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Low self-esteem plagued me until middle age.  I had no confidence at all, from feeling like the dumpy one at the back o the games class, the less-wanted sister, the odd one out because I wanted a career (unusual in my peer group) and then through years of trying to balance motherhood and running a business which leaves us all perpetually wracked with guilt and inadequacy.

I came to know exactly what it’s like to manage without confidence.   Networking gave me nightmares.  Social occasions reduced me to palm-sweating paranoia.   One of the few advantages of age is finally having conquered the lot.  But I wish I hadn’t spent all those hours agonizing for absolutely no good reason.

Self-confidence is about our belief in our abilities which is quite different.  This should not be confused with self-esteem, which is how we see ourselves, one the scales of ugly to beautiful, loser to winner, or somewhere in the middle.

We all envy those self-confident people, who seem to have effortlessly conquered life, instantly the center of people’s attention, walking tall.   We believe that without this magic ingredient, we will be doomed to failure.

Confidence is something you can change

Discover you are not alone:  If you belong to a networking group on social media, admit to being nervous with other people or at networking do’s. You will be astounded how many people will be heaving a sigh of relief and happy to immediately admit the same thing.  Others, who have been there themselves at one time or another, come out of the woodwork with offers to help.  Believe me, you will not be laughed at or despised but welcomed as another human being.

Look at the reasons:   Grab and pen and paper and write down the reasons you feel you have no confidence.  Perhaps someone laughed at you when you stuck your head above the parapet earlier in your life.   Maybe you believe that you are no good at something.  Ask yourself when these feelings started.   Then challenge the belief with logic.  Are you really the worst public speaker in the world?  What evidence do you have for that?  What facts have you to prove that you will not get the job you are going for?  Most of our fears are based on inaccurate beliefs.  Challenge the beliefs and the fear lessens.  Check if your insecurities are based on a lack of knowledge.  Can you research the prospective employer better or take a public speaking course?  We are too often sunk in our own insecurity to see the obvious, that we can do something practical to change it.

Smile:  Smiling is scientifically proven to make a difference in the way we feel.  Make a resolution to smile, even when you do something simple like the washing up or having a shower, every single day.  Smile for 10 minutes and it will be virtually impossible not to feel happier and more confident.  In a surprisingly short while, the moment you remember it is your “time to smile”, you will an instant rush of happiness.  Happiness breeds positivity and positivity breeds confidence.

Get familiar with failure:  We fear the unknown.  The more familiar you are with the fear, the less power it will have.   People with low self-confidence go in a mental circle of believing that they will fail and then failing through a lack of belief, but they also believe that only “failures” fail.  The reality is that everyone fails.  Look behind every great success story and you will find innumerate failures from Edison to Dyson.  Write down the worst possible thing that could happen to you if you fail.  Ask yourself if you would even remember in a year.   And if you do fail, just say to yourself,I am human and I messed up.  That is ok.”

Do something different every day:  This builds up a tolerance for doing new and potentially frightening things.   If you feel able to go fire walking on the first day, fantastic.  If not, it could be just volunteering for the coffee run, or saying hello to a stranger in the pub, ringing a new customer, but building these up to bigger things over time.   Put visuals of your successes up where you can see them and remind yourself of them daily.

Look after yourself:  When we are tired or stressed, our confidence goes down. Recognize it and take time for you.  Block all those inner voices of doom until you have eaten well, rested well, and taken some exercise.  You could even be really devilish and go for a massage or meditation.  They all take the stress levels down which help you to see clearly.  Give yourself quiet, alone time.   And while all healthy eating is important, studies are showing that foods high in amino acids build confidence, so indulge yourself in chicken, cheese, and nuts.  Smelling some fresh foods is confidence-boosting as well, odd though it may seem.  Foods such as cucumber and sharp green apples reduce stress and keep you calm and confident.

Get rid of the doomsayers:   Being confident involves minimizes your own negative voice and also other people’s.   Check if anyone in your life regularly makes you feel uneasy, anxious, or pessimistic, or if their constant moaning is bringing you down.   Get rid of those you can, and balance out the few that you are left with, by consciously finding positive people to surround yourself with instead.

Exercise:  Now five hours at the gym are fine for some people.  And exercise undoubtedly helps confidence.  But many of us for whatever reason find enforced exercise plans our worst nightmares.  Think instead of ways to move.  All movement is positive for your confidence, just as you will feel worse slumped in a chair or curled up feeling sorry for yourself.  Try little things.  You see athletes bouncing up and down before launching off.  Do the same thing.  Better yet, grab some headphones and have a dance.  There is nothing like a boogie to something empowering to get you going.  Don’t forget the self-pep-talk.  Say “I can do this”, “I am successful”  ten times each to get you going to.

Drop the Ego:   Remember that others can be suffering, be it from lack of confidence like you, shyness, or problems you may have no idea of.  We all need kindness.   Volunteering can be done on many levels.  Start small by being the one to bring some treats in for the team, the one who gives up their seat on the bus, smile at someone before they smile at you.  By putting someone else in front of yourself in your mind, you will immediately feel better and others will feel better towards you.  Both are pretty good for the confidence.

Be Authentic:   One of the biggest ways we take away our own confidence is by comparing ourselves to other people.   We are not other people.  Each individual is different, and better at some things than in others.  As long as you are striving to be like someone else, you will feel uncomfortable and less confident in your own skin.   Use your own individuality and bring out your own identity.  Marilyn Monroe would have been ordinary without the hair and the lips.   Relax and be you and your confidence will grow.   As E.E.Cummings put it “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”.

Confidence at work – Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Management Today
this piece originally appeared in Management Today

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