Everyone wants more confidence.
“I don't feel confident” or “I want to regain my confidence after a bad work experience ” are among the primary reasons people come to coaching in the first place.
No wonder, as confidence – a belief in our own ability to accomplish the things that matter to us – is a key ingredient in building work and a life we’re crazy about.
Would it help us take on bigger, more important challenges? Sure.
Would it allow us to experience more ease even in the tough times, less personal churn around our self-doubts? Absolutely.
So why do many of us struggle with confidence?
As we work to establish, retain or regain our confidence, it helps to be looking for the right thing in the right places…
CONFIDENCE IS AN INSIDE JOB.
Confidence is not the result of being recognized by our organizations, our degree-granting institutions, our parents, social media or any other external system.
That can be pretty confusing in a culture that loves to measure, evaluate and label us. It’s a system we all jump into headfirst from a young age, waiting to be granted confidence by one more round of applause, one more great performance review or one more certification.
It doesn’t work.
All you have to do is look to the friend who has all the skills, training, accolades, and a track record for days and still doesn’t believe in herself.
Or maybe, consider yourself - with all you have done and learned, do you still struggle to feel confident?
Praise, feedback, and appreciation all matter as forms of data that help us assemble the big picture, but they won’t matter if we can’t internalize their significance. The inside job is to take that data, interpret it and convert it into confidence.
We are the force that builds our own belief in our capability and worthiness.
This takes work.
At its purest, confidence is a form of self-trust, the belief that we can bet on ourselves and be right. And the belief that even if we’re not there yet (however we define ‘there’), we are capable of getting there...
So how do we build confidence? I wish it were another way, but it comes with practice…..
CONFIDENCE IS A MUSCLE.
Confidence is not the finish line. It’s not something we acquire as a fixed object, or a moment we arrive at.
It’s the practice itself that we master. In this way, confidence is like a muscle. We must exercise it and put it under pressure from time to time if we want it to stay strong.
Another way to look at this is that confidence is the means, not the end.
In practical terms, when a client says: I want to build my confidence so that I can apply for that job, or ask for the raise, or launch a side hustle, I see that as an invitation to flip the sequence.
Confidence is built through the act of doing those things.
A client is the COO of a growing media company – she rose fast through a partnership with a powerful leader and CEO who has supported her development through a number of ventures. Her story is compelling and her expertise deep, so it’s not a surprise that my client has been invited to speak at a number of industry roundtables as a keynote or featured speaker this year. At first, her reaction to the requests was: “Nayla, I have to work on my confidence so I can say yes.”
That felt familiar to me… how many of us have had the thought: Once I feel ready, I’ll go...
Flipping the narrative allowed her to see that by saying an intelligent and courageous yes, preparing and accepting some nervousness and faltering along the way, she could build confidence through the practice.
There’s no shortcut to doing the work to get better at something.
We must do the work where we need to improve… It could be writing, or public speaking, or leading teams, or launching campaigns… We put the hours in, get the training we need, ask for feedback, reflect on our progress and setbacks, rest, and get back to work.
Confidence comes as a result of the effort.
Sometimes the workout sucks. It feels like garbage along the way. There might be tears and dark moments when we wonder why we tried and consider giving up (ask me how I know).
But like with anything we consistently work towards, we get stronger, more resilient, more and more confident with practice.
CONFIDENCE IS A RESOURCE.
When we act in the belief of ourselves, we are drawing from an internal source of courage and experimentation. This source – this resource – of confidence ebbs and flows like all the other resources in our lives, just like physical and mental energy, or patience, or self-compassion.
We have access to different amounts of confidence depending on the challenge we're taking on, and depending on the other demands of our lives at a given moment.
Understanding this also gives us some space to experience the ups and downs of confidence. Some days we believe we can take anything on, some days we hide for fear of exposure. Knowing that confidence is a resource that ebbs and flows helps us have some perspective on the tougher days.
If we are launching a big project, whether it's professional or personal, we are making heavy withdrawals from our confidence bank, more than the times where we're doing a little bit of coasting. And if we’re spending at this rate, we have to replenish the account.
So how to restore the resource?
Make confidence deposits: When we do things well, or when we meet goals, and when we operate in our zones of genius, we experience that belief that we can tackle what matters to us. Think about making investments through consciously paying attention and documenting times in which you've done something that you thought was difficult and you succeeded. Make those a deliberate deposit in the confidence bank.
And, make time to do things where you excel. There are places where each of us shines. For me, the classroom and the kitchen are places where I know I can deliver. I know this because I have put the hours in, and because I have the evidence, accumulated over time. Each of my clients – each of you reading this – have things in your arsenal where you do great work. Creating those moments, and capturing them are forms of deposits.
Collecting, reflecting on, and internalizing evidence is key to building a robust internal resource of confidence.
Take a loan: Sometimes, we need to borrow from someone who sees and knows what we’re capable of. Years ago, when I was asked to keynote my first leadership conference, I had two simultaneous thoughts: “Yes, I want this” and “Woah, I’m not ready, no way." I asked for a day to think about it, and I called my husband and then a friend to talk it out. They both gave me a version of: I know you can do this, so let me believe in you enough for both of us for now.
They couldn’t make up for any confidence I lacked, but they could offer me a bridge to buy me a few hours to do my homework, design myself a plan, and to say yes, understanding that I’d have to put the work in.
Watch out for the lies of comparison: Our businesses, careers, or personal projects cannot emerge overnight. Our path is our own. It’s easy yet misleading to look at people around us (or through our phones) and gnash our teeth with confidence-envy.
We never know what’s happening before the moment we witness, who sweats through their opening remarks at a roundtable, and who trembles for hours after the proposal for work goes out.
And, if you stumble (or worry about stumbling publicly) along the way while building your own confidence, remember that most everyone is the star of their own movie, and too busy with their own lives to notice.
As usual, Eleanor Roosevelt offers insight:
"Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart. Don't be concerned about whether people are watching you or criticizing you. The chances are that they aren't paying any attention to you. It's your attention to yourself that is so stultifying."