Confidence Coaching for Self-Assurance

From defining self-confidence to explaining confidence coaching... here are my latest thoughts.  But first, a little quotation...  

"Confidence and deference are not mutually exclusive, and it’s usually a lack of deference rather than excess of confidence that gets powerful people into trouble." - Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer  

Confidence has proven hard to define over the years.  Ask a bunch of people what it means and you'll get a bunch of different answers.  

For years people thought confidence was nothing more than a personality trait, indeed some folks still do. This idea that confidence is an innate gift, like an ear for music or a head for figures, is just as flawed as its fellow examples. Confidence, like music theory and numeracy, is something we can all learn.

What’s the difference between self-assurance, self-confidence and self-esteem? 

They're all related and often mixed up and banded about as if they were one and the same, but they're different animals at their hearts. Once we take them out of the thesaurus, separate them and look at their DNA, it's easy to identify one from the other. In this article, for example, we're going to focus on self-confidence and more specifically confidence coaching.

Confidence Coaching is relatively new because we've only recently realised that our concepts of confidence have been flawed. In the '80s there was a movement, well OK there were a lot of movements, and like a lot of those the 'high self-esteem' movement was fundamentally misguided.

High self-esteem was considered the very pinnacle of confidence. Only those with the highest of high self-esteem could amount to anything.  In their mistaken race to find this much-coveted self-esteem, the general populace took to every crackpot idea, plan and scheme imaginable.  Gurus, guides and self-esteem experts proliferated across the planet.  Folks would do just about anything in an attempt to define self-assurance and grab more than their fair share of self-worth.

An entire industry was formed on the back of the idea that anyone could achieve anything and all they had to do was believe in themselves.  To achieve this nirvana, people were encouraged to give each other gold stars and medals and so many undeserved pats on the back.

However, there was a problem in this perceived paradise... Self-esteem isn't self-confidence and soon the cracks in the hasty paintwork began to show. 

It was Roy Baumeister, a renowned psychologist, who stuck the pin in the '80s bubble.  He grew concerned about the sheer number of studies and reports which were banded about and decided to take a closer look.  Many of them were as thin as the paper they were dot-matrix printed on and it didn’t take Roy long to find the truth.  In the end, he discovered that of the 15,000 studies conducted in the name of self-esteem and confidence, only 200 were backed by any kind of actual academic research. 

You see the truth is, self-esteem is not as closely related to self-confidence as you might imagine.

The difference between self-esteem and self-confidence.

?Once we understand what separates these two, it's easy to find the logic behind improving them.

Self-esteem is all about self-worth. A person with high self-esteem may consider themselves to be a more rounded person and have fewer insecurities about their state of being, but it doesn't make them any more confident.

Self-confidence, however, is related to our abilities and how we perform in tasks.

It is entirely possible to be an individual with high self-esteem and low self-confidence and this was the problem the self-help boom in the '80s struggled to address.

So, if it's not a trait and it's not self-esteem what is self-confidence?

Defining Self Confidence

In its base form, self-confidence is nothing more than a skill we use to navigate life. It is an ability which can be honed like any other. Self-confidence is not a trait which we can inherit or pass on. In every conceivable way and in all self-confidence definitions, it is no more, nor less than a life skill and skills can be improved.

What is confidence coaching?

Confidence coaching is a specialised field in which skilled coaches apply their socratic magic in a bid to help their subjects discover and develop their own personal confidence. Unlike the self-improvement boom of the '80s, the rise of self-confidence coaching is grounded in common-sense, reason and logic.

There are a number of different methods and approaches but the majority have similar core beliefs.

The first step to improving self-confidence is to address where a person lacks it.

What are the main reasons for lacking confidence?

As mentioned above, some of us have tended to assume any lack of personal confidence is at least partly down to some kind of wayward character trait.

In a recent research study by The World of Psychology polling opinions from thousands of high ranking executives, they surprisingly discovered that many CEO respondents considered themselves to be lacking in confidence. The truth is, a lack of self-confidence is often down to little more than a lack of experience. Ask yourself how confident do you feel performing tasks you've never done before. Taking this logic to its natural conclusion, the more often we do things the more confident we feel about doing them. From this perspective, confidence and experience go hand in hand.

How to overcome a lack of self-confidence

The first thing to remember when considering self-confidence and the lack thereof is that this is something we all face. Every day, in every situation and at every level, there is someone struggling with their own confidence demons.

The next stage is to identify and define self-confidence. Once we understand and recognise self-confidence for what it is, we can take steps to improve our own level.

When we know that self-confidence is related to experience it follows that the more experience we have the greater our self-confidence should become. We should then brave any and every opportunity in a bid to gain relevant experience. As long as we learn from our mistakes, each and every chance we take can strengthen our self-confidence.

Wooden Rubber Stanp saying expert

A word about practice

If anyone puts 10,000 hours of practice into something, they can become an expert.  Right?

