PART I: confidence and self-belief
On the second day of Learning and Development programme Spring Forward, I came to the realisation that I am in charge of my personal growth and well-being and that I need to take matters into my own hands. Inspired by the programme coach Jan Morris and stories I heard during first two days of the programme, I decided to do my best and crack the secrete of confidence, so on the third day of Spring Forward, I would rise from dead and live a life clear from self-doubt, unreasonable fear and shyness.
The dictionary explanation of the term confidence says, that confidence is a belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities. [i] Blogger Stephenie Zamora in an article for Huffington Post pins the term to simply owning it, being comfortable with your-self in every moment and not apologising for who you are, be your loud, excited, nervous, stressed, tired, slightly weird or etc. or making excuses and explaining why you did what you did or said what you said.[ii] Stop pretending to be someone else and be a real person, real you. But what if you is a shy, insecure paranoiac? Does that mean you have to learn to let go and enjoy the ride? How to enjoy it, if everyone else looks at you as if you were an alien? But then again, this might be your paranoia.
On a more serious note, one of the targets of this project is to find out as much as possible about the nature of insecurities and the sources of self-doubt. As well as search for ways to manage them and build self- esteem.
Psychiatrist Neel Burton explains that it is much easier to build one’s confidence rather than have an unconditional trust in one’s abilities. [iii] Even a confident person, who lacks self-belief might find one-self in doubt and try to compensate the emptiness with destructive self-validation attributes such as alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating, sex, constant search for better relationship, higher income and luxurious possessions. [iv] To illustrate the case, Burton gives an example of celebrities, who are confident to perform in front of large audiences, but slip somewhere along the line and end up dead from drug overdose.[v] Therefore, in my opinion, confidence is a state of mind, a belief in one’s success and self-belief is something more spiritual, the union between mind and body as well as harmony between self and others, self and the environment, in other words a self-worth. It is important to say, that being confident does not protect from fear of failure and rejection, whereas having a healthy self-respect lowers the chances of social knock-downs.
But why does one worry about thought and opinions of others? Fredric Neuman, the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center, in an article Caring What Other People Think reminds the reader, that: the way people feel about themselves is formed during the time of growing up by the way their parents—or other close family members—felt about them and treated them during that time.[vi] Hence, one can argue that adults who were belittled as a children, will carry on feeling vulnerable and insignificant throughout their adult lives, and those who grew up in more supportive surroundings and were treated with equal respect will be less exposed to criticism and have higher self-esteem.
A couple of years ago, I came to realisation that even though I was extremely loved as a child, my parents and relatives believed that child’s role is to be a passive listener. Each time I dared to make a comment at family gatherings it would be greeted with disapproving looks and an awkward silence. Therefore, after a while, I gave up and would only talk when asked a question, kept answers short and sweet and expressed my-self through writing. In addition to that, my parents were rather protective, they preferred me hanging around my grandparents’ place, where I would spend the time playing chess with grandpa, helping grandma in the kitchen, listening to war stories and etc. I enjoyed every minute of it, they pampered me with unconditional love and made me feel like I belong right there with them. Therefore, each time I was taken away from my so to say natural habitat and up until adolescence, I preferred a company of the elder, who I respected and admired.
I carried the behavioural traits into adulthood. In social gatherings I would find my-self clinging to one person, or passively listening to others, rarely sharing my views. It felt natural until one day someone stopped talking, turned to me and said:
- You seem awfully quite.
- Maria needs a loudspeaker, – noticed a friend.
This is when it dawned on me that all these years, long after family gatherings and days spent at grandparents were gone, I was still following the communicational model set by my parents.
Needless to say my parent are in complete denial of my findings. Each time I point this out, my dear mother laughs and says that I was given all means to express my-self. Yes, right, through music, painting and writing.
PART II: confidence sappers
Ros Taylor, an author of The Ultimate Book of Confidence Tricks, lists four major confidence sappers: close relationships, family, school and peer groups, and work.[vii] Personally, I believe, that once in a while everyone needs a little bit of confidence check and finding out factors that affect levels of self-esteem are the best way to arm one-self before next knock-down. Let’s discuss each of the four in more detail, so we get a feel of what to expect.
