If, like me, you were a shy kid, you’ve probably spent many hours wondering how to develop self-confidence. In this post I’d like to share with you my own journey and experience so you, too, can experience the transformation in quality of life you can achieve by following a few fundamental principles.
When I say “shy”, I’m talking “wouldn’t say boo to a goose” kind of shy. I was literally terrified of speaking to pretty much anyone. I’d get palpitations just thinking about it. I always thought this was because I was naturally shy and introverted so it was a genuine surprise when, late last year, an off-the-cuff comment about my not being “a natural extrovert” was greeted with equally genuine dismay. I suddenly realised that the comfort I now have in my own skin is inevitably visible in my outward demeanour.
Shortly afterwards I wrote a post called Pull back the curtains and let your light shine in which I talked about the way in which so many people hide behind layers of self-consciousness, the result of years of negative programming. Because of my passion for helping people see the light and indeed the power they possess to achieve what they want, I felt it was time to share what caused that transformation and show you how to develop self-confidence yourself.
By far the most important thing, as I’ve alluded to already, is being comfortable in your own skin. It’s ok to want to improve physical fitness as this has many other benefits, but it’s vital that this is a positive goal, not a whip with which to punish yourself every day if you don’t succeed. The only whipping I will permit, as my coach taught me, is “50 lashes with a wet noodle”…! And as hard as it may seem (I was bullied about my appearance at school, I know!) it is most definitely possible to feel good about how you look. Just watch an episode of Plain Jane on MTV for inspiration…(my daughter watches it after homework, before you ask…!)
And I’m not just talking physical appearance. Learning to be comfortable being yourself, instead of trying to be what you think others want you to be, is essential. Sometimes your true self is so buried you may not even realise or remember who that person is, so it’s very important to spend time getting to know you.
How to develop self-confidence: Principle 1 - Know and love yourself
So how do you accomplish this? Well, first of all, think about how you react to situations and people. Are you reacting out of fear or concern as to what others may think? Many of us do, much of the time. If so, how do you really feel? How would you react if you knew the person were guaranteed to accept your answer, even appreciate your honesty? That is really who you are. Start recognising that and you start to recognise the true you.
I’m guessing your instinctive response is not to hack them to pieces with a chainsaw…! So just think about this: all anyone can do is think and act according to their own principles and if you do this consciously, no-one can legitimately criticise you for doing what you feel is the right thing. If they disagree, maybe they’ll have a good reason – in which case ask calmly and find out; but maybe they are also acting out of fear and insecurity. After all, in the same way you are responsible for your actions, so are they and they are also subject to the same internal and external pressures as you.
Secondly, you want to stop judging yourself. Often, we reject or criticise ourselves before we even give other people the chance to! Worse, when people do pay us a compliment, we dismiss it with a “yeah, right!” or “clearly you’re blind”, which if you think about it is repaying a compliment with an insult to that person’s own judgement. If you’re going to learn how to develop self-confidence, start accepting compliments gracefully – and believing them!
These two steps were probably the biggest for me and changed my life. Suddenly I started to notice that people were listening to what I had to say and agreeing with me. And I learnt that accepting and feeling happy about my physical appearance did not constitute conceit or vanity, just a healthy self-confidence – a natural magnet for other people. I started attracting people I never thought possible, which, of course, grew my confidence even more.
To help me discover and love myself (and remember “discover” simply means “to take the cover off”), I also did something that comes naturally for me: I followed my heart – my passions (especially music) and the way of thinking and behaving that felt right in my heart.
How to develop self-confidence: Principle 2 – Follow your heart
You could also call it “following your bliss”, trying to avoid situations and people that do not contribute directly to your happiness, focussing instead on those that do. In my life, this meant I started attracting positive people and situations which were much more in tune with who I am and what I am passionate about. With less and less negative influences (I can’t think of any in my life now) holding you back and more and more positive people surrounding you, your self-confidence can only grow.
By focussing on what is important to you, what makes you happy, you create positive energy that naturally attracts more positive people, who will confirm and support who you are. It will give you the strength, resources and determination to keep growing in confidence. At the same time, you will become more successful in other areas of your life as you will feel more fulfilled and energised.
This positive energy can then be harnessed to take specific action to meet the challenge of how to develop self-confidence. Think that woolly thinking leads to woolly results. If you really want to grow your confidence, as with anything in life, you need to set specific goals and take specific actions that will lead to you achieving those goals.
