At some point, no matter how driven, focused, or downright stubborn you are, you will see your confidence take a hit. Everyone, even the strongest leaders, deals with this from time to time. This loss of confidence can be killer as we seek to lead by example and set the tone for our team.
In the coming years, it’s a certainty that we’ll see confidence loss occurring even more frequently. Why? Anxiety in professionals is rising at a rapid rate. Technology and social media certainly don’t help this either, with the constant tug for attention and the endless comparison to everyone else’s seemingly glamorous life. A byproduct of this anxiety can be a loss in confidence.
It also seems that individuals are now quicker to get down on themselves and quicker to give up on themselves. I’ve seen losses in confidence with lots of colleagues and within my own teams – including myself – over the years. We can say it’ll never happen to us, but that’s a lie. It will, and we don’t benefit by ignoring it. That’s not for us. Leaders tackle problems head on.
Since we can’t completely outrun hits to our confidence, we need to make sure that we’re armed to minimize the impact that they have on us and our work. We need to be self-aware enough to catch minor setbacks in confidence so that they don’t become major setbacks in confidence. This can snowball rather quickly, so we have to be very proactive in this regard.
I already had this topic penciled in for this week when I found myself reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (simply fantastic book – highly recommended). One of the great stories he tells in the book is about the lobster and its resilience over the past 350 million years. As lobsters fight with each other for dominance and territory there’s a fundamental change in the physical posture by which the lobster carries itself. The same happens in humans when we are dejected, we tend to slump over. Makes sense. What’s really fascinating, however, is that along with this change in posture, comes a chemical change in our brains; namely in serotonin. Serotonin is linked to confidence, and as we produce more serotonin, we actually “win” at a rate that outpaces statistical likelihood. The opposite is true as well. When we lose, and our serotonin reserves get out of whack, we “lose” at a higher rate So, to my previous point, we need to catch any hits to our confidence sooner than later so we prevent a massive snowball effect in our lives.
Presuming we’re self-aware enough to sense that our confidence is in the midst of a minor setback, how can we nip it in the bud so that it doesn’t become major? I break it down to three main facets.
- Situational Awareness
- Physical Response
First things first. Evaluate the situation. There’s always an opportunity in whatever has caused this lack in confidence. If you’re not succeeding, then you’re at least learning something from it. What can you learn in this case? If it’s a deficiency in your skill set, acquire that skill and move forward. Perhaps it’s another lesson. Whatever it is, find value in the situation.
From here, make a plan to move forward. Spinning your wheels will increase your anxiety and help the confidence loss to snowball. After all, leaders are action-oriented. Figure out what the next few steps are, and work the plan. Direct action is perhaps the best antidote for hits to your confidence. It’s the proverbial getting back on the horse.
It’s also helpful to remember that you’re not the first person in history to lose confidence. Look around the room; everyone in there has at some point and will again. They may look like they have it all together, but they don’t. People overcome this all the time and you will too.
This may seem odd. We’re busy working a plan, the idea of gratitude seems a bit soft. Perhaps it is, but when our confidence is under siege, taking a moment to think about what you’re grateful for is incredibly helpful to calm the negative voices in your head. It’s too easy for our minds to take us down rabbit holes of what-ifs.
For instance, you botched a big presentation, and before you know it, in your mind, you’ve been fired, run out of money and are living in your parent’s basement. A brief moment of gratitude will stop this cycle. It’s also important to be thankful for whatever it is that hurt your confidence. This is an opportunity to get better – that’s a good thing, so frame it up that way in your mind.
All leaders need to be fit to lead, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. There are chemical effects in our brains that come from working out that can help us to reverse the course of our confidence loss. While I love endurance sports, I find that lifting heavy objects more rapidly releases endorphins for me.
The other benefit of physical activity, the one that I think is the most important, is the simple idea of placing us in control. Forcing yourself to do something physical will breed confidence by showing you a sense of ownership. Oddly, this is one of the reasons I take cold plunges in the morning. I love that I have to mentally overcome something at the beginning of my day that I don’t necessarily want to do. If I can force myself to do something, it gives me confidence that I can overcome whatever else I’m faced with.
One other activity I’ll place in the physical category is meditation. While I’m relatively new to the practice, the more stressful a situation I find myself in, the more meditation seems to supercharge me to deal with it.
No one enjoys a loss in confidence, but with the right approach you can minimize the downside and turn it into a weapon for your own personal development.