As I walked into the meeting, my stomach churned. I felt way out of my league.
- What did I have to offer?
- Who would listen to my ideas?
- Who was I to be running the meeting?
- What will I do if someone challenges me?
This was my mind chatter when I was managing a team through some challenging times. I was lacking confidence and feeling inept in my role as nonprofit leader. If you are struggling with confidence, you likely have similar thoughts that persist in your own mind.
The thing is the quality of our inner dialogue is an indicator of our level of confidence. Therefore, if you are feeling that you can’t handle your role, the team or the project, it’s time to look at what’s going on in your mind.
Confidence, or lack of it, starts inside
Confidence is not what someone else thinks you can do. Your level of confidence comes from what you believe you are capable of. When we are fearful, doubt our abilities or hesitate to take action, we don’t believe in ourselves. That belief is not something outside of us, but rather something inside our minds.
When we defer making a decision yet again or mumble our way through a difficult conversation, we lack confidence.
- Our mind suggests: You have no idea what you are doing! We get sweaty, our heart races and our chest tightens.
- The inner voice says: Watch out, you are going to mess up! A tension headache begins; we have trouble focusing and we get a knot in our stomach.
Your body’s response to your thoughts
The stress response: your body tightening, sweating or your heart racing, shows up because your mind tells you that you can’t, you are in over your head or you don’t know how. Those thoughts suggest to you that you are going to make a fool of yourself, mess up or get exposed for the fraud you know you are. Those thoughts signal danger, so your body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode. Your thoughts of I can’t tell your body to reacts with a physiological stress response, which leads to your unconfident behavior:
- Fight – defensiveness
- Flight - end the conversation quickly
- Freeze - procrastinate
Increase your awareness of your thoughts
To find the feeling of assuredness that you can handle the relationship, meeting, project or role, you need to think you can. This means you need to become more aware of your thoughts and learn to manage them. However, it’s not as simple as “just think positive.” You truly must have faith in your ability. Of course there will be times that you don’t have the skills and will need to develop them. But the truth is, most often you already do know how. What you lack is trust in yourself.
Managing your thoughts is a learning process
Learning to get a better handle on our thoughts and beliefs takes time and effort. It begins with the awareness that most of our thoughts are unmanaged. They just show up and take over, without you deciding, choosing or even realizing what is going on. Just like unsupervised children will easily find trouble, your unsupervised thoughts can quickly turn negative.
Confidence happens when you are in control
Once you become aware of what is going on in your mind, you can gain back control of what you are thinking. When you are in charge of your thoughts, you can shift your inner dialogue so that it is more helpful and leads to feeling confident. For example:
- I can do this.
- I do have the ability to figure it out.
- It will be a tough conversation, but it will grow me and move the organization forward.
The Inner Guidance Cycle
To help you practice becoming more aware of your thoughts, and then managing them, remember the four P’s:
- Pause – Stop and pay attention to your thoughts.
- Ponder – Reflect on the tone of your thoughts.
- Pivot – Shift your thoughts to more confident thoughts.
- Proceed – Move forward again intentionally and mindfully.
Confidence building in action
Here’s an example of the Inner Guidance Cycle in action:
- Checked your email repeatedly.
- Scanned your newsfeed several times.
- Shuffled piles of paper around on your desk.
- You notice a tension headache coming one.
- Pause: Sit down and take a slow, deep breath. Take this moment to tune into your thoughts, emotions and your body sensations. This gives you the opportunity to ponder.
- Ponder: Reflect on the quality of your thoughts. Take a look at your thoughts, beliefs, and judgments about your ability to handle the upcoming meeting. Perhaps you notice you have said the following phrase multiple times in your head: This meeting is not going to go well. This is your mind telling you that you can’t handle what’s coming up. When you realize that your thoughts are eroding your confidence, it’s time to pivot.
- Pivot: Choose thoughts that will give you increased confidence. Maybe you realized that a more confident thought could be: It might be a challenging meeting, but I can handle it. Say that a few times, then stand up and proceed.
- Proceed: Move forward again intentionally and mindfully. As you head into the meeting with a better handle on your thoughts and a more confident approach, your behavior, how you engage with others and approach the agenda, will feel much more confident.
Back in the driver’s seat
Utilizing the steps of the Inner Guidance Cycle will help you to become both aware of your thoughts and to manage your thoughts. When you are back in the driver’s seat of your mind, you can increase your confidence. Yes, it will take time to become more aware of and able to manage your thoughts, but it’s worth working on.
Increased confidence puts you in a much better place to lead and leaves you feeling more engaged and optimistic about your work. Then you and your organization can thrive.
About the Author
Kathy Archer is a Leadership Development Coach. She grows courage and confidence in others so they can live full lives. In Kathy’s book, Mastering Confidence, she shows you how to develop your inner confidence so you can have the impact you desire in work and life. In her online courses and leadership coaching sessions, she teaches leaders how to move from surviving to thriving in both leadership and life.
Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.