How to develop self-confidence: Principle 3 – Set goals and take action!
How many times have you made – and broken – New Year’s Resolutions. Most people fail because of a lack of preparation (thinking they can instantly go from over-indulgence in holiday time to cold turkey) and woolly thinking with no clear objectives.
As I teach in my new course on “Conscious Learning”, having a goal like “I want to improve my English” is too vague – how can you measure it or know if you’ve achieved it? Similarly a goal like “I want to be more self-confident” needs clarifying and investing with detail. Here are a few questions to help do this:
- In which situations do I most want to feel and appear more self-confident?
- Are there any individuals or types of people that I particularly want to communicate more effectively and confidently with (your boss, attractive men or women, etc.)?
- What are some specific outcomes I would like to achieve (asking for a raise, going for that promotion, asking someone out on a date, etc)?
- Are there particular skills I would like to master (e.g. speaking in public or on the phone)?
These questions will help more clearly define the what. In answering them, again, be as specific as possible and use them to create goal statements which you can carry around with you to remind you. This helps the brain work on solutions that will take you closer to your goal. In writing the goals statements, make sure you avoid saying things like “I would like to” or “I want to” as these give the sub-conscious mind an excuse to add the deadly three-letter word “but” afterwards. Instead write “I will” – this itself is a statement of confidence and will kick-start the process.
So, for example, you might say “I will ask my boss for a raise.” Or “I will ask Christina out for dinner”. Remember that if you can achieve these specific goals, your overall level of confidence will shoot up. Make sure you set challenging but realistic goals (see below in step outside your comfort zone): just as when you start exercising you need to raise a sweat but do not expect to run a marathon.
Next you need to set a timescale. By when do you want to achieve the goals. Again, be as specific as possible: “I will enrol in Toastmasters by 30 June 2013 at 12pm”. Why that specific? So that someone else could (if you chose to share your goals, very helpful if the person is truly supportive) check on that date and time that you have done it!
Clearly, at the beginning of your journey towards greater self-confidence, these might seem intimidating, even frightening. That’s ok. In my experience, and after reading and listening to many successful and confident people, the more you fear something the more you should do it – because the rewards are so much greater. Think about it: if it weren’t the case, if it didn’t matter, you wouldn’t worry about it, you’d just do it.
How to develop self-confidence: Principle 4 – Step outside your comfort zone
What is your comfort zone? Whenever you are ticking along, when nothing threatening or too difficult comes your way, you know you are in your comfort zone. Equally, chances are you are not getting what you really want, just what you are used to and expect (including bad things). Things involving more effort, overcoming fear or committing to some concerted action, like learning a new skill, speaking in public (especially for the first time) or losing weight, changing habits, etc., require you to step outside this safe place and into the unknown.
Most of us have had some experience, probably as a child (when our parents didn’t give us a choice!), where we stepped outside out comfort zone and were rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. The trouble is, our Inner Critic (the subject of another article and in the book I’m working on) is a master at making us forget those times and remember the times when we tried to do something but felt foolish in the act, and punishes us ruthlessly, sometimes for years after the event.
The fact is that these experiences of “failure” are usually the result of a lack of preparation. If you follow the principles in this article, you are preparing yourself emotionally and physically for the challenge, and while there are no guarantees you will get the result you want, what is certain is that you will learn and grow, so you are still better of for having tried.
And as the Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight”! This is so true when learning how to develop self-confidence – being afraid, doing it anyway, falling down at first, but getting stronger with each fall. Like learning to ride a bike. I can tell you definitively, recalling all too well the person who was totally lacking in self-confidence to the calm and confident person I am today. Occasionally I still hear a small voice of disbelief, but it is drowned out by all the voices reminding me of all I have accomplished and the situations in which I have demonstrated the confident me. The True Me.
I mention being calm. One of the ways I have achieved this is through managing my emotions. This does not mean suppressing them, quite the opposite, but being in control of them rather than letting them control you – or letting others control your emotions.
