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Confidence Uncovered: Truths, Myths, and Flexing the Muscle!

“Fake it till you make it! He’s just naturally confident. She was born with huge self-confidence. I’ll never have the confidence to do that.” – lots of people all the time.

When it comes to confidence, self-confidence and developing both, are you clear on what’s realistic, achievable and what’s not? It’s long been a subject I wanted to explore deeper. Over the years, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of conflicting approaches to develop this very important feeling. Some sounded convincing, others more like click bait.

Through my own journey of self-development, and from my experiences coaching & mentoring others, both confidence, and self-confidence, or lack of, are very frequent talking points. With a lot of misconceptions. My aim with this piece was to (selfishly) get very clear on the subject myself first, and then share the findings with others (not so selfishly). In truth, putting this together was a challenge. And actually, sharing it, in itself, required a degree of both self-confidence and confidence that I maybe didn’t a couple of years ago. I’m hopeful that it’s a piece you find valuable and provides you with some simple steps to develop your own confidence. It does come with a warning, as many of these ‘how to’ pieces tend to. Self-discipline, practice, and commitment are required.

Confidence v Self-Confidence?

Let’s pause for a second. Can you clearly explain the difference between confidenceand self-confidence? What comes to mind?  You probably intuitively know the distinction but when I’ve asked people to describe them, it’s not always easily done. This is important because when trying to develop and grow either, it’s good to know which one needs the attention.

Confidence is defined as ‘the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.’ It’s more of an outward feeling. This comes from knowledge and practice. The more experience you have, the more confident you will become. For example, through writing other articles and developing my own style somewhat, I have a certain level of confidence how this article will be received. Another example came to me when in a Bikram Yoga class at the weekend. Over the last year, I have built up a level of confidence in my practice. I can do some of the positions with confidence. Others, not so much.

Self-confidence is defined as ‘a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.’ It’s inward looking. It’s about trusting yourself and your ability to succeed at new challenges, tasks, and opportunities. The big thing with self-confidence is having a belief in yourself that you can get that job, deliver that presentation, or deal with that difficult situation in work or a relationship. Back when I started to write articles on topics I’m very interested in, I had the self-confidence that I could do this. The same could be said with Bikram Yoga before my first class. I knew I could stick it out, despite not having done it before.

When I’m in coaching mode, over and over again, confidence comes up as a pain point. But many times, what the client thinks is a confidence issue is a self-confidence one. Or vice versa. Time spent getting clear on what it means at the outset is time well spent.

Buyer Beware – Self-confidence quick fixes

We’re living in interesting times. People will try to sell you, literally, anything. A fast-acting guaranteed dose of self-confidence the order of the day on many self-help sites or pop-ups. My advice here is to think before you dive in. Like most things in life, quick fixes fade fast. And during the course of putting this together, I identified a few reported self-confidence boosters that you should be wary of.  This will also serve to help you get over some of the things you’re telling yourself about confidence that’s holding you back! Some of the main myths I’ve found are:



  1. Confidence – you’re just born with it!

How often have you heard someone say “some people were just born full of self-confidence? I know I’ll never have that kind of confidence no matter how much I practice.” This is a myth backed up by research. Confidence is not innate. And if you’re thinking this way, you’re falling into a fixed mindset trap. You’re making excuses. Another way of looking at it is you have a limiting belief. You can grow and develop your confidence.  

  1. Fake it till I make it!

The power pose, made famous by Amy Cuddy, has you standing like a Superhero before you do something that you’re scared of. It’s meant to boost your self-confidence. And in a short burst, for many, it works. A quick hit. Since this became popular in 2012, there has been a lot of science to refute it. It fell into the ‘pseudoscience’ category. While there is a lot of debate still on this (read here), both for and against, I’m putting it into the category of a myth when it comes to building lasting self-confidence.

While it’s very a catchy tagline, faking it for me is being inauthentic. And that’s a core value that I’m not keen on breaking. You might get that momentary hit of dopamine but a couple of minutes into your presentation, the doubts could return. It’s better to build your self-confidence in an authentic way, over time.

