Last year I went on a confidence course for women and non-binary folk.
It’s called Upfront and is run by Lauren Currie. Lauren is on a mission to change confidence, working with women across the world to instil confidence without changing who they are. Hoorah! I’ve documented some of the things I learned in the hope that others can learn from them too.
Before I went on the course, I would have said I was quite confident; never feeling shy to walk into a room of strangers or strike up conversation with new people. Yet at work, I would stumble over my words, go round and round in circles trying to make a point, stay quiet on calls and rush through presentations. I thought I was like this because I wasn’t good enough. I’d work long hours, move jobs frequently and shy away from anything that asked me to “build my brand” or network. I thought I wasn’t good enough and bringing attention to myself would mean everyone else would be able to see that too.
Turns out, a lot of this thinking came down to a lack of confidence. Since the course, I have developed a greater awareness that helps me see this isn’t the case; instead, I can see that I was doing or believing things that compounded my ‘not good enough’ thoughts, even though they weren’t always true. Practising things that build confidence help to keep these thoughts away until one day I won’t believe them anymore.
So here are my top takeaways and things I try to practice - especially when I can feel the old ‘you’re not good enough’ voices creeping back in.
People aren’t born confident; it’s a behaviour that can be learned and practised.
- I saw the world as ‘you’re born one way vs another and that’s it’. You’re born confident, you’re born a leader, you’re born an athlete, etc. I’ve learned this isn’t true and when it comes to confidence, like everything else, it takes practice. I’ve learned a lot about Growth vs Fixed mindsets in the last couple of years and it’s essential to apply this theory to confidence.
- I also try to remember that being confident in one situation doesn’t mean I’ll be confident in another. So even though I might have felt confident in one situation, that doesn’t mean I don’t need to practise my confidence for another situation, or when I feel less confident in one situation or another, I remind myself that’s normal.
What have I put into practice? When I have a presentation to do, or am facilitating a meeting, I know I can’t ‘just wing it’ and feel happy and comfortable throughout, so I prepare and practice, until I feel confident in what I’m doing and what I’m saying. For me, this looks like handwriting what I want to say, reading it out loud and then recording myself saying it. It takes time but I’ve found it works. Those who look like they’re able to ‘just wing it’ probably weren’t able to start with and have put a lot of practice in.
Being kind to yourself when you make a mistake can make a huge difference to your confidence.
- The course showed me that women especially have been conditioned to fear failure; they’re often judged more harshly than their male counterparts. This rang true for me. I went to a competitive school and had high expectations of myself. ‘Failing’, or even ‘not being perfect’ wasn’t the done thing. This meant I’d be scared to try new things or things that would make me look foolish or vulnerable, especially at work.
- Changing my mindset towards failure makes a big difference. A great tip Lauren taught us and that I’ve started putting into practise is to say ‘wahoo!’ every time I make a mistake (sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head), instead of ‘oops’ or, more commonly, ‘oh ?*£# you idiot’. It makes a world of a difference to how you feel when you make the mistake - it makes it fun and as though making mistakes is exactly what you’re meant to be doing. It immediately makes me smile, laugh it off and remember it as something that wasn’t the end of the world but something I tried and got wrong - wahoo!
Being visible and self-promoting isn’t being arrogant
- This is the hardest one for me to unlearn and to put into practice. I have always thought, “if I do the good work the credit will come”. Drawing attention to myself will be uncomfortable and attention grabby and people will think I’m bragging. However, I never apply this thinking to others when they share their accomplishments or opinions!
- Lauren said “hardwork is the foundation of success, but we need to make our hard work visible”. And I work hard! If we have worked hard, we can talk about it, and find a way to do so that feels comfortable.
- What have I tried, to get started? I have found sharing learnings works; I feel comfortable talking about what I did but also knowing there’s room for improvement. It’s a start. The more this is practised, the easier it becomes.
- A huge takeaway from this, and one that made me write this post after weeks of procrastination, is that sharing content and your opinion is an opportunity to find more of your people. Even if it’s been said before, say it again - you never know who will be reading it for the first time. Thinking about who and why you’re writing for makes it easier again.
There is a language to learn; or rather, one to avoid
This can have such an impact - good and bad! Language women often use - ‘sorry’ ‘actually’ ‘just’ ‘you’ve probably already thought of this, but’ - destroys our confidence.
- ‘Just’ immediately undermines what you’re about to say.
- ‘Actually’ makes you sound surprised about what’s coming out your mouth
- ‘Does that make sense,’ which I hear so many women using, myself included. Yes, what we say makes sense and it’s up to everyone else to ask if it doesn’t.
- ‘Sorry’ makes us sound apologetic for our presence and makes us seem small. Lauren’s number one rule is no apologising!
Phrases like this not only make others question our confidence but make ourselves question our own ability. We belittle ourselves and sound apologetic which does nothing for our self worth.
I find myself falling into old habits a lot on this, but a good way to get back on track is to pick one word for the week; remove it from all your emails and messages and pause for one more second before you speak to make sure it doesn’t slip out. It really makes a difference.
Having and being part of a supportive community of women really helps.
- As part of the course, referred to as the Bond, which is the collective noun for a group of women, we were entered into a community of other women all taking part. We were each others’ cheerleaders, supporting each other and sharing experiences. It was great.
- I’m now part of the Upfront community which is a space for women and those who identify as non-binary to practise things, share things and support each other in a safe environment. It’s amazing to know I have this supportive network to bounce ideas off of and get feedback. They are my ‘cheerleaders’ that help to build me up, and I try to be the best cheerleader to others around me, too.
What can you put into practice to help lift others up? It can start small, for example by steering the conversation back to someone who was interrupted in a meeting. Another way is to create space for everyone to speak, for example by starting with a ‘check-in’. It means that everyone will get the chance to speak, including you.
What do I still struggle with? Well, loads. And it’s back to point one, it’s going to take continual work and practice. Lauren encourages us to share weekly wins to track our progress; confidence isn’t as easy as something like running for seeing measurable results. Jotting down weekly wins, no matter how big or small, can help you see what you’re doing now that you wouldn’t have done before.
I won’t lie I don’t always do this, but when I do I can feel the impact it has on how I view the week, especially when things don’t go as expected. Writing and sharing this with friends and colleagues will definitely be making its way onto the list this week: sometimes it’s as small as leaving my mic off mute to make it easier to speak up - which works!
I hope you find some of these things useful. I’d love to hear any tricks and tips, or struggles, when it comes to you and your confidence.