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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Four ‘Secret’ Confidence Boosters

Beyonce Knowles and her alter ego Sasha FierceMost people in the public eye (sports stars, politicians, celebrities and even members of the royal family) will appear to have an inordinate amount of self-confidence. But as the ‘fly-on-the wall’ TV programmes have shown us in the past few years, many of them are just as insecure and fearful as us ordinary folk when their guards are down… So what is it that helps these high-profile people to keep looking shiny and confident when it matters? Apart from expensive clothes, make-up and accessories, they have all mastered a way of keeping their self-doubt in check…

Here are four ‘techniques’ that are frequently used by people who need to master the art of self-confidence:

1. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Sometimes called "The Science of Excellence," NLP uses the patterns of success in the lives of many high-performing people to create a series of systems and practices that replace ‘limiting beliefs’ and consequential unwanted behaviours with self- confidence and the fulfilment of your natural talents. Apparently Heston Blumenthal uses NLP’s metaphor techniques to give him the ability to step away from distractions and go into an imaginary “Sweet Shop” where he can be free to be as creative as he wishes with new recipes… ‘Anchoring’ is another NLP technique that enables you to associate positive thought processes with a mental or physical link so you can conjure them up whenever needed. This might be simply tapping your fingers, holding your arms in a certain way or having a handkerchief infused with a particular essential oil or perfume - any physical link you can easily and accurately repeat to help get you into the desired ‘zone’.

2. Imitation

If you don’t have the time or inclination to practice the NLP confidence building technique, then you might try imitation. Derren Brown has shared the fact that he says to himself: “What would Andy do?” when he goes to a big party. (He’s referring to Andy Nyman, his writing partner who’s much more confident socially than Derren.)

To imitate a really confident person, you need to observe them doing whatever it is they do. Watch how they interact with others, listen to the words they use, look at their body language, and listen to how their voice sounds. Here are some tips:

• First impressions really do count - so adopt a strong, open and relaxed posture
• Breathe deeply and slowly – this will increase the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, and will help to control your muscles to relax
• Smile – it’s a great way of showing that you’re relaxed, but don’t over-do it
• Make appropriate eye contact – again a sign of confidence if you can look a person in the eye. Remember to look away from time to time, otherwise you’ll just look scary!
• Speak clearly and with sufficient volume - remember what you're saying is worth hearing
• Don't take yourself too seriously, innocent humour can be a great rapport builder and can help to prevent conflict
• Let yourself be open to judgement from others – don’t worry what they’re thinking, just focus on what you’re trying to achieve

3. Visualisation and positive self-talk

This is a technique that Tiger Woods was taught to use from the age of 10. He mastered the art of visualising every shot – playing through the desired outcome, imagining everything in minute detail from the strength of his swing, to the resulting trajectory of the golf ball and exactly where he wanted it to land. The same is true of the downhill skiers who often rock back and forth with their eyes closed before they begin. They’re also mentally rehearsing what they’ll do all the way down the course, including how they’ll deal with any difficulties.

Studies in mental imagery have shown that you can actually train your mind to be confident. This is because the brain doesn’t distinguish between real and imaginary images. The same chemicals are released and the same electrical activity displays in the brain whether we are visualising something, or whether we are actually doing it. A repeated thought process can therefore become a deeply felt belief over time. So if you think about a particular outcome in a positive way often enough, you will begin to genuinely feel good about it, thus increasing your chance of success.
You might already tell yourself before taking on an onerous task: “I can do it” or maybe you listen to listen to loud or inspirational music to ‘hype yourself up’. This is about using visualisation and positive self-talk to raise your energy levels, improve your motivation and encourage the part of your personality that has confidence to come to the forefront.

4. Create an alter ego

This is a made-up persona who has all the characteristics that you’d like your confident, successful self to have. Your alter ego has no flaws. You may be afraid, but your persona can be fearless. The best way to use an alter ego is to give it a name. Beyonce Knowles the American recording artist, calls her alter ego “Sasha Fierce” who is a tough outspoken risk taker. Beyonce has openly admitted that she is naturally shy when she is offstage and that she created Sasha to give herself confidence when on stage and to showcase her “other” self.
English singer-songwriter Adele recently told Rolling Stone magazine, how she created her own alter ego “Sasha Carter” by combining Beyonce's Sasha Fierce with the name of Johnny Cash's wife, singer/actress June Carter: "I was about to meet Beyonce. I had a full-blown panic attack. Then she popped in looking gorgeous and said, 'You're amazing! When I listen to you I feel like I'm listening to God.' I went out on the balcony crying hysterically, and I said, 'What would Sasha Fierce do?'"

