Well hello listener! And welcome back to the Recordings, from which I have been noticeably absent over the winter. Two things – a slight absence of inspiration, and then an absolute absence of the headphones I use as a microphone – made the Recordings fall by the wayside. But now we’re back and probably not better than ever but hey! We’re back!
The good thing about a prolonged break is that you have time to think about a topic you want to talk about, and in the last few weeks the same thing has been coming to my mind again and again – confidence.
I would say that I am a very confident person in a few spheres. I’m an exceptionally confident public speaker – sometimes too confident, to be honest, because look you should prepare, not just show up and speak off the cuff for quarter of an hour. I’m confident there because I know I’m good at it. I’m confident at dressing myself, obviously, and although I don’t always get a great result there, the confidence comes from the underlying motivation, which is, basically, entertaining myself. The list goes on, but then there’s the other side of the coin – the things I am not confident about.
When I first moved to Wellington in 2001, the list of things I was not confident about was comprehensive. I was so afraid, so shy, so nervous of doing the wrong thing. It was surprising to feel that way, but it was the classic shift from biggish fish in a small pond to teensy fish in a bloody big pond. I went from being well-liked, understanding my environment, and basically in control to completely, overwhelmingly self-conscious within the space of a week. I was 17, and I was not well equipped to deal with it.
Obviously, that wore off over time, but the number one thing I give credit for making me confident (and less shy) was retail. I got a job at Glassons while I was at Uni, and after a few weeks the manager gave me a gentle but well-deserved rev up about my sales technique, which one could only describe as incredibly passive. Since I loved that job and HATE criticism, I left that backroom a new woman. A sales-making, talking to strangers, woman. Next thing you know, I’m selling tank tops and polar fleece jackets like a mad woman and experiencing a true uplift in my confidence.
The next boost to my confidence came in work, again, when I reached that great point in your career where you realise that, y’know what, I’m actually quite good at this. I was at Westpac, figuring things out and adding value and grasping new concepts and feeling good about myself.
However, in both instances the confidence I felt was felt by reference to external measures. The number of items I sold per day, how often I was asked for advice or could find the right answer first time. It wasn’t what I now understand is true confidence, and that’s confidence in spite of opinion. Stay with me.
What I’ve learned is how shallow confidence can often be. I was confident because I knew what I was doing. I was confident because people essentially told me I had the right to be confident. I was confident because I was safe and secure – and when that security was eroded, so was my confidence.
This is wildly unsurprising, since for the vast majority of humans confidence is extrinsic – from external validation – rather than intrinsic. That’s fine, and if we were all looking out for each others’ self confidence and self esteem, we wouldn’t have a problem. But I freely admit that I have days where I don’t give enough regard to other people’s feelings. There are some people in the world who, frankly, get on my tits and who therefore get a lot less of my regard. And I’m sure we’ve all experienced that one person who just seems to have a shit opinion of us, or repeatedly underestimates us, and the ick feeling of questioning ourselves that arises as a result.
So far, so standard, but in more recent times I’ve started to dig into the question of how to deliberately seek out your intrinsic confidence when you need it most. This remains very much a work in progress, but here’s what sometimes works for me.
First up: recognise your feeling. You feel a bit scared. That’s okay. Maybe you feel anxious, or paranoid, or worn out. Okay! Okay! Okay! Just look at your feelings. Point at them and say “you’re fear”.
Next, undress those feelings. Check in as to why you feel that way. First you want to check you’re not just a victim of timing – are you hungry? Are you having a hangover mood slump – the terrible quasi-depression you feel after drinking too many units, and the real treat of my 30s? Are you experiencing PMS, did you have a terrible sleep, are you overwhelmed by the expectations on you right now? If it’s any of the above then skip to the next step. If it’s none of those things, then ask yourself: why is this worrying me so much? Why do I feel scared about this thing? Get in there kids. Be honest.
Thirdly, ask yourself if you really need to give that feeling quite so much attention. THIS IS KEY. I’ve always been great at the first two – they’re basically just overthinking – but asking myself whether the issue was worth dealing with is critical. Do not obsess about bullshit. Now, it’s tricky to advise on this because we all have such a different spectrum of things we give a fuck about, but my key question is:
Do I truly think I will give this even a second’s thought on the weekend when I’m tickling my friend’s very delicious toddler and making him laugh/eating lunch with friends/watching beauty videos on YouTube?
Often, that’s enough to restore my equanimity and bridge over the temporary blip in my confidence. But sometimes, of course, it’s a bit deeper than that. That brings us to step four.
Identify a real, personal reason you want to confront your lack of confidence and then work up from where you feel secure.
That’s it. Define the boundaries of your confidence for yourself and then take everything you can from that. You’re aiming to combine control with growth, which is admittedly tricky, but puts you in a positive frame of mind.
If we use my Glassons example, it’s the difference between me thinking about becoming a crack saleswoman in order to comply with the KPIs set for me, and thinking about becoming a crack saleswoman because I had identified that it would lead to me being better at understanding and communicating with other people. The first one got me a fast change in behaviour, but only a shallow impact. The latter would take longer, require more thought and practice, but would give me personal benefit. As I approached a customer on the floor the next day, instead of using fluttering bravado and praying for it to be over, I’d be using determination (and probably still hoping it would be over). But as the weeks wore on, instead of perfecting bravado I’d be building bravery – and I think that being brave is just the first step to confidence.
Sometimes, you have to fake it til you make it, but when it comes to deep down intrinsic confidence, remember you have to start by being brave. The more often you are brave instead of relying on bravado, the more evidence you have of your own courage and – in my view at least – the more you will be confident.