How to Break the Vicious Cycle of Low Self-Confidence
Confidence is not something that you acquire and then can forget about it. It requires constant work and maintenance to keep self-confidence high. Like keeping a sailboat on course, we need to continuously make adjustments to reinforce our confidence.
Have you ever noticed you perform at your best when you are confident? Think of giving a presentation for the 4th or 5th time. It is so much easier to be at your best because you have had the practice, you know you can do it. You feel comfortable with the material, so you can let go of over-thinking, and connect to the people in your audience. You can have fun with the material and be spontaneous. You might even be able to laugh at yourself when you make a mistake.
And then there’s another, more unpleasant situation; right before you start a meeting your inner critic reminds you about all of your insecurities. You start to feel nervous so you forget your point, you say something accidentally because your focus is pulled away from what you are saying by your nerves, you become self-conscious, you begin to flush, sweat, your voice starts to shake…you know the feeling. The more nervous you get, the worse your performance becomes. This is the vicious cycle of low self-confidence.
If we want to be outstanding in what we do, confidence is critical.
Confidence is about believing in yourself. Sometimes this comes naturally, and sometimes it needs to (and can) be learned.
Let’s look at the root cause of this vicious cycle: fear. Think of skiing down a mountain for the first time, or riding a bicycle. When fear is in the driver’s seat, we tense up and become unable to respond well to a situation. In many cases fear (or the lack of confidence) is an old habit.
I learned how to downhill ski just a few years ago. I had only recently made major progress in my life-long fear of heights. Learning how to ski was a celebration of the fact that I no longer “suffered” from the fear of heights. Most of the time, I am incredibly calm in the face of chairlifts dangling over precipitous snowy cliffs and steep edges at the sides of the ski runs. I have even been known to brave black (advanced) runs here and there.
However, every once in a while when I arrive at a new, particularly steep run, I freeze up with the old familiar sensation of fear. My shoulders tense, I can feel my heart beat pounding in my chest, my palms start sweating, my hands shake and my mouth becomes dry. At that point, I stop. I have learned to take a few deep breaths and remind myself “You are not afraid of heights anymore! You can do this; you don’t have to be afraid.” Sometimes I actually forget that I am not afraid anymore! I have to remind myself, “You know how to do this, this is just a memory of fear, and there is no longer reason to be afraid.” It is incredible how powerful these mantras that repeat to myself are. Time and time again, the fear melts away and after a few deep breaths and I sail down the hill with ease and joy.
The great thing is, this is useful in any part of life – also at work. Once you anchor your confidence in a skill, it is worthwhile to verbalize the belief you have about yourself at that moment…and remember it. e.g. “I am a good coach.” This can become a mantra that you can use to get your confidence and security back on track in moments of doubt. It might be something that you are not even sure if it is true. Something that might be true can be very powerful.
For example, I remember the first time I stepped in front of a group of managers to deliver a leadership development program. I was 29 years old and was about to coach people who were 10-20 years older than me, running multi-million dollar businesses. I was nervous, the fear of failure was creeping in. I was chosen to do this particular work not as much because of my presentation or facilitation skills, but more thanks to my coaching skills. I knew that to be true. In order to calm my nerves, I used the trusty, always-available tool that we all have – deep breaths…and my other favorite: the mantra.
As I was breathing, I let myself think a thought “I may be the best coach this company has.” Of course, there is no way I could prove this. And…, it might be true. Who knows? I upgraded my mantra to something more inspirational than just simply, ‘I am a good coach.’ The longer I let myself think that and the more I repeated my mantra to myself, the more my confidence grew. The more my confidence grew, the more relaxed I felt and the more able I was to be myself at my best.
That was the first of over a hundred of such courses that I have facilitated in the years since that time. I still have my moments of self-doubt and I still fall back on my breathing and finding a belief that I can use as a mantra in that moment.
Confidence requires continuous work. Notice when your confidence is slipping and fear is taking over. Stop, take some deep breaths and repeat a mantra that makes you feel strong again.
I would love to hear your experiences of losing and re-gaining confidence. Perhaps you have other tips to share with our readers? Please leave a comment below.
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And of course, if you haven’t already read my book about confidence, The Four Channels, it is available as kindle version and print version.
Thanks for reading!