Identifying Your Sticking Points
In This Chapter
Recognising when your natural confidence comes under attack
Getting familiar with what pulls you down and holds you back
Spotting new ways to break out of your inertia
Exuding confidence is a bit like being wealthy. Confidence, like money, only becomes a problem when it disappears. You’ve probably experienced times when you suddenly become aware of your confidence because you’ve lost it. You don’t pay attention when confidence is coming at you in abundance and you’ve that pleasant, warm, ‘can do’ glow.
Now, we’re not saying you should expect life to be 100 per cent perfect all the time. In fact, that’s unrealistic. You can expect sticking points on any journey – times when your plans, hopes and dreams don’t run smoothly and you feel as if you’re wading through treacle. The art of developing your confidence lies in minimising how long you let yourself stay mired in low-confidence land and how quickly you’re able to let the causes go.
Getting on the road less boggy is what this chapter is all about. We show you how to face the tough times so you can begin to let life flow for yourself. Rest assured that you may well encounter more tough times ahead – facing them is how you learn from life.
Soon you’ll be ready to set your sights on your next destination, so for now, gather yourself together and prepare to jump down from the fence. It’s time to get more decisive, make a commitment to change, and take responsibility for the results you get.
Digging Down to Root Issues
Cleaning up means digging deep to the heart of what really holds you back. You may not be fully aware of what gets in your way, but the clues are in what you say and how you describe your experience. Ever heard yourself utter things like ‘It’s impossible for me to leave my job’, or ‘I’m always going to have problems because I never went to the right school’, or ‘They’ll never choose me for promotion because everyone knows they want someone who’s younger/slimmer/an accountant/a creative type/female/male/white/black, and so on.
Such statements aren’t based on reality, but on your perception of it. In fact, they’re merely stories to frighten yourself with. These generalisations limit you and drain your confidence to have a go at whatever adventures lie ahead. They’ve the same negative effect on those around you.
Find out more about facing your fears at www.dummies.com/inaday/boostyourconfidence.
Getting past your past
As a lad of eight, John’s secret dream was to be a ballet dancer, and he asked to audition for the school pantomime. When the school music teacher rejected him after a token interview, he overheard her say to a colleague: ‘I could never have a fat boy like that in any production of mine.’
In spite of the teacher’s unkind words, John went on to slim down and pursue his dream Billy Elliott style. He had a highly successful international dance career before moving into the business world.
The way you describe your world becomes your experience of it. As Einstein famously pointed out: ‘The most important question to ask, is: Is the universe a hostile or friendly place?’ If you describe your world with hostile language, that’s what you experience. Life becomes a nightmare if that’s how you dream. Those who negatively distort reality suffer the most stress, anxiety and depression, all of which get in the way of living confidently.
As you re-create your more confident reality, listen to your own words. Notice when your descriptions include words such as always, never, everyone, nothing, totally, impossible. Replace them or qualify them with more liberating words such as I choose to, sometimes, possibly, almost.
Forgetting the blame mind-set
You know who the whiners and blamers are around you. If you’ve any sense of personal protection, you steer well clear of them or limit your time with them. When you’re stuck in blaming mode, positive people begin to avoid your company and you end up building friendships with those who reinforce your blame approach so you can double up on your whingeing and whining.
The blame mind-set isn’t a helpful place to be if you want to get on and succeed in this world. Blame limits your choices and your results. You find fault in others rather than taking responsibility for the results you get. You wait around for others to do things before you act.
From our coaching conversations with business leaders and entrepreneurs, we can say for sure that they rarely hang around blaming others or making excuses: they do everything in their power to bring about change. They take it upon themselves to make a difference without expecting others to bale them out.
This ‘Parrot on Your Shoulder’ exercise can help you to shift your viewpoint and be more objective about your choices and your behaviour.
Being a child at 50
At the age of 50, Bruce appears to be a mature and confident man. He holds down a responsible lecturing job at a prestigious university and has published works of academic excellence. For most of the year, he’s bright, entertaining and fun to be with. But that all changes when his parents come to stay for Christmas.
Over the years, he’s loved and lost a string of live-in girlfriends who despair at his change in behaviour when his mother and father visit. At these times, Bruce reverts to being a ‘good little boy’, trying to please his parents by adopting false modesty. Each time, the current girlfriend is ousted from the double bedroom, placed in a guest room and treated as a casual visitor in the shared home. Bruce feels that his parents won’t approve of the live-in relationship he’s chosen and pretends that he lives a bachelor existence. He behaves as if he still lives in the parental home, and he lacks the emotional maturity to be his own person, not acknowledging the true situation for fear of upsetting his parents.
