Maria strides into the conference, her head held high and swinging her handbag as she gives a genuine smile to delegates congregating near the entrance. She’s a petite 1.57 metres tall, yet she commands a huge presence, garnering instant respect from men and women, many of whom haven’t even met her before.
As she starts to mingle, it’s obvious she’s self-assured and down-to-earth. Her friendliness towards everyone is genuine and her interest in what they are saying is sincere. She makes eye contact, she listens and she works the room, leaving everyone wanting to spend more time with her. We all know someone like Maria, who oozes confidence without being arrogant and who can get others to sit up and take notice of them without apparently even trying.
But we don’t have to look longingly as they strut off, leaving the rest of us in their shade. Experts say we can “borrow” their confidence without them even knowing. The old adage of “fake it till you make it” comes into its own and one day, not too long in the future, we’ll find that we’re no longer faking confidence. We can, apparently, train ourselves to be just as confident as Maria.
According to life coach Jayne Goldstone, confidence can mean many different things to different people, but it is basically a feeling, and underneath a lack of confidence is “plain old fear”. Her tip to people starting out in the quest for confidence is to listen to their inner voice – the way we talk to ourselves – and learn from what they hear.
“If you are lacking confidence, the last place you want to go is fear,” says Jayne, who is based in Northumberland, UK. “Fear is based on made-up stories. We tell ourselves what will go wrong if we take risks and apply for jobs, or go travelling alone, or ask someone out on a date, and we often end up not doing those things because of our fear. Yet if we do them, we get the most wonderful feeling and a tremendous boost to our confidence.”
Jayne says our lack of confidence may stem from things we’ve been told in the past, often as far back as in the school playground. The child who wasn’t picked for the school’s netball team grows up thinking she is no good at team games or she isn’t sporty enough to join a running club, and the boy who failed a primary school maths test is still steering clear of jobs that involve statistics 20 years on. He even avoids the household accounts because he was once told he didn’t have a head for figures.
“Because of what we were once told, we fear all sorts of things – success, change, being hurt, not being good enough and getting older, for example,” reveals Jayne. “But not everyone in our past has told us negative things. It’s important to remind ourselves of the good things people told us.” She recommends saying out loud all the good things about ourselves, or listing them as we look in a mirror.
We could pay ourselves a compliment every morning, or compile a list of ten great qualities about ourselves. She says we’ll soon start believing them if we do these exercises regularly. “The human mind is even more amazing than a computer,” she says, “yet we don’t tap into most of its potential and that leads to low self-esteem. It’s better to take risks, do something that we don’t find easy and give ourselves a challenge – what I call flexing the confidence muscle.
“When you push yourself to do something you’re afraid of, it’s the most awesome feeling in the world when you do it well. It gets easier every time you do it. When I did my first radio interview, I was terrified, yet after a few times I felt euphoric and I would think; “Bring it on!” “Public speaking is another example of something people say they aren’t confident enough to do, yet once they’ve given it a go, they enjoy it and it’s no longer such a big deal.
“If there’s a job you want to apply for that is a little out of your comfort zone, sharpen up your skills, apply and give it your best shot. Otherwise, you’ll always sit there thinking about what you would do if you had confidence. It can be a vicious circle unless you break it.”
Six steps to unshakable confidence
US hypnotist and author Kent Sayre was once painfully shy, but after discovering a series of tips to overcome a lack of confidence, he went on to write Unstoppable Confidence (McGraw-Hill). Here are some of his best pieces of advice
1. Study confident people
Find a role model, a person with real self-belief and study their lives. If possible, buy their books, or CDs, go to their seminars or shows, or watch them play their sport. Once you’ve done your research, close your eyes and get an image of their speech, movement and behaviour. Then step into that vision and let it take you to five different situations, such as a job interview, or staying in a hotel alone, or making an entrance at a party. Then step out of the role model’s body and take your confidence with you.
2. Rewrite the past
Rather than beat yourself up about a diet that didn’t work, or a job you didn’t get, rewrite the past and give those experiences a more positive ending. Go back to a mistake and re-run it in your mind, stopping just before you made the mistake. Then imagine what the perfect ending could have been – maybe losing 6 kilograms or going out and meeting the man you were to marry. Replace the old ending with your new one and rerun it in your mind ten times.
3. Create a circle of confidence
Think back to a time when you felt confident and on top of the world, maybe your wedding day or the day you got some great exam results. Imagine a circle on the floor, noting its size and colour. When you step into the circle imagine your most confident moment. See what you saw at the time, hear the noises around you and feel that lovely confidence again. Adjust your body language to match your confidence, then walk around outside the circle.
4. Talk to yourself
When you talk to yourself, say “you” instead of “I” so your conscious mind can tell your unconscious mind what you want and how to behave. Stand tall in front of a mirror and say: “You are supremely confident”; “You go for what you want and you get it”; and “You are completely powerful.”
5. Amaze yourself!
Think of something so far outside your comfort zone that you would be amazed if you achieved it. It may be a skydive or a public-speaking engagement or an application for your dream job. You will start to believe that if you can skydive/speak in public/get your dream job, you can do anything and other challenges won’t seem so scary. Choose a big challenge and take immediate action towards making it happen.
6. Put yourself in the movies
Picture yourself at the height of your success – you may have thrown a huge fund-raising party or collected an award for new novelists or led a board meeting. See yourself bright and close-up on a big screen, add some sound or music and turn up the volume. Just before the success is yours, stop the film in your mind’s eye and ask why it is so important to you. Then restart the movie, jump back into your on-screen body and enjoy the pleasure. While you’re on that high, write down five immediate actions that would take you closer to your dream.