Every relationship we are in have a tremendous impact on the self-perception. Naturally, the more intimate the connection, the more we care about the opinion of the other. However, sometimes we end up feeling devastated by opinions that don’t matter. According to Newman, firstly we should care about the opinion of immediate family, then close friends and boss, after that colleagues and neighbours, the judgement of acquaintances or people we encounter in the street shouldn’t matter a lot (if at all).[viii] Therefore, if we feel that some relationship in our life are draining us down and instead of experiencing an extra boost to our self-esteem, we feel stuck and helpless, it might be a right time to move away and find our-selves new partner or inspiring friends. After all, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.[ix] Staying with a person only because you appreciate the memories is not fair to either of you. Or keeping a position only because it pays well is a form of self-destruction and the sooner you find a better place to work, the quicker you will start to feel better about your-self. Learn to recognise when it’s over, acknowledge and move on.
The influence of family in child’s personality radiates through different channels, some of which are obvious, such as nurture, some less apparent, such as genetics. Professor Gordon Claridge found that confidence is a feature passed from generation to generation like longevity or genetic types of diabetes. If one or both genetic parents lacked self-esteem, there is a chance of 60 to 80 percent that the offspring will suffer low levels of confidence too. [x] Having said that, there are still 20 to 40 present for change if one is willing and knows how to achieve it.
Everyone knows that children and teenagers may be cruel. Starting from primary school, throughout secondary school and sometimes even into the college day in day out we go into a battle. Even successful groups of teenagers have troubled times, because they have to live up to this surreal image of perfection. I have a feeling that a lot of popular kids eventually end up living pretty messed up and sad lives, because they fail to meet the expectations.
This is no less, but a distorted illustration of nowadays society. Media overload us with images of luxurious lifestyles lived by perfect looking people and to some extent everyone (unconsciously) wishes to become that image, or at least compares one-self to it and most of the time ends up feeling more or less a failure. But then again, this hypothesis applies to people with lack of belief in one-self or (and) low self-esteem. Whereas an individual with a clear view of one-self understands that with world’s population of more than seven billion people there is not much one can do but just simply be one-self and be satisfied with what one has, or strive for more but never beat one-self up, if things do not turn out to be the way one planned. It is a human nature to remember one bad thing over hundred good ones, because we are programmed that way, this is a defence mechanism, a primal instinctive reaction.
Professor Steve Peters and an author of a mind management book The Chimp Paradox use a raw model of human brain to explain sources of our behaviour. Chimp is a part of our brain designed to support survival, driven by emotions and works on interpretations rather than actual facts. This part of brain reacts five times faster than rational, or as Peters titles it, Human brain.[xi] Human mind is a rational part of human brain and works on evidence, strategically plans actions, weighs consequences and draws balanced conclusions.[xii] The third part is the Computer, where experiences, automatic responses and habits are stored. The Computer is used to interpret situations using previous experiences and responds twenty times quicker than Human mind and four times than the Chimp. [xiii]
This basic model of human brain sheds some light on human nature, helps to control behaviour in certain situations and to avoid unnecessary arguments. Also, if one manages to follow the rational mind approach there is less (if any) chance to close up upon encounters of criticism or failed attempts to achieve targets. Preferably rational mind should feed on experiences stored in the data base of one’s brain, analyse factors that were missing to attain success, amend the plan and try again.
However, it is hard to start thinking rationally if one’s data base of experiences is stored with failures. This creates a vicious circle and in time crushes personality. In such cases, it is hard to straighten up and one of best ways to break out is to face the room of snakes. Psychologist Albert Bandura, who researched phobias found the method to cure phobias in four hours by guiding his patients through their fears, one of the examples was leading a man who was afraid of snakes into room full of snakes by taking him through small steps, such as showing a picture of the animal, standing in the doorway into the room and similar until finally the man was ready to touch a snake.[xiv] The success of the method is based on small successes that builds up confidence and turns fear into familiarity.[xv] At first it may look as an extreme and masochistic example, but then again, if well planned could help to overwrite a habit of opting out and shutting down each time we are thrown out of our so to say comfort zone by a situation or critics. After all, it is a human nature to grow and develop, which is impossible to achieve if we take our-selves too seriously. No one really cares how we look, speak or act, because everyone is too occupied with their own problems and worries. Instead we should ask and take what we deserve and learn to perceive a no, as a simple no and not a personal attack on our personality, values or our genius. To dwell on an untenable comment or go through less fortunate situations in our lives is a selfish act, an act of emotional masturbation as well as waste of precious time, which could be used on helping others or working on personal improvement.
