So many people come to see me with the complaint that they are not confident. And they are very confident about not being confident (which always gets me giggling). I am always very happy to take bookings from clients who want to be more confident as it is so easy to help them feel sooooo much better so quickly and permanently.
Smashing the Generalization
The first problem is one of generalization. I usually ask early on in a session whether they are good at anything at all. In many cases I have to wait while they trawl through their memories to try to find something they are willing to admit they are good at. But I don’t wait for very long! So after a minute or two I ask them if they know how to make a good cup of tea or make the bed or use a TV remote control efficiently. The reason I ask about these mundane things is to get clients to start thinking a little differently about the ‘problem’. If there is a human who is totally confident of everything they do, then my guess is they are considered arrogant rather than confident.
Most people are confident of some things and not of others. If they say they are good at making tea, I ask them whether, if I didn’t know how to make a cuppa, could they teach me and they always say they could. Then I ask whether they are confident they could teach me and they always nod and smile!
Now that they are beginning to realize they are not just a person with zero confidence we can start to tease out the areas where they wish they could be more confident and the ones where they are already confident. So the problem is already beginning to feel different and more handleable.
Once we can talk more specifically we can also start to focus on their goals and what they DO want instead of what they don’t. Everyone wants to get away from ‘bad’ feelings and move towards ‘good’ ones. The question is are they focusing on what they are trying to get away from or focusing on what they want more of? Successful changes are pretty much dependent on facing the right direction and the direction of success is facing forward not backward.
There are some people who habitually think about what is behind them and what they don’t want (or want to avoid) and others who are focused on what they do want. In fact, in a video of Dr Bandler (co-creator of NLP and one of my teachers) interviewing people who are successful in different fields, this is borne out. All of the people he interviewed who are successful actors, business men, chefs and other professionals have the facing-toward-the-goals strategy naturally running in their brains. So in order to help clients have more confidence we need to be more specific and facing in the right direction.
Breaking It Down to Build It Up
Next on my agenda is to find out how they are doing their lack of confidence and compare it with how they think about something they are very confident of. So if it is a making a cup of tea I will ask them about the pictures they see when they think about teaching me how to make a great cuppa. I will ask about what they are saying to themselves and what that internal voice sounds like. I could install the way I do confidence, but I find it much quicker and more effective to take their own particular way of feeling good about themselves and use it – just put it where it wasn’t before!
So once they realize how they do confidence and the difference in how they do not-confident we can start swapping pictures around and choosing a different dialogue to have in their head.
I often tell the story of how when I was first learning NLP I noticed that if anyone looked at me when I was walking down the road I would immediately start worrying that there was something wrong with me. I would hallucinate what they were thinking and it was always horrible! I would imagine them saying to themselves that I was ugly or my clothes looked bad or my makeup was smudged. Once I noticed what I was doing I realized how silly I had been. For a start, we can never totally really know what another person is thinking. It is hard enough to know fully what we ourselves are thinking, never mind what someone else is thinking! Even when some one tells you what they think it may not be true. Most people who are doing unconfident will often think people are being untruthful when they are saying nice things to them and believe every criticism without question!
So I decided to try an experiment. On purpose, if a man looked at me I would tell myself that he probably thinks I am gorgeous. And if it was a woman, she probably was wishing she knew where I had bought my shoes (or something along those lines).
The fact is, none of these “hallucinations” are true. However, when I was thinking the worst, if you had been watching, you would have seen me looking worried, checking my buttons in case they were undone. You would have seen me hunch over and my eyes would have been on the floor. If I had been a blusher, I would have, no doubt, also been blushing bright red. I felt insecure and horrible inside myself and it showed.
With this different way of thinking, you would see me walk taller, make eye contact, smile, and feeling good would be written all over my non-verbal language. So it didn’t really matter about what the big truth was, the outcome of this different way of thinking looks and feels entirely different. And of course, the best bit is that I got such different responses. It was a virtuous circle. Deliberately feel better, look better and get better responses which made me feel better and look better etc.
Confident and Competent?
