Why feeling confident is a very individual goal

"I want to be more confident," says my new client. "And what does that mean to you?" I ask. "How do you describe confidence?"

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My client thinks for a moment then tells me she wants to be just like her manager, a woman who is 30 years her senior. This manager is cool, aloof, quick to make decisions and very slow to change her mind. "She has so much authority," my client says. 

"But I’ve heard you talk about the type of leader you want to be," I remind my client. "You said you wanted to be approachable, supportive and flexible - and I’m curious how your manager’s style fits with your personal values and goals."

My client laughs and shakes her head. "You’re right," she says. "She’s very different to me. It’s just that she seems so successful and so in control. She kind of oozes confidence from every pore... And I want to be more like that!"

Finding your own style

Every one of us has a different idea of what confidence means, so when my clients tell me they want to work on their confidence I ask them to describe what this word means to them. I might also suggest that they think about people they admire and what aspects of that person’s behaviour they might want to incorporate into their own way of doing things.

As your coach, it’s also part of my role to help you avoid setting goals that clash badly with your stated values and beliefs. While there are many different ways to feel confident, trying to force yourself into a role because you think that’s how you should be isn’t one of them. Instead, it’s better to find a style of confidence that adapts well to your personality, your strengths and the values you hold. 

Confidence isn’t arrogance

Sometimes people believe that being confident is the same thing as being showy, loudly spoken and always at the centre of attention. But true confidence expresses itself in many different ways. You can be an introvert but be quietly confident about yourself and how you do things. You can be the life and soul of the party, but constantly worry that you aren’t as good as the people around you. 

Unique solutions

Miraculously, nature has made each of us unique. No two clients will ever reach their outcome in exactly the same way, and it’s why there are no ‘one size fits all’ quick fixes in coaching.

Each and every client needs to undergo that process for themselves, making essential discoveries about who they are and what makes them tick. You’ve probably been told that coaching is ‘all about goals and outcomes’ but even more important than reaching a goal is an awareness about yourself you gain on the way. 

Identifying the barriers

In a coaching session, you may find yourself discovering the barriers that are getting in the way of you feeling confident. You may also discover some useful information that your brain has filed away - such as the teacher who told you at an early age that you were ‘rubbish’ at doing something.

You may find that their voice has lodged in your head and, whenever you start trying to do something new, that old voice pops up again reminding you that you are no good. Except, by now, it’s so cleverly disguised that you probably think it’s your own subconscious giving you this message, to warn you about potential danger. 

Perhaps, by working with your coach, you will decide to create some powerful messages you can give the voice, to tell it that’s it’s no longer wanted in your life. Maybe you can find a more positive message to replace it with - such as the praise you received when you scored that winning goal or aced the presentation.

Recognise what’s already there

Of course, believing that you are lacking in confidence doesn’t mean that you are not achieving success in other people’s eyes. Sometimes you may have set yourself such high standards that you can’t hope to achieve them. Or you are choosing to undervalue the things you are good at and believing that if you can do them, then anyone can do them - so you end up discounting your own achievements.

Sometimes you may be simply expecting too much of yourself, comparing yourself to people who have many years more experience. 

In this part of the coaching process, I support my clients to be more realistic about themselves and to recognise what they are already doing well. Sometimes it can help to make a list of all the things that have gone well in your life - whether that’s personal or professional. You’ve probably forgotten many of them and will be surprised to remember that time you sang on television with the school choir or received a prize for being the student who made the most progress. 

I will also make you aware of things I’ve observed that you’ve probably not noticed about yourself. For example, you may say to me: "I’m very shy when I meet new people" but I will remind you how relaxed and friendly you appeared to me when we first met.

In addition, I will ask you to keep on noticing for yourself all the positive things - small and large - that you are doing in your daily life. And to think about how you can stop beating yourself up for all the times you aren’t as ‘perfect’ as you’ve convinced yourself you need to be.

Find your motivation

In order to embed any kind of new behaviour, you need to be clear about why you want to make this happen. You need to know why you want this change and what you’re going to get from making it.

Maybe you’ll be able to have difficult conversations with your colleagues or partner. Perhaps you will be able to stand up in front of an audience and give a powerful presentation. Or for the first time chat to a stranger without wishing the floor would open up and swallow you whole. I will ask you to think about the positive things that doing this will bring to your life and how it will feel when you’ve achieved this. 

I may also ask you to think about how your previous behaviour has served you - perhaps being quiet in meetings means you don’t get landed with new projects, which can make for an easier life. However, it may also mean that you aren’t likely to get promoted to the job you’d really love, and you may realise that your desire to be promoted is actually stronger than your desire to stay unnoticed and under-utilised.

Rigorously and clearly identifying your motivation for making change is a key part of coaching, and is vital in starting the progress towards a more confident you.

Techniques for nudging along your progress

There’s a well-known technique called ‘fake it til you make it’, but you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that sounds rather inauthentic. However, the audience you’re ‘faking it’ for is actually your own brain - which needs convincing that change is possible.

Studies of neuroscience indicate that, while it’s harder for older brains to develop new habits than young developing brains, we are all capable of doing so. It’s estimated that most of us need at least two months to embed a new habit and often a lot longer, so you do need to be prepared to put in the time and effort to achieve this. 

Let me give you an example...

When I was in my late 20s, I was a very shy person, and very self-conscious. Then I started working with a new colleague and I noticed how comfortable she was in her own skin. When she met new people she asked lots of questions to show she was interested in what made them tick; in a crowded room, she paid a compliment or made a friendly comment to the person she was standing next to.

I started imitating some of my colleague’s behaviours, ignoring my feelings of anxiety and staying open and curious about other people. What I noticed was, as I started to behave as if I was a confident person, people started responding to me as though that was the case. I’d come out of a meeting feeling better about myself because people had treated me as though I was confident. So next time I had to attend a meeting I’d go in feeling a little bit more confident from the start. 

These days, people who know me say they can’t imagine me ever being shy, but what they see is the result of spending many months ‘faking it’ while I convinced my brain that we could do things very differently.

The rest is history. These days, I thrive on creating rapport with new people and supporting people to recognise all the things they have to feel confident about.

Some coaching questions to ask yourself:

  • What would you be able to do, or achieve if you were as confident as you’d like to be?
  • What makes you believe that other people are more confident than you are?
  • What are the barriers which stop you from being as confident as you want?
  • If there’s a critical voice inside you saying ‘You can’t do that! You’ll only make a fool of yourself if you try,’ whose voice is that? (Is that really you or the voice of a parent/teacher/teasing older sibling who gave you this message?) 
  • What can you say to the critical voice to make it go away?
  • What needs to change for you to start feeling more confident?
  • Are there any good role models you can use for inspiration?

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Todmorden, West Yorkshire, OL14
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Written by Henrietta Bond, Professionally Certified Coach (PCC)
Todmorden, West Yorkshire, OL14

Henrietta Bond is a leadership, life and relationship coach who has many years experience of helping people to feel more confident about themselves. She is a Professionally Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coach Federation and draws extensively on her experience as a communications trainer and consultant.

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