  1. Build up confidence first, then take the action

I had always been nervous, even scared, of presenting to large groups. For years growing up, all through my twenties and well into my thirties, I had no confidence in it. No matter how hard I tried to build up my confidence beforehand, by watching videos, breathing deeply, and practicing out-loud, nothing really prepared me for the actual presentation. The actual thing. It’s only through the actual doing, did my confidence start to grow. So, don’t keep waiting until you’re ready. Until everything is perfect. Take the action even when you’re not ready & learn. 

  1. Self-confidence building takes years

While there are no overnight successes, it’s more about frequency than duration. If you’re going to the gym every day for a month, you’ll see great improvements quickly. It’s the repetitions that are incremental overtime that develop muscles. The same with self-confidence. If you do one presentation per month over a year, I’ve learned, the improvement is slow, sometimes not at all. If I managed to do one per week, the compounding interest effect and improvement is much more noticeable.  

The confidence gym!

There isn’t a day that passes where I don’t feel a lack of self-confidence in one area or another. Now though, through developing self-awareness, it’s something I accept as normal and expected. The good news is, like a lot of other competencies related to feelings and emotions, it’s very flexible. You can strengthen it. Just like a muscle. With training, it can grow. This muscle comparison is one that you’ve probably seen a lot of lately. Just like practicing mindfulness, willpower, listening, questioning and others. All need care and feeding. Otherwise, they can regress back to a limper version of its former self. Thankfully though, you’re in control. And no expensive gym membership fee needed too.

So, to the How. Let’s explore a few that I feel are key.  

  1. Build Knowledge

Have you ever had to do a presentation at work where you didn’t really have a high level of interest in the subject matter? Maybe something technical that you just didn’t know well enough but said you’d give it a go anyway? How did that turn out? Did you find yourself out of your depth? Wanting to just ‘get it over with’?

Contrast that to talking about something you’re passionate about? Something you’re invested in and believe in fully? Would you have trouble shutting up? That you’re so comfortable with the topic that the confidence oozes out of you.

If you’re not well read or well invested into the area, it’s going to be next near impossible to be confident about it. So, either do your homework on it and know it well or maybe try to skip it. Back to our myth busting, it’s hard to fake it if you’re not invested.

  1. Deliberate Practice to develop skills – Hard & Soft.

In his book ‘The power of habits’,Charles Duhigg talks about skill as a type of work or activity you can do on any given day and expect the same result or output. So driving is a skill. Typing at a particular speed is a skill. Computer Programming. These would be considered ‘hard skills.’

Then we have ‘soft skills’ like leadership, communications, and influencing for example. As you build up these skills, through action,—– your confidence in them grows.

While the hard skills tend to be more static once learned (like riding a bike), the softer ones are more like our muscle analogy. They need regular work to keep them supple and strong. Deliberate practice required.

  1. The Power of Habits & virtuous confidence cycles

Again, I’m pulling on a reference from the book mentioned above. It’s one of those books that, when you read it, you start to understand more clearly why we do somethings we do. It explains what we already know intuitively. Anyway, in it, as the name suggests, the science behind habits is explained in great detail.

In short, every habit or routine we have is based on a cue or trigger as the starting point that leads to a reward. The routine part, or habit is the ‘what’ we do to get there.

By raising your understanding about how habits work further, it becomes even clearer that the confidence myths are just that. So, if you know by taking action, you’ll fail, make mistakes, learn, and improve, your rewards will come. It’s about doing this over and over. And the confidence will grow. The virtuous circle forms.

  1. Spotting your Limiting Beliefs and choosing Better thoughts!

How often today have you given into a limiting belief? Do you even notice it happening?  Every day now, I catch my inner voice, inner gremlin, or devil, saying you can’t do this, or you’re not good enough to do that, and the story continues.

The truth and realisation were this have always been happening. I had just assumed what was coming up was a fact. I believed the narrative. I accepted it as truth. And, definitely on days where tiredness, being a bit hungover perhaps, or both might have been in play, the story would be worse, and I believed it even more.

As I developed a mindfulness practice over the last few years however, I started to observe this dialogue much more clearly. I began to see it for what it was and is. Just a stream of never-ending information flowing around in my head. We all have it. It’s part of being human.

