Research Paper By Marie Camille Toulenonde
(Career Transition & Expat Coach, THAILAND)
Low self-confidence often comes across that way preventing us from doing things. In my coaching activity, I can say that about 2/3 of my clients, at one point in the coaching path, talk to me about their low self-confidence. That is the reason why I have decided to do my research paper on this topic, trying to understand better what it is, where does it come from, and how we can work on it during our coaching sessions.
I – What is Self-confidence?
Self-confidence refers to a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment. “Confidence” comes from the Latin “fidere”, to trust. To be self-confident is to trust in oneself, and, in particular, in one’s ability or aptitude to engage successfully or at least adequately with the world. A self-confident person is ready to rise to new challenges, seize opportunities, deal with difficult situations, take new responsibilities, etc…
It’s common for people who lack the self-confidence to find certain areas of their life affected. Relationships can be complicated, careers can stale, lifestyle can become unbalanced. Effectively, low self-confidence might make people feel full of self-doubt, be passive or submissive, or have difficulty trusting others. They may feel inferior, unloved, or sensitive to criticism.
On the contrary, self-confidence generates happiness and well-being. Typically, when someone is confident in his/her abilities, he/she is happier due to his/her successes. When someone is feeling better about his/her capabilities, the more energized and motivated he/she is to take action and achieve personal goals.
Self-confidence vs. self-esteem
The terms self-esteem and self-confidence are often used interchangeably when referring to how you feel about yourself. Although they are very similar, they are two different concepts. It is important to understand their roles when looking to improve your overall sense of self.
Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself overall; how much esteem or self-love you have. Self-esteem develops from experiences and situations that have shaped how you see yourself today overall.
Self-confidence might depend on the situation. For instance, you can feel very confident in some areas, such as mathematics, but lack confidence in others, like relationships.
Usually, when you work on your self-confidence you work on your self-esteem. When you increase your confidence in some areas of your life, you begin to increase your overall sense of esteem.
Confidence is a perception
Having high or low self-confidence is rarely related to your actual abilities, but mostly based on your perceptions. Perceptions are the way you think about yourself and these thoughts can be flawed. The good point is that you can work on perceptions (cf paragraph II).
The link between confidence and self-expectations
Self-confidence is also an attitude about your skills and your expectations. It means you accept and trust yourself the way you are. When you are self-confident you know with objectivity your strengths and weakness well, and you accept them. You have a positive view of yourself despite your weakness, and you can set realistic expectations and goals.
What about the idea that a lack of self-confidence could also come from too high expectations? What do we expect from ourselves? To do things perfectly? Is there a way to better manage my self-expectations? Some people will have very high expectations for themselves. It doesn’t always mean that their confidence is low, but still, they feel it as such because they don’t want to accept themselves as not perfect.
Working on my self-confidence can mean working on my self-expectations.
Confidence is a “2 ways street with the outside world”
“Self-confidence doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” says psychologist Suzanne Roff, Ph.D. She believes confidence is largely built through our dealings with the world.
Having the internal sense that one’s actions impact the outside world is a large part of confidence. In this way, it is a two-way street. And because of our situations, social networks and relationships with ourselves are ever-changing, confidence is not static – which is very good news for those who are trying to build more confidence.
II – Building self-confidence through coaching
In this chapter, I will share with you some coaching tools and techniques that any coach can use to help a client build more self-confidence. The coach can pick up one or several ones, depending on his/her understanding of what is affecting the coachee’s self-confidence in a specific area of his life/job.
1. Work on the perception:
As said earlier, low self-confidence is not a question of reality but a question of perception. Invite the coachee to analyze where this perception is coming from. Perceptions are very often influenced by the environment: a critical environment at home during childhood, a geographic move separating someone from family and friends for the first time, a change in life affecting the emotional stability (divorce, death, birth, sickness….)
- What could affect your perception of this?
- Is there a way you can look at the situation differently?
- What would you tell to yourself if you were your best friend?
2. Work on self-expectations
Invite the coachee to think about his/her self expectations achieving this goal or doing that. Try to make him think about how realistic and achievable they are. Is there a way to lower them (without decreasing his/her self esteem)? Do not expect perfection; it is impossible to be perfect in every aspect of life. Even those who are exceptional in some areas of life are likely struggling in others.
Fortunately, we are all novices in some areas. We can trust that it’s okay not to be perfect. When breaking out of our comfort zone and starting something new, we are expanding our possibilities. When we complete something that is out of our confidence zone, we are building confidence in ourselves.
- How do you expect to do such a thing?
- What do you think about your expectations?
- How realistic and achievable do you think they are?
- How could they be different?
- What could happen if you don’t match your expectations?
