The Curse of Low Self-Confidence and What To Do About It
Self-confidence is a strange thing. I should clarify: low self-confidence is a strange animal. I've seen it show up in the most confident and accomplished leaders:
"I feel so stupid"
"I don't think I can do this"
"I'm just an idiot"
These words are coming from wonderfully capable, intelligent, driven women who have built accomplished careers and are continuing to make great impacts in their work, families, and communities.
So what gives? Why does this happen? And more importantly, how do we counter it? How do we get over it, step on it, jump over it, and kick it to the curb once and for all?
Interestingly, I found that self-confidence is neither an all-or-nothing entity (have it or don't have it), nor is it permanent situation (forever or never).
Rather, it comes and goes at different times of our lives and careers, in different situations, with different people.
You may have self-confidence over 95% of your work or life, and somehow there's this nagging 5% of your work or life that you're just not quite sure on. Perhaps you're learning a new skill, and struggling with it is making you question your other abilities. Perhaps you're going through a major life change, and it's giving you reason to doubt your judgement.
Often, if not managed well, that tiny 5% would take hold, slowly eating at us until it spreads and take over the 95% as well.
So what could you do?
1. Identify triggers: BE AWARE
What is causing your low self-confidence? Be very specific. And be honest with yourself. Is it a particular situation? What usually is happening? Who is involved? What did they say or do? What did you say or do? What were you feeling at that time? What made you do what you'd normally do?
Write these down, or talk with a trusted friend or coach.
Reality check: Are you describing these in broad strokes ("I feel so timid when I can't speak up")? If so, keep asking who, what, when, where (e.g. "When we are gathered in a meeting with all the senior leadership, and there is a topic that I'm passionate about, but I'm afraid to appear a fool because everyone else is an expert, I tend to sit in the back of the room, and not say anything."). Be as specific as possible to get down to what actually is causing you to lose your confidence.
2. Challenge: REFRAME YOUR THOUGHTS
Now, reflect on what you just said. Which parts are facts? What assumptions did you make? About yourself, about others? What are you fearing in this situation? What are your doubts in this situation? What are other possible perspectives? What other outcomes could happen? What alternate approaches could be used here?
Reality check: If this happened to your favorite person, what would you say about the situation?
I love this reality check because we often choose to say such cruel, mean, and untrue things to ourselves over and over again - something that we would never say to a respected friend or colleague. So why would we do that to ourselves?
Instead of being our worst critic, choose to be our own best supporter instead.
3. Integrate and Apply: CHANGE YOUR DIALOGUE
Here's the thing, nothing will change if you keep mulling on it and just thinking about it. So let's take what you've done and put it in action:
With the triggers that you identify (situation, people, words, actions) - how would you best recognize when you're in this situation? Note this down so that you can notice when a trigger happens.
Acknowledge what you would normally do. For example, if going into a meeting room for a board meeting is intimidating for you, you acknowledge that your usual action is to sit silently at the back of the room.
Prepare an alternate action that you would make. What could you do differently in order to bring your best self and add value to the situation? For example, instead of sitting silently at the back of the boardroom, you would choose a seat at the table. Perhaps the next time, you would speak up and provide your perspective.
I'll be honest here. This is difficult. In fact, a KPMG leadership study shows 67% of women said they need more support building confidence to feel like they can be leaders.
So, be kind to yourself. Find the right support in your colleagues, family, coach, and friends. Rely on and leverage that 95% of your confident self, and manage the 5% so it won't take over.
Things take time, and low self-confidence is not something easily conquered. And it'll likely pop up when you least expected it. So the best way is to equip yourself to deal with it in a way that keeps moving you forward. Seek out small wins - something that is safe for you, and continues positive progress - in order to keep building momentum.
And I'll leave you with something that was casually said but have stuck with me throughout the years. It was still early on in my career, and I was on the phone with a more senior colleague, both working on figuring out something that wasn't going right in a project. At a certain point of confusion and complexity, we both took a break, and she just said:
"We're a couple of intelligent women, we'll figure it out."
And so we did.
Best of luck to you all, and go forth and figure it out.
Do you have your bouts of low self-confidence? What do you do to deal with it? How do you get back on track and keep figuring it out? Share your thoughts in a comment.