The 'C' Word

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Confidence as ‘a feeling of trust in one's abilities, qualities, and judgement’.

In the workplace that means feeling self-assured and believing we are capable of achieving our objectives. We often think that confidence is intrinsic, we either have it or we don’t. In fact, our relationship with confidence is more likely to be influenced by our conditioning, life experiences and environmental factors.

Confidence is one of those words that often triggers an emotional response in us, particularly if we struggle with it. We’ve all had an experience where we make a proposal or suggestion and have it critiqued. Perhaps it’s something that was tried before and there are lessons to be learned or maybe it needs further research or could be developed further by collaborating with others.

If we work in a psychologically safe environment, we take that feedback at face value. We appreciate the input and guidance, and we trust that the motivation is to help us refine and improve the idea.

However, if the environment is not psychologically safe, we are much more likely to receive such feedback negatively. Perhaps we perceive it as criticism, a chance to settle a score or ‘mark our card’.

This is especially true when our work is deeply personal and connected to our values and our sense of self. It is very hard not to internalise or personalise feedback, potentially allowing it to erode our confidence.

Our environment is hugely significant in determining our level of self-assurance, which means that confidence is situational.

We are also influenced by our own Limiting Beliefs. A limiting belief is a state of mind or belief that we think to be true, which limits us in some way. This limiting belief could be about you, your relationships with other people, or with the work environment.

Self-limiting beliefs are the ones which have the greatest potential for impacting negatively on our ability to achieve our full potential and are usually developed in response to our experiences.

When we allow our lives to be shaped by these limiting beliefs, the behaviours that we adopt reinforce the beliefs and so we end up with self-fulfilling prophecies.

While many of our beliefs are formed as we grow up, we can reinforce them or develop new ones throughout our lives.

Author Taylor Jenkins Reid said “I'm not sure it's anything that anyone could have told me, but I do wonder how things would have been different for me early on if I wasn't afraid of my ambition. I kept it very calm and cool those first few years out of worry that people would be put off by the true expectations I have for where I want to go”

Everyone has those voices in their head constantly reinforcing our worst fears – our inner critic. The voice may be a whisper or it may so loud that it paralyses us. It serves hold us back from trying anything new and worse still, when we try and don’t succeed it’s there reminding us ‘I told you so’.

However, it is also possible to let go of unhelpful beliefs and develop new ways of thinking and behaving that can, in turn, help to create a positive narrative for ourselves.

1. Identify any self-limiting beliefs and what behaviours they have resulted in?

2. Consider where these beliefs might have come from

3. Reflect on instances where these beliefs have shown to be incorrect

4. Decide on new behaviours to replace the limiting beliefs, then practice and reinforce them

The starting point is to notice and acknowledge self-limiting beliefs when they occur. Once you recognise the limiting belief, you can learn to replace it with something else. Carol Dweck has a very simple but effective solution - add the word ‘yet’. For example:

‘I don’t have much experience at public speaking..yet.’

This allows you to say that you’re not good at something but adding ‘yet’ at the end identifies that you are working on developing that skill and can help to reduce performance anxiety.