Little wonder, then, that many New Year parties have been less than romantic for Bruce.
Imagine that you’re able to observe all your own behaviour – everything you do and say. You can be like a parrot on your own shoulder. Take notice when you think that a situation is due to what others around you are doing and when you make excuses for yourself. Then hear the parrot on your shoulder say: ‘What are you choosing to do about it then?’
Your aim is to shift your blame mind-set into one in which you choose your outcome. Choosing your outcome transforms your world and opens up new possibilities. You switch your focus of attention from what’s gone wrong to what you want to have happen instead. Two key indicators of confidence are self-awareness and flexibility in behaviour. With the imaginary parrot’s help, you can raise your scores on both counts.
Rewriting your role in your family
Family relationships are dynamic, meaning that they change over time. Part of being confident is recognising that it’s natural for you to have a different relationship with your parents, siblings and the rest of the family as you grow older. Just because your big brother told you what to do when you were eight doesn’t give him the right to behave in the same way 20 years on. Nor does it give you the excuse to slip into an unhelpful, child-like relationship with him.
Yet you may recognise that you cling to a pattern of behaviour with your family that’s no longer appropriate to the confident you that you want to be today. You’re also likely to play out these patterns at work or in other relationships, for example, biting your tongue when your needs aren’t met, rather than saying what you feel is true and right.
You can choose how you want to be with people, and the way you behave dictates the results you get.
The next exercise helps you to shift the dynamics in your family relationships by observing the current situation, then choosing how you’d like it to be. The exercise is hugely empowering, particularly if you feel stuck in old habits.
Think of a person in your family, including your in-laws or step children, who you’d like to relate to in a better way. Follow these steps:
1. Write out the story of how you currently relate to this person.
Describe how you currently behave with this person. Note the situations that you find most difficult and challenging. Think about what you’d like to change so you can have a respectful, amicable and mature relationship with this person.
2. Write a second version detailing how you’d like this relationship to be in three years’ time.
Write in the present tense as if the change has already happened. Add as much detail as you like to visualise the new story with dialogue and your new feelings.
3. Act as if you’ve already developed or changed this relationship.
Make a commitment to yourself that next time you have contact with this person, you’ll remind yourself of your new story. Visualising the future, behave as if the change you desire has already happened.
Benefiting from your life experiences
Sam gave up his job in computer sales to teach yoga full time. He has that almost tangible inner strength of so many yogis and martial artists – a highly centred kind of energy. One day at the end of a class, he commented that after fleeing from atrocities in Uganda at the age of 15 nothing fazes him. He left his family and was sent off to Canada alone to meet up with one family contact, who helped him to find a room to live in. Subsequently, he suffered a number of setbacks in life from which he bounced back.
In a bizarre way, the awful times you come through provide the root source for your strongest confidence. They build your resilience and toughen you up to face the next hurdle.
Table 2-1 provides room for you to list some of the tough times you’ve faced in your life so far and how dealing with them benefited you. Your own tough times don’t need to be as extreme as Sam’s.
Cleaning Out the Negatives
It’s spring-cleaning time – time to get started on some broad-brush clean-up action. Begin by facing up to some of that negative, confidence-draining stuff. Our belief is that you were born confident, and somehow along the way you let people and circumstances get in your way.
Working or living in a mess wipes your energy. Just to get you in the clean-up/feel-good mood, take 15 minutes right now for a tidy-up. If you’re at work, make it a desk sweep. Clear the decks, put your desk in order. If you’re at home, take the space in the house where you spend the most time, and make it as attractive as you can for yourself right now. Already obsessively tidy? Then pat yourself on the back for being so organised, and lie back and relax for ten minutes.
Designing and creating your own life, as the next sections help you to do, is much more fun than spending all your energy constantly troubleshooting and problem solving.
Tackling unhelpful assumptions
You may be holding on to unhelpful thoughts or assumptions about yourself – most people do – that prevent you from feeling fully confident. Perhaps you think that life or work has to be a huge effort and an uphill struggle all the way. Maybe you compare yourself unfavourably with other people.
Some of the assumptions we hear as coaches include:
‘I’m not a confident person because I left school at 15.’
‘It’s easy for you to be confident at work because you have marketable skills.’
‘I won’t be confident until I can work part-time.’
‘He comes from money, so he’s bound to be confident.’
‘I’ll feel confident when I’ve lost my excess weight.’
‘I’m not part of the elite crowd, so it’s no surprise I lack confidence.’
