Have you ever found yourself thinking that you don’t have any confidence? If so, you certainly aren’t alone.

Often people will tell me that they are just not a confident person, but when questioning them I will find that they are confident in some areas and might just need to learn some new skills to develop confidence in others.

It is important when developing confidence that it is tied to specifics. Confidence is always attached to a particular situation or action. We need to know where we are going, so we can know what changes we need to make.

Many self-help books feature tools regarding positive thinking and affirmations, but building confidence requires much more than that. If I feel socially anxious and I keep telling myself “I am going to be confident when I attend the office Christmas party and be chatty and outgoing”, then on arrival feel anxious and shy, what am I going to believe? How I feel or what I have been telling myself.

If, however, I was to learn some new social skills, relaxation techniques to help calm my emotions and develop flexibility in my thoughts then I could start to feel more comfortable socially and see real life change as proof of my progress.

If this sounds appealing, read on.

Confidence is a Learnable Skill.

There is a fundamental principle when building confidence and that is your ability to learn. Challenges faced in particular areas often simply arise because we lack the necessary skill to approach them. As humans, we are built to learn. If you have doubts about this, just cast your mind back to your infancy. Learning to walk likely seemed an unfathomable challenge – a skill now second nature.

I invite you to dwell on the idea that self-confidence is more about the reclaiming of how you would have been, had you not learnt self-doubt, self-criticism, and fear of failure. We learn to doubt ourselves, so the benefits of trusting ourselves more can’t be overstated.

Learn some new skills.

Turn ‘not being confident’ into ‘not being confident about (X)’. You now have something more specific to work with, so can begin figuring out what new skills are required. If you wrote down one area in which you want to feel more confident, what would it be?
What will be different when you are more confident in that area? How would you know you were more confident? Whatever situation you are approaching, preparation and planning is key to making progress. So, map it out and get clear on what area you want to become more confident in, and take the first step. Once a task like this is approached as its component parts, with clear goals set, it becomes far more palatable.

Learn to tolerate uncertainty.

It is a common mistake to think that confident people assume they will be a success at something before attempting it, but this isn’t always true. Confident people don’t know the future any better than chronically anxious people. They don’t have an elusive window in to next week’s events, but have adopted an explorer mind set, to see life as an adventure rather than an avoidance strategy. They have faith that whatever the outcome of their efforts, they will be OK.

Remember, when learning a new skill, you may go through some confusion or feel slightly anxious and uncertain and may question how capable you are. Confusion is the danger point, as often this is where people give up, but it is essential part of learning. You can’t learn unless you allow yourself the temporary affliction of not knowing. Being aware that feeling uncertain is just part of the process and is not a permanent state is crucial to maintain a sense of perspective to keep achievement of your goals within reach.

Back of the mind approach

If you are thinking about an upcoming event that you feel is challenging your levels of confidence and you are feeling stressed, anxious, angry, tired or generally pessimistic it will be hard to have of a realistic view on things and how they might turn out. If so, there’s a risk of it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – the event will be negative, because you expected it to be.

It is worth remembering in that state your perceptions will be biased and will not represent a remotely fair view. Try to focus on what is useful rather than what you think may happen. This is no fault of your own, as everyone suffers from negativity bias – it’s a survival precaution we’ve evolved to have but when you are experiencing strong emotions this is amplified. Overcome it by placing the upcoming event to the back if your mind until you have had time to calm down and relax so you can think more clearly.

Challenging the negativity bias.

If you make an effort to learn some new skills before, for example, attending an interview or going to a party, and find your thoughts are running riot you might start comparing yourself to the other attendees, or being overly critical of yourself and this is where awareness must kick in. If you struggle with this, then your thinking style may need some adjustment.
Developing confidence requires some flexible thinking and an ability to maintain an open-minded neutrality and a fair view of ourselves and our endeavours. If you find yourself diminishing your own efforts and attempts compared to those of others, try to consider other possible viewpoints that will help you see a broader perspective – one that is more uplifting, empowering and energising. This will help convert the efforts you have made into a more helpful thought process that will move you forwards.

Fake it to make it.

Ok, so hear me out! I don’t advocate pretending but this method can be helpful. Research shows that body language and facial expression reflects how we feel, but it can also determine how we feel. Striking a ‘Power Pose’ for two minutes (think Wonder Woman or Superman!) can change your body’s biochemistry, creating a feeling of confidence and causing the release of testosterone and a lowering of the stress hormone cortisol. Standing in a power pose before an event while imagining yourself using your new skills and feeling relaxed and in the moment will help you start to associate the event with the feelings generated.

With a bit of perseverance and by adopting some of the tools above you can look forward to increasing your self-confidence and giving yourself the freedom to cope with any setbacks and see them as temporary.