The lack of confidence is the number one thing that I see in high-achieving professional women that holds them back in their careers and their lives. It’s not knowing when to speak up at meetings, second-guessing your own decisions, not trusting yourself and your capacity to make good decisions.
Confidence has been studied and written about at length, but it’s really just an emotion, which, like all emotions, is created by our thoughts. Confidence comes from having and believing positive thoughts, like “I’ve got this,” “I know I have what it takes,” or “I trust myself to make a good decision.”
The lack of confidence, or insecurity, is an emotion that comes from negative thoughts. The negative thoughts I most commonly hear from people with law degrees, MBAs, and PhDs, are:
- I just don’t know if I’m capable of this
- I don’t know how to make a good decision
- I don’t trust myself to know what to do
- I don’t think I’m qualified to do this (despite my credentials and experience)
- I’m afraid of making a mistake
- People will think I’m stupid if I mess this up
No wonder they don’t feel confident! No one would feel good if they were hearing and believing these thoughts all day long. Even though we would never say these things to someone else, we have no problem saying them to ourselves. And it’s universal. We all say things like this, but those who are more confident don’t spend time believing the thoughts and have figured out ways to override those thoughts. You can override those thoughts, too. Here’s how.
Understand The Source
These thoughts, sometimes referred to by psychologists as negative automatic thoughts, come from our primitive brain, whose job has been to ensure our survival as we’ve evolved. The primitive brain is really good at finding the negative (such as noticing the crouching tiger in the tall grass), which kept our ancestors alive. In our modern life, we’re not usually faced with tigers, but our primitive brain continues to harp on the negative, mostly to our detriment.
Realizing that these thoughts are just your primitive brain’s natural reflex anytime you consider doing something outside your comfort zone, you can recognize them for what they are. Start to become aware of them and create some distance between you and the thoughts. If you’ve ever tried meditating, that’s exactly what you do in meditation: from the perspective of the Watcher, you observe your thoughts in a detached way, without identifying with them or believing them. One of the reasons that meditation is so good for you is that it makes you aware that you are not your thoughts and gives you the space to decide how you want to react to what happens in your life.
Just The Facts, Ma’am
Once you understand that your thoughts are not you, it becomes easier to look at what is a fact and what is your thought. For example, your circumstance may be that you have a certain amount of knowledge about a particular case and you’re at a team meeting to plan the case strategy. Your thought may be: “I don’t know enough about the case to make a meaningful contribution.” Even though that statement feels like a fact to your brain, it’s actually not at fact.
Reasonable minds can differ as to what “enough” is. Write down what the actual facts are. There is a case. You know things about it. There are things you don’t yet know. Other people on the team know some things and don’t know other things, too. So what?
Is it possible that you can raise helpful ideas and solutions based on your current knowledge, even if you don’t know everything about the case?
Find Evidence To Support The Opposite Thought
What evidence can you find to support the opposite thought, that “I know enough about this case to make a meaningful contribution”? What are the ways that you do know enough? Are you really being expected to know everything? Or is that an artificial standard that you’ve created in your mind that is holding you back from meaningfully contributing? Are there ways that you could ask questions that could contribute to the strategy session? How have you been able to make meaningful contributions to other cases even if you didn’t know everything?
Making a list of all of the reasons why the opposite thought is true can help you shift your thinking and see that your automatic thoughts are both inaccurate and unhelpful.
Take Small Risks
One of the best ways to accumulate evidence that you are capable is to start doing things that feel uncomfortable. When you go outside of your comfort zone, you will (by definition) feel uncomfortable, but you’ll also start to see that it doesn’t kill you and that you can actually do things that you weren’t sure you could. The more experience you get going outside your comfort zone, the more trust you’ll develop in yourself about your abilitites.
You Are Not Your Work
When you believe that your self-worth is tied to “getting it right” or “doing a great job,” you’re going to be a lot less likely to want to take risks and you’re going to second-guess yourself every step along the way. Why? Because if you believe that making a mistake means that you’re not worthy as a person, of course you’re not going to want to make a mistake. This fear of making a mistake is going to paralyze you because you’re going to want to avoid making a mistake at all costs, which means you’re going to avoid speaking up on the fly, making fast decisions, and putting your work out there without double- or triple checking it.
But what if you stopped choosing to believe that your self-worth is determined by how well you do at work? What if you chose to believe that you are already 100% worthy just because you’re human and no mistake can ever take that away from you? What if you are already completely worthy, even if other people don’t see that? What if they’re wrong about you? What if making a mistake means that you’re brave and you’re trying new things?
When you realize that you’re already worthy and you don’t have to do anything else to earn worthiness, life becomes so much more fun. Since you don’t have to prove your worth, you can start to try new things, which will create even more evidence that you are qualified and capable. You’ll start to trust yourself and know that no one can take that trust away from you. It’s an amazing gift to yourself and it’s available to you now.
Go forth, grow, and bloom.