Lucy Chamberlain looks at tangible ways to change the stories you tell yourself
You know that feeling of seeing a colleague do something that you’re better qualified to do? They’ve gone ahead and made it happen, leaving you feeling frustrated, wishing you’d simply believed in yourself a little bit more? We’ve all been there. But if this keeps happening, and you’re consistently holding your career back because of a lack of confidence, now’s the time to change.
Twenty years into my career, I honestly believe confidence is a habit. I’ve seen assistants operate at the highest level, often having overcome crippling self-doubt. We all have moments of self-doubt, when imposter syndrome takes hold. We have the choice to let this press pause on our ambitions or, we can take control of this, and use it to propel our career in the direction we want.
Let’s look at tangible ways for you to create a daily practice of building your confidence. Small things you can do today so that you become the assistant who puts him/herself forward for – and creates – opportunities to grow your career.
Know your Why
Starting with your “why” makes it so much simpler to know where you want to get to – and what’s holding you back. It will fuel these new confidence habits, as a starting point. So, dive deep. What is that makes you come alive? What are your innate strengths? Where do you add the greatest value? How will you measure your life?
Understanding these purpose-led questions means you can map out your career priorities. You’ll know the areas of your work you feel confident in and those that require more work. If you’re great in 1-2-1 situations but less self-assured in larger groups, see where you can break things down to help you build your confidence. Perhaps get involved in smaller committees at work, with the intention to ensure you’re contributing to meetings.
At the same time, ensure you’re doing more of the things that light you up. If that’s events co-ordination, focus on building your skill-set here, and celebrate your wins. Self-acknowledgement – as well as public recognition – is key to confidence-building.
Change your life script
This is another lesson that took me well into my career to appreciate. Our personal reality is dictated by our thoughts and beliefs. So much of our day-to-day reality is largely determined by how we perceive the world around us and how we feel about it. Perhaps you had an experience as a child that knocked your confidence? Someone told you weren’t good at something? That has now become your story.
Speaking personally, I was always told I was too much: too loud, too tall, too thin, too confident, too opinionated, too determined and so the list went on! So, I spent many teenage years trying to make myself less than in all these areas so I could fit in and be accepted. It’s taken years to undo that.
Let’s change your story now. Let’s apply logic, adult understanding and self-compassion to re-evaluate your experience. Get connected to a new story.
Use positive affirmations
Many of the most self-confident people practice positive self-talk. If this feels hard for you at first, think about how you would describe yourself as you are to your friends.
Affirmations are another powerful way for you to change your thoughts and to cultivate a more confident mindset. Pop them in your diary, on a Post-It note, on your phone. Simple ones have helped me self-coach myself ahead of key presentations or meetings. Some that work for me include:
- I trust myself and my abilities
- I know the things I need to do to succeed
- The time is now
Try one that works for you. Say it out loud so that you genuinely connect, feel and believe the affirmation. Feel how it anchors you and helps shift your thought patterns. Let me know how you get one with this one!
Take small steps
Feel the fear and do it anyway. This is more than an Instagram cliché. Confidence is a muscle you can strengthen over time. What’s the thing you’ve procrastinated on because you didn’t feel ready? Was it to put yourself forward for a promotion at work? Was it to reach out to a mentor? Was it attending a particular networking group for the first time?
Do the scary thing today. Create a confidence tracker. Set yourself a goal each month broken down into actionable steps every week. See how your confidence grows as you get closer to your goal.
Find your tribe
My team know that I’m a huge fan of the notion that you are the sum parts of the five people you spend the most time with. Look around your inner circle and see where friends and colleagues may actually not be helping your confidence. Niggly comments, a lack of boundaries, their assumptions…these can all combine to undermine you as you do this important work on yourself. Think about how these relationships serve you. Self-confidence starts with self-respect; set these boundaries and intentionally surround yourself with positive people who want to see you shine.
The power pose
Our attitudes follow our behaviour. Something I encourage my team to do is power poses – expansive, open and taking up space, they instil a deep sense of confidence. Think Wonder Woman: stand with your feet apart, hands on your hips, and look upwards. By assuming the body language of a powerful person, you’ll feel your attitude shift.
Amy Cuddy, the Harvard Business School lecturer, TEDx speaker and author of “Presence” says this goes further than affirmations as you’re using a body-mind approach, giving a more direct to the mind that tells you you’re confident.
Of course, you don’t have to do a power pose in public. Take five minutes out before heading into a meeting. And remember, when you take on more confident body language, the way your colleagues see and act towards you will change. This in turn reinforces your new, bolder behaviour.
Let’s talk about imposter syndrome
I want to address imposter syndrome as I see this so much within my team, my candidates, even, frankly, my clients and peers. Imposter syndrome is very common, even among high achievers – particularly women. It’s a recognised psychological term, rooted in an often-internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud. It’s that feeling deep down your success to date is a result of luck, rather than ability, talent and hard work. And one day, you’ll get “found out.”
Imposter syndrome presents as perfectionism, procrastination, stress, anxiety – it’s a separate article altogether. I’ve seen people at the top of their game believe that they’re inadequate and incompetent, to the point they undermine and self-actualise “failure.”
I also see it limiting people’s confidence to seek out new opportunities, explore new avenues, or just show up more consistently.
Some ways to deal with this are:
- Test your assumptions – was your promotion about good timing or was it a result of your hard work and sparkling talent?
- Remind yourself of your strengths and weaknesses
- Gather feedback from your tribe – those you trust and respect
- Recall peak moments in your career when you enjoyed success on your terms
- Celebrate successes – every small win!
And finally, if you take one thing away from this article today, I want you to go away and imagine what’s possible, for you, in your career and your life, if you decided to believe in yourself.