Do you struggle with self-confidence? Second guess yourself, wonder whether you really know what you’re doing, or know what you want? Nobody trusts themselves 100% of the time, but we all know a least one person who walks through life seemingly unimpeded by self-doubt.
You know her, she’s your colleague, the one who always looks like she knows what she’s doing and has no trouble speaking up in meetings. She’s that friend who doesn’t immediately shut down and get defensive when someone disagrees with her. She’s the ridiculously successful celebrity who credits her success to her unwavering faith in her ability to achieve whatever she set her mind to. There are just people out there who exude self-confidence.
What if I told you that self-confidence isn’t about being awesome, outgoing, or fearless? You can be yourself, fail at something every once in a while, be imperfect and still be incredibly and rightfully self-confident.
Setting the record straight
Self-confidence is not!
Self-confidence is not self-esteem. Self-esteem is the belief that you are good enough as you are. Think of it as self-acceptance or self-worth. Self-esteem is really important, and it’s definitely helpful to have good self-esteem if you want to build self-confidence. But I know plenty of women out there who don’t fully love or accept themselves as they are but still have a ton of self-confidence.
Self-confidence is not the same thing as being gutsy, fearless, or bold. Just because someone acts boldly doesn’t mean they’re confident. Likewise, don’t confuse quiet, reserved and subtle styles for lack of confidence. Boldness is a style, not a belief. Whether you communicate with audacity or not, says nothing about how confident you might or might not be – although some of the most memorable, self-confident women we know are in fact the ones who stand out by their boldness (think Oprah Winfrey).
So what is self-confidence?
Self-confidence… it’s complicated
Technically, self-confidence is the emotional and behavioral expression of self-awareness and trust.
Okay, in real people speak. Self-confidence is what happens when you know yourself inside and out, and you understand what you need, why you need it and how to make it work for you. It shows up as unwavering trust in your ability to know what’s right for you and take action on that knowledge.
The super poised and prepared co-worker, your friend who can be challenged without feeling threatened, and the über successful celebrity have one thing in common. They all know what they need, and they let those needs drive their actions and goals. In other words, each one of them knows why she’s doing what she’s doing and why it’s going to work for her.
Because of that understanding and insight, she can easily make choices, set goals, and come up with a solid plan. Anytime things don’t work the way she hoped they would, she knows she just needs to recalibrate her plan, not scratch it. Why? Because she knows her goal and her vision and focus are right for her; the rest (what she does to get there) is just details.
When you don’t fundamentally understand why you do the things you do, and you can’t define your needs, it’s really hard to trust your choices and stick with them. Because you don’t fully get why something should or shouldn’t matter to you, you can’t stay focused. That’s when you waiver, act indecisively, question your choices, stay up at night wondering what if, and back down when others don’t see things the way you do.
“Also known as the ‘fake it till you make it approach’, the MWIYL approach to self-confidence involves making a decision and sticking by it despite uncertainty, fear or self-doubt.”
Become the woman, everyone else wants to be:
The work I’ve done with literally hundreds of women has taught me that there’re only two ways of going about building real self-confidence: the right way and the much harder ‘might-work-if-you’re-lucky’ way.
Let’s start with the latter.
The ‘might-work-if-you’re-lucky’ approach to confidence (MWIYL):
Also known as the ‘fake it till you make it approach’, the MWIYL approach to self-confidence involves making a decision and sticking by it despite uncertainty, fear or self-doubt.
It’s much harder for a few reasons: 1) It requires you to inherently trust that your judgment isn’t awful. 2) There’s actually no guarantee that the choices you’re making are right for you, which makes it nearly impossible to not feel anxious while you wait for things to play out. 3) Without a good reason for making a choice, other than it seemed the right thing to do, you’re leaving yourself open to being challenged and doubting yourself when it happens.
Having said that, the MWIYL approach can pay off.
The more you practice taking action and addressing the real and outcomes problems (rather than pondering them) the more practice you get making decisions, problem solving and reaping the benefits of good choices. Every success will help you understand what does and doesn’t work for you. Failures that are not catastrophic will remind you that you can handle what life throws your way. And any opportunity to act rather than agonize over a choice teaches you about yourself.
For many women, the idea of asking yourself what you need before considering what someone else needs or wants is unthinkable.
The right way:
Do you want to become more confident, become that person who steps up, makes decisions, knows what’s right for her, and doesn’t show any hesitation when she asked to make a choice? Then follow the three steps outlined below.
This is the approach I personally use, and the one I have my coaching clients and therapy patients practice to build their self-confidence.
Step I: Get a crystal clear understanding of your needs
One great DIY way to define your needs is to practice some type of mindfulness on a daily basis. By getting in tune with your feelings and your thoughts and learning to listen, inquire and observe your reaction you create opportunities for insight and self-awareness. This approach is the slowest, but it has the benefit of helping you be more present and self-aware, and in terms of DIY approaches it can’t be beaten. If you’re up for this I would recommend practicing the Art of Nothing (AoN). AoN is a technique I developed over 7 years ago when, as second-time mother, I realized I did not know how to stop and slow down for even a couple of minutes. Fast forward, and when given the opportunity, I can now masterfully do nothing for upwards of an hour without guilt, stress or distraction – the insights and benefits that come from this practice are invaluable.
You can also use the ‘finding your why’ method, that Simon Sinek introduces in his TED talk. It involves looking back on times you’ve felt passionate, excited, or quintessentially yourself figuring out why those moments matter and what they signify.
