‘I can’t do this’, ‘They are so much better than me,’ ‘They are going to find out that I don’t know what I’m doing,’ ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I’m not cut out for this,’ ‘They aren’t going to like me,’ – These are some of the thoughts that have passed through my own mind and hundreds of the people that I have worked with throughout the years. Sound familiar? It’s really sad that we can think of ourselves in this way, isn’t it?
It was while pondering on my own past thoughts and reflecting on the common thoughts and feelings that I have heard from my confidence and sport psychology clients that I realised that far too many of us doubt ourselves, our abilities, and our gifts. We can be really good at letting the doubts get the better of us and letting them stop us from doing what we really want to do in life. This is exactly why I’m on a mission to empower people from all walks of life to feel more confident in themselves – whether that be at work, in the sporting arena, on the dating scene, or any other part of life.
The secret is, as soon as you fully accept yourself for the incredible person that you are, believe that you are capable, and you take action regardless of how scary it may seem at the time, you are far more likely to get what you want. We all seem to know this, but the crippling fear of failure can override things that we’d really like to be doing a lot of the time. Confidence is your belief in yourself to achieve a certain thing and it is widely documented in the sport psychology literature that it plays a very significant role in achieving success.
I’ve always been fascinated by what a little more confidence can do and how it can be built and protected so that people are going for what they truly want. I’m a performance psychology and confidence specialist and I have worked with professional athletes from all over the world and what stands out is that even the best athlete can suffer from a lack of confidence. You wouldn’t expect that from the very best would you? You’d expect them to be brimming with confidence all the time as they are the best on the planet at what they do, but the more time I have spent in the sport and performance psychology sector working with athletes on things such as confidence, motivation, focus, dealing with failure, injuries, communication, resilience, setting goals, and perfectionism; the more I have seen that a lack of confidence has been the most recurrent and interconnecting issue.
Here are my six top tips from the world of professional sport for becoming a more confident and powerful ‘you’ in all areas of your life.
Know and accept that you are good enough
The number one secret that I have learned is that the more you accept and show up as your true self and have confidence in what you bring to the table, the more at peace you feel. Whether we like to admit it or not, everyone makes mistakes and the more accepting of your vulnerabilities you are and the more compassionate you can be towards yourself, the better. We all have vulnerabilities and the more courageous you can be in going for what you want will make a huge difference to your life. If you trust your authentic self as being enough just as you are and you give your best, then you are powerful. People will start to notice this confidence and it will naturally attract them to want to work with you, be with you, or respect you as an opponent. The sooner you give yourself permission to take the weight of doubt in yourself off your shoulders the better and I have found it the most freeing and empowering experience.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Dave Grohl, the Nirvana band member and the front man of The Foo Fighters. He said: ‘No one is you and that is your power.’ He is completely right. You come with a unique energy, and unique talents, and skills. You have serious value in who you are and what you do. It’s time to start reminding yourself of that. Tell yourself every single day how valuable you are and why. The way we speak to ourselves is really important and I’ll expand on this a little bit later.
Preparation and using past performance success is key
It has been well-documented that preparation increases confidence. This is a controllable source that you can focus on as you have control over the preparation you put into something and you do not need to rely on external things to be able to do this which is great news. As confidence can fluctuate, it is important to focus on as many controllable confidence sources as possible as these are stable. As highlighted in the sport psychology literature, by focusing on controllable sources such as good preparation and remembering similar successful past performances as a reminder to boost you, this is how we can build and maintain our confidence to make it robust.
If you pick something you want to practise to improve your confidence in that area, write down exactly how you can prepare and practise it well. For example, write down two or three things that you are going to do to improve on it and be specific. What exactly are you going to do? When are you going to do it? Where and how are you going to do it? By breaking it down and focusing on the smaller everyday processes, this makes it more digestible and do-able, which also helps us feel calm and in control. Be realistic with it and make sure that it is something that you can actually commit to practising. The more you practise and prepare to do the thing you want to be more confident in, the better you will feel.
An example could be that you have a presentation coming up at work that you’ve been dreading and you want to feel more confident about doing it. Prepare the presentation, then maybe practise delivering it on your own and then with a small audience of friends or family members that you trust. The more you practise and run through how you want to deliver your message, the more prepared and confident you’ll feel about it when it comes to delivering it for real. Use successful past experiences to remind yourself that you have done well before and can do it again. Run through what went well and why and use that information as a positive confidence booster for this new experience.
