I became a Confidence Coach for two reasons: firstly, I feel completely alive when I coach people because I am living my purpose, and secondly, I don’t want others to have to suffer through low self-confidence like I did. Like myself, many people are not even aware that they have major confidence issues, but they are aware that ‘something is wrong’.
If you have core beliefs that undermine your self-confidence, you have probably felt like something has been missing your entire life. It’s a feeling that takes the sweetness out of success, and emphasises the heartbreak of failure. It’s a vague, guilty doubt, always there in the back of your mind, and sometimes in the front when you lie awake at night.
I’ve come to believe that this feeling is the small remaining part inside of you which knows you could be confident. It’s the part of you which smacks its head in despair every time you avoid something, or make excuses, or pretend you don’t want something you secretly desire.
For years I searched for confidence without even knowing that’s what I was searching for. All I knew was that I wanted better from myself and I was sick of being held back by fear. It was only a few years ago that I realised the issue was all to do with self-confidence.
The warning signs were always there – I just didn’t see them because I thought they were normal. I figured everyone either felt the same or else they were simply born differently and weren’t afraid. In a way I was both right and wrong. Yes some people felt the same as me, but that didn’t mean it had to be this way.
So if you are feeling like something is holding you back in life, if you’re frustrated by the sense of missing out, then have a read through this list of warning signs you could be overlooking. Then consider my solutions to these, as tried and tested methods on how to overcome these barriers to inner confidence.
1. You feel compelled to check your phone when left alone in social situations
I see this all the time. Two people are at a bar, restaurant or shopping mall and one needs to go to the toilet. The other person quickly comes to the realisation that they are now alone in a public setting. The first instinct is to go to the phone… checking for non-existent text messages or scrolling through Facebook. This is simply to alleviate boredom until the other person returns, right? Wrong!
I guarantee the reason most people do this is because they feel like they are being judged by the public when they are out in a social situation by themselves. We are terrified by the thought that other people can see that we are by ourselves without a good excuse. This relates, in my experience, to a basic fear of disapproval by others. While in reality nobody even barely cares that you’re by yourself (they’ve got their own fears to deal with!), you feel as if you are the centre of attention.
You need to prove to yourself that being alone in a social situation does not have any negative consequences. You can only achieve this by actually going out alone. Start small, like having a latte at a busy café by yourself. No checking the phone, no reading magazines, just no distractions whatsoever. Take your time, hey people-watching can be great fun! Once this harmless event is conquered, move up to dining, shopping, movies and bar-hopping alone. Being able to do these things despite the fear will make you more socially confident than 80% of people out there.
For those of you with mighty balls/ovaries, try going to a party, concert or nightclub alone, and initiate conversations with at least 5 strangers. I predict only about 1-5% of the total human population can do this without alcohol or a firearm pointed at them, so here’s an opportunity to place yourself among the elite of self-confident.
2. You’re unable to leave the house looking like crap
This one also relates to being judged by others, but is more specific to our fear of looking unattractive. I was recently in the Gold Coast in Australia and was saddened by the materialistic focus of the locals. Everyone seemed to be as polished and perfect as they could be. They obviously spend hours getting ready, even just to walk to the shops. Must be exhausting!
Looking good for yourself and looking good for others are two completely different concepts. Trying to win the approval of the fickle public with your appearance is a race you are always going to lose, because everyone has different tastes and eventually you will get old and ugly, no matter what. Wouldn’t it be better to not care what others thought of your appearance before that happens?
In brief, discover your identity and match your ‘look’ to that. Focus on pleasing yourself with your ideal view of what you wish you were, rather than what other people think you should look like. I see myself as leader and an artist, so I like to combine business-wear with tattoos and jewellery. I can look at myself in the mirror and think “You’re looking badass my friend” without caring how others perceive me. I used to wear what people I envied wore!
Want to end your fear of public humiliation based on appearance for life? Don’t shower or groom yourself for a week. Do not use a mirror or allow yourself to see your reflection for the whole week. Go out in public at least once a day, wearing your worst clothes, such as tacky gym-clothes or mismatching items on purpose. No make-up, accessories, hats or shades (unless they are embarrassing). Yes, you will be judged, but nothing bad will happen. After a week like that, a quick trip to the shops in your PJ’s won’t seem like a big deal.
3. You tell ‘white lies’ to keep the peace, avoid conflict, or keep your job
Fear of conflict keeps many people from making improvements in their lives, because it robs them of integrity. Try to imagine being in a position where you have absolutely no secrets and nothing to hide. How would that feel? At first this concept terrified me. Now, I can’t see any other option, because total truth is pure freedom. You’d be amazed at how accepting good people are.
Trying to maintain a conflict-free environment can only be done through dishonesty for most people. It’s hard to build self-confidence when part of you constantly feels guilty about manipulating and lying. Yes, a small white lie to avoid conflict is a manipulative deception, don’t kid yourself about that! Self-confidence and self-belief requires the basic view of yourself as being a ‘good’ person. You need integrity to achieve this state.
This one is a tricky one isn’t it?! It can seem impossible to be completely honest. The secret is to start small and learn how to deliver the truth safely. In one of my previous articles, I talk about using the BEID model for delivering feedback (see my addicted2success article on Living With Integrity). Using models to safely deliver messages will work as training wheels helping you build up to full disclosure. So start by making a commitment to catch yourself out when you’re about to lie to avoid conflict, and instead try to state your truth in a non-confrontational way.