South African cricketer Andre Nel also has an alter ego called “Gunther” who has a reputation for snarling and sometimes foul-mouthed aggression. Andre explains that he decided his split personality merited two names after a conversation with one of South Africa's technical analysts. "One of our computer guys said I was a bit like those little guys in Germany who live half way up a mountain and have a lack of oxygen to the brain that makes them crazy. Sometimes that happens to me, it seems. Gunther seemed a good name for him. I talk to him on the way to my mark. Andre has to keep Gunther in line sometimes but the aggression is part of my armoury.”

We don’t all necessarily need alter egos to be wild and outspoken like Sasha Fierce, or aggressive like Gunther, but having a different aspect of our personality that we can bring out from time to time can help us out in lots of different situations. Obviously only alter egos that are used in a positive way are healthy – they shouldn’t be an excuse for outrageous or damaging behaviour!

So there you have it, there’s no real secret to self-confidence… the people we watch in the public eye aren’t that different from most of us when it comes to confidence. They’ve just found a technique that works for them that enables them to go out onto whatever stage it is (whether it’s on TV, in the House of Commons, at Glastonbury or at Old Trafford) and to perform to the best of their ability without being held back by nerves or limiting self-beliefs. Those same techniques are freely available for anyone to try, and can enhance your own performance, whether you’re delivering a presentation, going for a job interview or preparing for a difficult meeting.

Do let me know if you’ve tried any of the techniques, and how they worked for you…

Monday, 23 May 2011

Self-confidence... do you have what it takes?

It's all very well learning a trade, or enhancing one's knowledge, or adding skills to your CV... but it's arguable that self-confidence is the most important personal and professional asset that you can ever invest in.

Think about it - who is it that gets to take on the most interesting/challenging tasks and projects at work? Who is it who is taken notice of by people at all levels within their field? Who is it who is considered most favourably for promotions? Chances are, your answers will have one thing in common, and that's people with self-confidence. Whether we admire this trait or not (after all, who doesn't recoil when watching the arrogant young upstarts 'big themselves up' on "The Apprentice"?) - it is true to say that success in the workplace is becoming more and more about confident, live communication. Gone are the days when we could spend an hour carefully crafting a written response to a colleague or a customer. We are expected and required to choose the right words and deliver them in the right order to deliver maximum effect - there and then... In short, these days, it's self-confidence that helps you to get results and helps you to get noticed.

The trouble with self-confidence is that whilst it is a skill like any other that can be learnt, while you're still wearing the confidence 'L plates', you usually stick out like a sore thumb. I used to imagine I had a huge hologram floating above my head, with a flashing neon arrow pointing down at me, saying "she doesn't know what she's talking about!" Probably just imagining it created all manner of non-verbal clues for my highly observant colleagues and customers to spot. What I didn't realise until much later in my career was that I actually had the off switch to that sign all along. It wasn't about having to know everything about everything, or about being able to answer every single question with an A grade exam answer... no, it was simply about having faith in my own ability to share my knowledge, my opinions and my ideas (for what they were worth), and to contribute something valuable to the process of communication: I learnt to listen, to process and to facilitate discussions and problems in a way that harnessed everyone's views and experiences. As soon as I took the self-imposed spotlight off myself, and focused on helping to create dynamic interactions, the pressure lifted and the conversation began to flow

I'm often asked by my coaching clients: "supposing you lack confidence but you are worried about being perceived as a show-off or as arrogant... what then?" In short I usually say that the people who you know, or who you've come across who provide you with anti-role models are extremely useful. The fact that you don't want to become like them is a good start. If you take time to observe them in full flow, you will begin to identify what it is that makes them unpleasant or difficult to deal with. It may be something subtle like the way they look smug when they've got the better of someone, or it may be a more tangible thing, such as interrupting others or finishing their sentences for them. Work out exactly what it is they do or don't do and make a pact with yourself not to emulate it.

Okay, so you're avoiding arrogance, but what do you replace it with? I'd suggest that in the same way, you look out for good examples of people who have a balance of self-confidence with humility. People who are comfortable in their own skins and who don't need to tread on other people's esteem to make themselves feel better or be heard. If you've never looked out for these sorts of people, or observed their behaviour, you're in for a treat! It's extremely heartening to watch someone calmly deal with challenging situations and people in a way which doesn't throw them, which moves things forward and which maintains goodwill on both sides. I'm always looking out for it - when I'm working in the various companies I visit to deliver training, when I'm watching TV, when I'm travelling or when I'm communicating with the various utilites on the telephone. And when I do find it, I usually try to make some sort of appreciative comment (without sounding patronising of course) as I think too few people realise just how important that sort of self-confidence really is

I'm sure most people would agree that the world is changing at a fast pace, and whether we like it or not, there's a greater focus on our personal brand. If we lack self-confidence, we have a weak brand that few people are interested in. If it's a pushy brand that we've created, then only certain people will be impressed. However, a confident, honest and likeable brand is one that the majority of people will come back to time and time again...

If you have any tips to share about how you have developed your self-confidence, I'd love to hear them!