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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 26 May, 2016

Struggling with confidence? Keep going, keep trying and be kind to yourself

If you have a deep‐rooted problem, treat it as you would a physical or practical problem, and seek expert advice.

Psychologies Magazine

YOU MAY THINK that some personality types are more prone to a debilitating lack of confidence.

You may have even concluded that your personality is prone to lack of confidence, and that it’s your personality that’s at fault.

Perhaps you’re convinced that being shy is the reason you can’t make business presentations. Maybe you believe that having a big mouth gets you into trouble and ruins your relationships.

In fact, there isn’t such a thing as a personality type that’s more or less likely to be confident.

If you find social situations like parties an absolute ordeal, you might believe that outgoing personalities never lack confidence in groups of people.

Well, yes, some outgoing people are confident, but some aren’t. However, the outgoing person who isn’t confident in a particular social situation might be better at covering this up.

Have you considered why some of these outgoing people you admire drink a little too much alcohol at parties? Yes, they too might be feeling insecure.

Breaking the myth about shyness

Being shy is about being preoccupied with the self and feeling self‐conscious. You may be thinking that if you have been shy since childhood that’s a bad thing, that shyness can’t be good, and that surely shyness is a lack of confidence.

We know from psychology that shyness begins around 18 months old when babies start to develop a sense of self.

However, groundbreaking research in the mid‐90s from leading child psychologist Dr Jerome Kagan at Harvard University found that 15–20% of infants are born with what he called ‘inhibited temperament’.

They’re the ones kicking their legs as babies when someone they don’t know appears, or they hide away when they’re toddlers. This gets labelled as shyness.

They may or may not grow up shy, but even if they do, it’s not about a lack of confidence. Let’s say they (and this could be you) are not keen on strangers.

Maybe they don’t get a buzz from big groups of people and instead simply feel more comfortable with one or two people.

The other point about Kagan’s research is that shyness isn’t fixed.

If you are in your 20s reading this, fretting because you’re in your first job and you feel awkward, trust us. In a few years’ time, there’s nothing to say you won’t be in your element.

It’s also important to think about your circumstances and how these affect your behaviour.

According to Kagan, we are all affected by history and culture. For example, if you’ve been looking for work during a period of recession and haven’t succeeded, your confidence levels will inevitably be affected.

Putting your weaknesses aside

When you’re not feeling positive about yourself, the risk is that you label situations that make you feel exposed, anxious or fearful, as weaknesses.

Fear of job interviews, fear of making a presentation, fear of filling in a tax return, fear of going to a party and not knowing anyone can become more entrenched as the years go by.

shutterstock_269972915 Source: Shutterstock/Ditty_about_summer

But instead of getting stuck on being hopeless and unable to deal with your weakness(es) and putting it under the umbrella of your lack of confidence, there is another way round this.

Start with taking a detached look at your so‐called weakness.

Why is it important? Is it important?

Do you really need to convert this ‘weakness’ into what you might consider a strength?

If it’s something that you loathe doing and makes you feel miserable, consider the alternatives.

If you are terrified of public speaking (which is one of the biggest, most common fears), do you need to make public presentations?

If this is part of your work, or if you need to do so in order to get promoted or to raise money for a charity close to your heart, then yes, there are concrete reasons to develop the skills to do it.

Reframing your lack of confidence

Note that we’re not labelling this as a weakness but as something you will learn to do, step by step, to make your life better.

But let’s say you are anxious about having to make a speech at your best friend’s wedding.

You are absolutely terrified of speaking in public.

You don’t even like big groups, but you feel you have to.

Well, do you? Yes, it would be lovely to make a speech at your best friend’s wedding, but is there something else you can do instead?

The key is to work out whether what you perceive as a weakness affects others and/or how it affects you.

It’s possible to reframe lack of confidence as something you need to learn or as something you don’t need to learn and for the moment can put aside.

This is not about shelving responsibilities but being kind to yourself and not putting yourself under undue pressure.

It’s the difference between saying ‘I’m useless at big parties’ to ‘I prefer being with one or two people’.

Personality is not related to any type of personality. How you feel is relative to your circumstances.

This isn’t making excuses for yourself, this is being compassionate.

If it’s fear of losing your job, or actually losing your job, or a difficult boss that has eroded your confidence, this is not your fault.

You haven’t paralysed yourself, something external has injured you.

If you have a deep‐rooted problem, treat it as you would a physical or practical problem, and seek expert advice.

The key is to keep going, keep trying, rather than giving up and avoiding.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there anything you are terrified of doing?
  • Which fears do you absolutely need to overcome? Which ones can you totally avoid anyway?
  • Are there situations in life you always avoid? What reason do you give, and what is the real reason?
  • Think of a specific activity you believe is beyond your abilities. Are you afraid, unprepared or lacking in the knowledge/skills needed for this activity?
  • Is there just one practical thing you can do to remove an obstacle so that you are free to work on overcoming fear?

This is an edited extract from Real Confidence: Stop feeling small and start being brave by Psychologies Magazine (published by Capstone).

Read: Looks shouldn’t matter, but they do. Especially when you’re applying for a job

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