What I've learned about confidence

Emily talks through common confidence misconceptions and tips for overcoming irrational feelings of doubt at work.

Illustration of a person revealing their face from behind a mask.

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.

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. 
Being visible and self-promoting isn’t being arrogant
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.

  1. ‘Just’ immediately undermines what you’re about to say. 

  2. ‘Actually’ makes you sound surprised about what’s coming out your mouth

  3. ‘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. 

  4. ‘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.

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.

Wrapping up

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. 

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