Affirmations are bullshit. Let’s get real. When was the last time you affirmed your way to more confidence? A better body? A promotion? The chances are… never.
Yet, you see social skills *experts* selling this trope all day. Just tell yourself, “I am awesome and beautiful. I can achieve anything.” in your head 50 times a day. You’ll have the confidence of Michelle Obama in no time flat.
Does it work? Nope. But there is a bigger problem out there that’s been keeping me up at night lately.
Thousands of women all over the world are giving up promotions, not going after the million dollar deals and staying silent in meetings. At the same time, men are making their way to the top by projecting confidence — even when they aren’t 100 percent sure — by putting their hand up in meetings and asking for the promotions they feel they deserve.
This quote by Marie Wilson sums it up pretty well: “When a man, imagining his future career, looks in the mirror, he sees a senator staring back. A woman would never be so presumptuous!”
We deserve just as many of those promotions, but repeating those positive affirmations in our heads isn’t the way to get them. What we can do is develop systems that help us become more confident in a true, in an authentic way and add value to everyone involved.
Before we jump into how to develop authentic confidence, let’s step back and understand what confidence really means.
Confidence means knowing you have what it takes to go after what you want and make it happen. It is the enabler that helps you go from idea to action.
I’m talking about believing in yourself to go after that multi-million dollar deal, to put your hand up when an interesting project comes up or to volunteer to speak at a conference (without even getting nervous about it!)
Confidence is not the certainty that everything will work out 100 percent of the time. It’s knowing you have the ability to deal with the outcome and correct your course for success, regardless of how it turns out.
In The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that confidence may be the reason why women don’t make it to the top ranks of companies — even though the ratio is almost 50-50 in the middle management in large companies. Statistically speaking, success has stronger positive correlations to confidence than competence. (Take a minute to let that sink in….)
I’m not suggesting that we become empty shells who brag their way to the top — sooner or later, you’ll find yourself feeling like a fraud and any success you gain will be short-lived. I’m suggesting an authentic model for confidence that combines competence and the ability to project it into the world, to add value and to take your career (and life) to the next level.
So how do smart, competent women develop authentic confidence that lasts for life? Here are five ways to do just that.
1. Don’t Affirm. Act.
Affirmations don’t work. PERIOD. Our brains are designed to compare what we expect inside our heads and what we experience as the reality in our lives.
When the two aspects don’t match, your brain spirals out of control with anxiety and negative self talk, leading to lesser and lesser confidence. So what can you do?
You can prepare yourself to communicate better, project confidence triggers and experience positive feedback in your daily interactions — which will provide your brain with enough “evidence” to develop long-lasting confidence.
Also, there are a few ways for you to trick your brain into confidence by mimicking power triggers from the animal kingdom!
2. Pay Attention to Your Self Perception
Your perception of yourself matters a lot more than other people’s perception of you. The good news is that the world believes what you project externally. Thankfully, they don’t hear your thoughts, fears, insecurities and anxieties inside your head!
The bad news? What you project externally and how you perceive feedback from your environment is almost entirely dependent on what’s going on between your ears.
In this regard, I strongly encourage you to watch your inner dialogue. (Don’t worry, I’m still not gonna ask you to do affirmations!) Start by writing down whenever you experience a lack of confidence, the exact phrases you hear inside your head and what triggered the experience. Do this for one week. Just by observing and shedding light on your internal dialogue, you’ll can move one step closer to reducing and hopefully eliminating them completely.
Additionally, I strongly recommend the Awesomeness Portfolio Technique. This entails maintaining a list of all your accomplishments, experiences and events that made you feel competent, great at your work and confident in your abilities to shape the world.
Every time you find your inner dialogue spiralling out of control, take a 3-minute break to go back to your Awesomeness Portfolio and remind yourself of how far you have come. Give your brain the evidence it needs to develop long-term confidence!
3. Prioritize Your Health
I know it’s a cliché to talk about being in good health. But there’s a good reason. Ever wondered why top leaders consistently have exercise regimes? If you are over-worked, feeding your body with junk, sleep-deprived and sedentary, it’s going to be difficult for you to put the best version of yourself in front of the world.
You don’t need to work out for two hours a day. Even taking a brisk 30-minute walk back home from work or taking the stairs up 10 levels can work up enough of a sweat to get the endorphins flowing. Start by making small changes to your lifestyle that you can stick with.
For a few practical tips, I love James Altucher’s thoughts on balancing the Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual aspects of life. He makes great recommendations for reducing things that add extra hassle (and stress!) to your life and explains the importance of keeping your mental and spiritual health humming.
4. Empathize to Add Value
You know why most people suck at selling their ideas or communicating better? Because they get lost in their own heads! Instead of focusing on their audience and adding value, they’re worried about saying something stupid or thinking of something smart to say next. And a big reason for that is lack of preparation!
It’s almost impossible to be confident authentically if you’re not prepared enough to be the master of your domain and focussing on your audience. Think about the person you’re talking to: what do they truly want? What’s keeping them up at night? How can you serve them?
Once you focus on serving your audience, your anxiety will reduce and you will get positive feedback from your interaction.
This can be applied to getting anything from that promotion, to the client you’re looking to close or an audience you want to wow at an event.
Take the time to learn your material and know your audience. Every hour you spend in this area will deliver huge results! And what happens when you get positive feedback? You guessed it: long-lasting, authentic confidence.
5. Fail Fast and Fail Often
There is a dreadful F-word that paralysis remarkable people and keeps them from achieving extraordinary success: failure. Many women are known to be perfectionists (we are just wired that way) and chronically afraid of failing.
You will fail in your life. It’s just inevitable! In fact, if you aren’t failing, you’re probably not learning much to begin with. I suggest a simple re-frame, like my mentor Ramit Sethi suggests: “It is not a failure. It is a test. You’re just testing what doesn’t work, and now that you know it, you can move on and find another way to get results.
Once you bounce back from a “failure,” you’ll realize that it wasn’t that devastating after all — and that experience will help you take action in the face of fear and achieve amazing things in the future.
It’s your turn now. Tell me: What is the ONE area in your professional life where lack of confidence has held you back? When do you feel the least confident and why?
To your success,