What is confidence?
My dictionary tells me that confidence is “the quality of being certain of your abilities or of having trust in people, plans, or the future”. I have an issue with this definition. It suggests that confidence in other people, plans or the future is about trust. But if it’s about my own abilities, I have to be certain. So as a ‘Confidence and Performance’ coach, I thought I should check on my own confidence using this definition.
So, starting with the trust part...
I’m happy to trust those around me. In fact, I find it easy because I surround myself with the best people for me, and trust is right at the top of my checklist when I’m looking for friends, business associates and clients. So that’s a good start.
I’m fine with trusting my plans too. I spend plenty of time making plans. I consult with experts when I’m not sure what I’m doing, I use others as sounding boards, and if I think something in my plan won’t work, I change it. So that feels like another tick, and I’m already starting to feel good about myself.
Do I trust the future? This one’s a bit trickier, to be honest, but I think the answer is ‘yes’. I certainly don’t have fears about the future. The future will be what it will be. The events of the last two years have shown that we can’t prepare for everything but we can choose how we respond. And I trust that everyone does what they believe is the right thing to do.
I’m giving myself three out of three so far. So, on to me then - how certain am I of my abilities?
And this is where I struggle with the dictionary definition. I’m very certain of some abilities in some contexts at some times. Sign me up for a well-prepared presentation on a subject I know to a familiar audience when I’m feeling good and I can strut my stuff with the best of them. A different task, an unfamiliar setting, a hostile audience and a sleepless night would feel a bit different though!
So I know I’m confident in everything else, but am I confident in me. I turned back to the dictionary for guidance, and I found it helpful to pick a different definition.
Self-confidence: the belief that you can do things well
I like this definition more than the last one. For a start, I don’t have to be ‘certain in my abilities, I just have to ‘believe that I can do things well’. And suddenly I’m feeling good about myself again. In fact, I’m starting to feel really good because I definitely can do things well because I have done things well. Not everything, not every time, and not perfectly, but I can do things well.
And, now that my scorecard is looking very healthy, I should be feeling supremely confident. Maybe I need to watch out that I don’t become too arrogant? But wait! If I’m so confident, why can I immediately think of about a hundred examples of situations that would have me absolutely shitting myself?
And this is where I had my eureka moment. Nowhere in the dictionary did it tell me that self-confidence would mean I would feel comfortable, it just says I believe I can do it well. It’s all about the belief, and I know that I can change my beliefs, so I can grow my confidence. So that means I get to choose if I’m confident. That’s an empowering feeling!
Confidence training plan
So with my newfound power to choose to be confident, I’ve been writing my confidence training plan. Some of my clients are creating their own versions, and it’s fair to say we’re feeling the benefits. If you want to write your own, here’s an overview of my latest iteration. My plan involves seven key areas:
- Sit up, look sharp. The first step towards feeling confident is to ‘act as if’ I am confident. That means standing or sitting upright, shoulders back, chin up, chest out, a few deep breaths. I try to catch myself when I’m slumped in my chair or staring at my feet, and just a few adjustments can change how I’m feeling. In NLP we call it a ‘physiology of excellence’.
- Make my bed. This is actually about starting the day with a small achievement. For me, it’s not always this one because sometimes my wife’s still asleep in the bed and apparently it’s not acceptable to make the bed until it’s vacant. So, this is about committing to something and seeing it through. Make the first task of the day an easy one and complete it. Always!
- Have a word. I talk to myself, and more importantly, I believe everything I tell myself. Without hesitation. So, if I tell myself I can’t do something I may as well not even try. Over time I’ve learnt that I can flip this with great success though. If I decide something’s possible I can invariably convince myself that I’ll succeed. I used to need others to do this for me, but I’ve come a long way on this one.
- Take the win. When I reflect on how things are going I have no trouble remembering the problems, the mistakes the failures. Recalling the victories, big or small, takes more effort. But every time I look back on a success I feel a little more confident - remember that self-confidence is about ‘believing you can do things well’. So, I’m collecting my own evidence.
- I’ll be the judge. Self-confidence is all about me having belief in me. So, all that matters is whether I believe I’ve done something well, and if anyone else wants to give me their opinion I’ll decide whether or not to take notice of it. There are times when I’ve struggled with this, and in some situations I still do. This is why it’s still on my plan, I’m still working on it.
- Better than yesterday. I’ve always been passionate about becoming a better person, but it means I tend to pile a lot of pressure on myself. For a long time, I was striving to be perfect, a sure-fire recipe for disappointment. So my new aim is to be better today than I was yesterday. It feels a whole lot more achievable, and it means I’m always moving forward.
- Test my limits. I love being in my comfort zone, but I also know that the real growth happens outside of this, in the ‘stretch’ zone. This is where I find out what I’m really made of, where my limits are. And this is also where I’ve discovered that the limits aren’t really the limits at all. When I reflect on the things that I’m most proud of in my life so far, I know that they invariably happened when I was pushing at my limits. The comfort zone is where I sit, with my coffee in hand, and plan the next challenge.
So these are the sections of my plan. In each of these areas, I have a few actions that help me to develop my self-confidence. I think of my confidence training plan as I think of my gym programme. I can tweak it as I go, it will be harder on some days than others but, in the end, I know I’m getting better. Better today than I was yesterday. And that’s good enough for me!