It’s a really popular technique in business, marketing, and leadership circles, and it can be fun. I’ve run workshops using a similar approach and it’s definitely exciting. One downside, however, is that it requires finding a partner (but not a close friend or somebody who knows you intimately) who is willing to sit with you for three or more hours to flush out your thoughts and stories.
In truth, some people spend years and thousands of dollars in therapy working on defining and articulating their needs. That is because it’s less self-evident than we assume, and for many women, the idea of asking yourself what you need before considering what someone else needs or wants is unthinkable.
Having spent years in therapy working with others to define and embrace their needs, I developed my own go-to coaching tool, the Focus Map. The women I’ve worked with become absolutely clear about their needs, and beyond that create realistic and inspiring goals that allow them to show up more successful and confident. And it all starts with understanding what it is you need to feel fulfilled and satisfied.
Step II: Define how your needs will best be expressed.
It’s not enough to know what you need, you also have to know the best way to express those needs.
We each have very specific ways in which our needs are best articulated. When you don’t express your needs in a way that’s right for you, you end-up feeling dissatisfied and disappointed. It’s why so many of us fill our lives with what should be fulfilling and exciting experiences, yet still, feel blah.
Imagine ice cream is a general need. There are many different ways you can have ice cream. If you need ice cream in the form of a chocolate milkshake and I give you a vanilla cone, I guarantee you’re going to feel unsatisfied, despite getting ice-cream. It’s the same way with needs.
Once you get that crystal clear picture of your needs, you’ll quickly realize that a small number of needs run through many different areas of life. Sometimes you will know exactly how a specific need should come through. Setting goals around that will be easy and seamless. Other times you will feel confused, unsure of exactly the best way to meet a need. When in doubt you can always simply experiment. Try a few things, see what works, and rest assured that you are never wasting time, but simply collecting information and becoming better at meeting your needs.
If time is of the essence and you want to maximize your impact and save yourself the undue effort, working with a coach is always a great solution. Coaches have unique training and ability to help you define and understand your needs. Personally, I have worked with coaches to get clarity and focus around my goals, the result was always this incredible sense of getting it right and feeling on point. I have also worked with enough of my own clients and patients to realize that the extra perspective and unbiased mind can feel like a godsend when you’re already feeling confused and overwhelmed about what you want.
Step III: Put it in practice
Insight with action is nothing more than a very cool intellectual practice. Once you know something is right for you, you have to act on it. Taking action creates proof, which over time helps challenge the insecurities and doubts that may have historically held you back from showing up fully. You have try, succeed or fail, make adjustments and try again. Prove to yourself, that you can do it, that you are competent and that you know what’s right for you.
self-awareness + practice → competence
self-awareness + competence = self-confidence
When I coach women we always use this 3 step approach: 1) Define a need (Ne). 2) Figure out where and how Ne is best expressed. 3) Create a plan of action. Specifically, we quickly decide what you’re going to do today to build more of Ne into your life. The goal is to have you acting on your insight, showing up differently, and building the confidence to make choices that are right for you.
From uncertainty to confidence:
As a coach, there’s little better than seeing someone move from a state of confusion and uncertainty to a place where she has a clear focus and goals that excite her. Watching women develop and own their confidence is inspiring and the pay off is huge.
A few years a back a former client of mine referred a friend. “Good luck,” she said, “my friend has a history of complaining about life, but won’t budge or make a change.” On the one hand, she had referred a challenge, on the other hand, it was a pretty big compliment. The friend in question was a physician. Smart, successful, driven and burnt out, she was in a state of miserable paralysis. She knew she wanted something different, but didn’t know what that was or what to look for.
Interestingly, I didn’t find working with her hard at all. What she needed was a bit of reassurance, a system that she could trust, and someone to keep her moving along when doubt and anxiety made her want to retreat to old patterns. One Focus Map and six months of coaching later, she was very clear about what she needed to feel professionally and personally fulfilled. She was also realistic about her circumstances and how best to get those needs met and set goals accordingly.
With the right tools and confidence, my so-called obdurate Doc wasn’t so stuck after all. She changed practice giving up her partnership for a better fit in another private practice, she shifted her dating approach to attract the type of men she wanted to build a life with, and became more open and honest with her family (for the first time in 40+ years showing up as herself, not as they thought she should be).
Your next step
If you’re less confident that you’d want to be, there’s a process to change. Uncertainty, second-guessing yourself, and feeling like you don’t know what you need to be happy are not normal parts of adulthood. Feeling confident and self-assured comes from a practice anyone can adopt.
First, get to know yourself; understand your needs. Why do you get excited about A but not B? Why do your dreams look the way they do? And why do you need what you need? Then figure out how. How should your needs be expressed? How are you going to build a life, career, or relationship that feels right for you and one in which you can flourish and succeed? Once you have the answer you can practice your whats – what you’re going to do, say or try next. Set goals that address the needs, the way they should be articulated and take into account the realities of your life.
If you need help or have any questions about the process and how you can tackle it on your own, do not hesitate to contact me, I’ll gladly give you 20- free minutes of my time to brainstorm and get you started on the right path.
About the author:
Dr. Alessandra Wall is a psychologist, coach and international speaker with over 15 years of experience. She specializes in helping savvy, driven and successful women show up better and do more of what right for them. Her clients are strong, talented women in leadership or key senior positions who secretly tell her they feel overwhelmed and undervalued. These incredible women want to make an impact and be valued for what they bring to the table, and that is exactly what Alessandra helps them do.