Have you ever wondered how your career (or your life) would be different if you had more confidence? What if you had introduced yourself to that intriguing person, taken on that challenging leadership role, or made that career-changing presentation?
All too often, shaky confidence can cause us to miss out on important opportunities. It's an age-old concern and shared by almost everyone at one time or another, which is why so much has been written about this topic. The prevailing wisdom around developing confidence has commonly included such strategies as:
- Silencing the critical voices in your head
You've probably read some of these suggestions yourself, and like many, found them to be not as effective as you hoped. The good news: the confidence rules are changing.
Scientific research has provided some important insights about the nature of fear and confidence, which has led some experts to recommend new and effective strategies for boosting confidence.
Why the Confidence Rules Have Changed
That truth of the matter is, we all feel fear when we step outside our comfort zone, even those who seem outwardly calm, composed and confident. Would you be surprised to learn that I experience stage fright? (That's why I wear pants on stage, so you can't see my knees shake!)
Scientific evidence confirms that this fear is a survival mechanism that's hardwired into the human brain. It goes back to prehistoric times when our ancestors needed a shot of adrenaline to overcome the life-threatening situations of their daily lives. It's called the "fight or flight response." It's not a weakness. In fact it is a normal and natural response to facing a risk.
This information explains a lot about the shortcomings of some of the older tactics for boosting confidence. It's not so easy to silence that critical voice when your brain has evolved over millennia to think that way.
The truth is, negative thoughts are not inherently problematic. After all, they are the result of our brains trying to anticipate what can go wrong so we can be prepared to deal with it. It's only when we get caught up in them and allow them to prevent us from moving forward that those negative thoughts can become destructive.
New Strategies for Building Confidence
As a result, experts such as Russ Harris, author of The Confidence Gap, are recommending new strategies to overcoming stage fright that don't require us to eradicate our natural fight or flight response.
- Acknowledge your fears to diffuse them. Fighting those hard-wired negative thoughts can be like swimming upstream: exhausting and futile. Instead, you can simply acknowledge and accept those fears, which serves to diffuse them of their power over you. The next time you catch yourself in negative thinking ("I'll never be any good at this" or some other self-deprecating thought), simply smile to yourself as you recognize your prehistoric brain at work. It's amazing how those fears lose their ability to derail your goals when you recognize what's going on. With that less-than-helpful idea defused, you can be fully present as you take the next beneficial action toward your goal.
- Practice stepping out of your comfort zone. Our prehistoric ancestors must have been nervous when they faced the challenge of taking down a wild animal to feed their families. But that didn't stop them from doing it anyway; it was necessary to take that risk in order to survive. To not only survive but grow in your career, you can practice the same strategy of stepping outside your comfort zone to achieve your goals. It just means putting up with a little discomfort. Just like every other skill we attempt to master, confidence has a learning curve. As you practice taking that necessary action in spite of your fear and you become more skilled at it, it becomes more familiar and feels less risky. Improving your presentation skills through practice helps that feeling of confidence to grow.
- Inspire and motivate yourself. It's easy to get so caught up in completing a task that you forget why you're doing it in the first place. Each goal becomes a check mark on your to-do list, but doing it is never satisfying because there is always another goal to be met. This mindset creates undue stress and undermines confidence. Instead, focus on the values that inspire and motivate you. When coaching clients for high-stakes presentations, I've often seen people so focused on getting through the presentation that they fail to appreciate the time they spend connecting with listeners. Learning to be "in the moment" with the audience helps you focus on what you're there to achieve. Adopting that mindset builds confidence every time you step up to speak.
This article was originally posted on Professionally Speaking.
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high stake presentations. She has 25+ years experience coaching and 8 years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Stephanie holds a Bachelor's in Speech Communications & Education and a Master's in Organizational Communications & Business. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @stephaniescotti.
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