So many brilliant businesses fall down because of a failure to take the final step: a failure to execute, to sell, to make it happen. Wonderful products, fantastic services but hardly anyone knows about them. We see this cycle again and again, particularly with women in business. It is almost always a failure of confidence.
Self-confidence is about how you connect with the external world. It’s different from self-esteem, which is about how you feel about yourself. If you have a low opinion of yourself, you most likely also have low confidence about your abilities to connect with others. But it’s not unusual, especially for creative and innovative people, to have strong self-esteem and low self-confidence. There’s plenty you can do to bolster self-esteem, have a look at some of our articles on that issue. But this article is about building your self-confidence, getting out there and taking action.
Think, Feel, Do
At the core of psychological research on self-confidence is the ‘Think, feel, do’ loop. For all of us, those three actions and emotions are linked in a continuous cycle. A spark at one stage of the cycle can spin it all upwards or downwards. For example, Barbara feels nervous about how to network. She isn’t comfortable about going to a networking meeting. So what she does is stay at home. This reinforces her thoughts that she hates networking and makes her even less confident about going in future. The downward spiral.
Alternatively Barbara could force herself to think that it will be fine. She does go to the networking event. And it feels OK, in fact she makes some useful contacts. As a result she overcomes her fears and gets out more, makes more useful contacts, some of whom lead to customers and sales. The upward spiral.
It helps to be aware of the Think, Feel, Do loop. You can then almost visualise the confidence draining away when you let a negative spark get into the loop. And the good news is that you can jump-start the loop in an upwards direction at any of the three stages.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” This brilliant quote from the great Henry Ford sums it up. As soon as you tell yourself you can’t do something, you may as well give up, every part of your mind and body will be working against you.
Of course you’d need to be a psychopath to convince yourself that you can do something with no skills or experience in an area. But don’t go too far the other way and do nothing until you have done yet another training course or qualification. That’s not preparation it’s procrastination! Get the balance right. By all means get some advice or information behind yourself. But more importantly, practice and get experience.
The most powerful thing that you can do to change your thoughts is to build on that experience by visualising everything going brilliantly. If it’s giving a presentation, then practice it over and over in reality and also in your head. Imagine the audience paying attention, nodding and smiling. And there you are speaking in front of them, looking great, perfectly composed and at ease. Top athletes all do this. They visualise winning a hundred times before the event. So when the time comes they’re ready and every part of mind and body is working for the win.
Debra Veal (now Searle) is probably the best conference speaker we’ve ever booked at Prowess: powerful, compelling, modest and very real. She was the woman who rowed across the Atlantic on her own, though it hadn’t been her intention. Her husband has started the journey with her, but was overcome by uncontrollable anxiety. Debra decided to continue alone. It was an incredibly gruelling ordeal, she was sore all over, terrified of the massive waves, sharks and oil tankers which could cut her small boat to pieces if she fell asleep. But on the ledge in front of her she had a slogan her twin sister had given her. It said ‘Choose your attitude’. Each time she felt despair overcoming her, that slogan helped her through. She actively chose to focus on the beauty around her, the strength she was building and the opportunity for peace and contentment that being all alone in the middle of the ocean provided.
When things are going badly, it can be tempting to allow yourself to wallow in despair. But remember you have a choice. You can’t change other people or circumstances, but you can choose your response. There is always something of value in every situation that you can build on and grow from. Choose your attitude.
Taking action can be the easiest way to break the cycle. Doing anything that you’re a bit afraid of will stretch your confidence and build your capacity for handling more risk. Overcoming fears is the fast-track to feeling unstoppable!
Acting confidently in itself triggers biochemical reactions in your body which make you feel even more powerful. You know the power pose, don’t you? Those powerful people who seem to take up just a bit more than their share of space: standing tall and expansively. It’s a pose men are more likely to adopt than women. And now psychologists at Harvard have discovered that expansive posture doesn’t just give other people the message that you’re powerful, it actually makes you more powerful too. Standing tall pushes up testosterone levels and reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. So, acting confident makes you confident.
Over the years we’ve asked hundred of women in business their advice for other women thinking of starting up themselves. I wish I had a pound for all those who said ‘just do it.’ But we’d all be richer still if we took the advice. Yes we’d make mistakes, but we’d also have many more chances of success. Taking bold action is the only way to learn, grow and succeed in business. Just do it.