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Stepping stones

24/07/2020

What is the worst that can happen when you take a step outside of your comfort zone? Who knows, but what you will certainly do is improve your confidence, according to Helena Stone, who told all to The UK Gender Network.

There is a very pragmatic route to confidence, comprising an understanding of where you are, what you have done in the past and how much you have exercised your ‘confidence muscle’, according to Helena Stone, speaking to The UK Gender Network on Thursday 16 July over Zoom.

Electronic pols conducted during Ms Stone’s presentation revealed that the difference between how most people are feeling and would like to feel when it comes to confidence is small. Answering the question of how confident they were feeling, most of the audience ranked themselves around 7-8 out of 10, with the majority wishing they were in the 9-10 range.

So how do we bridge what is really a small gap? Surprisingly and thankfully, it is not too tough, as long as you play by a few rules, the first of which is to acknowledge and embrace the thought that confidence is a skill and, therefore, something that improves with practice. Cast aside thoughts of acquiring equipment or wearing lycra, exercising this skill merely requires thought and awareness.

“Confidence is not something the lucky few are born with,” said Ms Stone. “It’s something that we can all develop, but you have to practice the art of flexing that muscle. The main thing is the art of taking action that is consistent.”

Even the briefest of thoughts reliving times when you were confident is the right place to start. “We can be confident in some parts of our lives, but not in other areas,” said Ms Stone. “It is about looking at those situations in which you are most confident and identifying what it about those situations that mean I am at my best?”

From these thoughts, the patterns that develop pivot around core self-belief (aka ‘resilience’) and a positive mindset.

“Firstly, there are great days, there are bad days; secondly, we feel so much different when we are really confident, we feel on top of the world, we have that self-belief, we have that mindset that anything is possible and that we have a really great go at doing that,” said Ms Stone. “Sometimes, we are only talking about a really small step change.”

If only you had more confidence and self-belief

Whatever we are doing, whether it is speaking up, addressing an audience, being braver, taking more risks, the simple fact is that we would do more of it if our confidence was enhanced.

A lot of people never fulfil their potential not through a lack of intelligence or opportunity, but a lack of belief in ourselves,” said Ms Stone. “If we truly believed in ourselves, we would back ourselves, we would empower ourselves to take those risks to get outside our comfort zone.”

But, if it is all so apparently easy, why are we not taking these tiny steps to utterly improve our lives? The next piece of good news is that there are only a few reasons standing between us and success.

Perhaps ironically, we fear the judgement of those that, quite frankly, do not give us a second thought. Another snap poll during the call revealed that 67% of the attendees identified self-doubt as the leading obstacle to being more confident, with fear of judgement noted by 65%, while fear of failure or success or what others think, or overthinking were cited by 56% of the audience.

While you digest this wisdom, there is one more, vital ingredient to add to the mix. “If you are naturally inclined to judge others, you will naturally fear that,” said Ms Stone. “If we stop judging others, we stop fearing that.”

Furthermore, let’s not forget overthinking, which tends to be negative. “We go into a spiral of negative thought patterns, which reinforces older reasons of why whatever we might be thinking of doing is not a good idea,” said Ms Stone. “When this happens, we don’t make that contribution, we don’t show up, we don’t, we don’t share those ideas.

“It’s never really about other people, it’s about us and our belief in ourselves which comes into question,” said Ms Stone. “We are really instrumental in how confident or not we are going to be.”

I get knocked down and I get up again

When asked how important external factors or the context is, 40% of attendees said it was very important and 38% declared it as important, whether it be the external market, family or our personal situation.

The importance of the external environment drew a question about what to do when people knock you down at work. “It’s about how we receive that information and how we manage,” said Ms Stone. “It’s also about confidence being related to resilience. There is something about having an awareness that people have a view of us, but their view is not you. It’s about building that belief over time. You know what’s true.

“Confidence is something we build from within, we don’t use others to validate our confidence,” said Ms Stone. “It’s about how we lead with empathy, kindness and create space for one another. We give space and airtime for people so they can be included.

“People who are arrogant and not thoughtful of engaging others or allowing others to shine are looking for validation through other people,” she said. “They want other people to validate their greatness and that’s the difference between confidence and arrogance, because confidence is about having that from within.

It is about being brave enough to still make that contribution, otherwise we shrink and become very constrained by the environment we find ourselves in and retreat back into a smaller shell.

Strategies

Getting to believe in yourself may not mean your heart rate does not rise, your mouth does not go dry and your palms do not get sweaty, with these symptoms of nervousness easily and often accompanied by the arrival of negative thoughts that include all the reasons we should not talk or do something.

The art of strategy depends on how good your mindset is at the time, how much of it is positive, how much of it is negative and how much of that is serving you well. “There is lots of overthinking, procrastination, doubt and fear, and that’s understanding what level of thoughts we have and what’s going on,” said Ms Stone. “Making the change is all about auditing your thoughts and, as you start to increase your awareness around your thought process, use the actual words. Be clear what is positive and what is negative and the language you use. If your thought pattern is negative, that will affect how you behave.”

One of the benefits of this confidence is that it allows you to get outside of your comfort zone, the place that most people live! “When you dip your toe into the cold air from under the blanket, you naturally retreat back into bed,” said Ms Stone. “It can also feel exciting, but it’s about where you are in your transition. The good thing about stepping out of your comfort zone is it makes you more comfortable being out of it. It means taking risks.”

One way of making this leap is saying yes to opportunities and then thinking about why you may have ordinarily said ‘no, or I’ll think about that’.

To assist, Ms Stone offers the five-second rule. “You generally have five seconds between wanting to do something and being able to put it into action,” she said. “If our mindset is more negative than positive, or we are in a daunting situation and we are doubting ourselves, our mind comes in with all the reasons not to – you’ll look silly, they’ll be talking about you. If you have not acted by the count five your feeling have overtaken your brain.

She offered a further statistical overload with the announcement that we average 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day, of which 80% are negative and we repeat 90% of our thoughts. What we think affects our feelings and the action we take, and that’s what is going to help us develop our confidence.

“We often forget the good stuff,” said Ms Stone. “Imagine your mind as a garden: you can either grow weeds or flowers. Be mindful about what you put in there. Look at your thoughts, look at how you talk to yourself, take out anything that is not helpful and reinforce and build more of what is helpful.