The 10,000 hour rule is derived from the work of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and popularised by author Malcolm Gladwell in his book 'Outliers'.  It has since entered popular consciousness as a neat way to understand the nature of 'expertise' by breaking it down to simple achievable steps.  Except that it's wrong!

More recent psychological research indicates that expertise is actually developed using a combination of the way that you practice and your natural abilities, as well as the time you devote to it.  Even then, the concept of 'deliberate practice' further separates those who just go through the motions from those focused few who are fully tuned-in to learning as much as possible in order to become world-class.

Deliberate practice is therefore the best way to master a new skill up to the extent your personal ability will allow.  So, don't worry about the number of hours you spend on learning the task, better to concentrate on the quality of your focus.

Don't forget to get feedback too.  For instance... If you have trouble with public speaking but have to deliver presentations then, once you feel ready, reach out to colleagues, friends and relatives. Take your time and assemble a small audience and practice delivering your presentation. It is important however that you stress to your audience that any feedback they give be truthful. We don't like criticising our loved ones and will do our best to avoid it. However to gain anything from the experience, it is essential that we learn from it, as we'll discuss later, failure is not only an option it's often a good one. Your friends are unlikely to deliver their feedback in negative fashion anywhere but if they do care about you it is imperative that you insist they tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you can cope with giving it a few run-throughs and pick up some pointers from each go, it won't take long before your self-confidence in public speaking grows. 

There are other ways to gain self-confidence too and often seeking the professional help of a coach is the simplest answer.

So how does confidence coaching work?

Assuming we have established exactly what self-confidence is, we can put aside the idea that confidence is some god given gift. Once that barrier is down, we can get on to the actual matter of improving it. 

There are several different methods but the goals and the core concepts behind them are similar.  They all pretty much boil down to... Theory (Self-Esteem + Self-Efficacy) + Application (Action) = Confidence

You can know the theory but not put it into action.  You can also take action without knowing the theory.  In fact, we often think we know the theory until we are called upon to put it into action within a 'live' environment, only then to discover our shortcomings.  Sound familiar?  The problem a lot of people have with the development of confidence is they often focus on one of the two, and neglect the other.  You definitely need both.

No one can ever make you more confident. You have to be motivated to develop your own confidence yourself. If you don’t want to develop your own confidence, no coach will be able to help.  If you do, coaching might just work for you.

Confidence coaching challenges you to explore your personal relationship with confidence by asking questions like:

Do you believe in yourself?  Unless you nurture empowering beliefs about yourself and your capabilities, you won’t be successful in developing your confidence.  Even if you harbour limiting beliefs, you must at least believe it’s possible to change your beliefs and you are prepared to put in the effort to change them now. 

How's your relationship with your 'inner critic'?  Our 'self-talk' is powered by our ego and this can sometimes sabotage our best efforts through negativity.  Can you imagine having a much kinder 'inner fan'?  You don’t have to listen to your ego and you can certainly choose which ego voices you listen to.

How competent are you?  There are four stages to becoming confident in any new skill. Unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence. Everyone progresses through the same four stages. Unconscious incompetence is when you don’t know how to do something and you perhaps don’t realise it. Conscious incompetence is when you’re incompetent, but you’re conscious that you are. Conscious competence is when you know you’re competent, but you still have to think about how to do it. Unconscious competence is when you’re confident and you don’t even need to think about it – you simply are.

Are your expectations realistic?  The process of taking the plunge and striving towards a new competency is far more important than the outcome itself.  We learn more about ourselves from the process than we do from the outcome. Have you carefully and thoroughly considered what's realistically involved in achieving your goal?

Are you happy to stretch yourself?  Stretching is simply stepping out of your comfort zone.  If you want to grow and learn, you will need to get used to stepping outside your comfort zone.  Possibly into your panic zone!  The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Stretching beyond your comfort zone increases the size of the zone itself. 

What about confidence building courses?

We needn't be afraid of failure. Failure is nothing more than a learning exercise and the more we do it, the better we get at it and the more we can learn from it. Of course, to gain from failing we need to learn from our mistakes. We need to understand where, when and why we went wrong and it is this act which will improve our confidence in the future.

A confidence building course is a fast track method to improve your self-confidence. It applies many of the core themes in this article and a few beside in a practical strategy to help professionals improve self-confidence quickly.

Take a simple lesson like burning our self on a stove. Burning our hand is the fastest most efficient method of understanding the dangers associated with a stove. By burning our hand we understand the cause and effect of touching a hot stove. Later in life, this simple lesson affords us the confidence to use a stove without fear of injury.

Every fail and every falter is a message to our future selves. The methods used by both confidence coaches and confidence building courses, and among many of the tips and tools they use, are likely to be the same proven concepts grounded in psychology and logic. The benefits are obvious. Individuals who understand self-confidence - and are prepared to put in the effort, either one-on-one or in groups - are far more likely to develop it.