Give your strengths the attention they deserve
As humans we are really good at focusing on ways that we can constantly improve, but we can sometimes ignore the positives, and these positives are actually really important. In the literature, it is suggested that taking proper time to think about and write down your strengths and what you bring to the table really helps our confidence. Ask what you like about yourself. What qualities do you already have that help you perform to a really high level in what you’re doing? If your friends were to answer the same question about you, what would they say? When your confidence needs a boost, read your strengths and remind yourself of how great you already are. Tell yourself why your strength is going to help you with the situation you want to be confident in. For example, if you’re going on a date and you’re worried about it, you could tell yourself: ‘I have so much to offer someone, so I deserve to feel good about this date and I’m looking forward to it!’ This can be a really powerful tool.
Use your mind to your advantage
This type of self-talk is really important. The thing about the mind is that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all linked and can have an effect on one another. For example, if we think ‘I’m not good enough to do this,’ then that can create feelings of doubt, deflation, or fear – which then in turn may make us avoid the situation or approach it with minimal effort as we believe that we are not able to do it successfully in the first place. We need to then replace that thought with something more helpful and positive which is more likely to help us get what we want from the situation. It can be something motivational or task-related. For example, if we say something more motivational such as ‘I can totally do this, I trust myself,’ or something instructional such as ‘Be open and smile at my audience,’ then this will create more positive sensations and a good level of energy towards the activity, which then in turn makes it more probable that we will succeed with the task.
It could be useful to become more self-aware of the negative thoughts you habitually have which may have been stopping you. Write them down, and then write how they make you feel and then act as a consequence. Then practise replacing the negative thought with something more helpful and write down how this will positively impact your feelings and the way you act. A nice routine that my clients have found helpful is, when they are feeling negative to stop, take a breath, relax the shoulders, and use the positive self-talk to go again. Practise this every day and make it a habit as the more you practise, the more it will become an automatic process that you can use in every area of your life. Even if bad things happen, if you can change perspective and find the positive silver lining in any situation, this will protect your confidence to continue with whatever you want to achieve.
It is important to mention that it is totally OK to have negative thoughts. We have thousands of thoughts every day. It is what we do with them that is key. When you have a negative thought, you don’t have to attach yourself to it, let it happen and then just give yourself a little nudge in the right direction that is going to be more helpful to you. Don’t keep trying to force it if more negative thoughts come in, be gentle with yourself with this process and over time you will get used to being more positive and taking good action automatically on a regular basis.
Have you ever heard of ‘Fake it til you make it’? There is evidence to show that this really does work and even if you’re not feeling confident, acting confidently anyway can actually raise confidence levels which is a great start on your journey to becoming who you want to be. Write down how you would confidently act in the situation you are wanting to improve. How would you look? What would people see? How would you feel? What would you be doing? What would your body language look like? Would you have your head up, shoulders back, and would you be smiling? Practise doing it even if it feels scary as this is how you grow and feel more comfortable with experience. An important part of this is that you give yourself permission to let go of caring about what other people think. The truth is, people probably won’t be thinking much about what you’re doing because they are too busy thinking about their own stuff a lot of the time.
See it first
Visualisation and mental imagery have been documented as really powerful tools in helping our confidence. According to research, imagery works because when we visualise doing something, the same electrical impulses are sent to our muscle fibres as when we actually do the action itself. This prepares us to perform, a great dress rehearsal for the real thing. Spend five minutes before going to sleep visualising yourself feeling and being confident and successful in whatever the chosen area is. It might be at a work meeting, during an important conversation you need to have with someone, on a date, or on the field of play, and it can apply to any situation in life. Look through your own eyes and use all five senses. By this I mean what can you see, hear, smell, taste and touch and how do you feel in those moments? Are you calm and relaxed? Do you have a burst of energy? Visualise yourself executing the task to your best.
The above tips will help catapult your confidence and make you feel powerful. It takes practice every day but if you talk to yourself in a kinder and more helpful way, truly make an effort to value yourself more and visualise and go for whatever you want anyway regardless of the risk of failure, you’re more likely to get what you really want. So many of the most successful people fail multiple times. Failure is a lot of the time a very necessary part of success and we are good at undervaluing its importance in our growth. Something powerful that I have asked myself has been: ‘what will actually happen if I fail?’ The answer is nothing! I will just get up and go again until I get what I want. The unwavering perseverance and confidence in knowing that if you don’t quit, you can’t fail, will get you everywhere.
Chantal Duarte is a performance psychology and confidence specialist. She tweets @chantal_duarte.