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Confidence - many of us feel we don't have enough of this elusive quality and would love more of it.  Some believe it to be a quality only found in everyone else, while others don't know where to begin to find it.  As with any destination worth visiting, confidence itself requires a journey.  This journey is one of truth and one that needs regular input and nurturing.  Don't give up - know that confidence is possible. The real question is “How?”.

Before we dive off this springboard of uncertainty, let’s take a look at the definition:

Confidence is “the quality of being certain of your abilities or of having trust in people, plans, or the future.” The word ‘confidence’ comes from the Latin word confidentia, from confidere which means ‘have full trust’.

Based on this definition, we now know that to be confident is to have certainty. And to be certain of something is to know and understand. Removing the unknown - or at least the fear of the unknown - will allow us to trust. If we can trust then by extension we feel confident.  

That definition felt like a journey of its own!

Let's get personal for a second…

Confidence is personal to me. From a young age I developed a stutter. It lived with me all through school and my early working career. I had no confidence and low self-esteem. I struggled with anxiety both with home and school as I was bullied mercilessly for my speech impediment (amongst other things). 

I never in a million years thought that I could go from not being able to stand up in front of my classmates to do a speech, to where I am now - being able to confidently present to a room of business executives or to an audience of 50+ people.

This journey was filled with uncertainty and took time (a couple of years!). I ended up going to speech therapy to learn techniques which I had to put into practice. I had to put myself into uncomfortable situations where I felt terribly embarrassed to speak. I hated speaking on the phone but I ended up getting a job as a receptionist which seemed like the worst job in the world for a stutterer (which it was… at first). I needed to create opportunities for myself to practise and get better. I also ended up moving to London where I had to find my own voice. I started to gain this confidence over time by essentially using a ‘toolkit’.

The Confidence Toolkit

These are 3 things that ultimately helped me gain the 2 things to be confident (trust and certainty):

  1. Support -  A nurturing and stable support system is important. Some of us are lucky to have people close to us who we can trust to turn up and support us. Support for some of us - for numerous reasons - might not be so close to home. Thankfully the internet is a beautiful place and not just because it is filled with pictures of crystals and cats. There are communities to be found everywhere you look - from Instagram to Reddit and inbetween. Whatever you need you can find a community somewhere online. Surround yourself with people who will contribute positively to your world.

  2. Knowledge - Learning helps us break down the barrier of the unknown and attain certainty through understanding.  We can gain this knowledge in many ways - formal studies or casual reading are perfect solitary pursuits.  There is also much to be gained from the social side of learning - talking and collaborating with experienced peers or coaches and even therapy.

  3. Activity - Learning can be fun but it’s important to apply these new gems of knowledge to first-hand experiences.  It's through successfully putting into practice what we have learned that we have the delicious moments of "I can do this!"

So, the more we know and discover - through support, knowledge and activity - the more our confidence dial will shift.

Using the Toolkit

I always start from the end goal when I approach a situation where I want to accomplish something new - such as increased confidence in an unknown activity.  I keep that goal in mind and then work backwards in logical steps until I find a place where my confidence is high enough to overcome the uncertainty or the fear of activity.

A Real World Scenario

Let’s say we have always wanted to learn how to dive and our ultimate goal is to be able to dive off of a 10m diving platform (or off the rocks in the French Riviera!).

If I, right now, walked out onto a 10m diving platform, I guarantee you I will not be able to do it. My legs will turn to chunky quartz and I’d become an immovable object incapable of taking that plunge. Why? Because I have zero confidence.

No one has ever taught me how to dive and I have minimal experience diving into the shallow side of the pool as a young child. I have little to no knowledge or experience about proper diving techniques. It’s that simple.

The kind of questions that pop up are things like:

What if I hurt myself? Does diving even hurt? What techniques do I apply when entering the water? What if I get water up my nose? Heck, can I even swim? Will I hit the water like a giant rock and sink?

These are all unknowns with no truth behind them and our brains are very good and filling the gaps with stories to convince us we will be safer by not engaging with it. For us to get the truth, we should probably do some research about diving (knowledge), sign up to a diving school (activity) with a good coach (support).

Once you can swim, you can dive in from the side of the pool. Once you know what that feels like and you can do it over and over again without fear or anxiety - you become more confident.  Then you can try diving from 2 metres…and then 5 metres…and before you know it those previously unattainable heights will feel effortless and you can tackle that end goal of diving off the 10 metre platform.

This technique works for everything. 

To have the confidence to speak in front of large crowds or speak more fluently.
To have the confidence in your body to dance in front of others or privately for someone.
To have the confidence to be yourself and live your authentic self.
To have the confidence to share and show your art or crafts to the world.

It’s important to reflect on your journey throughout and course correct as you need to. You may find yourself in a situation where you have exhausted the knowledge of the person you are learning from and you need to seek out a new teacher.  Or you've mastered your current skill and need to pursue more challenging tasks so you can continue to develop and shift the dial.

To Summarise

Confidence is a destination that is dependent on the journey itself. Take time to sit down and think about what it is you want. Work backwards to find a starting point that you’re comfortable with and then look at what you can change in terms of support and knowledge. Start on easily achievable activities and start working your way up. Reflect and course correct as needed until you reach your goal. 

It may be uncomfortable at first but confidence is possible.  

You’ve got this.

Further Reading

I encourage you to explore the topic of the zone of proximal development (ZPD for short) which is a concept by psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

“The zone of proximal development (ZPD) is the distance between what a learner is capable of doing unsupported, and what they can do supported. It is the range where they are capable only with support from someone with more knowledge or expertise”.

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