Stuff the be­grudgers – be con­fi­dent be­ing your­self

Ev­ery­body ex­pe­ri­ences nag­gings doubts – try to be com­fort­able in your skin but don’t stop tak­ing risks

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health l Mental Health - James Par­nell ■ James Par­nell is the founder of The Well Be­ing Gym which pro­vides off­line and on­line work­place well­ness, per­for­mance and in­no­va­tion pro­grammes and per­sonal life de­sign coach­ing; james-par­nell.com

Iex­pe­ri­ence doubt ev­ery day. Nag­ging ques­tions. Am I good enough? Am I do­ing enough? My noisy neigh­bour, the one liv­ing in my head wakes early. So I get busy prov­ing him wrong, again.Where does that doubt come from? Maybe it served fit­ting in and meant sur­vival.

Stud­ies of the per­for­mance gap be­tween men and women in spa­tial skills found con­fi­dence plays a huge role. Women asked their gen­der be­fore tak­ing a spa­tial skills test per­formed worse than those who weren’t asked. Both gen­ders per­formed bet­ter when they were told that their gen­der is bet­ter at the task. The gen­der gap al­most dis­ap­peared when par­tic­i­pants were re­quired to an­swer ev­ery ques­tion. Ap­par­ently, when al­lowed to skip ques­tions, women did so not due to lack of knowl­edge, but lack of con­fi­dence.

So what is con­fi­dence and how does it con­trib­ute to a sense of calm? Con­fi­dence is com­fort in your own skin that al­lows you to deal with dis­com­fort from oth­ers. True con­fi­dence is not cock­i­ness. Bravado be­lies a lack of self-be­lief.

How do you build con­fi­dence?

Think of truly con­fi­dent peo­ple you know – those who be­lieve in them­selves. What do they do? How do they be­have?

Con­fi­dent peo­ple are true to them­selves. This needs clar­ity, know­ing who you are. They be­come com­fort­able in their skin be­cause they prac­tise. This in­volves be­ing vul­ner­a­ble but long-term it’s less stress­ful than pre­tend­ing. Oth­ers ad­mire this au­then­tic­ity, even if it doesn’t get as many likes.

Be­fore I run a work­shop, I ex­pe­ri­ence doubt. I re­mind my­self I’m just there to help. While no ex­pert, I have some­thing to add. I’m pre­pared and will do my best. That’s all that mat­ters. For me, hap­pi­ness is liking what I do, how I do it, hav­ing fun and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

No­body is per­fect, but I be­lieve most peo­ple are do­ing their best with what they have got. Give your­self credit. You are enough. Worth comes from in­side, how you be­have, not how oth­ers per­ceive it. Con­fi­dence depen­dent on praise is nar­cis­sism. Don’t seek at­ten­tion. If it comes, ac­cept it grace­fully.

And be your­self. That all be­ing said, make sure that self dresses, speaks, moves and be­haves how you want to be.

Con­fi­dent peo­ple be­lieve in their own abil­ity to change some­thing

They are re­al­is­tic. They iden­tify what they can con­trol. As they work within that cir­cle of in­flu­ence, it ex­pands.

We all say “I should do this” or “they should do that”. Peo­ple with con­fi­dence don’t wait for per­mis­sion. If they think some­thing should be done, they do it. They fo­cus on what they can do. They don’t make ex­cuses.

If you feel help­less, do one small thing. Make one small prom­ise to your­self and keep it. It might be just ask­ing for help. That’s a prom­ise kept.

This year I chose the word “Grie” to help me re­mem­ber Grat­i­tude, Re­lent­less­ness, In­ten­tion and Trust. Trust is the be­lief that good things will hap­pen if I prac­tise the other three.

As Vin­cent Van Gogh said: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you can­not paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be si­lenced.”

Con­fi­dent peo­ple take chances

My boss once ad­vised me to stop seek­ing per­mis­sion, that the work I did was high qual­ity and that it would be more ef­fec­tive to back my­self and ask for for­give­ness on the rare oc­ca­sion things went wrong. He cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment in which I could fail. I don’t use the term fail here be­cause fail­ure is stop­ping. It may be the big­gest con­fi­dence booster I ever got. I’ve been tak­ing risks ever since. Noth­ing crazy, just small bets.

