How to develop your confidence

A common factor that concerns leaders is negative thoughts around their capabilities: they can lack self-belief. Some people mask a lack of confidence by focusing their energy on achievement – they get their self-worth from what they’ve achieved rather than by being happy in themselves. So this month’s issue includes theory, quotes and practical tips to help you develop your confidence.

How to develop your confidence

Definition of confidence  

My definition of confidence is feeling good about yourself and who you are, and not needing positive affirmation from others to have that sense of wellbeing for yourself.  It also enables you to be more open to and curious about what’s around you, and to be less anxious about making mistakes – which enables you to grow.

When you are confident, you are more likely to be happy (and vice versa) – they are inextricably linked. Happiness is good for us. When you’re happy you’re more likely to sustain your confidence levels. Scroll down for more about this at the end of the article.

“Confidence comes from not always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.”
Peter T McIntyre

There are two models of thinking that I believe have an impact on developing and sustaining confidence.

1. Positive psychology

Diagram based on research by the Centre for Creative Leadership

Positive psychology is the study of what goes right. A lot of people – particularly in the western world – focus on trying to fix problems instead of studying what goes right. Playing to your strengths and building on what works is a more effective way of running your business and leading your teams.

About 10 years ago, the Centre for Creative Leadership did some research that found emphasising the positive drives performance.

The diagram on the right shows their findings, according to what emphasis was given during  employee performance reviews. (Please click the image to enlarge it.)

“The effective executive makes strengths productive. He/she knows that one cannot build on weaknesses. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities.”
Peter Drucker

(Having said this, you do also need to pay attention to your weaknesses and take action to overcome them. It’s mainly the proportion of attention to strengths versus weaknesses that is the biggest opportunity.)

2. Performance = Potential – Interference

In his book The Inner Game of Work, Timothy Gallwey observed that people learn best when they “stopped trying so hard and trusted in their capacity to learn from their own experience”. Crucially, this means silencing the inner dialogue within yourself – the voice that is judgemental and focused on what you should be doing. He created an approach to learning with three principles:

  1. Non-Judgemental Awareness
    Being aware without judging yourself stops you feeling threatened and frees up your capacity for change.
  2. Trust in Yourself
    Trust that as your awareness increases, effective learning and change will take place. Let the learning take place at its own pace.
  3. You Choose
    You are the one to choose what you want to change, not your boss / spouse / inner critic. This enables you to be more aware of the choices you are making and your reasons, which is ultimately empowering for yourself.

If you follow this approach your confidence will develop.

“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Practical steps

Often, our amount of confidence is linked to how we’ve been brought up, as well as our innate personality: don’t let your past cloud your future. Decide for yourself who and what you are and live it.

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”
Attributed to Millard Fuller and others  

Here are some things you can do to help develop your confidence, in no particular order:

  • Even if you don’t feel confident, act and speak as though you are. Over time, this actually helps you feel more confident.
  • Analyse those times or situations when you lack confidence, to grow your awareness of what triggers that feeling. You probably don’t lack confidence 24/7. Most of the time you feel confident, can do your job and deliver. There may be just one or two situations, people or trigger points. By raising your self-awareness and analysing these, you can make a decision on how you want to address this – self awareness is the first step to change.
  • Keep a daily diary as part of your morning or evening routine, where you record your positive thoughts and feelings (only positive is allowed!). Reflect on what you feel pleased about, what you are proud to have accomplished, how you handled a particular conversation, and when you experienced a feeling of wellbeing. Don’t just note what you have achieved, but also focus on those positive emotions. This will give you energy to re-frame your attitude and reduce your inner critic.

“Habits are like comfy beds; easy to get into but hard to get out of.”
Source unknown

  • Accept compliments from others. Say “thank you”, smile and absorb what they have told you. Pay attention to compliments you receive, so you can build a picture of what people value in you. How does this make you feel?
  • Avoid people who drain you or have a negative focus in life. Surround yourself with people who are good for you, and be comfortable about releasing friendships that bring you down.
  • Know who or what makes you happy, and make time for this. Many people get sucked into work and parenting, and lose time for their hobbies. Life can then  start to become a treadmill. Doing something you love – such as horse-riding, golf or painting – helps you feel good about yourself.
  • Take care of yourself physically. Make sure you eat healthily and get enough sleep. Take time to exercise. Don’t underestimate the power that has in keeping you happy and confident.
  • Focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t (and don’t waste time comparing yourself to others). Make time to help other people, no matter how small. It makes you feel good and keeps life in perspective. Pay it forward: when someone does a favour for you, rather than feeling the pressure to re-pay them, help someone else  that needs it. It all helps make the world a better place.
  • Do a job that you enjoy and is in line with your personal values. Know what makes you happy and seek it out.
  • Realise that people around you may act as though they’re confident, but most people lack confidence in at least one area, some of the time. We all have our own moments and ‘gremlins’. So don’t think you are the only one that has these thoughts and feelings; we all do from time to time.

Finally, to quote Dr Seuss:

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

Further reading

Scientific research increasingly suggests that happiness is a skill that can be learned. The book How to be happy resulted from a BBC project that found happy people perceive the world as a safer place, make decisions more easily, are more co-operative and live healthier and more energised lives.

For more on this, please ask for my handouts: ‘20 facts about happiness‘ and ‘10-point happiness manifesto‘. Do these things for two months and you’ll be surprised what a difference they make.

For a fun, yet heart-warming quick read obtain a copy of Dr Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go!  It also makes a great gift for kids, graduates, and friends who are at a crossroads in their life.

Please share this article with anyone you know who might find it interesting, and let me know if you’d like help to develop your confidence.

Next month, we look at how to develop resilience and other ways to cope with stress.