Letting people see your weaknesses is the key to overcoming your fear that people will abandon you if you don’t play nice. That fear is what this ‘avoiding conflict’ is really about: wanting people to like you. If you really want to let go of your fear of conflict, you first need to let go of your fear that people will react negatively to the Real You, with all your flaws and vulnerability. If you want to flood this fear through exposure, try telling a safe person your biggest darkest secrets. Leave nothing out, including the things about yourself which shame you. If that goes ok, do it again with someone else. I’ve heard support groups are fantastic for this process.
4. Stressful situations have you reaching for substances or sex
How you cope with stress is a great measure of self-confidence. Those who face it head on and fight through the battle build confidence quickly. Those who use the distractions of mind and body are just avoiding conflict, pain and failure due to fear. The most common ‘crutches’ I’ve seen for avoiding facing fear are nicotine, alcohol, illicit drugs, shopping, and compulsive sexual behaviour.
There is a huge difference between blowing off steam vs. hiding from your demons. When you reach for a pleasure-enhancing tool to avoid the pain of a situation, you are confirming to yourself that you cannot handle it. That’s hardly going to build your confidence is it?
The simple truth is that you CAN handle it. But like the social isolation fear discussed earlier, the only way you will believe you can handle stressful situations is by handling stressful situations! Even when it doesn’t work out in your favour you can still say ‘I survived’, and that’s the key to self-confidence: ability to rely on yourself. So next time you are feeling particularly down or anxious about a situation, make a promise to yourself that you will not use any ‘crutch’ to get through it; you will face it on its own terms until it’s done. Then just note how easy and pain-free it actually was compared to how you predicted it going.
Forsake all coping crutches for two whole months. No substances, no sex or masturbation as a coping mechanism (positive sexual experiences based on good emotions are fine), no hitting the boxing bag to ‘work out’ your anger. Just clean living and facing your issues head-on without flinching or needing anything. Using other people for support is fine, the more the merrier, but you should be able to do it without them too if needed.
5. You mind-read
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t do this? I doubt it. ‘Mind-reading’ is when you try to guess or assume what a person is thinking. This mostly comes from a negative place, where you are trying to avoid their disapproval, conflict, or you are hateful towards them and need to justify it. All of these reasons are fear-based. A truly confident person does not mind-read because if they want to know what someone is thinking, they will ask. If they don’t ask, it’s because they don’t care. Simple life right?
Mind-reading causes huge problems. You can spend a whole night lying awake, fretting over why your crush was so cold to you at work, without realising that they were simply distracted by a family crisis and didn’t even notice you. Or you can develop a raw hatred towards someone because you think they are condescending towards you, when really they just have a facial bone-structure that makes them appear haughty and they’re actually shy around you because you intimidate them.
Stop mind reading! It really is that simple. But of course to get out of this habit, you can follow a process. Try this for a week: every time you catch yourself assuming what another person is thinking, try to imagine an alternative and opposite explanation. For example, if you think someone is judging you for being shy, try imagining that they are actually admiring you for staying calm.
Force yourself to keep doing this until you really start questioning your ability to read minds, because I have a newsflash for you: YOU SUCK AT IT! We all do. I’m a coach with a psych degree and more than 7 years’ experience in rehabilitating offenders, and I still don’t have the slightest clue what people are thinking most of the time. That’s why I ask and reflect.
Ask people what they are thinking every time you find yourself mind-reading. Be really honest with your assumptions and even tell them you are trying to break a mind-reading habit (they will totally identify with the problem because they do it too, guaranteed). You might say something like ‘Hey John, I noticed you look a bit down today, I’m starting to feel nervous that you’re mad at me about something’. Yes, this can occasionally cause conflict, but at least it will end in truth rather than miscommunication, bitterness and lost opportunities.
I have done all of these super challenges myself, some of which I live with to this day (like the last one). I would not recommend them unless I was sure they work. They’ve worked for me and my clients alike, some of whom gave me these ideas. If you really want that nagging voice of guilt and low self-esteem to go away for good, then working on building your confidence and facing your fears is the path you need to take. You could spend 10 years searching for it, like I did, or you can try to chip away at these warning signs and make much quicker progress. The choice is yours. Try asking yourself:
“What do I want to think of myself in 10 years from now? How much longer will I wait to put an end to my confidence issues?”
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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?
When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?
As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?
Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.
Let’s park this one for now and we will come back.
Categorization is essential to our survival
There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses.
The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.
An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.
In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.
When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting!
Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.
- lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin
- lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin
The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.
Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored.
This amazing skill has its drawbacks
As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.
Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)
Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.
This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.
Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.
The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people?
We can overcome unconscious bias
Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals.
Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms.
Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds.
The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals.
What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!
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Curiosity is human nature and it’s only natural that humans will lose interest in a topic after a while. This has been a topic that has been extensively explored among children, teenagers and adults by a psychologist with similar results being reported from each of the categories. Human’s minds are therefore prone to boredom, making it important for each professional to spend some time to understand the factors that drive boredom and strategies the individuals needs to use to overcome boredom and focus on their profession and development. (more…)
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