How to develop self-confidence: Principle 5 – Manage your emotions
Most of our lack of self-confidence comes from letting others affect you negatively, as if they had their fingers on an invisible switch (especially those that seem to deliberately cause you pain and shame). My turning point here was realising that, when I spluttered something incoherent in a taxi or on the phone (something particularly common when first living in a new country!) the other person – unlike me – would not go on thinking about me and the “foot-in-mouth incident” for the rest of the day, week or even month. At most she might have a laugh with her friends in the evening, but she probably would not give it or me a second thought. That was a real breakthrough as it meant I could move on instantly and not dwell on an embarrassing situation. To the extent that I think about these things now, I do the following:
- Look objectively at the situation: did I accomplish the objective? Get the to the airport, order the new phone service or pay the bill? The answer is always yes (for the factors within my control – I didn’t get out of the taxi in Barcelona because I couldn’t pronounce “airport” in Spanish!) So despite the awkward language or faux pas, the conversation was a success.
- Identify how to improve next time: by practising saying “aeropuerto” (the Spanish do not have diphthongs and separating vowels used to cause me huge difficulty) I was able to say it better next time. And before speaking on the phone or ringing an intercom, I still practice saying my name in Spanish with the roll of the tongue when I have to speak to people here who still know me as “Arturo” as they cannot pronounce my name in English. The more you practice the better – and so more confident – you become.
This means I do not waste time and energy on negative emotions which serve to limit self-confidence and have more of the same for positivity. Again, like a switch.
We can achieve spectacular results if we can learn to manage our response to these situations and keep calm. Remember the following:
- We never set out to do the worst we can (unless we’re a moody teenager…!)
- If we make a mistake it’s just because we are human
- Instead of focussing on the past, focus on the future – make amends for offence caused, work on improving your performance next time, and so on.
On that path lies freedom and confidence.
A note aside:
Understanding and managing emotions is something I’m very interested in, being a sensitive soul who always used to let everything affect me far too much. I am still on the journey but that journey has led to some breakthrough moments such as described here and I am much more balanced – still sensitive to others, but not crippled by anxiety and self-doubt. It’s even led me to start writing a book on a technique I am developing. So expect more on this site on that subject, which will also include a scientific dimension as more is understood about the relationship between the brain and emotions. I have become more and more interested in neuroscience, partly because of “attacks” I used to have before I made a lifestyle change and moved to Spain (thought at one point to be epilepsy but ruled out then disappearing with the stress of my previous life).
How to develop self-confidence: Principle 6 – Celebrate every success
My final principle (for now!) ensures you build on all the other steps you take to increase your self-confidence
As I’ve said before, focussing on mistakes and failures is unproductive and only produces more of the same. To quote another old adage: “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”. Flip that on its head and you realise that focussing on success will bring more success. Just as beginning to feel fitter and more energetic after a week’s exercise makes you feel good and want more, any success, no matter how small, will motivate you to tackle greater and greater challenges. I guarantee that if you do this you will surprise yourself in what you can accomplish.
I know the initial reaction of many will be “I can’t think of anything”. As has been repeatedly drummed into me, you need to look harder. It is precisely your self-doubt that is feeding you that answer. Ignore that voice or tell it to go away and be helpful instead of self-destructive – tell it to look for times which, however mundane, you have achieved something. If you’re really struggling, start with “I got out of bed this morning”. Unless you’ve not left the bed for weeks (in which case you’ll be needing a doctor not this blog..) you will have summoned up the motivation to leave the comfort of your bed and face the world, if only to go shopping for food.
This may sound silly, but denial is worse. Acceptance is the first step to change and if that’s where you are, recognise and start from the bottom and work up. You’ll soon find more and more things to feel good about and that will help develop confidence to do more. A daily ritual of thinking hard about and celebrating every success gives you energy and motivation to do even better the next day. Especially if you’ve followed the rest of my principles of how to develop self-confidence and, for example, set specific objectives which you can work towards every day. Focus and direction generate momentum and it is a universal human trait that people respond better to positive stimuli and validation than negative methods. This is especially true in people with low self-esteem and while they may not believe the compliments (see the first principle) at first, deep down they want to hear – and believe – them. Once you allow yourself positive validation, you open the door to more and greater success.
So, let’s recap my principles of how to develop self-confidence. I’ve expanded one of them slightly here to come up with a rather nice acronym
So you see, with a little love and KISSES, you too can learn how to develop self-confidence and as you do, you will see your life transform and become happier and calmer. I’d love to hear from you with your own stories or questions and I’ll answer them as best as I can.
Here’s to a more self-confident you!
I will be developing a series of audio courses dealing with this and other issues. For now, why not read my post on How to summon up positive emotions, which also has a new audio recording I have made which will help identify times where you have felt good about yourself and help you help yourself learn how to develop self-confidence