Confidence is something that I regularly work on with my coaching clients. From experience, what makes confidence difficult is the focus on the ‘correct’ and ‘wrong’ answers. It trips up the way we communicate, and robs us of better outcomes.
It’s reasonable that we wish to do the right thing for ourselves and the people around us. However, in a world that gets more complex by the day, ‘correct’ and ‘wrong’ become less obvious. Not that there is no absolute truth, mind you. But when even fundamental truths are taken fluidly, we need to be able to operate more dynamically and flexibly.
Dynamism & Flexibility
Such dynamism can take the form of the ability to act even when one does not have all the information, paired with the ability to make adjustments after the fact. Adjustments could mean apologies, negotiations, corrections, etc – what you deem is best and available for taking care of the moment. Many of us might forget that our choices do not always lead to permanent, unchangeable effects. With some creativity, we are able to adjust or even undo them completely. Being ‘ready to be wrong’ also grants greater freedom in our communication and relationships. Not recognizing all these possibilities can subject us to more stress (and less confidence).
Flexibility can take the form of curiosity, which is a great mood to operate out of, in uncertainty and complexity. It paves the way for learning, which feeds confidence. A spirit of learning is also very different from a spirit of being right – one is more forgiving, and opens possibility. The other is less forgiving, and is almost narrow and exclusive in essence. Which would be helpful, as you navigate the uncertainty in your life?
It is also useful to notice how ‘correct’ and ‘wrong’ frames our possibilities as a polarity – either THIS or THAT. It is all-or-nothing. Framing your possibilities this way tends to create unnecessary pain, and can be what makes confidence difficult. Instead of this, actively seek out what’s in the middle. Often, our decision does not take the form of an ‘on-off’ switch. It’s more akin to a slider, which allows for moderation. This reminds me of why dimmers are so appealing for lighting, compared to the harsh ‘on-off’ option.
Naturally, you may ask: how can I exercise this dynamism and flexibility? As a life coach and an executive coach, I offer a twofold answer for what can make confidence less difficult.
Speak Your Possibilities
Physically, you can walk, run, jump and climb in order to achieve different objectives. Did you know that it is similar in communication? There are different ‘actions’ that we can take linguistically, in order to achieve the outcomes we want. Think of this as the verbal equivalent of being agile.
Take, for instance, the linguistic ‘action’ of making requests. It sounds underwhelmingly simple, but when there is some difficulty in a relationship, there is often one or more requests that are missing from the conversations. Accompanying this is often a host of reasons (or excuses) why it is not possible to make those requests. Over time, the relationship is stifled, or even dies. This is because requests are one of the elements that make up the ‘lifeblood’ of a relationship. Recall the things that you have to do after this – how many of them are the results of you saying ‘yes’ to someone’s request? Think also of your most meaningful relationships, both personal and professional – aren’t they flowing with requests that are constantly made and fulfilled? Conversely, think of the relationships that are meaningless or even dead to you. How many requests are flowing through those?
You can make requests to change the future, if you don’t like how it is unfolding. How often and how many requests do you actively make, when you are pondering a decision? Do you ask for information? Do you ask for feedback? Do you ask for more time? Sometimes, we take the boundaries as they are given to us, and we think they cannot be changed.
And even after the outcome, do you ask to negotiate? Come to think of it, do you allow yourself to change your mind (and your words)? We often take for granted that we do not have these options, or we do not grant ourselves the freedom. As such, it adds on to our stress and impacts our confidence when we are making decisions. Apparently, the ability to change their minds quickly is practiced by leaders such as Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs.
When you work with me as your life coach or executive coach, I will surface what is missing in your repertoire of speech ‘actions’, and support you to strengthen those ‘actions’ that are weak – much like how a tennis coach might support you to improve your stroke, or to learn new ones entirely! When you start taking effective ‘actions’ in your speech, your communication naturally becomes more effective as well – you actually achieve what you want to do through the conversation!
Embody Your Possibilities
Why do we say things such as, “I’m going with my gut feeling”, “I was heartbroken” or “I thought about it so many times, my head is gonna explode”?
Healthy, functioning humans know that our thoughts and feelings show up in our bodies, most often in the form of physical sensations. The current findings in neuroscience suggest that it works in reverse as well; how you are in your body can affect your thoughts and feelings! This is a fascinating field of study that has just began to reveal a whole other side of human potential. Here’s one book to read if you’re just starting out. But even without reading the research, you already know this. Haven’t you experienced a sudden jolt of productivity, by taking a cold shower, or by standing up instead of sitting down to work? How does this compare to telling yourself for the 10th time, “I really should get this work done”?
I’ve coached a number of clients who do sales as part of their jobs. Therefore, feeling confident is highly important to them. Not surprisingly, many of them have tried to access this confidence linguistically, i.e. telling themselves to be positive, or repeating affirmations to themselves. There’s nothing wrong with this. However, I’m sure you can guess the outcome if we depend ONLY on this strategy. That is why I almost always enlist the body when I help my clients learn to be confident.
Can you describe the way you breathe when you are nervous? I’m sure you have some idea of how your nervous thoughts create that pattern of breathing. At the same time, I suggest to you that when you intentionally breathe in a different way, you can diminish your nervous thoughts. In my work with an individual who suffered emotional blocks when selling to high net worth clients, this was one of the areas that we practiced in. After analyzing his habits and work environment, I also experimented with him to discover different ways of sitting and speaking that essentially bypassed his nervous thoughts and neutralized what makes confidence difficult for him! He changed how he felt by changing how he was, physically. He was extremely pleased to able to sell like a boss, the very next day!
Make Confidence Easier for You
You can move closer to the outcomes you want when you start to understand what makes confidence difficult; when you work on yourself as not just as a mind, but as a whole being – language, emotions and body. Yes, confidence is a mind game in many ways, but notice how it is also an emotion – this means that it shows up in the mind AND in the body. The value that I bring to you as an ontological coach is that I can show you how to access this emotional state by intentionally taking control of your mind and body so that you can access the emotional state of confidence.
Another value in having the support of a coach in this is because your circumstances and needs are unique. What form your confidence takes and what makes it difficult may apply for you more than for others. Good coaching is essentially super-customized learning to help you harness your full potential.
Just bringing intentional curiosity into what wavers and what steadies you – such as your linguistic ‘actions’ and how you are ‘being’ physically – can make a big difference. You can also ask for help from your leaders, friends, family or a well-trained coach to make this shift.
With guidance and practice, confidence can be learnt. It need not be difficult or elusive.