Can you learn confidence?

I’ve always said that if I could be a fairy godmother and give a child one gift, it would be confidence. If you are confident you can go anywhere and do anything. You’ll take chances and “just do it” while others languish, trying to pluck up courage. Yes, you might make mistakes but at least you live life to the full.
Recently I found this interview I gave many years ago, on confidence.  Given I have to do a presentation this week (having never even used PowerPoint before!) I figured it was a good chance to read my own advice!

Some people find social situations permanently daunting and public speaking simply impossible; do you believe that everyone can learn to have confidence and what would be the most crucial first steps?
I think, to be truthful, the majority of people are a bit nervous about public speaking and a huge number find social situations daunting. But I do think you can turn it around. I’m not a naturally confident person but usually manage to give the impression I am! Firstly make sure you feel happy with the way you look – choose clothes you feel comfortable in and make sure you know the dress code. Use your body language to help you – shoulders back, stand tall, look upwards rather than down and you’ll automatically feel better.
Remember that there is probably someone way more shy and nervous than you in the room. See if you can figure out who it could be and go talk to them. The key with social situations is to ask questions. Most people love to talk about themselves and if you simply ask them what they do for a living or where they live – you probably won’t need to say another word! Listen – and be interested – once you realise people are just people – human like you – they become less daunting.
Public speaking is another kettle of fish but it helps to remember that the audience is on your side – you have to be a complete weirdo to want someone to fail in a talk! Do some serious breathing and stretching before you “go on” to release tension and in particular stretch your jaw as wide as possible. Homeopathic Arg Nit can be wonderful – or Aconite.

Do you believe that discovering the cause of your poor self-opinion can help in eliminating it?
I think it’s always worth figuring out where you get your inner beliefs from – sometimes you can have a real breakthrough. I’d suggest you listen out for the “inner critic” – when you hear that voice inside saying “you’re hopeless”, “You won’t be able to do that”, “You’ll never succeed” listen and see if you can figure out whose voice it is. Once you’ve done that (or even if you can’t figure out if it’s your mother, teacher, friend etc) just say “Shut up!” or “No!” each time you hear the voice.

Everybody suffers from low self esteem at some point in their lives, but the feeling that we may have ‘failed’ at something over the past year can make us feel even less confident. What positive steps or suggestions can you suggest for people who have effectively given up on their dreams through failure?
Turn it around. It’s easy to focus on the negative but there’s always something you’ve learned in a tough year. I’m a huge believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason (even when that’s really tough) – failure is just a prod for you to succeed in something else. Ask yourself if these dreams are what you really wanted or that you just thought you did? Make a treasure map – go through mags picking out images that you just love, that really hit you in the gut. Whittle them down to about fifteen or so – and paste onto a large sheet of paper. What do those pictures say to you? Your subconscious speaks in images and you may well find that your goals have actually shifted. It’s time to follow a new dream.

How can alternative therapies such as flower essences or aromatherapy help?
Flower essences are quiet miracles. They can gently support you – but won’t do the tough work, that has to come from you! I have used the Bach remedies for over thirty years and wouldn’t be without them. Most chemists now have them and also a guide for you to see which negative emotions are ruling your life. Pick out the remedies you need and give them a go. Aromatherapy is a huge pick-me-up too – again, it won’t get to the bottom of your issues but can support you through the tough times. I use geranium, rose and mandarin as my favourite “happy oils”. A professional aromatherapist can be a huge help too.  Check out the wondrous Tazeka Aromatherapy – their Confidence, Optimism and Balance blends can be great boosters.

When you perform any skill well, your body releases the feel-good chemicals, endorphins. Accomplishing one thing makes you optimistic about your ability to achieve something else. Do you think it is important to consistently challenge yourself to maintain confidence?
To a point. But I wouldn’t push people to live on adrenalin all the time. Take challenges, absolutely, but give yourself time off too!

Lack of self confidence and negative self-talk can also mean we are afraid of giving a speech in public, avoid going out on dates, or are afraid to try for promotion because we do not believe we can handle the extra responsibility. This can prevent us from progressing with our lives and can also affect the lives of our friends and families if they feel they are always trying to build up our low self-esteem. How can someone bring themselves out of the negative thought trap? 
Listen to the inner critics (as before). NLP techniques such as anchoring, can be helpful. Remember a time when you were totally confident (or as near as damnit!) and relive that in your mind – build up a complete picture: how you looked, how you sounded, how you felt inside, if there were any smells or tastes associated with the experience, put them in too. When the picture is really clear and you can really feel it, anchor it with a gesture (such as clenching your fist or clasping your hands together). Release the image. Repeat this several times, each time anchoring the feeling when you get it to the peak. Eventually you will find that simply making your fist (or whatever) brings back the empowered feelings. Affirmations can also be useful – but they do take time – you need to work with an affirmation for at least 21 days for it to “take hold”.

In order to be confident, why is it important to connect with your passions, keep life interesting and work towards goals?
Without passion we fall into dull routine. How can we be confident if we aren’t leading the life we really want or doing the things we want to do. It’s vital to discover what really “turns you on” and then take steps to getting that life. It’s not an instant process but very important – the treasure map exercise helps with this. Also, imagine someone told you this was your last day on earth – what would you regret not having done? It’s a cliché but you should try to live each day as if it were your last. In the grand scheme of things who will really care if you fluff a line or don’t make the perfect speech. Good enough is just fine.

Finally, it is hard to boost our confidence levels when we constantly feel anxious or nervous. When we are tense, our breathing speeds up automatically, so by slowing it down, you also decrease the heart and pulse rate. How can learning some relaxation techniques help?
Absolutely. First port of call is to learn full abdominal breathing. Progressive relaxation and yoga nidra is also hugely helpful. Sound therapy such as humming, sighing, groaning is great too.


Photo by Conor Samuel on Unsplash

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