This article explores the confidence gap: the space between your competencies or abilities and the conversations you have with yourself about them. The bigger the gap, the more it can negatively impact your opportunities, incur income and productivity losses and create stress and anxiety.
If you notice the confidence gap in yourself or see it in others, this article offers practical support for anyone ready to look within to close that gap and open your career.
The search for confidence
Most of us seek greater levels of confidence but are challenged with how to effectively lift it. The marketplace of pop culture, blogs, books and podcasts all promise to feed our confidence. Instead, most commentators think, talk and write about confident behaviour. Their advice can be hit and miss.
Adopting the physical ‘stand-tall, heads-up, shoulders-back’ habits may work in some situations, for some time and for some people. They do not lead to lasting transformation in confidence. As for psychological approaches: adopting the adage ‘fake it until you make it’ works sporadically at best. At worst, this advice can lead to feelings of fraudulence on top of confusion and doubt. Amy Cuddy acknowledges this impact in her sensitive self-disclosure at the end of her TED talk on power poses. In my case, low confidence and no confidantes compounded my work stress and hiding it almost led to burn-out.
What is the alternative? Competency and a healthy self-image are fundamental to being confident. And confidence is the result. Ashkan Tashvir speaks about this in BEING:
"Confidence is the state of being certain of the truth about something or a self assurance of one’s abilities or qualities. It is the belief that one can rely on or have faith in someone or something, including oneself."
Competencies come first
Competency is an individual’s ability to effectively perform in an area. Developing a competency can take years of practice. The National Skills Commission’s audit of Australia's current shortages and future demand in skilled labour underscores how dependent employers are on competent staff. Without them, performance may be impacted. Whether at a national or organisational scale, incompetence costs time, money and productivity losses. Yet it cannot be addressed at a broad scale.
Competency starts with you and your relationship with your skill/field/expertise. To authentically build confidence, first take stock of your level of competence. If you find that it is insufficient and this affects your performance, it is time to look at ways to increase your competency.
When confidence is low due to a lack of competency
If you suspect this applies to you:
- Focus, practice, give yourself time and a licence to experiment continuously.
- Test yourself against external parameters to strive for objectivity.
- Be persistent. The minute unproductive doubt or circular thinking sets in, call for backup.
- Attract allies and supporters. They will provide an alternate view of your competency, without the distortion of your subjectivity.
Deep and resounding confidence is founded on developing competency. If you are competent and still do not experience being confident, go deeper and look within – at your self image.
Beyond competency; looking at your self image
The endless chatter inside your head – reminders, to-do’s, observations (self talk) – is familiar to many. Less familiar but more critical to confidence and effectiveness are the conversations you have with yourself about yourself. These are based on how you see or perceive yourself (self image). It is common to restrict, deny or criticise some of your competencies and/or to inflate or overemphasise others. In either case, being aware of and developing an accurate self image is critical to your performance.
Consider the case of a coaching client. When I met Jerry (not his real name), he lacked confidence, even though he was extremely competent in many areas. His under-confidence manifested itself in social situations and relationships – to the point where he isolated himself from work, friends and family. He described having a tight throat, fuzzy thinking and experienced being ‘cut-off from others’. He experienced this despite being a competent communicator and one of the most honest, authentic and open people I know.
As his coach and partner, I encouraged him to ‘go within’ himself and look again. Together we uncovered something hidden from his view: a set of limiting self-beliefs that tainted his worldview and widened the gap between his self image and his competency. At the core of Jerry’s limiting self belief was a childhood experience that left him with a negative self image: "I can’t follow this conversation - I’m not good at communication."
Jerry came to understand the self image he had created and unconsciously applied. He also became conscious of the extent to which his self image was not aligned with reality and that it had impacted his whole life. With ontological coaching support, Jerry actively chose to change the conversations he was having with himself, about himself and his competencies. One by one we untangled his experiences from the stories, decisions and judgements he had about himself.
His increasing self awareness and expanded self image lead him to develop new competencies. The result? He regained confidence. Within 6 weeks, he went from being overwhelmed, out of communication and isolated to meeting old friends, holidaying with family and returning to work and colleagues – confidently.
When confidence is low due to an unhealthy self-image
If you suspect this applies to you:
- Try journaling. In specific situations, describe your experience, how you felt, what you thought.
- Then list what you say to yourself that might be an indication of a skewed self image.
- Compare this to your competency and describe it from an objective point of view; like a measurement out of 10 or from the perspective of ‘a fly on the wall’.
- Be patient and persistent – you’ll see a pattern of truth emerging over time which will enable you to realign your self image with the reality of the situation.
For an in-depth inquiry of how confident you (or your work colleagues) really are and where to look to expand it, consider completing the Being Profile®. An Accredited Practitioner will guide and partner you on that journey within.
Once you’re aware of whatever it is that’s in the way of your confidence, you can confidently reduce the gap between your competencies and your self image. Start by being real with yourself.
First check out your competencies. Are your competencies sufficient for you to fulfill what you want to achieve? If so, but your confidence remains shaky, it is time to examine your self image. Try journaling and documenting what you say to yourself about yourself and your experiences.
If you know that your competency and/or self image are incongruent, that’s good news. If/when you’re ready to address it, and would benefit from support, I invite you to get in touch. I’m well versed in dealing with the confidence gap!