Confidence is such an elusive mercurial thing; some days we feel full of it, and on others it eludes it us completely. It crops up frequently when I’m coaching women, and no wonder; so many studies say women’s lack of confidence holds them back in the workplace. That said, it’s an assertion that merits further investigation, as most women are striving to get ahead in a world designed to suit men, not women. No wonder we sometimes feel we don’t fit the bill and our confidence takes a nosedive.
In my RenewYou course for women, I have a section called ‘Internal Mail’. This involves looking at all those messages we have internalised over the years telling us what we should, could, can, and can’t do. They are so much more powerful than we realise.
There is a certain inevitability that participants focus on the messages that they want to change. Messages like:
‘You need to have a secure job’ or ‘Girls don’t do that kind of work’ or ‘you’ll never amount to anything’.
In this article, however, I’d like you to think about those messages you have in your head which have helped you – which motivate and inspire you and which you’d like to pass onto others.
Much of the internal Mail that pops up unbidden into our consciousness will have come from the people who brought us up – our parents, family, guardians or teachers . And it won’t all be of the positive variety. But I suspect if you stop to think for a while you can find a few sayings, thoughts, or expressions which over the years have served you well.
I particularly remember a piece of wisdom that my father gave me; I’ve repeated it often when coaching. I had just left school and made a particularly unwise choice about which college to attend and gone, regardless of the advice offered to me. (I confess it to you, darlings, I followed a guy I thought was The One, shame on me.)
After a term and a bit I returned home with my tail well and truly between my legs. Within the year I went on to study at a great University and all was well, but at the time there were all sorts of issues about money, changing courses etc that the prospect of ever getting it resolved seemed impossible. I felt that I had made a real mess of my life. My Dad took me aside and said:
‘Well, you’ve made me a mistake, and everyone has to make their own mistakes. The clever thing is not to make the same mistake twice’.
It was a really good piece of advice, and so very true. We learn, grow and develop by actually trying something out, doing something. Pure or intellectual knowledge of something does not actually mean we really know it and have learned from it.
In later years I came to realise it was a great piece of advice and had served me well; it had taken away for me the fear of making a mistake. I can’t in all honesty say that I have never made the same mistake twice (!) but I know that making mistakes almost always leads me onto greater wisdom and better decision making in the future.
Now, as a coach and trainer I often work with people who are stuck in unhappy situations, relationships, jobs, locations and so on, but who are so worried about the making the wrong decision that they choose not to make any decision at all. They’re paralysed by the fear of getting it wrong.
Get it Wrong
How do you learn? How do you gain in confidence? How have you ever learned anything in your life? You weren’t born with all your qualities and skills in place. You needed to do something to acquire them and I imagine that you didn’t do everything perfectly first time.
Take learning to walk, for instance. Human beings don’t arrive in this world with fully developed walking skills. We needed to be allowed to learn. If you get an opportunity, watch a small child learning to walk. They frequently fall over, get up and start again. Without any self consciousness at not having done it perfectly first time, they persevere. Eventually they make that lurch unaided from chair to sofa and bask in the admiration.
As we get older many of us lose that confidence to simply give life a go and not worry about getting it right first time, or what anyone else thinks of us. We stay crawling, frightened of looking silly, failing, and doing the wrong thing. And we miss out on so much of what life can offer us.
Review Your Past
Think for a while of all the masses of skills and qualities you have acquired over your lifetime. There will be many and I’m sure you can think of at least ten. (Yes, you can.)
Driving, for example; you learned that because someone taught you, you watched other people driving, and finally, in UK at least, you took a test. You might have had to take it several times, you drove around with L plates on, you crashed the gears, and you probably stalled once or twice at a junction. But for most of us the inconvenience of not driving outweighs the fear of failure and so we plough on until we get what we need, a driving licence.
Are there areas of your life where your fear of getting it wrong, of making a mistake is holding you back? Maybe you want a new job but think to yourself ‘better the devil you know’.
Maybe you want a better relationship but are fearful either of tackling the issues in your present one or of actively seeking a new one for fear of rejection or of making a mistake. It seems easier to stay not happy rather than risk losing what you have. You’re still toddling through your life instead of walking, striding, or running ahead.
5 Tips to help you build your confidence
1) Owning up to making mistakes can be immensely liberating. If you get it wrong say so. In most cases this won’t be the end of the world.
2) Think of all that you have learned in life through having a go at it yourself. Make a list.
3) Imagine if you had a second, third, even fourth spare life to live. What would you choose to be doing? Would you pursue your unspoken dream of becoming, for example, a ballet dancer? Well, probably that is an option no longer open to you but there are, for example, dance classes for every age and also classes in poise and deportment. You could try them and give yourself some of the benefits.
4) Think back to your internal mail messages; some should be deleted, but there will be some that it’s worth keeping and acting on. Decide on yours and write it inside your diary, or a place where you’ll see it often and go for it.
5) Now think what you would be doing this month if you knew that making a mistake was not the end of the world but simply contributed to your learning and development and to making you be the best you can possibly be!
P.S. RenewYou is my one day personal development course for women, used in organisations looking to address gender imbalances, and delivered by a network of excellent trainers. It’s a great confidence booster. If you’d like to find out more about becoming a trainer, click this.
Posted on April 18th, 2017 by Jane