We all wish confidence could be bottled up and made available on demand whenever we have an important pitch, performance or life decision. But while we wait for that invention, we can learn to change our relationship with confidence – as coach, author and standup comedian Kirsty Hulse explained to our members at a recent virtual workshop.
If you missed the session, here are some of the best bits of advice Kirsty shared with us.
Remind yourself that everyone has self-doubt. Kirsty believes that the first step to conquering our self-doubt is to recognise that more people feel nervous than you might realise. When she asked 800 people who were all at different stages of their career if they’d not done something because they weren’t confident enough, 96% of people said yes. “We look at others and believe that they can’t be nervous,” she said. “It’s just not true. All of us at some level feel unprepared or not ready to do something.”
In fact, Kirsty told us that “confident people experience nerves more”. That’s because they are the people who put themselves into unfamiliar situations and stand in the limelight. Giving the example of stepping on stage to speak, Kirsty said that this was actually quite an unnatural thing to do and that “neurologically it is akin to threatening our survival”. So feeling anxious in that moment is completely normal.
Use the comfort zone theory to be more aware of your feelings and recognise that “nerves are a normal, natural every day feeling”. Our comfort zone is our happy place – the state in which we’re most relaxed. The learning zone is where we perform at our best but when we might feel slightly out of our depth and our adrenal response helps us to think faster. When we’re in the panic zone, we feel overwhelmed and our risk aversion tendencies kick in. Our learning is blocked by a sense of fear. Recognising which zone you’re in won’t get rid of your nerves but it will help you manage them.
Manage your thoughts to get a handle on your feelings. Kirsty told us: “We have something called the negativity bias. Your brain is scanning for threat 300 times a minute. Our thoughts have an impact on how our bodies respond. If you’re thinking about shaking or the possibility of shaking, our brains are going ‘danger’”. She suggests that before you go into a meeting or pitch, believe that it will go well. You can either think it, verbalise it or write it down. This will start to have an impact on how you feel.
To take this a step further, harness the power of visualisation. Kirsty suggests you write down what the most confident version of you looks like. Take note of what you’re wearing and how you’re standing. Try to embody that version of you for five minutes a day or in the moments you need to. Over time it will start to feel more real.
Pay attention to your non-verbal communication – especially during video calls. “70-93% of our communication is non-verbal. Things like smiling, open body language and using different tones can help. If you feel like you are losing people on virtual calls, try using light and shade in your voice”.
But remember that even if you do all this, there is there is no such thing as a permanent state of confidence: “We tend to think confidence is this always-on thing, that we will have it, hold onto it and it will be there all the time. It won’t. It’s not every day. It’s not all the time. It’s just when you need it. The more you do it the better you get at it.” Kirsty also suggests you give yourself a pass when you’re not in the mood to be your most confident self. Instead, draw on your reserves when you need it most: “I have days when I wake up and I’m exhausted and I sit around all day eating crumpets in my pants not feeling good enough. Because I’m a human. Start trying to embody confidence just in the moments that you need it”.