Recently I went to a great workshop put on by Minnesota Women in Marketing & Communications called “Overcoming the Confidence Gap,” presented by guest speaker Kelly Olson, consultant and Program Director of Dress for Success Twin Cities. While this session was aimed at women, I really feel like it is applicable for anyone struggling with confidence issues regardless of gender.

What is the confidence gap?

We can’t really go into talking about the confidence gap until we clarify what we mean when we’re talking about confidence. Kelly described confidence as:

  1. A feeling of certainty or assurance
  2. An act of trust or reliance

The confidence gap shows up across all professions, income levels, generations, and in places you least expect. Kelly described it as a place where we get stuck and let fear get in the way of our dreams and ambitions. We get caught in the gap when we loop the negative thoughts over and over, and it becomes the story our brain believes. When we have those thoughts, the brain brings up memories/stories to support those feelings.

What would you do differently or newly if you felt more confident?

Take a moment to really think about the question above for yourself – what would be different in your life if you had the confidence to do it? Would you ask for a raise? Apply for a different job? Move to a new city? Ask someone out? Maybe you haven’t done those things because you aren’t confident enough in yourself to do them.

Many people, Kelly said, falsely believe that confidence is something that you either have or you don’t. You are either blessed with confidence, or you will always be held back because you are lacking it. But that isn’t true – confidence is a learned skill. And it is much like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it will get.

Kelly also said something that deeply resonated with me: Confidence is a feeling that follows the action, not the other way around. It isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s something that needs to be worked on.

How does one work on building confidence?

I’ve written before about how much I hate sessions that cover the what but not the how, and I was delighted that Kelly’s session focused mainly on the how. She gave many tips for overcoming your confidence gaps, and I’m going to share seven of my favorite tips. If this topic resonates with you, I’m sure Kelly would be happy to share more information on the topic with you.

  1. Notice it, name it, neutralize it – If you find yourself thinking a negative or fearful thought, call it out. Be aware that you’re thinking it, and name it. “I am having a thought that I’m scared.” Is that thought true? Think about how you would feel differently if the opposite were true.
  2. Ask – There are three questions you should stop and ask yourself:
    1. Is this thought helpful?
    2. Is this serving me?
    3. Does this thought lead me to actions for a richer, fuller life?
  3. Imagine your worries are leaves on a river – Your life is a river, always flowing, around boulders, sticks and fallen trees. No matter what comes up in your life, the river always keeps flowing. Imagine placing your fears on leaves, and letting them float away down the river.
  4. Self-acceptance – Tame that inner critic! Watch what you are saying about yourself, because you’re always listening.
  5. Accept failures and setbacks as a part of the journey – Failure is going to happen. Find a way to be okay with that. Decide in advance how you are going to move forward if/when you do fail.
  6. Power Pose – I’ve heard this before, and I’ve done it before – it actually does help! You know Wonder Woman’s pose? Hands on hips, confident as all get out? Do that in the mirror, or at your desk, for two minutes before you need to speak or face whatever it is you aren’t feeling confident about. You will feel more ready to tackle it if you do this first. Want to know more? Watch this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, who first talked about the Power Pose.
  7. Practice, practice, practice – If I want to be good at _____, then I will need to practice ____. Practice mindfully and be aware when you feel yourself uncomfortable. You need to lean into the discomfort, or else you won’t be able to grow in your confidence, you’ll stay in the same place.

All of Kelly’s tips revolved around facing fears and negative thought loops that our mind gets into. When we have those negative thoughts, our brain supplies the thoughts and memories the support those thoughts. By being mindful and calling out those thoughts, we give ourselves the opportunity to introduce positive ones, and find the stories that enforce instances where we did take a chance and it worked out. Or if it didn’t work out great, remembering moments where you had the courage to try, and things didn’t get worse.

To overcome the confidence gap, you need to focus on facing fears and taking risks. As Kelly said – if we waited to do something until we were perfect, we would do nothing.