a little more comfortably.
I also know that I’m not alone in having these feelings. It’s just something we’re often not open about. Saying out loud that we’re feeling less than confident, feels like a taboo – especially in a cultural setting where slogans like “Just Do It” are still the king of the stage.
We’re told to be confident, or we won’t succeed. What does that mean for those of us who aren’t always feeling the most confident? Are we doomed to fail from the start? Is it something that is only reserved for the fearless few?
Of course not. These are the stories we keep telling ourselves to keep ourselves playing small.
Confidence can be gained. It’s something we can acquire over time through effort, changing our mindset around what it means to be confident, and by opening up the conversation, which we don’t often do. Self-doubt comes with feelings of vulnerability that we don’t like to feel, see or talk about.
Yet it’s also precisely this vulnerability, or our willingness to feel this discomfort, that will allow us to become more confident. To feel more confident, we need to take action that takes us out of our comfort zone – and that means getting uncomfortable.
And while I will be the first one to admit, that I’m still not the most loudly confident of people, I’ve come to learn some things that have helped me change my story around confidence:
• You might lack confidence in some areas, but that there will be plenty of areas where you are confident. Simply understanding that your self-doubt is not all encompassing can already change your perspective. OK, I may not feel confident in this part of my life, but here I’m ok. Look back and see how you were able to become confident in one area? What did you have to do? What mindset did you adopt?
• Recognize the inner voice of self-doubt as an important guidepost. Feelings of lack of confidence will pipe up right at the moment when you are about to expand, grow or do something new. It means that you’re actually heading in the right direction and that this is something that will allow you to grow.
• Stop waiting and move into action. Don’t get stuck in the confidence trap. There will not be a day that magically appears when you will feel confident enough to do something. It’s the other way around. Practice, practice, and practice again. Develop the skill set, become competent, then you become confident.
Confidence comes from moving forward and taking action. To do that means that you will have to go through feelings of discomfort, which are an inevitable part of life. Avoiding uncomfortable feelings, like vulnerability, will keep you stuck, which ultimately could be the much bigger price to pay. If we can recognize that discomfort is temporary and part of our general shared experience, you can and will work through it.
• Manage the inner critic, regulate your self-talk and be compassionate. It’s not abnormal to have a strong inner critic, it’s just part of who we are. Rather than trying to ignore this voice, see what it’s trying to do. Most often, your inner critic is trying to protect you from something. Bring compassion to yourself. Something I often ask my clients is, what is it that you need to hear right now? How can you speak to yourself in a way that is more empowering and supportive?
• Break down your bigger goals into smaller steps. Stretch yourself, but don’t over stretch. If we’re looking up at the mountain to climb, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Break it down into smaller steps, and you’ll find that things just feel and become a little easier. Booking small successes will increase your confidence. You don’t need to find all the answers right now. Just ask yourself, what is the one thing that I can do right now that will have the most impact?
• Reframe failure. Yep, this is a hard one for many, present company included. Fail, fail, fail again. Get up, fail again. Repeat. Learn how to fail without feeling like a failure. If something doesn’t work, what you have is feedback about what worked and what didn’t. Learn from the experience, and try something different. Repeat.
The true failure is to not try, to not chase after your dreams, to not do the things that are meaningful to you.
• Develop resiliency. Persist, and learn to shake off uncomfortable feelings. Stop believing the myth that just a select few of us are destined for greatness, and that greatness is innate. It’s not. It’s learned, it’s fought for, it’s earned. It takes hard work, and perseverance.
• Work on your mindset and develop faith in your ability to grow and learn. Rather than focusing your thoughts on whether you can do it, ask the question: what do I need to learn to do this? Confidence will come from the competence that you develop as you learn. Buddhists will say “adopt a beginner’s mind”, be unassuming, open, approach things with curiosity and a willingness to learn.
• Breathe into the fear. Say what? Yes, stay with it. This is not one of those empty sentences. Take a moment to just feel whatever it is you’re feeling. Don’t start doing other things. Be with it. Feel it. Where is it in your body? Direct your attention to that area and breathe into it. See whether you can give it more space. While it may feel as if the fear and anxiety will get bigger, giving it more breathing space, will actually allow the feelings to dissipate a little quicker. Your nervous system will calm down, allowing you to take the next step.
• Share how you’re feeling with people you trust. Dare to be vulnerable, dare to show what’s really going on. Allow yourself to be supported by others. You don’t have to do this all alone, and you aren’t alone in what you’re feeling and experiencing. Have the courage to open up and see what you will receive in return.
Confidence for me at the end of the day is much more about knowing who we are and having the courage to show up, and live according to what is important to us – despite the feelings of self-doubt. I actually think we don’t need to feel confident to go out there and live our lives in the best way possible. The confidence will come as a result of the action we take, the moment we move forward and live the intentional life. Our power resides in our ability to make conscious choices. We are so more powerful than we realise. So take a deep breath, and move forward – you’ve got work to do!
Photo credit: Cristina Gottardi