Break the downward spiral and boost your confidence
The words you use might be wimp, spineless, shy or fearful. Other people always seem to be able to tell that you are lacking in confidence and walk all over you, take advantage or just ignore you. And it feels like, after each individual event they build together to make a huge barrier to your success.
This vicious cycle goes on. You try something, forcing yourself past the wall of past failures, but fail and get humiliated, so it makes it harder to try again. Because you don't try next time, the wall becomes higher and thicker and more difficult to overcome.
Some helpful people might just tell you to "Stop being a wimp and get over it". As if it's easy to entirely change who you are. That's what it feels like; that you'd have to change everything about yourself in order to feel like tackling the world's challenges.
Confidence, like everything else in life, is a skill that needs to be practiced. When you lose confidence it can genuinely feel awful, and for many people might feel like there is nothing you can do to change it. It's a common statement, "I just don't have the confidence to do that." As though we can walk into a shop and buy a kilo of confidence.
Everyone has times when we feel we can do anything, conquer any fear, take on any project, deal with any problem. The skill of confidence comes in when the situation start to become difficult. Thats when our confidence can start to be eroded.
Confidence may take a while to build, and it can be undermined or lost in a second. All it takes is for something to remind us of that wall and we feel wrong-footed, embarrassed or demoralized. It might be something that reminds us of a past failure or previous time we lost confidence. Think back in your own history, is there a certain situation that you always lack confidence in? It often only takes one episode where you feel humiliated or weren't sure what to do next, and suddenly your confidence is shattered in that event and possibly future ones as well.
Evaluate what trips you up and what doesn't
There will be some situations that undermine your confidence and some that boost your confidence. Take a piece of paper and divide the page in two. On the right side make a list of the times and places where you know you feel more confident. You might want to start with listing things you do well. If you know you're a good listener, for example, you probably feel relatively confident when you take on the listening role.
On the other side of the paper make a list of the times and places where you don’t feel confident. Meeting new people, confrontations, giving a presentation, making decisions, etc.
Now we combine the two sides to create a whole. Pick one or two parts on the right hand side of the paper that you could use to improve your confidence in situations on the left hand side. Let's say you don't feel very confident meeting new people, but you do feel confident as a good listener. Get a new page and write these two things on the same line. The left side is again "I'm not confident meeting new people." and the right is "I'm a confident listener." In between these two statements combine them into one sentence using the word 'but'. Now read that whole new sentence aloud. Writing it like this and then reading it changes your experience and understanding. Many people have said this alone is enough to fill them with confidence.
Given that above example, people love to talk about themselves, so you only need to get them started (and every good listener knows how to ask good questions) and they'll be off. Then you can listen to your heart's content because you know you're good at it. This then in turn increases your confidence of situations that previously sapped your confidence.
There will be many other possible times and places where you can borrow one skill to help you overcome a deficit in another. Even combining two or three to become a whole lot more confident much more quickly than you think possible.
Repetition is the mother of skill
If you put yourself into those times and places where you naturally have confidence more often, you will increase your experience and bolster your confidence, not just in these situations but also into the rest of your life. If you're good at riding a bike, go on more bike rides.
Confidence is just like a muscle. You have to use it to develop it. Unlike a muscle however, you don't have to spend any extra time lifting weights or going to the gym. You can build it throughout your daily activities by consciously focusing on improving your existing confidence.
If you do have a bad day, and your confidence has been undermined, focus your attention on the parts of your day where you did have confidence. Dwelling on the bad does not help. If you get stuck, use the above evaluation sheet to help focus on the good.
And there's nothing wrong with every once in a while deliberately avoiding situations that do stop you. There's nothing so confidence-undermining as consistently forcing yourself in situations where you know you're vulnerable.
The Confidence Cycle
Losing confidence can be a vicious cycle. You lose a little bit of confidence, and then because of that you do something wrong which chips away another bit of confidence. This in turn causes another error and we are suddenly plummeting towards jagged rocks.
Of course, I'm being a little extreme here, it's not always like that. In fact you can reverse this cycle so that anything that happens can make you even more confident. Everyone has some areas of their life where they're really confident, or at least confident enough. This is when those lists of qualities and skills come in when we look at the Confidence Cycle.
This is how it works: when you are confident, you try new things, and the more you try the better you get. Like public speaking, for instance. Any good presenter will tell you that the more they get out there in front of an audience, the more confident they feel about handling whatever happens. NOT that they feel less nervous (some people, no matter how practised they are, never learn how to be calm on stage), just that they know what to expect and also feel able to deal with the unexpected. If they get unbalanced they have enough experience to get themselves upright again.
But without confidence you won't try new things. Where do you begin?
The one and only place you can begin is to practise. Practice for success. That means to practice just above your current level so that even if you make mistakes you are successful overall. This might mean you practice where no one will necessarily notice or where you are not in the spotlight.
For example, if you feel you have zero confidence speaking in front of a group, don't start practising in front of a group. All you are doing in practicing zero confidence. Practice in front of the mirror first. Then practice in front of a trusted friend. Do this until you can do it with confidence. It might feel false and embarrassing, but practising with an audience of one friend is very different than going into the lion's den of an audience of strangers.
Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
Alongside practise goes preparation. Whatever the situation is you can prepare for all manner of eventualities. For example, one of the training drills I give to everyone that I train in public speaking is to give a 5 minute talk. During that 5 minute talk they are to make at least 3 obvious 'errors'. These errors might be dropping a whiteboard marker, tripping, forgetting a major point of their talk, or anything else. This gives them the ability and experience of dealing with something going wrong. Before something like that would undermine their confidence and set them up for more errors. Now it builds their confidence because they have direct experience of dealing effectively with these errors.
Whatever you choose, remember to practice for success. Doing something correctly once is much better than doing something one hundred times wrong.
If you found this article useful you might also like to read how to build self-confidence.