Therefore, it is a sad and humbling fact that a lot of people never find courage to ask for promotion, a pay rise and agree to obey mindlessly until their self-esteem shrinks so badly they start to believe, that this is all they are worth for.[xvi] Work is the fourth confidence sapper discussed by Ros Taylor. Drawing from the fact that we all spend a lot of time at work, she underlines the importance of fun. Volunteer at least part of our time, research and put our ideas forward. Adjusting the work-space and routine by adding something one feels passionate about should definitely boost one’s self-esteem and prompt towards positive change.
There are a lot of companies that provide number of possibilities for their employees and encourage them to learn and develop. Also, there are workplaces that sucks employee’s soul out, but then there always is a choice. Leaving the company is not necessarily the only option. There are a couple of characters in my team who do nothing but complain and I often catch my-self thinking what holds them back from leaving? They are definitely confident enough to point out things they do not like. Maybe they do not trust their professional competence? Maybe they got into habit and most of the time do not notice patterns of their own behaviour? Maybe it’s fear of being rejected because of their age, skin colour, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, marital status?
The labour market without a doubt is getting more and more competitive and it is very unfortunate situation for those who love to dwell in self-pity. Therefore my advice would be to figure out obstacles that holds back from moving forward, plan the ways to remove them, visualise the target goal and write down a step by step plan to achieve it.
Each team has a so called bad apple who knows the contract inside out, refuses to go an extra mile and demotivates everyone around. It is a manager’s role to have a one to one session and find out reasons for discontent, agree ways to improve and provide support to help the person to change the behaviour. If change cannot be achieved, sometimes redundancy serves best for both parties. Even though the laws for employer makes it almost impossible to release employees, sometimes it is worth the time and money, and actually helps to save in a long run.
Reconstruction at workplace is a key to creativity and growth. It throws people out of their comport zones and helps to come up with new ideas and creative solutions. Recently the whole corporation overcame important changes in managerial level, which had an effect on our department too. In less than a year new managers came on board and step by step restructured working habits, teams and set new work philosophy. Naturally, changes were rejected at first, but in a long run after noting the improvement, staff embraced the revision. Prompting a few members of the team to search for ways for professional development offered by the company.
However, a bad apple did not change a bit, a couple of weeks ago, he came to me and said:
- I saw your communication about volunteering.
- Yes, I was nominated to be a champion for this year’s Values Week.
- It’s been seven years I work without any pay rise and you want me to volunteer? – he asked.
- It’s different, it’s about helping others, – I said.
- I need to help my-self first.
This is a good example of an individual stuck in so to say limbo, where one believes one is worth better, but lacks confidence to get it.
PART III: Confidence, gender factor: male vs female
Women lack self-esteem more often than men. First of all, the values to both genders are injected right from the childhood, girls are taught to be more humble, care for others, speak in soft voice and sit with their legs crossed (body language and confidence will be discussed later). Whereas, boys grow up playing war, climbing trees and are told not to cry, because this is what girls do. No surprise that men have more confidence and are willing to take risks more often than women, especially in a professional environment. An Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Anya Samek states that women are less likely to apply for jobs with competitive compensation schemes.[xvii] Even in upper-level positions women tend to have less confidence when sharing opinions in their field of expertise, whereas men are overconfident. [xviii] One of the main reasons for that may be the difference in upbringing, which later on influences female and male behaviour in certain situations. Cris Evatt in his book He and She lists 60 differences between the two genders, here are some that in some cases might hold women back from reaching career heights reached by their male counterparts. Women care about others and men are self-focused, therefore men are better at concentrating on their tasks.[xix] Women tend to search approval, whereas men are more self-assured and are more confident when asking for promotion, asking for pay rise and etc.[xx] Men express their anger and women repress it.[xxi] Expression of emotions drives the communication and helps to find a solution to a problem quicker, whereas if emotion is not shown in some cases it is harder to read the situation. Women are good at cooperation and men works well in competitive environment. Hence, more men occupy higher positions. This particular gender trait is explained best in evolutionary terms, winning fights and bringing home food was always a part of male role and such character trait in female was considered unattractive and would repel male leaving less chance for reproduction. Even though women no longer need men to provide food and shelter, or (to some extent) give birth, there are still trace of primal behaviour that holds women back from having it all. Another gender characteristic distinguished by Evatt is decisiveness. Since women are more people focused than men, they tend to include others in the decision making process, whereas men are more confident to make a decision them-selves. [xxii] Therefore, in some cases women may come across as indecisive, which is a sign of weakness and may affect the professional development, especially in a field of leadership.
