In the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of confidence. It’s something we often talk about in the world of personal branding… after all, discovering your brand and maximizing it certainly helps in developing inner and outer confidence. However, having a strong personal brand won’t make your confidence bullet proof. Confidence, after all, is not a static measure, but an ongoing process, one that is often influx for many.
My own confidence was just recently put to the test last month when I went for my black belt exam in taekwondo (a part of my brand which I am quite proud of!). Like many people, performing in front of an audience was a source of anxiety, and the fact that I was older than many of my peers (and managing an injury to boot) also made me feel like a bit of an underdog on exam day. Thankfully, I had a few strategies under my red belt that helped me to build confidence, power through and get that black belt. Here are my top three:
Don’t wait around for your confidence to show up.
Oftentimes, people ascribe to a “rule” that they need to feel confident before doing what matters to them in life. This very rule is often what keeps people stuck and prohibits them from developing confidence. The fact is that you don’t need to be confident in order to achieve your goals. Dr. Russ Harris talks about this in his book The Confidence Gap, where he shares the golden rule of confidence building: “The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come second.”
Russ makes an important differentiation between these actions of confidence and “fake it ‘til you make it”: a big part of confidence building is about being true to yourself (as opposed to faking it), while taking effective action in the direction of your personal values and goals, regardless of your self-doubt. You can still behave like the person you want to be in the situation and take action even while feeling fear and uncertainty.
Russ shares a great exercise in his book that asks us to imagine ourselves in a world with unlimited confidence. In my private practice, I usually use this exercise as a visualization with clients. By imagining a confident version of ourselves, we can start to take steps in that direction. In my exam, I had to be the strong, powerful version of myself, so I allowed that side to come to the forefront. I dug deep to outwardly show my fearless side in any way I could (through facial expression, body language, powerful movements), and by acting out this strong version of me, a bit more confidence followed with each exam challenge.
This of course is easier said than done. It takes practice, time, and a lot of effort to work through negative self-talk and effectively handle feelings of fear and discomfort. But the idea here is that by practicing confident behaviours and stepping out of our comfort zones, genuine confidence will follow. But first, it has to be earned.
Get back to the moment.
When our heads are filled with negative chatter, and/or we become more preoccupied with what others think of us or how we “should” act, we become disconnected from the present moment and set ourselves up for a big confidence wobble.
As a first step, try identifying the content of this chatter. Are these worry thoughts about what might happen? Do they start with “what if”? Are these self-sabotaging beliefs or self-criticisms? If so, you can put these thoughts in the “unhelpful category”, as they are most likely of no use and costing you confidence. Try to shift focus to what you can control while building acceptance around what you cannot. Is there a skill you can improve upon or practice more (be careful of the perfectionist trap here)? Is there additional preparation or other measures you can reasonably put in place?
I trained nearly every day for months leading up to my black belt exam, and I still felt like I wasn’t ready on the day. The truth is there was nothing more I could do. At that point, I had to accept where I was at, believe in myself, and do my best to not get sucked in by any negative chatter. One effective technique for this is mindfulness. Mindfulness, in a nutshell, is the practice of engaging in the moment with attention, openness, flexibility and curiosity. There are so many great resources out there to cultivate mindfulness, including Russ’s book.
The bottom line here is that a confident person is one who is engaged… in the moment, with the audience, in the conversation. The ability to be present, in the moment (and not constantly distracted by negative chatter), also opens up space for positivity and self-belief.
Finally, the ability to “own it” resides at the core of a confident brand. What I mean by this is that when you own it, you have accepted and are comfortable with who you are in your present experience, not who you “should” be or who others want you to be. You are just you, unapologetically. In other words, this is about owning what makes you authentically you…your thoughts, opinions, quirks, and feelings, both positive or negative.
When around my teammates on exam day, I owned my nerves. In turn, they also opened up and disclosed their own nervousness. There was no apologizing or embarrassment, we were just acknowledging what we all felt in the moment, and bonded over being human in a challenging situation. By “outing” the feelings that sabotage your confidence and owning them, you allow them to have less power over you (which paradoxically has an empowering effect).
People who own it tend to exude a certain charisma and magnetism. They don’t try to be something they are not. Instead of being people pleasers or trying to fit in, they create and follow their own path in life. There is something extremely liberating about owning it, as you are genuinely at peace with yourself and the present moment.
Needless to say, there are many more variables that factor into confidence — one’s personality, ability level, mental health, etc. — however the actions listed here can be practised by anyone to move towards building a more confident personal brand (with the key word being practise!).