How often in your life have you noticed yourself thinking “I will be X when I have Y”?
An example might be:
“I will be confident when I have reached the executive suite.”
“I will be happy in myself when I have my own successful business.”
Here is what happens when we condition our inner state of confidence to external circumstances. When we achieve the goal we were striving for, it starts to build our confidence and we may well feel proud of ourselves. However, the second we set a big new goal or are facing a very challenging time, those glimpses of confidence disappear and we are back to where we started.
Not only is this emotionally draining but it also suggests that no achievement is good enough to give you lasting confidence because, just like any other human being, you will always come up with new bigger goals.
As someone who was shy and awkward as a child, I have had plenty of experience of this behaviour and how to overcome it. Based on lessons from my personal experience, let me share four actionable ways to build your Unshakeable Confidence.
1. Find the areas in which you are already confident
Get started by asking yourself the question: “What am I already good at?” Awareness of what you have already been successfully doing in your life is the first and most important step you can take towards building your confidence.
Answers may range from being a talented musician to being a good parent or friend. Scribble down any ideas that come to mind because everything you are good at is valuable.
What this will highlight is that confidence is not absolute – because no individual on this planet is fully confident about everything in their life. All of us feel confident about particular aspects we know we are good at. And each of us struggles with specific areas that need improvement. Yet, when we face our pain points, rather than offering constructive solutions, our minds may find that there is something wrong with our entire being.
In summary, once you get started on developing a new skill, your confidence will grow with it. Keep track of what you’re good at and avoid identifying your overall confidence with the areas you feel the least certain about. Remember that no-one is good at everything, whilst developing new skills and gaining new knowledge is entirely under your control.
2. Change negative thoughts using positive statements
Changing your thoughts is easier said than done. However, our thought patterns are no different to the muscles in our bodies. Both can be trained.
Luckily, the thought patterns and habits we have developed can be changed with some training.
A great way to begin reprogramming your mind is to repeat encouraging affirmations or statements before facing challenging situations. To find what particular affirmation will work best for you, go with the opposite of your negative thought. For example, if you think “I’m terrified of being called out to share my opinion on a work Zoom call”, you can replace that statement with “I’m so excited to share my opinion on the call!”.
Do not expect yourself to believe in what you are saying after making your affirmations only a couple of times, because you may have been trained to think negative thoughts for years. Give yourself time to practise your affirmations properly so that they sink in.
The affirmation that worked like magic when I was learning to speak in front of a crowd, was; “I’m excited to be called onto the stage”. I kept on repeating this as my turn approached. After six presentations, I started to get genuinely excited instead of being terrified upon hearing my name.
This is all very personal though, and if a certain affirmation doesn’t work for you, improvise. What’s important is to create and repeat affirmations which make you feel better about yourself.
3. Question your negative thoughts
If affirmations don’t appeal, there is a more analytical approach which I learned from my performance coaches. By answering the following questions, you will find out the fears that are hidden behind your lack of confidence and learn how to transform your destructive thought patterns into constructive ones.
Jot down, record, or simply answer:
- How can I describe the exact negative thoughts on this particular subject in only one sentence?
- Is this thought 100% true? Is it factual or is it simply my assumption?
- What proves that this negative thought is partially or completely false?
- If the event that I most fear actually happened, how would it genuinely affect my life? What would I do (realistically and without exaggeration)?
- If my best friend had this exact same thought, what would I tell them?
These questions have helped me through very difficult times. I hope they will be useful to you too.
4. Celebrate small achievements
Sometimes, when we take on difficult projects we’ve never done before, they don’t exactly go to plan. In these situations, it’s easy to forget that a single unsuccessful event means little. True success is achieved through taking small, consistent steps towards your goal. So, if you’ve just failed at something, remember; the key to becoming better at anything is to keep your focus on your progress over longer periods rather than ruminating about the setbacks along the way.
Why is this shift of focus so important? Because with this approach, you are attaching a number of small successful experiences to your journey, thus enabling you to notice your improvements. This results in building new neural pathways responsible for the positive events in the struggle area and transforming it into a normal area. This is a part of the habit formation process that Charles Duhigg talks about in his book The Power of Habit.
In other words, regardless of what happens along your journey, your job is to always interpret your attempts as steps towards your success. They might be small ones, but they’re still there. With repetition and over time your brain becomes convinced that when you perform that stressful activity something positive happens. From experience I know that it will!
About the expert
Diana Robertson is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org