Sky: "You know why I brought you here to Havana? Becuase I made a bet that I could. That's why I came to the mission, to win a bet..."
Sarah: "...well how else would a girl get to meet a gambler?"
(Marlon Brando/Jean Simmons: Guys & Dolls)
I have been watching a lot of Neflix, and as much a I'm binging through the true crime, I've got a soft spot for rom coms - and there's a common thread in a lot of them - couple meets (one of the pair is more confident than the other), they both change, one learning to look beneath the projected image, the other blossoming into it. It's the ending of Grease, most of the Disneys, and one of my favourites "To Wong Foo, Thanks for everything Julie Newmar" (which is worth it just for Wesley Snipes in a dress). It is also a common psychological approach to building confidence. In fact one of the first social psychology experiments was of how college students were paid to date a "plain girl" and how, by the end of the experiement she had her choice of suitors (without any financial incentive). Don't get me started on ethics...but watch it in Guys and Dolls and I'm all "Oh that's sweet."
But as someone who has always used drama, and later interactive training, then coaching, to build confidence - confidence grows not because of the makeover, but because someone cared enough to offer it. It's not just about looking the part or talking the talk - it's about being brave enough to follow through with walking the walk. As such, it is the following that helps the most:
- care and attention
- belief and support (without being overbearing or pushing too far)
- stretching the comfort zone
- applauding without taking credit
The more experienced the teacher, leader, coach, or parent, the better able they are to judge the opportunities to offer. Go on - try it - observe, offer, support and celebrate...let me know how it goes!
"You’re so brave"
Incidentally, I'm reclaiming the phrase "be brave". I too have known the head tilt "you're so brave" actually meaning "I think you have little talent, but well done for putting yourself out there", or the "Be a brave boy/girl" which is - though not maliciously - often the start of brushing over the negative emotion of pain.
One of the most common questions I get asked in training sessions is "How do I build confidence?"...and often, when we get into coaching, it's much more about "How do I find the inner strength to do something I might fail at."
The secret - confidence is simple - you just have to do it...and keep doing it. It's like learning to walk, ride a bike, drive a car - the more you do it, the easier it becomes. But beware, confidence is also potentially derailing because it can lead to over-confidence - doing less preparation because you can "wing it"...or fiddling with the radio and sat nav, while holding a conversation in the car.
Confidence takes practice
When I say "simple" - it still takes practice...and that's why people like to ask the question - but don't often like my answer. There is no short cut. You practice, you get better. This also means practicing the ACTUAL skill not around the skill. Although being a great writer may help you structure a presentation, it's only rehearsal out loud that will improve your performance. You may know all the theory you need to know about management - but unless you get out there and try to lead you will not practice the appropriate skills.
The stumbling block is doing. Confidence may make you say, bravery makes you do…you need both.
Overcome the coping strategies that keep you down
...and doesn't your unconscious likes to keep you supressed!!
"Giving it a go" is where, as a coach, I get faced with "coping strategies" - all very reasonable reasons as to why you are not able to face that fear.
"I have no time to train..."
"I need to think about my family..."
"I have other pressures..."
...actually, with the "I'm sick" method - I believe it. The thought of doing whatever it is that is holding you back (along with an unconscious sense of the worries in the earlier paragraph) can indeed lead to the stress-response engaging. The brain doesn't know the threat is (arguably) of your own making, and it simply engages "fight or flight" - often with the result that you freeze.
You tell me - how am I supposed to break down those - perfectly reasonable - reasons!? People ARE overworked; raising a family IS hard; you MAY WELL be in a situation where you are picking up more than you need on behalf of others. The truth is...YOU simply need to find a way of addressing that need first...and I can help encourage you as you do that. But I'm not there to tell you to change your priorities, or judge your life choices. All I can ask you is: How much do you want it? (...what will the world look like if you do X...what will it look like if you don't?) And, will you be content WITHOUT at least giving X a go?
1. TOP TIPS - for SELF confidence
Tip 1: Care and attention
We don't always have someone looking out for us - and in lockdown it's even harder - so we need to learn to look out for ourselves. BUT we don't always do this because we may not value ourselves enough.
- Do you think "Oh it's ok I'll cope"?
- Do you say "Yes" to everyone then regret it or end up doing a sub-par job?
- Do you think "They're so busy, I'll help" (even when you are busy too)?
These are signs of you not appeciating your own value.
a) Write down all the things that you are proud of yourself for (and just place it somewhere to remind you). Perhaps it is a post it collage or perhaps just a sheet of paper.
b) Do something that either energises you or calms you - whatever your proference is to recharge. (An earlier article explains this in more detail). Compassion Focused Interventions suggest that we may balance out stress or tensions through either "drive" - something that makes us feel accomplished or energised (such as doing something you are good at, or seeing people who make you feel positive); or "soothe" - something that relaxes us eg a bath or a meditation. I have a preference for drive tasks, so I tend to do more of them - both work, just choose which will be most effective at the time.
Tip 2: Belief and support
You actually can do it - it just might mean that you have to do something you don't enjoy first, like read the instructions.
Try this (particularly useful when procrastinating)
Before you dismiss something as "I can't do it" (or before you ask someone else because it's "too hard", or simply before you hide it and hope it goes away) - ask yourself "Is it that I can't do it", or "I can't be bothered/don't want to learn to do it?" It is learning that causes more anxiety because we think we may fail or it'll take time (and as adults, "failure isn't an option and time is too precious"). That mindset has got to be your choice, but a) think of what you might be role modelling to others, and b) think how good you will feel when you have put that little bit more time in and found it's actually quite easy. (...and if it's not, ask for help).
Tip 3: Stretch your comfort zone
Do something that pushes you every day - whether it is simply running for 15 seconds longer on the treadmill (I would say 30, but I know how long that is when you're running!) Get used to the emotional and mental stretch and you'll become more flexible in those areas too!
Tip 4: Applaud yourself (in the case of self-confidence - recognise what you must take credit for)
I am always grateful when clients tell me "You've helped me so much" - but the reason I always say "Thank you, and I want you to remember you did the work." is not out of false modesty. It is because while I can help unlock doors, you have to walk through them. By recognising what it is that kept you doing, you will be able to do it again next time you face a barrier. So be proud of what you did whether it was a whole online course to learn how to change a tyre, or simply read the instructions that came with the pack.
Secret bravery tip 5: Remember that taking the first step to make that change is an achievement.
Don't put pressure on yourself to make it perfect/see immediate results (that's the quickest way to spiral back into "I wish I hadn't") - for now you've done the brave thing, keep doing it and everything else is a bonus!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Learn more at www.draudreyt.com or follow her on Twitter/IG @draudreyt. Her online wellbeing show full of practical resilience-based interventions is on YouTube: ENERGY TOP UP