And by becoming more conscious of these thoughts, I was able to stop buying into them. Then a change started to happen. A positive one. By creating that gap and developing the awareness of what was going on upstairs, it made a difference. That led to a change in belief. The limiting beliefs I had placed on myself were questioned, challenged and, ultimately, changed. Through taking positive steps, and learning along the way, I started to remove the limits I set. I started to widen the boundaries of what I could do. Turning can’t into can.

Confidence is really about choosing better thoughts – saying to yourself, “I am capable” and “if I try this I might fail, but I will learn and succeed from that failure”.

  1. Act, fail, learn, repeat.

This is the last and most essential confidence booster of all. Without action, you’re just dreaming of what might be. You have to take the risk and jump in, lean in, dive in, or whatever ‘in’ you care to choose. I know it sounds simple. It’s not always the case. Perhaps your gremlin outlined in #4 above is now telling you all the reasons why it’s not, limiting your beliefs again? It’s just about taking the first step.

Do you remember what it was like when you drove for the first time? Terrifying? About a day after I bought my first car, and only after a few lessons, I took it upon myself to drive the 2-hour drive from home to where I was working at the time. I remember setting out that evening. It was dark and raining heavily. Time seemed to slow down. I felt glued to the seat and my hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly I was leaving an imprint on it. I was so inexperienced, nervous and edgy all the way. The relief of getting there safely was huge. But I knew that it was essential in my moving forward and gaining self-confidence. The next day, was a bit easier, and then within a few weeks, it started to become automatic. It might be a trivial example, but it’s one I’ve applied to other challenges in my personal and professional life.

Take action. Make mistakes. Learn. And make incremental steps forward. The confidence will grow. The muscle gets stronger. 

Over the years, I’ve identified some tools & approaches to experiment with when moving your confidence levels from left to right. Being wrong on purpose, saying yes to something you normally would say no to, tracking your negative thoughts on in a daily journal are just 3 simple ones. All require you to take action. All will lead to progress (for more, drop me an email). The important piece is here to take the first step. And to start measuring your progress. To make it more tangible.

You might say there is a paradox at play here. To grow your confidence, you have to take risks. Yet, you avoid taking risks, because you don’t feel confident enough? As is the case with many of challenges in life, there can be paradoxes at play. Like anything you want to improve however, having discipline is essential. And knowing that meaningful change takes time and effort. But it’s worth it.

Please do let me know if this was useful? Are there other topics you’d be interested in reading about? Let me know.

Thanks for reading & Good luck with it.

Rob is a qualified Executive Coach (ACC with ICF) and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics, like this one! Rob recently published an eBook on giving up alcohol for 2018 called ‘Dry18’ and can be downloaded for free here.

Connect in with Rob on the socials or via email on the links below:

Email   Twitter  Facebook  Website

Subscribe to the Rob of the Green Newsletter Here

Do you remember the Jennifer Lopez song from the early 00’s entitled ‘Jenny from the Block’ where said Jenny declared, possibly 100 times during the song, we’re not to ‘be fooled by the rocks (diamonds I’d imagine) that she’s got’, that she just ‘can’t forget to stay real’ and, of course, she’s still very much ‘from the Block’ (which is the Bronx in this case).

I remember at the time of hearing this all those years ago, something not sitting right. I couldn’t help feeling Jenny was very keen to tell us how real, or authentic, she remained despite all her success, fame, and diamonds. Maybe it was just me, but my Authentometer (just made that up now btw) was not registering.

When was the last time you listened to a leader, a politician, a celebrity, or even a co-worker exclaim that they’re, like Jenny, authentic and that ‘telling it like it is’ is just how they roll?

Did you believe them? Was your gut screaming saying, ‘yeah right! you’re not fooling me’. When you hear such statements declaring just how ‘real’ people are, do you instantly feel irritated, angry, or even jealous? Do they seem to be telling you what you think they wanted you to hear?

Taking it a bit closer to home, is it something you say about how you live your own life? Are you living an authentic life or working towards that? Is it something you’re striving for but don’t know what it really means for you? Maybe this post will help.

Define it!

I always like to look at how words are defined. All too often, we skip this part and have a fuzzy idea from the outset as a result.

To be authentic is ‘of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.’ And as it relates to a person, ‘representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.’

