In this article from BELONG Purpose Partner Life Reimagined, a nationally recognized communication expert offers advice for those who suffer from a lack of confidence. His tips work for panicked Hollywood stars with stage fright; they might just work for you, too!
Does the thought of public speaking give you a panic attack? Have you quit something for fear of failing? Are you nervous about going back to school? Has anxiety over going on a date after all these years kept you from pursuing a new relationship? If any of these scenarios sound familiar, my crash course in building confidence and optimism could change your life.
We all know people who seem blessed with the self-confidence gene. They have instant rapport with total strangers, ease into every situation effortlessly, and were (it appears) to the podium born. Stage fright? Never (at least not that they will admit). For most of us, though, anxiety and self-doubt are ever-present daily companions, holding us back from some of the things we want most. If that’s you, if you’ve ever lacked and longed for a little more of the often-elusive, intangible trait called confidence, there’s a name for your condition: It’s called being human. The fact is, even the most self-assured among us aren’t immune to losing their nerve.
As a Hollywood publicist I once had to soothe a panicked Oscar-winning actress just moments before she was to step onto the red carpet at the Academy Awards. She’d peeked out of the tent separating the stars from the media, saw all the flashbulbs, and lost her nerve. Another time, while I was talking about public speaking on a morning show, the host told me—off-camera—that he was going to turn down an invitation to speak at a citywide festival because he was just too nervous. This was a guy who spoke to thousands of people on-air every day! They weren’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, celebrities to get butterflies at these types of occasions. They get anxious too. Performers are just better than the rest of us at concealing their inner fears and showing the world the image they want to project.
… if you’ve ever lacked and longed for a little more of the often-elusive, intangible trait called confidence, there’s a name for your condition: It’s called: being human.
It’s a skill we can all learn. You don’t have to be a movie star or possess some innate talent to project inner calm. You simply need to learn how to work your last nerve, before it works you. So how do you gain and maintain your cool when your confidence is collapsing? Here are five instant self esteem builders that really work:
1. MAKE NICE WITH YOUR NERVES
Nerves are actually good. In fact, they help keep us alive. If you feel nervous, that’s great, because it means your body’s natural defense system is operational. When our brain perceives a threat, we are programmed to panic. The “thinking” part of our brain immediately goes off line and the fight or flight response goes into high alert. Here’s the glitch in the programming: our brain has only one alert setting: HIGH. For our personal defense system, fear is one size fits all. So approaching a red carpet can feel the same as staring down a hungry tiger. This means we need to intellectually adapt where nature has not. Awareness is the first hack. Once you acknowledge you’re stuck in high alert, the thinking part of your brain comes back on line. Next you need to evaluate the actual threat level. Is what I’m experiencing a High Alert? Medium Alert? Or false alarm? The famous actress I shepherded at the Academy Awards recovered her confidence because she realized that the threat level didn’t require her to run back to her limo. In the same respect, while an involuntary career transition, learning a new technology, or dating again after several years could feel threatening, you’re not likely to die doing them. So try to adjust your fear response accordingly.
2. KNOW THE AUDIENCE IS ON YOUR SIDE
In public speaking, almost all audiences (except in political debates!) are pulling for you to succeed. When is the last time you attended a lecture hoping the speaker was a real bore? We all want to be motivated, inspired, and entertained. So we’re rooting for the speaker to do well. And audiences come in all shapes—and sizes. For example, hiring managers are an audience of one. If you’ve ever had to fill an open position, didn’t you want to find the perfect fit much sooner than later? Yes, because it would save you time, effort, and money. In the same respect, potential customers, new acquaintances, angel investors, and even that attractive single man or woman you’ve just met are audiences too. And each hopes you’re the answer to a variety of needs, including emotional, physical, financial, and intellectual. They want you to flourish, not flop.
3. WEAR YOUR CONFIDENCE CAP
Although we know it when we see it, confidence itself isn’t tangible. It’s a state of mind stemming from a belief in one’s own abilities and qualities. Being proficient at a specific skill doesn’t automatically ensure confidence and being rotten at another doesn’t mean you must lack it. This is great news because while skills are stable, a state of mind is mobile. So, think about the professional or personal role where you felt most confident. Was it as a revered basketball coach? How about your role as a beloved office manager? Or maybe you can organize a multi-state fundraiser without breaking a sweat. The point is: you have acapacity for confidence. It starts with positive thinking. Next, ask yourself what confidence feels like to you. Do you carry yourself differently? Are you more open to meeting new people? Do you have boundless energy? Hold on to these observations and the next time you feel your confidence crumbling, put on the cap (coach, office manager, organizer) that gives or gave you the most confidence and you’ll be in a stronger state of mind to tackle the task that is intimidating you.
4. TELL YOURSELF THE GOOD NEWS
All of us talk to ourselves (some more than others, and you know who you are) but did you realize we are teaching ourselves things every time we chatter away? Unfortunately, instead of keeping it upbeat, most of the time we are trash talking, which means are training ourselves to look at our lives through a negative lens. In his new book Stopping the Noise in Your Head: The New Way to Overcome Anxiety & Worry, Dr. Reid Wilson, director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, and adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, calls it “noise pollution.” Wilson encourages people to address it by determining if the issue is a “signal” or merely “noise.” A so-called signal is any legitimate worry that requires problem solving. Noise, on the other hand, reflects any thoughts that are irrelevant, irritating, unproductive, and repetitive. Wilson’s solution involves a four-stage process. “Step Back” refers to your ability to gain perspective in the moment of distress. The most provocative move, “Want It,” advises you to voluntarily seek out the thing you fear. “Step Forward” encourages you to a move toward your task with more open-minded point of view. Finally, “Be Cunning” coaches you on how to be as clever as your challenger: Anxiety. According to Wilson, the most important tactic is willingly moving toward the fear: “To get stronger, you must take on tasks while you simultaneously doubt that you can manage them. Want to tackle challenges; seek out the tough encounters. That’s the attitude that will give you power.”
5. WIN BIG IN VAGUS
The Vagus nerve sends signals from your brain to your body. What most people don’t know is that the signals can move both directions. So not only does your brain influence how your body responds to stimuli, your body can do the same for the brain. In other words, if your body is “acting” confident, your mind will start to relax. That’s why power posing has been proven to be a powerful way to jettison the jitters. Standing or sitting up straight, shoulders back, chest out, chin up, with your feet planted on the floor will do wonders for your courage. And of course, when you’re in doubt, pull your smile out. Plaster on the biggest, fake smile you can muster and before long, you’ll be grinning for real. It’s because the body is cuing the brain to believe that happy days are here again – and before you can say “cheese,” it will truly feel like it.
Our thanks to Life Reimagined for this article. Life Reimagined has the online tools, events, and one-on-one advice through life coaching that helps you set priorities, commit to your goals and take action on improving your life so you can rock your purpose. Find out more.