How many times have you been told to “be more confident in yourself” and “fake it ‘til you make it,” in a tone that makes it sound like this easy thing to do? Or found yourself wondering how some people (you know the ones) always have all the right words to say? It can feel like everyone around you knows something you don’t. Like they all read “Self-Assurance for Life” and you were out sick that day. If any of this resonates for you, I have you covered.
What Does It Mean to Be Confident In Yourself?
As we dig in, it’s important to define what confidence is. As someone born to socially awkward parents (sorry mom and dad), I learned how to facilitate social situations, so they went okay. To translate: I honed the art of being liked to avoid getting labeled as weird. What I have come to understand is this: people pleasing (convincing people to like you by being agreeable and easy-going) is not the same as being confident in yourself.
Confidence in yourself is having trust that you can get through a situation and be okay on the other side. Psychology Today tells us “Confidence is a belief in oneself, the conviction that one has the ability to meet life’s challenges and to succeed—and the willingness to act accordingly. Being confident requires a realistic sense of one’s capabilities and feeling secure in that knowledge.”
It’s likely you get your sense about your capabilities from your gut – that inner voice that instinctually guides you. It takes what your brain knows to be true (e.g., you’ve studied the subject, you have 10 years’ experience in this area, you’ve navigated a situation like this before), and combines it with what’s at stake if you try and get it wrong (aka the risk).
Give Yourself the Gift of Beginner’s Mind
Having a Beginner’s Mind means you allow yourself to have an awkward period. Everything feels new, it’s assumed you’ll need help (and that you’ll ask for it), and that you’ll make mistakes. You’re also kind to yourself about it. When you’re a beginner at something, there are no expectations that you’re going to get it right. In fact, you assume you won’t.
Why am I bringing up Beginner’s Mind? Because to be more confident in yourself, you must be willing to try new things to prove to yourself that you can do them. The way you trick yourself into trying things is by being compassionate to yourself.
But there’s a caveat and it’s this: it is not easy to be compassionate to yourself if you don’t feel psychologically safe (knowing you won’t get laughed at or ridiculed by others). So, if you are in one of these environments, understand that you are being set up to fail and it’s not your fault. Also, get out if you can.
Building Confidence Is Risky. Do It Anyway.
What comes first? Competence or confidence? I believe they work together.
Competence is your ability to be good at something and it’s acquired by having a Beginner’s Mind – to try, practice, and integrate feedback and lessons learned.
To develop competence – you first need to have confidence in yourself to try. This belief will propel you into action. But belief in yourself without first having competence gets a bad rap. It makes people nervous. It’s risky — because you could mess up!
Remember learning how to drive? I could not wait to get my learner’s permit. I just knew I’d be a good driver, even though I’d never driven a car before. This knowing was enough to convince my dad to hand over the keys and teach me. How would I have ever learned to become a good driver if I didn’t…drive? Reading about doing something is not the same as doing it.
Am I saying you should perform brain surgery because you have a good feeling about it? No! You’re likely holding yourself back from trying less risky things, because you think you won’t be good at them and that you’ll look stupid.
Let’s Talk About the Spotlight Effect
Speaking of looking stupid, let’s talk about a cognitive bias (mental shortcut) we all have as humans – The Spotlight Effect. Essentially it means that each one of us is the center of our own universes. We think that people are paying way more attention to us than they are – because remember, they are the center of their universe.
I bring this up to point out that no one is really watching you that closely, unless you’re a celebrity and in that case, thanks for reading this and can you share it with your followers?
If you do make a mistake on your way to developing competence, there is usually a way to fix it – and typically before anyone notices. You can ask for help from someone with more experience, for example. Or figure it out yourself. Or fess up and be surprised to learn that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Phew!
Build Confidence in Yourself by Doing the Minutes
I am married to a professional public speaker. When I met Colin, he was performing stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy is like the riskiest form of public speaking – and normal public speaking is the most common fear people have. Seeing him on stage, you’d think he was born for the spotlight. He looks incredibly comfortable holding a microphone (and knows how to adjust a mic stand with ease – so annoying.)
I once overheard Colin say “People often assume I’m a naturally confident public speaker and I tell them I am – I just had to do 500 speeches first.”
There are no shortcuts to confidence. To borrow more of Colin’s words – “You have to do the minutes.” If there is something in your life that intrigues you but you’re too scared to try, this is me taking you by the shoulders, looking into your eyes, and asking “What is the worst thing that could happen?”
It is normal to play the “what if?” game. I want you to lean fully into it. On a piece of paper, make a T-chart. On the left side, list all the things that could go wrong. On the right side, write down how you would respond if it happened. What you’ll find is how incredibly resilient you are. You already can figure things out, to pivot, and to respond – and these skills will only get stronger the more you practice it.
Protect Your Flame: Surround Yourself with People Who Believe In You
I came upon a clip of Brené Brown talking about a lesson she taught her kids about “candle-blower outers” – the people in our lives that pull us down. She shared:
“You’ve got this flame, and this is your spirit, this is your soul, and this is your light, and sometimes it will shine really, really bright and you want to surround yourself with people when it’s shining bright who think ‘Wow, what a beautiful light…’ You don’t want to surround yourself with candle-blower outers…You want friends who protect your light.”
The people you surround yourself with matter. Whether you’re aware of it or not, their energy and words impact you. Your self-concept is created in part by your interactions with other people. If you have a partner, family, friends, or colleagues telling you you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong, or won’t be able to do something, it will be that much harder to be confident in yourself.
If you had told me I would be writing about confidence someday, I would have laughed. I am writing this to you because I had people in my life believe in me before I was ready to believe in myself. Their confidence gave me the strength to “do the minutes” and prove I’d be okay and that no one was paying attention that much anyway.
Find people who are willing to share their belief in your potential with you. They’ll often reveal themselves by how much they challenge you (e.g., parents, teachers, mentors, sponsors).
And I can be that person, too.
Lindsey Lathrop is a Certified Coach, Speaker and creator of Promote Yourself Professionally, helping you build career credibility to land your next raise, great job, or promotion. You can follow her on her website https://www.lindseylathrop.com