What is confidence? Is it something that you either have or lack? Or is it something that grows in all of us? My opinion is the latter.
Every Tuesday I get to watch my son learn how to swim. And this week, when he swam a whole width with no floats or aids, it struck me how far he’s come, and how much his confidence has grown in just six months. From being hesitant to jump in, afraid of getting water on his face, tensely curling up and clinging onto the teaching assistant – to pouncing in, stretching out, taking big scoops with his arms, and arriving to the other side with a massive grin on his face.
As I reflected on this change, I realized that each step of progress he made required a little bit of confidence, and with each step his confidence grew too, in a kind of virtuous cycle. So the good news is, you don’t have to be super confident to start, and here are three simple ways to boost that growth cycle.
1. Appreciate baby steps
Oliver didn’t suddenly go from hesitantly clinging to confidently swimming. In fact, if they had thrown him in at the deep end (literally and figuratively) he probably would have been completely put off. They started small, with games to get him used to the water. They encouraged him to put his chin in the water, then his nose, then his whole face. He had armbands to begin with, plus a teaching assistant to hold on to, then progressed to a ‘wiggly worm’, then no aids, and then the assistant let go and he swam on his own. And this progression happened gradually, week by week. Each time he practiced, his confidence grew a little bit more, and each time he did something new, his confidence grew massively.
I think often as adults, we don’t appreciate the baby steps we make. Many of us focus on what we haven’t yet mastered and what we don’t feel confident doing. We talk about our achievements as “it’s not much really” and then put great emphasis on what we haven’t done.
Yet it’s the baby steps that pave the way to big achievements. In fact, the momentous occasion of a baby’s first step is the culmination of many stages of learning to move muscles, coordinate and balance – and all while their dimensions are constantly changing too.
So what are your current achievements and highlights in what you’re working towards at the moment? What new territory have you taken steps into? One of the quickest ways to grow your confidence it to do something new, and I bet in some area of your life or business, you’re already doing that.
Even if you have to start with “It’s not much but…” then cross that first bit out! Keep noticing, appreciating and celebrating your baby steps, and you’ll notice a massive difference even over a short period of time.
2. Encourage confidence by speaking life
We all know how praise and encouragement empower children, so wouldn’t it make sense to give ourselves some of the same?
Friends and clients of mine know that I am quite hot at picking up on phrases like I’m rubbish at…, I’m not very good at…, I can’t… or I’m not confident…. I’m passionate about words, and the power of words. As someone who told herself for years “I’m a loner, an introvert and difficult to make friends with” I know the power words can have on how you feel, how you see the world and ultimately how you do life.
They say the tongue has the power of life and death, which means that you can speak death over a situation (just watch an episode of Eastenders for a whole host of examples!) or you can speak life into it.
Sometimes it can feel like a big leap to go from I am rubbish to I am brilliant – and you might be thinking ‘but Grace, you don’t know how much I’ve struggled with this, it would just feel fake to pretend that everything’s hunky dory!’ For the record, I don’t believe in ‘faking it to make it’. I think integrity has a lot to do with confidence, and you can absolutely take a positive perspective and be able to say it with truth and conviction, simply by using phrases like:
- Well I am good at… AND
- I’m learning to…
- I’m starting to…
- I’m getting better at…
- I’m becoming…
- I’m on my way to…
Even swapping “I’m lacking in confidence” for “I’m growing in confidence” transforms a limitation into a work in progress.
Finally here’s a slightly different approach from my other child – a two year old rocket named Catherine
3. Go faster than the speed of fear
Despite (or perhaps because of) being three years younger, my daughter is far less cautious than her brother. On one occasion when I took her swimming, when it was time to go, she decided she didn’t want to go, so promptly ran straight into the pool – with no hesitation whatsoever. On being rescued by my friend who was still in the pool, she was a bit startled and wet, but absolutely fine.
Sometimes when we know logically that we have the skills and resources to do a pretty decent job, and just don’t quite feel confident about doing it, and given enough time we might just talk ourselves out of it, speed can be a very helpful tool.
On deciding some time last year that I was going to “find my voice” both in a singing and speaking capacity, I’ve taken to saying “yes” to pretty much every opportunity that comes my way. Sometimes that “yes” is followed by sheer panic and “aargh what have I just let myself in for?!” but every time it’s given me opportunity to learn, practice and grow in confidence.
So if you recognize that feeling – that gut instinct of ‘yes I know this will be good for me, and yes part of me really wants this, and at the same time a part of me is absolutely terrified!’ – I encourage you to say “yes” once in a while and notice your confidence surge in the mix of the adrenaline.
Confidence isn’t something you either have or don’t. It’s something we all have, and something that grows. Sometimes our confidence gets knocked by unexpected changes, conflict, setbacks and circumstances beyond our control. Maybe that’s redundancy, illness, a relationship breakdown, difficult work situation or simply sleep deprivation. We all have some confidence in us, in some area of our life, and that confidence can be nurtured to grow. And like all things that grow, the more you feed it with life, the more it grows, and the more it grows, the more robust it becomes.
This article was originally published in my newsletter in 2011 (in case your eagle eyes have spotted the my kids seem to have gotten younger!). For more encouragement like this direct to your inbox, pop your email address in the box at the top right of this page. For individual help with growing your confidence take a look at ways of working with me.
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