How to get confidence? It’s a tough one. If you’re born without it, getting hold of it can be a nightmare. In short, the only way to confidence is (as we used to say in my psychological therapist days) to act ‘as if’. What does this mean? Well, to put it another way: fake it till you make it. Confidence comes with… confidence. I know it sounds bizarre but unfortunately it’s true. As parents we are taught to praise our children, to tell them every day how great they are. The very sad truth is, although we can do this until the sky turns green, no amount of our praising is going to give a child (or adult) confidence if they have a very low self-esteem. Children will say ‘well, you’re my mother/father, of course you’d say that’ which is so frustrating because they will only believe good about themselves (on the whole) if someone else says so.
When I was fifteen I was terrified of the telephone. If forced to answer it at home I would invariably trip over my tongue and say something stupid. I looked on the phone as my enemy and would get into a panic every time it rang. A few months after my fifteenth birthday my father died and I found myself at work, in a public relations office. I had no clue what PR was all about – in fact I thought I was working in a pet shop as our main client was a pet food manufacturer and there were budgerigars in cages in my room! Now this office was the busy hub of (I kid you not) the Budgerigar Information Bureau and one of my first jobs was to answer the BIB hotline. This was the telephone number people rang if their beloved budgies had French moult or were feather-plucking. It was the first port of call if they wanted to know how to breed. (They even used to send me their bird’s droppings in the post!) Imagine my horror when told on my first day that it would be my job to answer the BIB Hotline! I felt sick, got into a sweat whenever the red phone rang… and it rang frequently. One of my first callers announced in a geeky voice ‘Hello, I’ve got a skyblue cock!’… but that’s another story.
Almost worse than answering the Hotline was a task given to me when our press officer ran off to a remote island with a Czechoslovakian baron and a replacement couldn’t be found quickly enough. I was to phone around to all the newspaper and magazine editors whenever there was a photo call or an event (a frequent occurrence) featuring budgies! I seriously considered just leaving this job and trying to find another but the staff were kind and the wage good for those days, so I stuck it out. Every day would be a nightmare where I forced myself to pick up the telephone and speak to, let’s face it, the cynical and sometimes less than patient journalists. But after a few weeks something amazing happened. I began to do it without shaking and sweating and stammering. I got to know the journalists and established relationships with them and my confidence began to grow. Fake it till you make it.
When I used to see clients in the GP surgeries where I worked to give them assertiveness training, many of them felt so defeated they wouldn’t even try to help themselves. No matter what exercises and tips I gave them, they couldn’t take that first step. Usually what worked best was getting them to imagine they were someone else. We all have daydreams, we all fantasise about being the most beautiful/intelligent/fascinating character. I used to get them to walk into a crowded room and imagine they were the person they most admired and also to focus on just one person and try to find out all about them. ‘Forget about you, think about the other people in the room who are probably just as self-conscious as you are. Make eye contact and show interest in them – ask questions about them but if you’re feeling intimidated by them, imagine them naked with just a pair of bright green socks on!’ This seemed to work well.
The trouble with confidence is that to find it within yourself, you have to take risks, put yourself out there. But the rewards are so great there is nothing to lose but… confidence!