A National Study of Daily Experiences shows that working in a male dominant environment causes stress and high levels of anxiety in women.[xxiii] Working in facilities management for rail, I have an opportunity to observe men in a workplace on a daily bases and from my experience some male individuals do tend to change their behaviour in groups. Men stick together and tend to impress each other, they compete and the competition drives their behaviour. Unfortunately, even though the culture is changing women are still told to be tougher and praised with sexist compliments, such as: you grew some balls. Therefore understanding differences between sexes in a workplace is one of ways to build professional confidence. After all gender should not influence one’s performance.
PART IV: personality types and confidence: extrovert vs introvert
Another factor to keep in mind when discussing confidence is personality types. Carl Jung popularized the terms introversion and extraversion. Introversion refers to a more reflective and reserved type of personality, with focus on one-self. Extraversion is an opposite of introversion and describes open type of behaviour, people who are extroverts enjoy communication and are fuelled by others, whereas introverts tend to search a quiet place to re-charge after social interactions. In addition to the two contemporary theorists found a third type called ambiversion, a middle ground for people who equally savour being surrounded by people as well as appreciate time alone. However, researchers still divides the statistics into two groups, extroverts taking 50 – 74 percent of the population and introverts 16 – 50 percent.[xxiv] Meaning that at least every third person is an introvert. The social structure is focused on extroverts making introverted children to feel outsiders and underachievers. In her Ted Talk The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain notes that extroverts require a lot of social stimulation, whereas introverts feel stimulated in more quitter place.[xxv] Therefore, in order to maximise talents, an individual must be placed in the right zone of stimulation.[xxvi] However, in our society being alone is seen as a form of punishment, think about misbehaved child, who is disciplined by sending one to one’s room. A child who prefers working by one-self is considered to be an outlier and most of the time ends up being ridiculed by others. A lot of teachers work focusing on extroverts most of the time leaving introverts’ input unnoticed. Job application forms have a tricky question asking if you are a team player or you prefer working on your own. I do prefer working on my own but I feel threatened to confess, as if working alone would mean that I will not fit in with the team and honest answer would deprive me from the second interview.
Introverts are constantly forced into communication and social gatherings: open plan work spaces, team projects, team lunches, team diners, team drinks, work trips, networking event and etc. Aristotle talked about human nature of being a social animal, but he also talked about introverts, and quite fondly: an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human.[xxvii] The fact that only the bit about a man being social animal is popularized in mass society says quite a lot about the nature of our culture.
Being an extrovert does not mean that a person naturally obtains high level of confidence, as well as being introvert does not imply that a person is naturally shy and pumped up with fears and anxieties. Understanding one’s nature adds to the process of building once confidence without extra worries. Previously I would close up if someone would comment on my preference to be alone or criticize the fact that I am less chatty in social gatherings than others, but since I learnt the differences between the three types, I feel more confident and comments do not bother me that much (if at all). It is also beneficial to appreciate the diversity in workplace and everywhere else where people are expected to work together in order to reach the common target. Rhett Power in his article lists positive and negative traits of both types explaining that both, introverts and extroverts may become leaders and that it is beneficial to mix the two types of employees and allow them to work together (even if at first it will feel uncomfortable) as both parties will learn from each other, which might even add to professional confidence.[xxviii] It all sounds fun and games, but working with extroverts are not always easy, especially if you happen to be a shy female introvert trying to put your opinion across. Leah Harper in her article How to get heard in meetings notes that women tend to stay quite in the meetings even though they are experts on the subject discussed, she says: gender linguistics dictate that women downplay certainty, apologise more and value building rapport with colleagues over establishing their place in a hierarchy, among other traits that are ultimately unhelpful for getting your point across.[xxix] She also notes that women that are not afraid to speak up sometimes are criticized as being bossy.[xxx] Each workplace has a dominant style that sometimes might clash with the speakers, but one has to accept the difference and see one-self as an individual and be not afraid to own it. Owning it, as mentioned in a beginning, means that one has to believe in what one does, be it selling warm peanuts or running a campaign for president. Confidence will come along the way and crowds will follow. Otherwise extroverts will unconsciously overshadow leaving introvert’s hard work unnoticed or take the limelight.
