How to cut through pressure and find your self-confidence
18 Sep 18
Amanda Bradley provides an insight into harnessing awareness to build confidence and accelerate personal performance
How well do you know yourself? How would your friends or your family describe you? Hard-working? Helpful? A real trooper? Super organised? Would you agree with that description, or is there more to it?
Does what they see match with how you feel? What others see of us and what we are showing to the world is rarely the full picture.
Often, clients come to me to work on ‘being more confident’. So, in this article, I’ll focus on one way to start to do just that.
Let’s get specific to start with, though – what is confidence? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities’. I understand that as knowing what we’re capable of and using that as fuel to drive us onward.
A lot has been written about how to appear confident. Open body posture, maintaining eye contact and taking our physical space all help. But if our insides don’t match our outsides, it’s hard for us to feel self-assured. We can end up feeling the exact opposite.
Once you know your behavioural cue, you can start to attend to the real feeling underneath
This is commonly referred to as Impostor Syndrome. Impostor Syndrome is a lurking, dreadful feeling that no matter what you’ve achieved and how senior you are, one day someone will spot all the inadequacies you’re carefully hiding and show them to the world.
Impostor Syndrome is exhausting. It leaves us feeling like frauds and makes us second-guess ourselves. And yet, it also drives us to greatness.
Yes, you read that correctly – it drives us to greatness. Impostor Syndrome can make us great at what we do. Because here’s the whole story: the outward behaviours we develop are there to protect us and help us feel acceptable to the world around us.
But the problem with building our outsides to make us acceptable to the world around us is that, as careers progress, the benchmark for acceptable changes and the defences we have so carefully constructed become redundant at best, and self-defeating at worst. So, yes, they can drive us to greatness, but that drive can suddenly run out of steam.
Reading the Oxford English Dictionary definition again, it’s easy to focus on ‘our own abilities’. These are things like our technical qualifications, the deals we’ve done and the reflected status of the jobs we’ve been in.
But the full definition places equal weight on our qualities, the behaviours we exhibit rather than the things we’ve achieved: being hard-working, helpful, organised, a good team player. These behaviours are good things in themselves, but they also form our defences.
In other words, if you know your defences are sound and your behaviours are acceptable, you’ll feel confident. So, when our defences stop helping us, it’s time to pay attention to our behaviours.
‘Tom Hardy Plays Bugs Bunny’
The first step to greater confidence and aligning ourselves inside and out is to become intimately acquainted with our defences. To do this, it helps to have clear words to describe them.
Fortunately, for me, Taibi Kahler and Hedges Capers already did the hard work on this when they identified the Five Drivers, which I remember by thinking of the trigger ‘Tom Hardy Plays Bugs Bunny’:
- Try Hard;
- Hurry Up;
- Please Others;
- Be Strong; and
- Be Perfect.
Our behaviours can help us work out which of the drivers are protecting us. If you find yourself feeling impatient, clenching your fists, saying “I’ll try” or “it’s hard”, it may be the Try Hard driver.
Tapping fingers or jogging knees, moving quickly and saying “let’s get on with it” indicates the Hurry Up driver. Lots of head nodding and “you know”, “could you” and a higher pitched voice could indicate Please Others.
A more rigid posture with arms folded and a harder edge to speech indicates the Be Strong driver.
Tending to say “of course”, “obviously”, ”clearly”, “I think” or, if you find yourself saying things like “firstly, secondly” as you walk through points, chances are you are being motivated by the Be Perfect driver.
If you spot yourself exhibiting any of these behaviours, take some time to be curious about what’s happening for you and what the underlying feeling might be that you’re trying to defend against. Typically, each driver protects us against specific messages.
Try Hard defends against “you’ve got to try harder”; for Hurry Up the message is “you’ll never get it done”; Please Others defends against “you’re not good enough”, the big Impostor Syndrome contributor; Be Strong defends against “you can’t show your weakness”; and Be Perfect fends off the message “you should be better”.
How does knowing this help me?
Once you know your behavioural cue, you can start to attend to the real feeling underneath. At this point I want to be clear. I’m not asking you to stop doing what you’re doing. That would leave you defenceless. Instead, I’m suggesting you aim to find something better.
So, spot your defence. Understand it. Love and respect it for what it’s already done for you. Then, work out what you could do instead. Build healthier options for yourself, which let the inside and the outside match a bit better. And respectfully stand the old defence down.
If you feel yourself rushing, remind yourself it’s OK to take your time. The swell of perfection can be adjusted by considering that it’s OK to be yourself. Please Others? It’s OK to have a duty of care to yourself. Be Strong – it’s OK to be open, and Try Hard – it’s OK to just do it.
All we are trying to do as we move out of the drivers is find a better alternative that takes less energy and helps us feel more authentic.
So, how do I find an alternative?
Start with your awareness. Consider what’s happening and look for patterns. What is happening when you start feeling the urge to Hurry Up? Maybe you’ve got a deadline that feels overwhelming. Maybe it feels like everyone’s counting on you to deliver.
Perhaps you’ve been asked to speak in front of a big audience and the thought of doing it is so frightening, the only way to do it is to rush at it. And maybe, for today, rushing it is the best way for you to go. But by inviting the awareness of how we are behaving, we also invite the possibility that there’s an alternative.
Knowing the conditions in which we would automatically adopt old defence behaviours gives us the chance to try something new. Then we stand a chance of finding a better coping mechanism where we can be more congruent inside and outside.
So, when you’re starting to feel under pressure, consider Tom Hardy Plays Bugs Bunny. If nothing else, you’ll conjure a mental image to make you laugh and find a moment’s relief. At best, you might increase your awareness of what’s happening on the inside, unlock new ways of thinking and behaving, increase resilience and accelerate your performance.
About the author
Amanda Bradley FCT is an executive coach at Liberty EQ