Self-confidence and fear

Fear is often cited as a reason for those who crave confidence not taking any action. Fear is an often irrational thought process and a left over gift from our animal ancestors. It is the mechanism which floods our nervous system with adrenalin and enables us to act or flee... In most instances of office life, it's not the most useful of tools and can be another significant stumbling block to self-confidence.

The Chimp Paradox

So we know self-confidence can be gained through trial and error. In Dr Steven Peters book The Chimp Paradox, he breaks the brain down into three sections. His model is a great metaphor for explaining the phenomenon of self-confidence. In his book, these three sides of the brain often compete for dominance and, left unaddressed, can lead to insecurity and a lack of self-confidence.

The Chimp

The first of these sections is the Limbic system, which he refers to as the Chimp and which gives the book its name.

This is a primal system and a gift from our primate ancestors. It is an essential tool for survival and makes brash and brutal decisions for survival. It's a great tool for coping with a world of venomous snakes, large predators and scarcity of food, but it works less well in the nine to five. Many of our anxieties and stresses are products of the chimp and according to Dr Peters, it is the Chimp that causes low self-confidence.

The Human

The second part of the brain Dr Peters focuses on is the Frontal System which he refers to as the Human. This is a more recent construct and a more reasonable system. The Human takes time to make rational and reasoned decisions, but it's neither as strong-willed nor as swift thinking as the Chimp.

As you might imagine, these two seldom see eye to eye.

The Computer 

The third part of the brain the parietal, is the fastest of the three and both the Chimp and the Human refer to is as a sort of database.

In the book, Dr Peters suggests we can improve our confidence by gaining control of our chimp.

It makes sense if you think about public speaking your initial reaction might be one of terror. This is because the faster and more dominant Chimp has filled your head with ideas of fight or flight.

So how do we gain control of our Chimp? 

According to Dr Peters, there are four simple strategies to employ.

1. We can exercise it. 

By this, Dr Peters means allowing your inner fears out in a controlled environment. Maybe talk to a loved one or a professional and free your more primal thoughts. The idea is by venting those more impulsive, darker thoughts, it gives the Chimp less ammunition and cause to speak out when it's inappropriate.

2. We can box it

The Chimp may be stronger willed and faster to react, but over time we can learn to face it. The first step is understanding when the Chimp is in charge, or when it's trying to hijack your thought process. Once you're able to identify the signals it's possible to override those thoughts and assert more rational thoughts in its place. Remember the Chimp is terrified and it is this terror that causes the lack of confidence. As we know, we need to face that lack of confidence to overcome it. By boxing your chimp, you are forcing it to understand the consequences of its actions or inactions.

3. We can reward it.

This is a form of delayed gratification. It's a way of saying 'OK, we can get the PS4 out and spend a few hours on Call of Duty, but only after we're over the barrier...' By rewarding your chimp, it's possible to tame it a little, which makes it less likely to leap out without warning when you need it least.

4. We can Distract it.

Like boxing the Chimp, distracting it involves knowing when it's around. Once you've established that, you need to give your Human brain a chance to catch up. The concept is as simple as One, two, three... well, one to ten to be exact. What you're doing here is taking a breath and allowing your rational mind to take part in the debate. It might seem like a life of death situation, but that's exactly what your Chimp wants you to think. As with so many other things in life these 'do or die' moments, so seldom are. So take your time and count to ten.

The importance of deference

Concepts of 'over-confidence' and 'arrogance' can sometimes lead to confusion.  

People who lack confidence can sometimes appear overly submissive or open to being dominated.  Too much confidence and they can appear arrogant or over-confident.  This implies we all have a preconceived idea of how much confidence is needed in any given situation.  Not too much and not too little?  Just enough?

However, arrogance and over-confidence are different things altogether.  They are not directly related because one can exist without the other.  In fact, arrogance is normally associated with a lack of confidence.  We instinctively know this because bullies are definitely arrogant but deep down they have a lack of confidence in themselves.  That's why they resort to bullying in the first place.

The opposite of arrogant is humble. Or deferential.  The opposite of confident is unconfident.  Or diffident. 

You can therefore be arrogant but lack confidence.  You can be confident without being arrogant.  Indeed, the mark of a good leader is their ability to combine confidence with deference or humility.  

Develop as much confidence as you like, but please make sure you balance it with an equal amount of deference. We wouldn't want to add to the number of arrogant business leaders in the world, would we?  Take note, Mr Trump!


“An old Cherokee told his grandson, ‘ My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It's anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is Good. It’s joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness and truth’. The boy thought about it and asked, ‘Grandfather, which one wins?’ The old man quietly replied, ‘The one you feed’. – Anonymous

About the Author

ALAN is CEO of CD as well as a qualified executive coach and a seasoned business mentor. He challenges progressive business people to step-up & realise their vision.

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