Previously I mentioned a shy introvert. It is important to distinguish shyness and introversion, as the two are not synonyms. Susan Cain nails the two terms, she explains that shyness is fair of social judgment and introversion is a response to stimulation, including social stimulation. However, shy introverts do exist, shy ambiverts too. I am a shy ambivert, sometimes I long for a social interaction, I long for parties, where I could meet new people, have intellectual conversations, eat cheese and drink wine sitting on a floor, but the minute I enter the room my heart skips a beat, I search for a lonely spot preferably somewhere in a darker corner of a room and look for familiar faces. Val Nelson lists a pathway to introvert’s state of anxiety. She explains that introverts tend to over-think what leads to perfectionism or (and) self-judgment, believing negative stereotypes, then starting to fear social judgment, avoidance of social situations increases fear, after that follows anxiety and finally low self-esteem.[xxxi] The perception of self also effects the way others see you, which creates so to say a circle of continues self-doubt. People start to believe that being socially awkward is a part of your personality and they excuse you as a social retard, sometimes introducing you as one to others and there is nothing left for you but live up to your nickname. To break the circle, first of all you need to distinguish between your shyness and your introversion. Decide to be confident and be ready to step out your comfort zone. Remember, practise makes perfect. In her article How To Build Confidence As A Shy Introvert Joanna L K Moore notes that in some cases you have to challenge your-self, e.g. instead of nodding and smiling ask a question. However be aware of when to push your-self as in some cases what’s holding you back might actually be your introversion, in which case your leap towards less shy you, will actually add up to your insecurities, she explains: Ask yourself, ‘am I avoiding this situation because I’m scared or because I’d have a nicer time on my own?’[xxxii] Get to know your-self, your motivations, desires, and beliefs and learn to appreciate the person you are.[xxxiii] Having clear answers to who you are might add to your self-belief, which without no doubt will increase your levels of confidence that will be hard to knock off.
PART V: body language
Last but not the least, body language. There is a saying fake it until you make it, therefore adopting a confident body language, may actually help to boost levels of self-esteem and make others believe it. There are number of articles on internet and as many books written about body language and its interpretations. It is without no doubt a powerful tool of communication and one should certainly learn to use it.
Stop for a moment and observe the way you are sitting/ standing. Check if your shoulders are tense, are your arms crossed as well as legs? Do you tend to slouch? Touch your face or neck when speaking? Blogger on self-development Barrie Davenport lists nine ways to boost your confidence. Practice smiling, smile makes you more trustworthy and attractive, increases productivity, tricks you into being happy and lowers stress and improves help.[xxxiv]If you are not a natural be happy go lucky person, at first you will have to force your-self to smile, practise in front of mirror, put on a happy face in shower or in your car, smile to your colleagues, to a bartender and record any changes you notice. Pay attention to your posture, sitting and standing straight, helps to avoid back and neck pain, keeps bones and joints in proper alignment. Needless to say, with your shoulders back and head held high you come across as more confident and self-assured.[xxxv] If you walked around with your head down and your shoulders bent for your whole life it looks like impossible task to accomplish, but then again, constant self-observation could make wonders. Use power poses that include opening your body up and taking up space. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shares her research on non-verbal expressions on power and dominance, one of the examples she shares is a victory pose: arms wide spread in a V form, chin slightly lifted, a complete opposite of which is wrapping arms around, closing down trying to feel small.[xxxvi] She also discusses high and low power cases, when it comes to high power people tend to compliment the non-verbal language rather than mirror it, for example arms on waist looking down (high power) vs self-holding hands (low power).[xxxvii] Cuddy argues that not only our minds change our bodies, but our bodies tend to change our minds. An experiment showed that adopting a high power pose for at least two minutes increases chances of taking risks, this happens due to hormonal changes, i.e. increases testosterone levels and lowers cortisol (the stress hormone).[xxxviii] Try standing for two minutes in a toilet smiling as fuck before important job interview and report back.