I do not encourage people to feel confident about stuff they are not that good at. I have met too many people who think they are really good at something when actually they could do with learning to do it better. I have paid too many people too many times to do jobs they assured me they were capable of and did confidently but badly! So again, this isn’t about being confident in the wrong places.
And this is sometimes the problem.
There was a survey done with some doctors, surgeons and nurses in a hospital. Each was asked to assess his or her performance at many levels. Firstly at their job. Also as a member of a team. And as someone managing others. And many other areas besides. Then colleagues were asked to give feedback in answer to the same questions, but from a colleagues perspective so they could compare the findings. The astonishing result was that NOT ONE of them got it close. And these are some of the most intelligent humans around. But each of them either thought they were worse than others’ perceptions of them, or better!
“I wish to God the Gift to gi’ us to see ourselves as others see us” as Robbie Burns said.
Schooling and Upbringing
As so regularly happens, being not confident is a learned behaviour. You weren’t born without confidence! But with the best intention in the world, many people were trained at school not to ‘show off’ not to be ‘big headed’ and peer group pressure taught so many of us that we got more love and appreciation by running ourselves down. Just today on the radio I heard that in the Church if you say you think you would make a good Bishop you probably won’t get promoted to Bishop! How crazy is that? What message does that give?
And of course we are guided at a very early age to focus on our mistakes. Those exercise books with the red marks on every error are not necessarily helpful! Someone told me recently that in New Zealand now, they have started using a green pen to tick every line that is fully correct.. And at the bottom of the page the teachers are adding a few pointers on how to do better next time. That sounds like a much more constructive strategy to me. But most of us aren’t lucky enough to have been trained to focus on what we are doing well and learn to do the other bits better. We have been trained to feel bad about what we are doing wrong.
But whatever was learnt in the past can be unlearned. If someone has practiced lacking confidence and is good at it, then it is just about learning to think about themselves differently and practising relentlessly until it becomes the new ‘automatic‘ way of thinking.
So often there is a fear of being inappropriately confident because we all kind of know that we can’t always quite tell how we are coming across and when we are doing really well and when we are not. That isn’t crazy. None of us knows how we are being perceived from the outside and I challenge anyone to claim they have never been surprised at feedback. In both directions. Hasn’t everyone at some point thought they were doing ok and discovered they had irritated someone? Hasn’t everyone at some point thought they hadn’t done something very well and been told that they did a great job?
In fact, I have worked with countless top people in their field who tell me they are not confident. You might be surprised at how many celebrities and CEOs have come for help with this problem. I once heard Michelle Pfeifer saying she doesn’t think she is pretty!
So perhaps it is more useful to stop worrying about whether we are confident or not!
Get Over It
So strange as it may seem I think it is much more useful to reframe this whole concept and think about it differently. What would life be like if you didn’t care about whether you felt confident or not? If you were spending your precious thoughts and feelings and attention on doing the best you can. If you stopped expecting/hoping to be loved by the entire universe and accept that there will be some who love you and some not so much – which may not be so much to do with you but more to do with them anyway. And how about just doing your very best, caring about giving what you have got to give as well as you possibly can and always focusing on improving and optimizing? What about being generous with whatever you can offer and being a good learner? What about feeling great inside, knowing you are doing your best and being humble? In a funny way, it is also arrogant to be unconfident as well as over confident. How about just being all the wonderful things you can be and always working at doing better when you can?
What is Useful….
So the big question is what do you want to feel like? When you walk down the road do you want to feel like walking tall? When you get up to present at work, do you want to convey your passion or your knowledge in a way that inspires others? It is easy once you use your own way of feeling great in these other scenarios.
… and Are You Having Enough Fun?
Think about all that time spent on worrying if you are ok or good enough when you could have been laughing and having fun! What makes you feel happy and relaxed? What inspires you?
When my clients leave my session, what I hope for them is that they will be thinking and feeling hugely different in this regard. They will be happy to be themselves and ready to have more fun, and to be generous with their unique gifts.
And strangely, I keep getting the feedback that they feel much more confident from then on too so they get all the confidence they came for anyway! 🙂
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To visit the JustBeWell page about more confidence click here – > More Self Confidence
To see a video by Laura about confidence click here – > More Confidence