Early in my career, a business invited me to hold a training program for its employees. They made the training mandatory, and two people in the group clearly did not want to be there: They sat in the back, kept their arms crossed, did not participate in activities. Without saying a word (aside from the whispered conversations they had with each other), they let us all know they'd rather be anywhere than there.
So, in my typical people-pleasing fashion at the time, I took it upon myself to transform them. I dedicated way too much time and energy into making sure those two individuals left with an "Aha!" moment.
And you know what? They never did. They left the training as irritated as when they arrived.
Later, while reviewing the evaluations, 98 of them were glowing -- two were not. Can you guess which two lodged themselves in my brain?
I started to question myself. Am I in the right field? Do I have what it takes to make a difference this way? Who do I think I am, trying to change lives through corporate training?
My confidence took a hit.
Over the years, in large part due to the support of my coaches and mastermind team, I have come to a new understanding of confidence -- namely, that I can influence it. I can focus on the frustrating and awkward moments and let my confidence drain accordingly, or I can turn my attention to the peak experiences and strengthening moments instead. I now choose the latter (most of the time) and have seen my confidence, energy, and resilience rise as a result.
Some say confidence comes with age. While that may partly be true, it doesn't explain the 22-year-old I met last week brimming with genuine self-assurance, nor the 68-year-old continually doubting every decision she's ever made and questioning every idea she's ever had.
Experience helps, but I prefer a more proactive approach. You might find one of these strategies helpful:
1. Decide and Take Action.
Make a healthy decision, then immediately take an action in favor of that decision. This has been one of my Guiding Principles for years, and it always helps affirm my choices and alleviate "buyer's remorse."
2. Keep a Success Journal.
Every evening, jot down one quick win from the day. In a short amount of time, you'll have a documented track record of successes to buoy you on those days when you question yourself.
3. Get Centered.
Whether meditation, journaling, prayer, or something else, find a way to ground yourself amid life's storms. As Katty Kaye and Claire Shipman write in The Confidence Code, "A calm brain is the ultimate confidence tool."
4. Create a "Making A Difference" File.
Every time you receive a note of thanks, kudos, or anything that uplifts your spirit, add it to the file. Review this file whenever you need a boost.
5. Uncover Your Purpose.
This is not as daunting as it may sound! And when you have a concise, written purpose statement, you can use it as your guide and as a filter for decisions, unsolicited comments, and next best actions.
6. Counter With Kindness.
Someone spoke harshly to you? Find someone else and extend a genuine compliment. Turn what could be a vicious cycle into a virtuous circle.
7. Gain Perspective.
One of my favorite ways to do this: Whenever you feel a potential chip in your confidence, ask yourself, "What will this event mean to me 10 years from now?" Nine times out of ten your response will likely be, "I won't even remember this!"
8. Practice Imaginary Advising.
Whatever you're struggling with, imagine your child or best friend came to you and shared the exact same struggle. How would you counsel them? What would you suggest? Then... heed your own advice.
9. Stand With Strength.
Our body language and how we carry ourselves has so much bearing on how we feel about ourselves. Watch Amy Cuddy's fantastic TED Talk, then practice your power poses frequently.
10. Seek Support.
Do you ever find yourself spinning in worrisome thoughts and then, as soon as you say them aloud to someone, realize you've been fretting unnecessarily? A trusted friend, coach, or therapist can help bring objectivity and affirmation.
Not long ago, I attended the event of a well-known, highly-acclaimed speaker. As one of the last to arrive, I grabbed a seat toward the back of the auditorium. While I sat practically mesmerized by his message, two people behind me were clearly less-than-impressed: arms crossed, side conversations, you name it.
I had flashbacks to my own early training experience and was reminded that, hard as we may try, we cannot please everyone all the time. But you know what else? It's not our job to.
How about if we make a pact: Instead of trying to control everyone else's reactions and making our confidence dependent on their acceptance, we will focus our energy on bringing our best possible selves to every situation. We will learn from our experiences, dwell on the positives, and engage one or two of the above tips. We will help build others' confidence, knowing that we all benefit as a result. Who's with me?