FIONA BRENNAN, author of The Positive Habit, on the importance of developing both inner and outer confidence …
Inner confidence is your sense of self-worth. If you are confident on the inside you feel equal to others whatever their social or financial status may be. Positive people feel at ease with themselves regardless of who they are with.
Many of my clients cry during their first consultation and almost always apologise as if they have done something ‘wrong’. They often tell me that they are not usually ‘so weak’, ‘so silly’ or ‘so stupid’! Ironically, I am glad when I see their tears, not because I wish them to suffer, but because I know that my job of helping them will be easier; those clients who are removed from their emotions can take longer to reach. We all feel vulnerable and exposed when we cry and this opens up a part of us that we desperately try to keep hidden.
Imagine you inherit an old but beautiful home that hasn’t been lived in for years. You turn on the tap in the kitchen and a disgusting, foul-smelling green liquid pours out, so you quickly turn it off, leave the house and announce that you want to sell it immediately as there is far too much work to be done and you don’t have the time or money to spend on it. Perhaps if you had waited for the tap to run for a few moments, the water would have run clear and with it the potential of the beautiful home would have opened up to you. Managing your emotions is no different; at first they can seem too much like hard work and it may appear easier to run from them than to let them flow freely. It takes courage, time and a great deal of self-knowledge for us to build an authentic feeling of self-worth. Feeling genuine confidence comes from when we feel calm inside, strong and at peace.
You are not pretending to be confident if you really are comfortable with your own vulnerability.
A positive person, when confronted publicly by a question they don’t know the answer to, has the courage to admit this rather than feign knowledge or avoid the issue. Similarly, if someone is rude to them they choose to not take it personally and instead show compassion. Positive people display advanced emotional intelligence by admitting their foibles and apologising when they are in the wrong. As a result they exude a quiet confidence.
Some people may be inwardly confident but not appear outwardly confident. They lack the practical skills to communicate effectively at work, to give credible presentations or to fully relax at social events; they do not show their greatness to the world. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist famous for her work on power posing, demonstrates that when you change your body language you change your level of confidence. By consciously adopting high-status postures and holding these for two minutes you actually change the neural messages to your brain. As with using the breath to cultivate calmness, body language can be used to create confidence as a habit; in both cases the body leads the mind in creating positive emotional habits rather than vice versa. Posture and stature are as important in humans as they are in animals, so if you want to feel confident and want other people to take you seriously, stand up straight. Cuddy’s book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges56, indicates that the key component is being present. It makes sense – how can you even remember to stand up tall if you are not living in the moment?
When you are present you are powerful.
Do you find that your confidence levels change depending on the type of event you are at (formal/informal)? Does the thought of giving a presentation at work fill you with dread? Does being asked to speak at a wedding really shake your confidence? Fear of public speaking is rooted in the old mammalian part of our brain; our ancient ancestors survived by living in packs and if for any reason you were seen as an outsider your life could be at risk.
Nowadays, in the public speaking context, when we see a group of people staring at us a sense of threat is triggered and is accompanied by physical symptoms such as a beating heart, sweaty palms and a dry throat, which can only serve to make the situation worse. Stepping out of your comfort zone in order to deliver presentations and speeches that resonate and help to transform people’s lives is, however, well within your capability. I’m not suggesting we have to be incredible performers but the ability to say a few words confidently and from the heart is a gift that can propel you forward professionally. Overcoming fear of public speaking means that many brilliant ideas needn’t languish unheard.
This is an edited extract from The Positive Habit: 6 Steps for Transforming Negative Thoughts to Positive Emotions by Fiona Brennan. Published by Gill Books, priced at €16.99, it is available in all bookshops and online now.