These comments are loaded with judgement and unfavourable comparisons with others rather than fact. The trouble with taking on such unhelpful assumptions is that you act as if the assumption is true until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Take a few moments to record some unhelpful assumptions about your own confidence that hold you back. Then write down an opposing, more positive assumption. For example, an unhelpful statement goes like this: ‘Since I’ve turned 40, I can’t ever expect to feel confident going on a date.’ Turning that around produces the more powerful: ‘Now I’m 40, I can ask anyone out for a date with supreme confidence.’
Remind yourself of your new assumptions regularly. An easy way is to write them out on a small card and place it on your desk or bathroom mirror where you can see it every day.
There may be an element of good fortune in any activity, but the more you practise, the luckier you get . . . as all top performers will tell you.
Staying busy but not overwhelmed
If you love life, you may well work to an action-packed schedule: so many people to see, so many things to do. To function at your truly confident best, strike a balance between busy time and rest time. If you’re constantly on the run, you start to feel off-balance, which eventually topples your internal sense of confidence.
Busyness doesn’t equal effectiveness.
Recognising signals that you’re at your limits
The following clues indicate that you’re in danger of being overwhelmed:
You run late for appointments or miss them altogether.
You forget what you were doing.
You get easily distracted and start many projects without finishing any of them.
You lose things like your keys, your mobile phone and the shopping list.
Your house or office paperwork is chaotic.
You feel jittery inside.
You snap at people you care about.
You stop listening to other people.
Your eating habits are poor – you eat late at night or grab sandwiches from the local garage.
You let people down on commitments.
You catch sight of yourself in a mirror and look like a frightened rabbit.
If more than two or three of these clues sound like you, congratulations. You’ve recognised some of the signals of being overwhelmed and this is the first step necessary to making change.
Using the four Ps to take stock
If you feel that you’ve got too much to do and too little time to do it all, realise that you’re not alone. Then realise that you can do something about it.
The best way to cut out whatever is getting in your way is to stop and take stock – ideally at the start of each day. Follow these steps to assign a priority to each task on your to-do list:
1. Draw up a list of everything you want to accomplish today.
(If you’re well organised, you’ll have done that last night.)
2. Colour code each item on the list.
• Red for panics and problems: The important, deadline-driven jobs you want to resolve quickly, which fit with your priorities.
• Green indicates plans and opportunities: The important, longer-term activities you’d like to spend time on. Include recreation as well as larger projects.
• Blue for pressing items: The things other people are pushing you to do, but which are not top of your to-do list for today.
• Yellow indicates pootling issues: The chats with friends and more trivial timewasters during which you drift around aimlessly.
Your aim is to make the plans and opportunities list – the green one – largest of all and to reduce the size of the others. This area is most important because it enables you to put your energy into what’s most important to you and save you getting stressed by deadlines, or just drift around listlessly.
3. Allocate your time today so you can clear up some problems from your red list, build in space for the plans and opportunities in your green list, and see how much of the pressing (blue) and pootling (yellow) items you can cut out.
Become aware of what type of activities dominates your schedule most of the time. The colour coding is a quick visual guide to your effectiveness.
Redirecting those inner voices
Juliet came to a coaching session with Kate when she took on a senior project-management role that required her to host international conference calls, manage a new team and chair committee meetings. She knew logically that she was capable of the role and that she had the full support of the Senior Management Team, yet she experienced crises of confidence at unexpected times. Through coaching, she identified a number of voices running in her head that we named and shamed as ‘gremlins’. One was the ‘You should be seen and not heard’ gremlin. Another was the ‘Hurry up, don’t waste time’ gremlin. Under stress, these gremlins undermined Juliet’s confidence. Over a period of months, these gremlins fell back into the shadows as she paid more attention to the voices that told her, ‘You deserve to be heard, loud and clear’, and ‘Allow yourself the time it takes to do your best job without being hurried.’
What about your own inner voices? What do you say to yourself about yourself? What are those inner voices, running in your head? As coaches, we often hear limiting fears that pop up for clients such as: ‘Who do you think you are to take on this challenge? You’ll get found out soon enough. You’re a fraud. Are you good enough? Don’t you think you should know your place? You’re not a confident person, so what are you doing here?’
How can you tame these voices? The answer is: in many creative ways, once you put your mind to it.
Picture the friendly parrot on your shoulder (who flew in to the ‘Forgetting the blame mind-set’ section earlier in this chapter) programmed with a positive message to repeat every time it hears a negative thought: ‘I was chosen because I’m the best.’ ‘I can do this.’ ‘I’m good enough.’ ‘I’m going to show you just how good I really am.