by Adele Gregory, BA Psych, BACP Accr.

There's more than one way to use the word "confidence." Apart from relaxed or natural, it can also mean "certain" as in "I am confident you will be able to help me." The opposite is uncertainty or doubt. This is true for confidence, the feeling, as well.

For many people, "confidence" is really the absence of anxiety. Anxiety comes in when you're not sure what will happen and start asking "What if?" Think of some situations where you feel less confident than you'd like. What are your "what if's?" What if I say the wrong thing? What if I faint? What if I can't get home? When people get anxious, one "what if" often leads to another, worse "what if" which leaves a lot of questions but no answers.

Break The "What If" Cycle
By Answering your Own Questions With "Then I Will..."

Okay, what if you do miss the last bus? Can you take along enough money for a taxi? It's not cheating to plan and prepare or work out what you'll say beforehand. It works. And each time you get through a difficult situation you become more confident.

What if you get tongue-tied at a party? Ask questions, especially " what do you think...." People love being asked for their opinions. They'll think you're fascinating . And there's nothing wrong with being a listener. Listening has several advantages; it'll give you clues about what to say and you might actually find it interesting! But perhaps most important is that draws your attention off anxious and self-critical thoughts.

Turn Your Attention Out

Think about the word "self-conscious" -- conscious of self. When you're self-conscious, your attention is split in two -- one half of you is trying to act while the other is sitting back appraising (usually criticizing) how you're doing. It's this split that can immobilize you. If you're in the grip of self-consciousness, make an effort to notice something -- anything -- around you to bring your attention back to the world outside. Count the number of people wearing blue or the light bulbs in the room. Wiggle your feet in your shoes and notice how it feels, toe by toe. If you're making a presentation, pick out two friendly faces and talk to them.

Ask "What Else?"

If you're not sure how you come across to people, it's natural to to want to find out. But analyzing people's reactions for "clues" to what they think of you has some major drawbacks. First, other people are full of their own thoughts and feelings. Your co-worker might snap at you because he had a fight with his partner that morning, not because you offended him. Secondly, your own mood can influence what you notice and how you interpret it. If you're angry at a neighbor, it's easy to overlook the times he/she is friendly and helpful -- or decide there's some ulterior motive!

Get in the habit of asking "what else?" A friend walks by you in the street without saying "hello." Yes, she could be angry with you... but what else could it be? She didn't see you? She's daydreaming? She's worrying about a sick relative? She's trying to remember her shopping list? Keep going until you have at least four different explanations. This will free you from a major block to confidence -- taking things personally.

Get Feedback

Sometimes you can start to feel less confident about your work and not know why. No problems come to mind, the work is ticking along and you get on well with everyone. It could be lack of feedback. Busy managers will usually make time for problems but can forget that people also need to hear that things are going well. Otherwise uncertainty can set in and leave the door open to self-doubts. Has it been a while since you met with yoursupervisor on a one-to-one basis? Are you meetings too focused on what's going wrong? If your supervisor isn't offering one-to-one chats or positive feedback, ask for it. Chances are he or she just hasn't realized how important this is. If you haven't got a supervisor, put together some type of monitoring and evaluation for yourself such as customer feedback forms or monthly totals.


Adele Gregory has been in practice as a counselor and therapist since 1986 and divides her time between private clients, Employee Assistance counseling and community mental health projects.


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