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Be kind to yourself to cultivate confidence

While confidence is a difficult concept to pin down, we can all grow in self-belief, self-esteem, self-compassion and optimism.
Read time 3min 30sec

Confidence is a tricky beast! I can feel confident and behave in a confident way in one situation and completely the opposite in a different situation.

To say to yourself or others that they or you lack confidence is really a very vague, sweeping and obviously demoralising statement.

What exactly is confidence? It is a difficult concept to pin down. Loads of books and research will give you various definitions, but the one I like the most is “confidence is the characteristic that distinguishes those who imagine, from those who do. It is the stuff that turns thoughts into action; it is life’s enabler.” (The Confidence Code, by Kathy Kay and Claire Shipman)

What are the confidence killers?

  • Comparing ourselves to others
  • Worrying over things we have no control over
  • Perfectionism
  • Seeing failure/mistakes as the end of the world and ruminating over them
  • Always staying in our comfort zone
  • Worrying about what others will say/think

I read a story recently about Arthur Murray, the famous American ballroom dancer and businessman who had over 500 dancing schools named after him by the time he died in 1991.

It is said that early in his life after mustering the courage to ask a young girl to dance, she found him so inept that she complained he danced like a truck driver. For most people this would be enough to give them a reason to never dance again, but clearly Arthur’s confidence was not quenched and he danced for decades and was incredibly successful.

Self-esteem grows through every challenge overcome.

He did not fall victim to worrying about what others thought of him, or seeing mistakes as the end of the world.

How was he able to overcome a setback and get back out there to dance again?

He probably tapped into some of the supporting acts of confidence:

Self-efficacy: The belief that he could learn to dance, even if he wasn’t great right now. Believing that he had learnt other skills in his life, so why would dancing be any different? He probably started with simple steps and a less critical partner; eg, a granny at a wedding. Perhaps he celebrated small accomplishments: I didn’t stand on anybody’s toes! He also probably watched others and practised when the stakes were low. He may even have done some reflection on his past successes.

Self-esteem: The internal belief that he was worthwhile, good enough. Self-esteem grows through every challenge overcome. If, however, you live constantly inside your comfort zone, you will limit your self-esteem acquisition because you aren’t exposing yourself to challenge.

Optimism: A cultivated hopefulness about the future or the success of something. Optimism is often an internal state, not necessary expressed, but instead of dwelling on the reasons why something won’t work, it is spending time thinking about the reasons why it could or will work.

Self-compassion: Being kind to himself. When mistakes happen, or when things don’t go as well as one would hope, self-compassion is steering away from the tendency to beat ourselves up for all the things we didn’t do, or should have done or considered. Rather, gently and kindly reflecting on what went well and how we could learn from what didn’t for next time.

In my next article, I’ll flesh out some ways to build confidence. In the interim, think about areas in your life where you feel confident and areas where you don’t.

I believe confidence is not ubiquitous. In my life, I have very low confidence with mountain biking, but pretty solid confidence in road cycling. In two very closely related sports, I experience myself as two very different people.

Similarly, I am very confident meeting new people related to work, but less confident meeting new people in a social or sports club setting.


Angela de Longchamps

Director, Tandem Learning and Leadership Solutions

Angela de Longchamps is a passionate South African who has worked across the world, but chooses South Africa to call home. Her 20+ years of international corporate experience with PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM, in HR and as a leadership development facilitator, learning designer and event speaker, and the very grounding reality of taking her job as mom to three children very seriously, are the foundation for her one business: Tandem Learning and Leadership Solutions. She partners with local and international businesses to help leaders shape up and step up. www.tandemlearning.co.za

She is also founder and CEO of a collaboration economy blended learning approach and methodology called: Inspired Leadership. www.inspiredleadership.world

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