If you’re anything like me, on a lot of occasions, when I hear declarations of authenticity, it can bring up different emotions and feelings. It’s very easy to say it, but quite difficult to buy into it, for myself or for others.

Creating the illusion of authenticity and being eager to tell others just how in touch with who you are is one thing. Actually, doing the work on yourself to discover what that truly means, figuring out who the real person behind the mask is, can be more difficult in practice.

This is a question I’ve been working on answering for myself for a long while. For most of my Twenties, and some of my Thirties, I found myself saying ‘being authentic’ was very important to me. Not only important to me, but important how others thought about me too. The persona I wanted to outwardly portray was critical. I may have even done a decent job at making others believe me. Looking back, I only had a vague sense of what it meant. My heart was in the right place, but my authenticity compass was not pointed in the right direction. After a while, this can be draining and life’s too short putting on an act. So, I decided to do the work needed on myself.

Through a combination of self-coaching and being coached by others, I’ve come to realise that the route is one that’s not still fully planned out and I’ll possibly be finding my way forever. I do believe I’ve found some fundamental markers along the way that have been key in helping me discover what my own ‘block’ looks like. Let me share these and see if they resonate with you.

1.    Self-Accept

Authenticity is about allowing yourself to be witnessed—purely, and simply, as you. The first step forward was accepting who I was, instead of who I was trying to be. Only I know my own truth fully. The good, bad, and the ugly. Over the years, fighting against mistakes that I’ve made, things I’ve done, and said, and wanting them to change only made them worse.

Once I began to accept these, learn from them and improve as a result, I became more comfortable in my own skin. It’s very difficult to be authentic when you’re not a peace with your past, present, and future. Accept what is. As a colleague of mine used to say to me, ‘It is what it is’. How do you get there? I’ve found journaling helpful. Writing down my thoughts, regularly.


2.    Self-Awareness & Self-Management

One morning, about 5 years ago, I remember waking up a little late for work and instantly getting myself into a panic.

As soon as that blissful second or two where your mind is empty and still just after waking up passed, the reality of the day ahead surged into my mind. Realising that I had something like 14 x 30 minute meetings scheduled for the day ahead, and a ton of other work to get done, set me into a spiral.

My mind was racing, I was stressed, and I hadn’t even got out of bed yet. I just knew something had to change. This wasn’t living an authentic life, or any type of life worth getting up for. While I was somewhat aware of what was happening, and that a change was needed, I didn’t have the tools or ability to manage it. That’s where Mindfulness came into play.

While I was aware of the reported benefits of the practice from listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos, I just hadn’t given the regular practice a proper go. I made excuses that I was too busy! Ironic or what! I knew I needed to make a change so I committed to a daily practice, initially for a month. Getting up that 20 minutes earlier to make space for it. This was the beginning of a gradual, yet significant change. The beginning of a more self-aware me.

I’ve posted a lot about its benefits over the last couple of years (check out the blogs here) but in short, being more mindful has been a game changer. It’s allowed me to better observe what’s going on inside (the self-awareness piece) and then gave me that space or time to make better choices on how I respond to what’s coming up (self-management). The great thing about it is I can do it anytime and anyplace. It’s always available. Once you’re breathing, which I’m assuming you still are, you can do it!

Developing a greater self-awareness has made me less impulsive, in thought and in action. Before, random thoughts could come in (like the 14 meetings in the day ahead) triggering an emotional response. I’d feel down, negative, stressed, or panic stricken. That would lead to me take actions not in-line with my values, beliefs or principles. I’d end up doing (or saying) something inauthentic. Just to say the right thing or take the easy way out.

Becoming that little bit more aware, gives me that extra moment to make a better choice, take a better option, and ensure it’s one that is part of my truth and in sync of with my values. So, commit to a Mindfulness practice a go for a period of time, not expecting immediate results. Just do it!

3.    Being Vulnerable – It’s ok to not be ok!

Think of the great managers and leaders you’ve worked for in your career so far. Or ones that you’ve admired from afar. Would you say they were OK showing vulnerability? Or did it seem that they always had to be right?

In the fast paced tough talking mask filled world of Business and Leadership, showing a vulnerable side could be seen as a weakness.