Most weeks, I think about a free bet. A chance I should take, some­one to help, some­one to ask for help. One week, I asked The Irish Times could I write about my ex­pe­ri­ence of com­ing back to Ire­land af­ter 16 years. Twelve ar­ti­cles later and I’m still writ­ing. One week I helped run a work­shop for ex-col­leagues be­cause I thought I had some­thing to of­fer their well­be­ing and pro­duc­tiv­ity. Eighteen months later and it’s a new busi­ness.

So don’t get too com­fort­able. It leads to com­pla­cency and onto stag­na­tion. When you feel com­fort­able, use it as a trig­ger to push again and ex­pand that cir­cle. Dis­com­fort is good.

Com­fort is the en­emy of progress

Con­fi­dent peo­ple em­brace strug­gle. Most of us don’t like set­backs. But we must ac­cept that they are the in­evitable con­se­quence of real im­prove­ment. When they arise from en­deav­our, we should view them as proof that we are mak­ing progress. We can then learn and im­prove – and keep go­ing. Why com­plain about the only thing that is a nat­u­ral part of real progress?

In busi­ness, I ask cus­tomers for feed­back. It’s some­times hard to hear but also in­evitable. It doesn’t change my worth and it’s my op­por­tu­nity to learn. But it’s still hard. Em­brace the very process, strug­gle, that leads to hap­pi­ness or suc­cess.

Con­fi­dent peo­ple are pos­i­tive and grate­ful. They ask ‘Why not?’ rather than ‘Can I?’

Ev­ery day is a blank can­vas for you to paint. You can find 10 rea­sons you will fail or 10 rea­sons you will suc­ceed that day. Choose the lat­ter. I have a red note­book at my bed­side. Each night I write three things I’m grate­ful for. They are mostly sim­ple things but the im­por­tant ones – fam­ily din­ner, some­one helped, a cof­fee alone. I want to be grate­ful so I prac­tise. I’m rewiring my brain.

Each evening, write down what you en­joyed. Each morn­ing, jot down one thing that will make the day great.

“Stop lis­ten­ing to your­self and start talk­ing to your­self,” says Irish rower Ga­van Hen­ni­gan, the fastest Ir­ish­man to cross the At­lantic.

Con­fi­dent peo­ple move for­ward, re­lent­lessly

My favourite way to over­come doubt is to take one tiny step to­wards it, rarely a gi­ant leap that scares but enough to set me on my way.

I learned to surf with an old friend in Syd­ney. I re­mem­ber the mo­ment we caught our first wave. The same wave, same time. Any­one pass­ing might think we cracked it quickly but it was the cul­mi­na­tion of three months floun­der­ing in the white­wash, ev­ery sin­gle day. Baby steps, con­sis­tently re­peated.

Want to speak at a con­fer­ence? Host a lunchtime ses­sion with your col­leagues. Want to start a busi­ness? Each day, take one step to­wards cre­at­ing some­thing of value that peo­ple will pay for.

You can­not steer a parked car.

How to build con­fi­dence

There’s quite a lot we can do to build con­fi­dence. But for the lazy, here’s a bunch of stuff you can just drop right now. Pro­cras­ti­nat­ing, judg­ing oth­ers, mak­ing ex­cuses, comparing, con­sum­ing neg­a­tive news and so­cial me­dia and wast­ing time watch­ing oth­ers for fear of miss­ing out.

Ac­tion is the crux of it for me. Baby steps build an un­stop­pable mo­men­tum. A small prom­ise kept ev­ery day. Build con­fi­dence in my­self first and the rest will fol­low. Now you know.

But knowl­edge with­out ac­tion is not wis­dom. So get out of the stands and climb into the arena.

‘‘ My boss once ad­vised me to stop seek­ing per­mis­sion, that the work I did was high qual­ity and that it would be more ef­fec­tive to back my­self

Knowl­edge ■ with­out ac­tion is not wis­dom, so get out of the stands and climb into the arena

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