Even businesspeople who appear supremely confident can turn out not to be as we expect. As an entrepreneur you may have confidence in your startup, product or service, but do you have the same level of confidence in yourself? Do you catch yourself with thoughts such as, “I’ll be confident in myself/in my abilities when…”.
As a communication skills trainer I help people become confident in the way they speak and portray themselves. If anybody knows what it feels like to lack confidence, it’s me. During my childhood in Russia, I used to be shy and awkward at school with nothing but big dreams. I wanted to become a leader. In reality, I was always a follower. I wanted to speak up for my friends when they got into trouble, but I couldn’t even speak up for myself. I wanted to become a successful entrepreneur, but people found it funny that I was even considering it. Looking back, I can’t blame them. Indeed, what can you expect from a shy, antisocial child who always sat in the back corner of the classroom and never raised her hand because she was afraid of what others might think of her?
Definitely not succeeding as a speaker or an entrepreneur.
Yet, that’s exactly who I’ve become.
In a startup we need confidence in ourselves as well as in our team and our products/services. So how can you develop your own unshakable confidence? Here are four ways to help to achieve just that:
Identify what you are already good at
The most important step towards building confidence is to be aware of what you have already been successfully doing.
The answers may range from a business-related skill to being a ballroom dancer or an artist. Write down any idea that comes to your mind because everything you’re good at counts.
What this will reveal to you is that confidence is not absolute, because no person on this planet is fully confident about everything in their lives. All of us feel confident about particular aspects we know we are good at. Equally, each and every one of us struggles with a specific area that needs improvement. And yet, when we face our pain points, instead of offering constructive solutions, our minds may find that there is something wrong with our whole being. This is a trap and a pure lie because each of us is a completely whole being with numerous qualities.
You’ll notice that once you start working on a new skill that you need for your startup, your confidence will grow with it. For example, I used to be extremely bad at speaking in public. In fact, on the occasion of my first business presentation, I totally forgot my script despite spending three days memorising it. My hands shook and I felt terrible! This experience shattered my confidence. However, after a couple of days I switched focus onto how poor my speaking skills were. Separating myself from my skill was crucial to getting clarity on what I could do about it. I my case I decided to join a Toastmasters’ public speaking club and got the supportive help I needed. This has been hugely important for my own journey as an entrepreneur.
To summarise, once you start working on developing a new skill, your confidence will grow with it. Thus, you track what you’re good at and don’t let yourself identify your overall confidence with the areas you feel least certain about. Nobody is good at everything, whereas obtaining new knowledge and developing new skills is entirely under your control.
Changing your thoughts is easier said than done. However, our thought patterns are no different to our muscles. Both are trainable.
A great way to start reprogramming your mind is to repeat encouraging affirmations or statements before facing challenging situations. To find what particular affirmation will work best for you, go with the opposite of your negative thought. For example, replace “I’m petrified of being called on to answers questions after presenting to potential investor”, with “I’m excited to share my opinions in front of angel investors!”.
Do not expect yourself to believe in what you are saying after making your affirmations only a couple of times, because you may have been trained to think negative thoughts for years. Give yourself time to practise your affirmations properly so that they sink in.
This is all very personal and if a certain affirmation doesn’t work for you or if you feel extremely uncomfortable with reversing your negative thoughts into extremely positive affirmations, you may prefer using slightly softer opening statements. Instead of saying “I’m great at sharing my opinion”, you can be more inclined to affirm “I can be very good at sharing useful ideas”, or “I love the idea of contributing to the conversation”.
What is most important here is to create and repeat affirmations which make you feel better about yourself, as an entrepreneur and in life generally. So, improvise and try out different wording!
Ask yourself some powerful questions
As a businessperson you may prefer a more analytical approach (one I learned from my performance coaches). Begin by answering the following questions. You’ll identify the fears behind your lack of confidence and learn how to transform your destructive thought patterns into constructive ones.
- How can I describe the exact negative thoughts on this particular subject in only one sentence?
- Is this thought 100% true? Is it a fact or is it my assumption?
- What proves that this negative thought is completely or partially false?
- If the event that what I most fear were to happen, how would it truly affect my life? What would I do (realistically, without exaggeration)?
- If my best friend or co-founder had this exact thought, what would I tell them?
These questions helped me through some difficult times for my business as well as elsewhere in my life. I hope they’ll be useful for you on your entrepreneurial journey as well.
Remember to celebrate small achievements. It’s easy to forget that one unsuccessful event means little, and that true success is achieved by taking small but consistent steps towards the goal. So, if you’ve just failed at something, don’t hold onto the setbacks you’ve experience. The key to becoming better at anything is to shift your focus onto your progress over longer periods.
So, to summarise, confidence is not immutable but can be built up over time. This is done by separating your self-confidence from your areas of struggle, reminding yourself of every small success along the way, questioning your negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones.
These steps are easy to put into practice so please use them to develop the unshakeable confidence that will help you as you build your startup.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diana Robertson is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org