While accepting yourself (in #1) takes work, taking off your mask can be tough and showing the real you to others is even more scary.

But for me, to get closer to your authentic-self, being vulnerable is key. While never easy, it can be done. For me, doing the work in both #1 and #2 above has made #3 more manageable.

If you’re in a state of acceptance of who you are and are in a good place when it comes to managing your internal emotions, then stepping outside of the mask can be possible.

 Nobody has got it all figured out and being vulnerable can have a positive effect on how you’re viewed as a leader, if you’re doing it in an authentic way.

Jim Breen, a leader I admire here in Ireland, and hugely successful entrepreneur, and a guest on my podcast last year, has been championing vulnerability for a number of years. Not just for leaders but for everyone. Saying ‘It’s ok not to feel ok, and it’s ok to ask for help’ springs to mind. Being ok to show your vulnerable side in a genuine way has an instant relaxing effect for me. It’s another key part of unmasking.

4.    Do the (self) work & enjoy the process

If you’re reading this far, great. It probably means you’re committed to figuring yourself out and discovering a more real version of you! Now, while you might not agree with my first three points above, that’s ok. Your attributes, values or actions to get there may be different. But this fourth and final point, in my view, is one that’s essential for everyone.

I’m not a huge fan of clichés and try to use them sparingly. For me, figuring out my authentic self has been (and probably right to say still is) a journey. I discovered that the more work I do at getting better (in whatever area of my life I’m focused on), the more I realise that the real growth, learning and progress comes as you commit to and follow the path towards whatever that goal is.

I’ve posted about my Dry18 journey, my Podcasting journey, and others. It’s the same with the work done to get to a more authentic self. If you’re keen to figure out what that means to you, then you’re likely going to figure out a whole lot more along the way.

Now while that path is not likely to be linear, expect many twists and turns along the way, it’s 100% worth doing. You’re going to challenge yourself, your beliefs, and assumptions. But you’re working to answer a question that really matters and can have a significant impact on how you live your life into the future.

As you put the effort in, you’ll be exposed to new perspectives, learn new tools, develop new practices, and start to see yourself (and others) in a different light. Doesn’t that sound like a journey worth taking?

A final truth!

Before I finish, I’ll share one another truth. In the spirit of my own authenticity. When I sat down to write this, I was far from clear on what authenticity was to me. For the last few years, I’ve been undertaking all the work outlined in the 4 steps above, but not in a very focused and targeted way. I didn’t have a SMART goal stating, ‘Reach Your Authentic Self by February 2019 through practicing Steps 1,2 & 3 and enjoy the process as outlined in 4’. I knew I had a strong sense of what authenticity meant, and means, to me but hadn’t taken the time to reflect and summarise it in words. That made me a little uneasy but also excited by what I’d come up with.

This step along the process, probably not the last, has been very rewarding. I have a developed my own definition of authenticity for me. Being able to verbalise how it feels has brought it to life even more.

Maybe I was being too hard on Jenny (from the Block) after all. My approach was to write an article/blog post to figure out what it is for me, Jenny put it down in lyrics to a song. Whatever works best I guess to get you to the desired result. There are many paths that can lead you to the outcome. We just took different ones. Unlike Jenny, the only ‘rocks that I got’ are the ones in my back garden. For Real!

What does authenticity mean to you?

Are you on your own journey to dropping an inauthentic mask to be more real?

Did this post help?

Like any work worth doing, it takes time and effort. Whatever your own definition is for authenticity, I feel it’s better to have one than to not.

If you’d like to chat more about how coaching could work in helping you in your search for authenticity, or other personal or professional development goals you have, get in touch. Details below.

Core Values Reminder

One of the most worthwhile pieces of work you can do on yourself is to identify your core values. Authenticity might be one of these. I posted an approach I used to identify my own and I use in coaching others. You can read that process here.

Rob is a qualified Executive Coach (ACC with ICF) and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics, like this one! Rob recently published an eBook on giving up alcohol for 2018 called ‘Dry18’ and can be downloaded for free here.

Connect in with Rob on the socials or via email on the links below:

Email   Twitter  Facebook  Website

Subscribe to the Rob of the Green Newsletter Here

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