I've lost count of the number of times I've talked myself out of things because I didn't think I was confident enough. Holding back from saying what I wanted to say because more confident people were speaking up.
If you were one of the quiet ones at school then you'll know what I mean. The loudest are the ones that are heard, and this continues throughout your adult life.
Many of my report cards read 'shy', or 'needs to develop confidence'. I carried the label 'shy' with me into adult life. It felt unnatural to try to be the centre of attention, and so I contented myself that I was not a confident person. I let opportunities in work, dating and my social life pass me by telling myself that I wasn't confident enough.
Then I made a realisation, if was going to do any of the things I wanted to do in life, I needed to find this confidence from somewhere. I was letting people with ideas no better than mine take the lead, just because they were more confident. I was doing myself an injustice but I didn't know how to change it.
I began reading self-improvement articles, and books, and slowly I began to realise what real confidence is, and how I could have it too. This is what I discovered:
1. Confidence is not a personality trait.
Due to the presence of the word 'shy' on so many of my report cards, I believed that being unconfident was just a part of my personality.
Think of how differently you act in front of your family, and friends than in front of a table of people in a board meeting. How confident you are completely changes depending on the situation and context. It is not set, and how you react to those situations can be adapted and developed over time.
2. Confidence takes practice
Which brings me onto my next point - confidence needs practice! You will know that generally, the more familiar with a situation you are, the easier it becomes. The nerves that you feel on the first day of school, or first day of a new job, are rarely sustained beyond the first few weeks. Once you realise that your worst fears about a situation haven't comes to pass then you relax, and become more confident in your environment.
Think of an interview for example- everyone accepts that to do well in an interview, you have to prepare before hand. We know that it's a good idea to practice and prepare - rehearse your answers, have questions ready to ask, and stride in as the best version of yourself! We often say that if interviews haven't been as positive as we expected, they are 'good practice', and we do better in the next one. So why don't we apply this logic to the rest of our lives? If we know that each time we put ourselves into a situation, it is likely to improve the next time, surely we can count every large social situation, speech, or board meeting as a learning experience!
3. You don't have to be loud to be confident
Ever heard the phrase 'Those who shout the loudest often have nothing to say'?.
You don't have to enforce your point on others to be heard. You do have to believe in yourself though. Some of the most successful people in the world would not describe themselves as extroverted - Bill Gates, JK Rowling & Mahatma Gandhi to name a few.
Confidence only works when it is genuine to you. If you are a quiet person, then it is going to feel completely out of character to start forcing yourself to be centre of attention. Be confident in your own way - instead of speaking up in the meeting, maybe speak to your boss about your idea privately afterwards, but with conviction!
Remember that being a good listener is far more valuable than being a good talker, as a friend, employee, or all round decent person.
4. Small changes go a long way
It is estimated that 55% of our communication as humans is non verbal, which means that what we say to appear confident is actually less important than how we move and express ourselves.
Our body language goes a long way to signalling to others how we are reacting to situations. Small changes to your body language such as pulling your shoulders back, uncrossing your arms, smiling more and speaking more slowly can all help you to feel and appear more confident to others.
5. Fake it until you make it (most people are!)
If you're like me and you grew up with the 'shy' label, you may have an assumption that everyone else is more confident than you are. At least they appear to be. This is just the kind of misleading tricks your brain plays on you.
Number one - They appear more confident to you, because you assume that you appear unconfident. This may not be the case. You don't know the way that other people see you, how can you? They may not have noticed that you are any less confident than anyone else!
Number two- Everyone else is faking it too! I bet you if you asked most people who have had to do a speech in front of lots of people how they felt whilst they were doing it, very few would say 'calm and confident'. Most people are terrified, but some have practiced appearing confident more often than others, and got the faking it down to a tee.
I can't say that I'm ever going to be the kind of person that loves the feeling of standing up in front of a room full of people, but thanks to practice in the art of confidence fakery, it's becoming less obvious...