Video: Confidence - what is it and how can we grow it?

Confidence. It's a mercurial quality which ebbs and flows for most of us throughout our lives. We have it one minute, then it's gone, then it returns in a different form. We all need to create our own brand of confidence - we all need to find the places in life where we can truly shine.

We often bundle lack of confidence in with quietness, shyness and introversion. That's a mistake. Firstly, it's a huge generalisation. Secondly, that faulty perception can turn those who have lost confidence through force of circumstance away from asking for the help they need.

Confidence, like introversion, is mistakenly thought to exist on a continuum from not confident at all to exceptionally confident. It's not a continuum at all. Confidence and lack of confidence both show up in all sorts of places within everyone's lives. We can be supremely confident in lots of areas, but berate ourselves for lack of confidence if we underperform in just one area that happens to be important at any given time because we - or others - have highlighted the gap.

I'm wary of those who generalise about confidence being a skill that can be developed (it can) without also taking into account the myriad blocks and beliefs that stop people from even trying to boost their own confidence. For some it's simply a step too far to be told that their fear of public speaking, for instance, can be overcome through practice. The underlying self-limiting beliefs need to be tackled first.

I know this isn’t easy. When I’m out on the road delivering talks and workshops to creative people I often note that it’s usually not the quality of work that holds people back – rather the quality of their courage and self-confidence.  So how do you build a clear foundation of confidence beneath all this? 

Don’t struggle on your own.

Surround yourself with supportive people; find someone close to be accountable to. Ask them to keep an eye out for you whilst you climb your mountains, and keep nudging you now and again to keep on track. This best set up as a two way process with you doing the same for them in return. This accountability alone can often make the difference between survival and failure.

Don’t pull the rug out from under your own feet.

We all feel like a fraud sometimes. This fear of being found out is pretty universal. We mark our successes down to luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking we are more intelligent and competent than we believe ourselves to be. As such it can stop us in our tracks – we feel we are not worthy, so we don’t push ourselves forward on more prominent platforms. We fail to ‘stick our head above the parapet’.

Hmmm... familiar?

This impostor syndrome manifests itself powerfully in the lives of a lot of creative people – and I include myself in that number. 

For some it’s a minor hurdle – and simply reminding ourselves that it’s largely just another threshold of anxiety to be stepped over on a daily basis – does the trick. For others it’s a fairly constant companion, and a measurable hindrance to progress.

So how can we overcome this barrier to self-development? The first step is to recognise that it is happening and to accept that we have to factor it in rather than ignore or deny it. 

The second step is to figure out just how it gets in the way – what’s it stopping us doing? As part of this step, you need to give yourself credit for your past experience – take the time to list all your past successes and allow yourself to enjoy reflecting on them. This alone can boost your confidence again.

The third step is to strategise – how do we behave, how do we plan, what support and advice do we seek in order to tiptoe round it or break through it?

Get some ruthless compassion

I first came across the concept of ruthless compassion whilst studying for my coaching post-grad. Essentially, it describes an approach where one person is able to point out to another (hopefully in a timely manner) the need to rethink actions or behaviours in order to avoid a potentially damaging outcome.

Checking things out with a trusted peer can boost your confidence no end.

It's the grown up equivalent of intervening when you see a child about to stick its finger in an electrical socket, or otherwise place herself in danger. You wouldn't just stand by and let disaster unfold, would you?

We all get a bit close to the edge sometime - tempted to launch an idea into the world without thinking it through, let something through our internal quality control without requisite scrutiny, respond to a difficult situation without taking time - or even recognising the need - to step back and count to ten before acting.

Once you grasp the value of the concept, it’s easy to see that from time to time, its worthwhile asking someone you trust to exercise ruthless compassion on your behalf.

Action Point:

Who can you think of that might be a good accountability partner for you? For it to work properly, you've got to be able to offer them support in return.

It's normal, by the way, to have more than one thinking partner. Different people, different strengths, different ways of supporting.