Building Confidence


As I get older I sometimes get asked for ‘life advice’ (presumably on the basis that anyone of my advanced years must surely have picked up something useful along the way, even if there isn’t much obvious evidence of this).

I was recently talking with a friend who had been told that ‘they needed to be more confident’, which is possibly some of the worst advice you can give anyone. It is based on confidence = willpower equation - that if you really, really want to, you can force yourself to be more confident. This may work for some people - I have just never met them - and for most of us it actually has a negative effect “Oh God - I’m not confident enough - what’s wrong with me ... etc”.

It is very hard to talk yourself into being more confident but it is remarkably easy to do the opposite. ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield talks about ‘resistance’ - the internal voices that tries to prevent us becoming our better selves. Whether the issue is professional, personal, sporting - you want to make a positive change and then you hear - I’m too old / I’m just not good enough / People like me don’t do this / I’ll look ridiculous / I’ve tried before and it didn’t work ...

I used to coach a youth football team and there were always players who would be having a bad game and come off muttering “I’m f**king crap”. You might say that being brutally honest like this was helpful, but my experience was that it just made things worse. My stock response was, 'You can tell yourself that you are Messi and it probably won’t make you a footballing genius, but if you tell yourself you are crap I can guarantee you will be.'

So - how can you do things differently and actually build your confidence? If (like the young footballers above) you see your qualities as fixed - ‘I’m just unfit / can’t talk to people / not skilful’ - it becomes very hard. The key first step is to accept that everyone (and I mean everyone) can make positive changes. Ask yourself - what are the two / three things I would DO differently if I was more confident?

My advice would be that two or three things are quite enough (one is fine) but try to be really specific in terms of behaviours not feelings. ‘I’d just feel better’ isn’t going to be that helpful but focus on what you would do differently - ‘I’d be able to talk to people I haven’t met before / I’d have a better first touch trapping a ball’ - gives you something that you can then work with.

Now the bad news - you do have to work at this and you have to be persistent - there is no quick fix. Break down the behaviour that you want to develop and practice it - regularly. Expect to get to a point where you hear yourself saying ‘This isn’t working / I can’t do this / This is stupid'. This is your resistance speaking, ignore it and keep practising - regularly.

If you stick with this I am pretty sure you will find that you get to a point where at work, in social situations, in a sporting environment - you have just done the very thing that you identified to work on, without thinking about it, because it has become a habit, and that is when you realise that you are feeling more confident.


A couple of additional points

Give yourself a break - you may find that you stop practising for a time because other things are happening in your life. This is ok - when you can, just pick yourself up and go again and ignore the voice that says ‘You knew that you couldn’t keep this going’.

If you can - find yourself a friend / informal mentor who can help you make the change you want, but choose carefully. You want the person who can will be encouraging whilst being gently honest with you - not the person who delights in pointing out all the things you haven’t done.

Good luck.

David Edwards