I often hear from my clients that they wish they felt more confident. Research shows that women especially struggle with self-confidence. In fact, in the workplace, often it’s not the men holding the women back – it’s the women themselves. While women are busy behaving and trying to get everything perfectly right, men pass them by. (For example, men will apply for a job if they feel they meet 60% of the job requirements; women prefer to meet all the requirements.)
However, many of my male clients express a lack of confidence as well. In fact, you might be surprised; a lot of people who are struggling appear to have it all together. If you think you’re the only one who’s short on confidence, that’s just not so. The good news is you can boost your self-confidence; here are six ways to get started.
1. Think positive.
Yes, I said it: think positive. I’m not talking about being a Pollyanna when things are going wrong, but running worst case scenarios in your head all day definitely won’t help your confidence. The same part of your brain that worries is also the part that daydreams. Make sure you are giving at least equal time to best case scenarios.
And don’t forget, your body language counts as “thinking positive,” too. First, make sure you smile; it makes your brain feel good, makes you more attractive to others and it’s contagious – and as a man on the NYC subway once told me, “it won’t mess up your hair!” Second, watch this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy to see how striking the Wonder Woman pose can help you feel more confident before that next interview or critical meeting.
2. Avoid the trap of “compare and despair.”
Comparing ourselves to other people is one of the most damaging things we can do to our self-confidence. That’s because we compare our “insides” with other people’s “outsides.” The truth is, we really don’t know what’s going on inside other people’s hearts and heads – our guesses about how other people feel are probably pretty inaccurate. If you want to test this, pay someone a compliment about a trait you admire. For example, “you are such a relaxed and natural public speaker.” And then ask, “what’s your secret?” You might learn that they are indeed nervous – and (bonus) you may learn their secret to appearing confident!
3. Appreciate your accomplishments.
We tend to be quick to criticize ourselves, and entirely forgetful when it comes to acknowledging the things we get right. Every time you pause to consciously appreciate your accomplishments – no matter how small – you are reminded of all that you do and are capable of. So don’t wait around for outside praise or validation. Maybe you’ll get it; maybe you won’t. It’s better just to be an adult and meet your own needs for acknowledgment and appreciation (but definitely ask others to help you celebrate your big wins!).
4. Don’t aim for perfection.
Confidence is important, it’s true, but sometimes we’re better off having a little courage instead. You can’t always wait until you feel confident (that may never happen) to make an important move. You’ll never be perfectly prepared. Identify when you are ready “enough” and go for it. Even if things don’t go quite how you wanted them to, you’ll still gain confidence because you’ll have learned how to take a risk and how to handle a less-than-perfect result. As Brene Brown says, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”
5. Be prepared.
One of the workshop topics I often speak to groups about is Authentic Networking; I encourage people (especially the introverts like me) to network in a way that’s comfortable for them. During the workshop, we create and practice a personal introduction, prepare a few questions to ask the people they’ll meet, talk about how to effectively work a room (even if they need bring a buddy), and get used to standing alone awkwardly for a few moments. In short, we prepare. Does that mean we won’t feel nervous at all? No, but it sure helps, and preparation may mean the difference between showing up and taking a risk, or not showing up at all.
6. Increase your self-awareness.
Many of the things that I work on with my coaching clients build their self-awareness and their self-confidence. From identifying their values and strengths to challenging old beliefs to understanding their self esteem drivers to embracing their perfect imperfection, the coaching process boosts my clients’ confidence. They also build self-awareness that guides their decisions and choices – and fuels the actions that move them toward their goals. Action creates more confidence, and a virtuous cycle is formed. So read a book about personal development, get some feedback, ask for support – whatever you need to build your self-awareness. Not only will it boost your confidence, it happens to be essential to great leadership, too.
There’s no need to go on a confidence binge and try all six of these ideas at once, but I do encourage you to try whichever appeals most to you. If that gives you a boost, try another. Real progress is made up of small steps; know that it’s normal to experience some discomfort and a setback or two when trying something new. The important thing is to get out there and do something different. It may be a little scary, but that’s also where the growth and excitement are. Keep practicing, and don’t be surprised when someone asks you what’s your secret to being so confident!
Jen Frank, MBA, CPC, ACC
As a Certified Professional Coach, Jen has dedicated her practice to helping people achieve their goals and live their best lives, while being kind to themselves. By supporting people as they gain self-awareness and self-acceptance (traits central to great leadership), she works to empower people to step up as leaders in their own lives as well as in their organizations and communities. For more information about executive, life or career coaching for individuals, or training for organizations, see www.jenfrankcoaching.com or contact Jen at jen(at)jenfrankcoaching(dot)com.