On a quick google search there are over a billion articles on how to be confident, covering everything from self grooming to thinking positive. So why is it still so elusive to a lot of us?
Confidence is one of the main focuses my clients come to be coached on. They’re looking for easy actions that can help them break through the self doubt and make them feel they can conquer anything.
Reverse Where You’re Looking For It
One of the first things I ask is what they love about themselves and the results are telling. I can’t remember one client ever saying more than three things before they drift off to why they believe they are feeling unconfident and it’s rare to encounter an enthusiastic response. But if we can’t see our own positive traits how can we expect others to?
It’s often assumed confidence can be gained from the outside but we often forget to start inside. When we begin to feel more comfortable with what we love about ourselves then we can better communicate it and exude a natural confidence around others.
How We Can Learn From Each Other
Men are often much better at doing this. This isn’t to say women can’t be great at singing their own praises but culturally it’s more accepted for women to be humble. This is perpetuated by women as much as men so we all have some work to do around questioning why that is and how we can break the cycle.
As part of my work with the UN Women charity on gender equality I’ve come across fascinating data that backs up my own personal experience. It shows there is parity between men and women in industries until they reach 30, after which women’s status, pay gap and the way they perceive themselves nose dives. The obvious reasoning is a step into motherhood and a change of priorities, but look below the surface and it runs much deeper than this.
What I Learnt About Confidence Through My Own Career
When I ran my own company in the music industry for over a decade I learnt a lot about building inner confidence. Through hiring, firing, client wins and rejection and the rollercoaster of being a business owner, I began to trust my gut to get me through the myriad of decisions I faced.
However I got to the age of 30 and felt a surge of loneliness and a desire to get out. The majority of those in power above me were men, a sort of boys club, and the few women I saw scared me. I didn’t want to end up like them — angry, hostile and to me transparently miserable. It struck me that those women had picked up the worst masculine traits of competition and envy, yet they were still perceived as enormously confident.
Why do we want to be confident?
When I question why my clients on why they want to be confident the reason is often rooted in a sense of belonging and acceptance from those around them. Looking back at those women I see now that they were simply trying to be accepted by mimicking the behaviour they saw around them. But is the best approach really if you can’t beat them join them?
However as Brene Brown says, “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” (For those that haven’t checked her TED talk I recommend you do so here.)
I believe a big part of our struggle with confidence is a collective resistance to vulnerability and a lack of self-acceptance. Women are more naturally sensitive, emotional, intuitive and yet it is widely perceived to be weak to show this side of their nature. This causes internal battles between who we are and who we think we’re expected to be.
Time To Reshape The Way We See Confidence
As we climb up the career ladder we all can put on masks on to hide our insecurities and exert a fake confidence, which decreases empathy and compassion and perpetuates the problems I experienced. If we are to be truly confident we need to be as honest about our doubts and shortcomings as our positive traits. In each and every experience we have, positive or negative, there’s the potential to build our confidence if we can be authentic and learn to accept who we truly are. If we can do this for ourselves, those around us are much for likely to follow suit.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Prioritise The Truth & Ourselves
Chimamanda Ngozi argues that we teach our children differently according to their gender. To quote her — “We teach girls to be likeable, to be nice, to be false. We do not teach boys the same. This is dangerous.” Perhaps this is why men rise up over women in their careers, for they naturally prioritise their own needs over likeability.
To be of service (and this especially applies to women) is often looked at as saintly, when in fact sacrificing our own needs often makes us feel worse about ourselves. We need to trust that what's best for us will always be best for those around us. When the choice is the truth or saying what you think people want you to say, always choose the truth.
The Role Of Praise
Those that are not confident are often those who also struggle to accept praise. When my clients are uncomfortable with compliments I encourage them to say thank you and offer an act of kindness in return. It’s been scientifically proven that altruism give us a boost of serotonin plus the more praise you can give out, the more you’ll open yourself up to receive.
Follow Your Gut and Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Call it intuition, instinct, inner wisdom or simply your gut. Learning to follow the call of your heart over the worries of your mind is a surefire way to grow confidence and build trust in yourself, as is pushing beyond your usual boundaries. Moving towards the edges of your comfort zone will always encourage you to grow as a person and if we want to keep moving as a species we should all be stretching our limits every single day.
Pay Attention To Your Tribes
If you want to be part of something great, surround yourself with great people. They will be your cheerleaders and the ones that bring you back down to reality so value them and nurture their growth so they can do the same for you.
The Tipping Point
When it comes to confidence there’s no magic formula but all it takes is small changes for tipping points to occur in how we feel about ourselves. Progress comes when a commitment is made towards the greater good so take some time to question what confidence means to you and reflect that back into the world, for by making individual changes we can create ripples on a wider scale.