Here's a quick thought experiment. Try it out and then I'll show you how it relates to confidence.
1. Sit upright, clench your fists hard and grit your teeth.
2. Now imagine pushing a heavy piece of furniture across the room.
3. Then change your vision to lying on a tropical beach with the waves lapping the shore.
Notice how hard it is to imagine the beach scene with your body tense?
4. Now unclench your fists, relax your muscles and try to imagine pushing that heavy piece of furniture again. That's now harder to do when you're relaxed.
In his book The Naked Brain Richard Restak M.D. uses this exercise to show that thinking about something and doing it use the same parts of the brain. I go beyond that and say that the body can actually lead the brain.
I am currently conducting a survey into confidence and one of the things I'm interested in is the way a person's body is when they lack confidence. They tend to slump, they withdraw physically, their head drops and their eyes look away.
So one of my tips for confidence involves adopting a confident posture, standing tall so that your brain is primed naturally to feel more important. Remember when you were a child and your teacher told you to stand up tall, thrust out your chest and look ahead? They knew this could make you more likely to succeed. It's important to dress for confidence too, as my research has shown that what we wear has a big impact on how we feel.
Apart from our body sinking low because of a lack of confidence, what happens to our thoughts and words?
• Many of the thoughts that cripple our confidence involve comparisons:
She's prettier/richer/thinner/fitter/more intelligent than me.
• Thoughts that centre around feeling worthless or undeserving undermine confidence:
Why would they promote me, I'm a nobody.
• A lack of confidence about future outcomes involves the constant 'What...if' scenario:
What if I fail/it all goes wrong/people laugh at me?
• Language too, plays a role. The way we speak to ourselves or others has the power to boost or bash our confidence:
Sorry, I'm probably annoying.... Or I'm only the receptionist.
• And feeling confident comes from an ability to bounce back. To recover from knocks and set-backs and not feel defeated, as in:
I tried it once and it was a disaster. If I don't do it at least I can't fail.
The good news is that confidence can be trained, nurtured and developed. We need to give ourselves the tools that are known to boost confidence and practice applying them on a daily basis. This also requires spotting those automatic thoughts and self-sabotaging words that batter our confidence, and replacing them with more positive strategies.
My six tips for cultivating confidence are:
1. Sit high, stand up, lean in. Let your body act confidently and your brain will find it much easier to match it with the feeling.
2. Let go of comparisons. There will always be someone better, richer, more successful than you. Comparisons are futile. The only person to compare yourself with is you. Are you better than you were and are you growing in a way that's good for you?
3. Adopt a sense of entitlement. When that top job comes up or opportunity knocks, instead of saying 'Why me?' say 'Why NOT me?' and go for it.
4. Get comfortable with uncertainty. Nothing is certain and you won't know unless you go there. Or, as Sheryl Sandberg was once told, "If you're offered a seat on the rocket shop, don't ask which seat. Get on!"
5. Watch your language. Stop apologising. Now. Use positive self-affirming language. Not, I'm only the receptionist but I'm responsible for receiving all visitors to the company.
6. Develop a tough skin. Confident people get just as many knocks as the unconfident. But they pick themselves up and brush it off. Treat mistakes and failures as a learning opportunity and you'll flourish.
If you're interested in confidence you might like to help with research by completing this brief online confidence survey.