Use engaging body langue – mirror the other, nod and smile when appropriate. Such kind of non-verbal communication helps to win people over. Don’t close up, crossed legs and (or) arms signals your introversion, you look defensive. Next time you catch your-self in a self-protective pose, relax and unfold. Usually, it is an unconscious habit rather than a reaction to real threat. And even in such cases it is the best to stay open and keep your non-verbal communication in line with verbal and try to calm the other person down by acting tranquil.
Another trick of confidence that says a lot about individuals’ level of confidence is a good old handshake. A firm and strong but not crushing handshake followed with an eye contact signals confidence and makes good first impression.[xxxix] Previously handshake was exclusive men thing, nowadays everyone should have a firm handshake. It is a symbolic acknowledgment of gender equality.
Dress for confidence, always check the dress code and if in doubt always go for black, minimal style outfits, add one or two accessories, underline your natural beauty with some make up, fix your hair. Try to sleep 7-8 hours, the best sleep in between 10-12pm, follow sleeping cycles, one sleeping cycle is 90 minutes, try to get 5-6 of them. Follow your diet, eat often but in small portions, try to cook at home. Exercise, if you’re sitting for 15 minutes, you’re sitting for too long. Improve your well-being step by step, going cold turkey on your habits increases risk of failing, and failure will make you feel low, and that will double risk of stress.
Stop fidgeting, this is clear sign of self-doubt and nervousness, it also distracts people from what you are saying.[xl] Observe situations that makes you feel anxious and try to replace the bad habit depending on its nature, i.e. if you touch your face or neck, put your hands in your lap.
And finally, practice appropriate eye contact. I remember when I moved to Amsterdam and encountered first longer conversation with a Dutch person, his gaze felt almost inappropriate, even rude. A friend of mine who lived there for a while explained that Dutch people are straight forward rather than rude. They are open in their point of views and engaged in communication. A person I talked with that afternoon was a slightly extreme example of that.
And indeed, eye contact tells a lot, appropriate visual engagement imparts sense of intimacy and confidence to the interaction.[xli] If eye contact turns into staring people start to feel uncomfortable and nervous. If you feel uncomfortable making an eye contact there are plenty of tricks to practise it and until you improve try not to look down, this is a sign of shame and defeat.
This morning my housemate asked me how is the writing going, and I said: it’s going well, but the further into the research, the more fascinated and involved I feel and there is no time to gather all this information in an essay, but definitely it is a good start. Couple of weeks of reading about confidence, researching types of personality, analysing personal behaviour in social situations and observing others, discussing confidence and insecurities with friends helped me to answer quite a few questions. It was comforting to find out that each person has their ghost to deal with and that we all are more or less cracked. All we need to do is to learn to admit it, learn to appreciate our differences as well as appreciate the uniqueness of others. There is no benefit in self-doubt. We waste too much time over-thinking groundless criticism, time which could be invested in self-reflection. In the end of the day, tt is our responsibility to discover who we are.
[ii] Zamora, 2013
[iii] Burton, 2015
[vi] Neuman, 2013
[vii] Taylor, 2003
[viii] Neuman, 2013
[xi] Peters, 2012
[xiv] Kelley, 2013
[xvi] Taylor, 2003
[xvii] Samek, 2015
[xviii] Sarsons, 2015
[xix] Evatt, 1992
[xxiii] Daily Mail, 2015
[xxiv] Buettner, 2012
[xxv] Cain, 2012
[xxviii] Power, 2014
[xxix] Harper, 2016
[xxxi] Nelson, 2014
[xxxiv] Davenport, 2015
[xxxvi] Cuddy, 2012
[xxxix] Davenport, 2015