A lack of confidence can be a very real barrier to career success and being happy at work. It might stop you from putting yourself forward for opportunities, voicing your ideas or pulling back when faced with a new or challenging situation. It can also hinder how well you ‘sell’ yourself in interviews.
Some people have a lot more confidence than others but for those who lack confidence and experience low self-esteem, there are five things you can do to help you move forward to a place where you feel more confident.
Step 1 is acknowledging what is going on.
Put simply, to plan a journey, you need to understand where you are starting from.
Most low self-esteem or lack of confidence comes from the past and negative messages we have received, though there are also people who naturally think less of themselves, are prone to anxiety or set impossibly high standards that they fail to reach. Whatever the root, we build up an image of ourselves that is either totally or partially negative. We might say things like ‘I’m bad at interviews’ or I’m no good at asking for something I want’ and over time we start to believe these things are true and unalterable.
The key to addressing these inhibiting and self-sabotaging beliefs is to look for evidence.
A coach, friend or family member can help you here by listening and asking you questions such as ‘Where do you think that comes from?’ and ‘Is that always the case?’ If one of your beliefs is ‘I’m bad at interviews’ but you have a job then at some point that statement has to have been proven untrue. Pinpointing when you started to think the negative thoughts can be helpful. With hindsight and life experience on your side, you might realise the source and challenge it, or at least set it in context. Often negative beliefs start in childhood and so we must see them – and the source – for what they were.
Applying logic and looking for evidence to contradict the negative belief can be revolutionary and free you to let go of the belief because you realise it’s simply not true, or not true anymore. Other times the process is more evolutionary where the evidence is more subtle and your belief is no longer true ‘all the time’.
To further lessen the power of negative thoughts, focus more on positive ones.
Start a list of things you are good at, for example, I’m a good listener, I get things done on time, people can rely on me. If my clients struggle with this in a work context, we look at personal positives.
Being good at cooking requires planning, visualisation, organisation, strong time management, budgeting and multitasking. It can also require you to use risk assessment techniques [is the oven too hot?], push the boundaries of accepted thinking [I like salt, I’ll add a bit more than the recipe says], resource management [we’re going to need more milk], stakeholder management and communications [I know you’re hungry but it will only take five more minutes] and expectation management [no, it doesn’t look like the picture but it tastes good].
Through either or both approaches, you can start to break down seemingly permanent negative aspects of your personality and move on from them. They are no longer absolutes and no longer define you or your future potential.
Step 2 – focusing on your strengths.
You might use an online assessment tool such as (Clifton Strengths or StrengthsProfile) or you can simply start to make a list. The goal is to identify what your strengths are so you focus on those instead of weaknesses. I’m not good with following detailed processes, my brain just refuses to go in straight lines. I used to focus on this, compare myself to others to reinforce my negative belief that I was rubbish and failing and give it worry space.
But – big BUT and major revelation – once I recognised my strengths lay in other areas, I realised it was OK. More than that, it was liberating. Other people are skilled in following detailed processes and can do this far more effectively than me. And I can step aside and let them get on with it whilst I shine for seeing connections, solving problems and being amazing at getting people on board with ideas.
My guiding ethos since then has been that you’ll increase your confidence and see more progress in life and your career by focusing on your strengths.
You can take your strengths from good to great and great to amazing once you know and optimise them, but you’ll rarely get beyond competent spending time trying to polish up a weakness.
Reviewing your list of strengths with someone – or a few people – is a powerful way to help you identify other strengths, especially as people often see us in ways we don’t see ourselves. And it might be that you ask a cross-section of people who you know from different situations in your life to get more perspectives and data. Fundamentally, big or small, common or unique, we all have strengths and gathering evidence of them helps us be more positive about what we are capable of.
Step 3 centres on detoxing to eliminate negative influences.
These might be energy-draining relationships and/or demanding situations. With the former, try to spend less time around people who take more from you than they give and focus your time on interacting with people who appreciate you, energise you and make you feel good about yourself. With the latter, you may need to learn how to say ‘no’ to people. This can be tough at first but there are tools and techniques to help you.
One of those is to ask yourself, ‘why is that person’s time/input/demand more important than mine?
Step 4 is the energy step.
This is where you find ways to assert and challenge yourself. Start small and build up confidence as more and more things go well and you say more positive things about yourself than negative. Gather the evidence every time you take a forward step so you can keep challenging those negative beliefs and stop self-sabotaging. If you believe that you are bad at interviews and no one will ever employ you and so it’s not worth making an application for a job, then research what interviews are about and how to prepare for them. Then prepare. There are multiple articles, tips and videos online to help you identify the types of interview questions you’ll face and how to prepare to answer them well. Then practise. Record yourself, watch it back. Practise with someone and ask for feedback. Keep practising and getting feedback to improve until you have the evidence and feel confident that you can, in fact, do well at interview.
If you’re really struggling, look for role models who project confidence and copy them. How do they stand, how do they hold themselves, how do they speak, what is their face doing? Do what they do and you can find your inner strength. Or at least you’ll be able to fake the confidence so you sound convincing. Eventually, you’ll start to believe it and it will feel more natural.
Step 5 is about how you see and talk about yourself.
If you say negative things about yourself then you are inviting other people to see you that way. Being kind to yourself, giving yourself recognition and thinking positive thoughts goes a long way to diminishing the power of negative, confidence-draining beliefs.
How you were and what happened to you in the past does not have to define you now. You might have been a precocious child who was criticised for being disruptive in class and too keen to follow their own direction but is that a bad thing in your professional life? As long as you see the strength in it and recognise the effect your behaviours have on others then you can move away from the negative messages you received and harness your intellect, energy and drive for excellence.
One way to see if you are being unkind to yourself is to ask yourself what you would say if you heard a friend or colleague talking down their abilities and saying how terrible they are at something.
We can be harder on ourselves and kinder to others so turn the tables and think about what you would say in that situation then say it to yourself.
If you’d like to talk about how your negative beliefs are holding you back or would like help identifying and optimising your strengths, then please get in touch and see where a session of career therapy can take you.