3. List of strengths:
As a coach, you can invite the coachee to list on a paper his/her strengths and more widely what he/she values about him/herself.
→ Strengths that he/she thinks the others say about him/her, even if – especially if –he/she believes them slightly
→ Strengths that he/she thinks he/she has. The coach can invite the coachee to look back at his/her past achievements and successes.
4. Shine a light on what is limiting self-confidence
Invite the coachee to take an honest inventory of him/herself, and identify the areas where his/her thoughts, skills, or abilities are limiting his/her confidence. Once the inventory is done he/she must write down under each of them: what could contradict it? and what could be done to improve this area?
5. Stop self negative self-talk
Step 1: awareness
Invite the Coachee to think about any potential negative statements he/she is telling to him/herself. The first step is to raise his/her awareness of these negative chatter that takes place in his/her mind. It very often happens unconsciously. Not surprisingly, this nasty self-talk does nothing for a person’s confidence. According to Kristin Neff, an expert on self-compassion, “Most people believe that they need to criticize themselves to find the motivation to reach their goals. When you constantly criticize yourself, you become depressed, and depression is not a motivational mindset.”
Step 2: switch to a self-compassion mindset
If the coachee wants more confidence, he/she must drop the self-criticism and adopt a self-compassionate mindset. Self-compassion drives confidence, according to Kristin Neff. As summarized by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Confidence Code, self-compassion “is a safety net that enables us to try for more and even harder things. It increases motivation because it cushions failure.”
Step 3: practice
Invite the coachee to practice talking to him/herself with kind and encouraging words: “You did your best”; “You kept your temper in a difficult situation”; “Next time you’ll know what to do”; etc.
The more you practice self-compassion, the more it will become natural, and the more it will chase the self-criticism.
- What brings you to think you will fail at doing this or that?
- What else does this little voice tell you?
- How could you shut up this negative little voice?
- How would it look like to be self-compassionate?
- What could hold you back from being self-compassionate?
6. The importance of preparation
One important key to success is self-confidence, one important key to self-confidence is preparation, Arthur Ashe
- How can you prepare yourself doing this or that?
- What do you need to anticipate?
- What cannot be anticipated?
- What will make the accomplishment of this challenge a success?
7. Dedramatize failure and mistakes:
Sometimes we imagine that failure or mistakes are dramatic. But what we don’t tend to consider is that failure is inherent in accomplishment and that to pursue the goals we have to work hard and face our weaknesses. When someone believes that failures and mistakes “prove” that he/she cannot do the job, he/she is likely to resist new challenges and stay in a narrow comfort zone.
Numerous studies by psychologist Carol Dweck and others, show that people with a “fixed mindset” — the belief that intelligence, skills, and talent cannot be modified — are less likely to take risks and learn new things than those with a “growth mindset” — the belief that you can develop your intelligence, skills, and talents with education, practice, and persistence.
Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think, Christopher Robin
- What is a failure from your point of view?
- What could happen if you fail?
- What could be the consequences of a failure?
- What could be your learnings from a failure?
- What could help you prevent potential failure?
- Is there a way to see the failure from another perspective?
8. Take action:
Dr. Russ Harris points out in his book, The Confidence Gap, “The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later.” It means that the reality is: “Once I tackle the projects that are important to me, I will begin to feel confident.” “And once you have taken action, over and over, so that you have the skills to get the results you want — then you’ll start to notice the feelings of confidence,” says Harris.
In other words, one way to increase self-confidence is to experience success. You can never experience success if you never try. Self-confidence is highly a question of doing and experiencing. The more you do, the better you do. This is called the learning curve. Invite the coachee to allow him/herself to be a learner.
Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage and confidence in the doing, Theodore Roosevelt
9. Stand or sit in a posture of confidence
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy has studied the positive effects of confident body postures on our hormones. The coach can invite his client to watch Ammy Cuddy’s Ted Talk about the effect of posture on self-confidence. Her basic message in the video is that an individual’s posture does not just reflect the level of confidence or insecurity. Posture sends messages to the brain that can change the way someone feels. So, if you want to feel more powerful, sit up straight, smile, or stand in a “power pose,” and that message will be sent to your brain.
10. Visualize: Imagine the confidence
Invite the coachee to follow the bellow visualization exercise:
“Close your eyes and relax your body completely. Stay firmly connected to the sensation of relaxation and in your mind’s eye, see yourself speaking in public, or doing whatever activity for which you would like more confidence. Allow the feelings of a comfortable presence to pervade your body and your mind.”
If the brain has already lived the situation through visualization, it can help the coachee to live the situation for real on the D day.
In conclusion, I would like to say that it has been a real pleasure doing this research paper on self-confidence. I now look forward to hearing my next client telling me: “I don’t feel confident enough to do such a thing”!