I noticed it first when I was 14. I let it go. I put it down to being young.
I had to give a short presentation at the school assembly. I didn’t volunteer; my name was picked out of a hat. I’ve never forgotten how I felt when my name was called out.
I had a week to worry about it. I got so anxious that I made myself physically sick. I was terrified.
In my head I started to make up ridiculous excuses to get out of it. I thought of nothing else all week.
Self-doubt set in big time. What if I embarrassed myself in front of the whole school? All my friends would laugh at me. My negative mindset spiralled out of control.
The day came … and guess what. I didn’t get to give my presentation. There was a fire drill during the assembly. I spent the rest of the day on Cloud 9. I was so chuffed that I’d avoided stepping out of my comfort zone.
Some people spend their whole life avoiding situations they find challenging.
In fact that’s exactly what I tried to do. I spent the next few years ‘lying low.’ That suited me just fine.
But when I was 18, situations arose that I just couldn’t avoid.
Career choices loomed which meant interviews. Meeting new people. It meant change.
My lack of self-confidence really began to have an impact. It started to affect life-changing decisions I needed to make. This time it really mattered. It shaped my life.
I made an important career decision to join the army. I failed the assessment course. They told me I lacked self-confidence.
This experience really knocked me for six. I began to question myself continually. I ended up missing opportunities and I got left behind.
So, what happened? Three years later, I reapplied to join the army. This time I got accepted. I passed.
All this happened 30 years ago but I still remember the thoughts and feelings I experienced.
So what did I do to get my self-confidence back?
I formed 5 habits which still help me today. I encourage you to use them too.
Habit #1: Maximize your ‘alert-state’
Never drop your guard. Always be extra aware of how you look and sound whenever you’re in a situation where you need to show self-confidence.
Once you know how you come across you’re in a position to change things.
Knowing how you come across to people means seeing how you look from their viewpoint. That’s obvious, I know. But so many people forget how important it is. You just can’t afford to distract people if you want to be seen as confident.
Route to achievement: Ask people you know well how you come across physically when you’re talking to them. Be prepared to accept the truth.
Try filming yourself when you’re talking too. Keep on top of any distracting habits you discover. Be super alert to how people are reacting to you when you’re talking. If they’re not listening to you, there must be a reason.
Try experimenting; tweak your body language, change the tone of your voice, be more facially expressive – try something different to help you communicate self-confidence and authority.
Habit #2: Crush the negative voice within
Know whenever the ‘gremlin’ tries to stop you doing something you know is right for you. Self-confidence is as much about your mind accepting a challenge positively as it is about actually physically carrying out the challenge.
Route to achievement: Work out if you’re a pessimist or optimist; do you complain a lot, do you spend time with negative people, do you always feel hard-done-by, do you feel unlucky, do you smile much? Answering questions like these will help.
Banish the negative voice in your head the minute you hear it. Stop it being your own worst enemy and making self-confidence harder than it needs to be. Accept that things won’t always go to plan.
Sometimes you will trip up or fail. This happens to ‘confident’ people too. The key is to force yourself to see the positive in everything; even failure. Failure can be positive if you learn from it. See it as an experience worth having. It prepares you better for the next experience.
Start trying to project positivity through your expression and voice. Talking positively helps you to maintain a positive mindset. Make a conscious effort, particularly when the chips are down.
Habit #3: Practice self-confidence every day
Don’t wait for people to present you with ‘opportunities’ to practice being confident. They may not come regularly enough. They may not even come at all. You will lose momentum.
Route to achievement: Force yourself to overcome a confidence challenge every day. Even a small action is better than no action; it must be something you fear or find challenging though. Link this to Habit #4 – planning ahead will be vital.
Think about how you want to be seen by others during your daily challenge; be clear about the outcome you want. Visualise beforehand; see yourself in the act of successfully achieving the challenge.
Remind yourself of what you’ll need to do to succeed. Have the self-confidence to adapt your approach if the challenge isn’t going as you planned. Stay true to yourself but get clever about how you get what you need and want. Use your initiative. This forces you to keep practising being confident.
Habit #4: Look forward, not back.
Never leave your thoughts as just ‘thoughts’. If you do they will get replaced by other thoughts. Learn from past experiences but never dwell.
Route to achievement: Look forward and plan ahead. Reflect regularly on what you want to achieve at work and in your personal life. Do not let one stifle the other.
Convert thoughts into ‘Plans’ by writing them down. When it’s in writing it’s likely to happen. You’ll find this more motivational too.
Your written plans need goals; these should be credible aspirations that are clear and manageable, yet challenging too. If your goals are sizeable, break them down into small steps you can accomplish one at a time.
Try linking this to Habit #3. Address your goals on a daily basis and create tasks from them that challenge your self-confidence. Be sure to measure your goals and monitor your progress.
Don’t panic if a goal isn’t accomplished. Re-appraise the situation, work out what happened, learn from it and change the goal. Be positive; perhaps the new goal will lead to even greater success!
Habit #5: Stop comparing yourself
Get real with yourself. Believe and accept that you’re not the only one. Stop comparing yourself to people you think are more confident than you. Even people who ‘appear’ to be confident find their self-confidence being challenged, maybe even dipping in certain situations.
Route to achievement: Look at confident people in a different light. See them as human, just like you. No one has a natural gift. The fact that they look and sound confident doesn’t mean they’re naturally confident.
From now on, when you’re watching or listening to a confident person, be aware that they are trying to be confident. Most confident people have to do this. They’ve worked out what they need to do physically to project self-confidence.
If they can do it, you can do it. Replace ‘comparing’ yourself to them with ‘learning’ from them and perhaps even copying them if you find them impressive.
Continually remind yourself that self-confidence is a skill everyone can learn. So comparing yourself to others and doubting your abilities as a result makes no sense at all.
Mike McClement, Founder Think Confidence, Self-confidence Author and Coach. Passionate about helping people achieve their potential and enjoy life to the full. Creator of the 4 Step online Confidence Plan.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.