What is confidence and how can I get more of it?

It’s no secret that to succeed in life, you need to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. But is confidence a personality trait, or something that can be learned? Annie Ridout believes it’s the latter. Here are her tips for becoming more confident…

Someone I was at school with once told me that when she was feeling nervous before going to a party, she’d imagine how I might feel in the same situation, and adopt those feelings. It surprised me. I didn’t feel confident, but I was giving that impression.

What that girl didn’t know is that as a child, I was really shy. I’d hide behind my mum, and balk at the idea of meeting new people, or entering an unfamiliar social situation. But I always liked performing; pretending to be someone else. Which is the same idea, really.

I’m not sure what happens to shyness as you mature. Perhaps some people continue to feel (and act) shy. But I began to develop confidence as I became a teenager. I probably gave the impression that I was full of it, but I could still feel that shy child lingering inside.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always found it hard to do presentations or public speaking – at school, university and in the workplace. Again, acting was fine (I did drama A Level and loved being on stage – I’d be nervous but enjoy it) – but getting up as myself, not in character, felt difficult.

It still does.

I know that I’m not alone; lots of people feel petrified at the thought of speaking in front of a room of people. You’re putting yourself out there, open to criticism and judgement. But for a shy person, it becomes everything. It’s all you can think about. An up-coming presentation will be the first thing on your mind every morning.

So being invited to talk at this year’s Stylist Live was a big deal. Getting up in front of 300 people to talk about the Morning Routines of Successful Women, alongside Jasmine Hemlsey and Cassandra Stavrou felt mammoth. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I knew that I definitely was going to.

Preparation is key for any big event, so I researched, planned, spoke the words aloud – in the car, with the kids as my audience (much to my daughter’s confusion: “Are you talking to me, Mummy?”. “Errrrr, kind of.”) and had lots of discussions with friends and family about the content of the talk.

I also used an app called Clementine that has just launched. It helps women who are doubting themselves, feeling anxious or finding it hard to sleep. Through hypnotherapy sessions, you’re guided to a calmer place, where you feel in control.

In the app, I was asked to imagine a time when I was really confident and to remember how that felt. And to transfer those feelings of confidence onto a visualisation of the event I was feeling worried about. So I thought back to a recent photoshoot, when I’d felt great. Then pictured myself at the Stylist Live talk feeling similarly at ease.

I arrived on the day of the talk and was full of nerves and excitement (they are strangely similar in how they affect you physically; that giddiness). But once I was on the stage, feeling totally prepared – notes in hand, just in case – I sat back and relaxed. I felt calm and confident.

If you’d have asked that shy child, or teenager, how she’d feel about standing up in front of a big audience and talking about herself she’d have run away. Sweating and shaking. Just at the thought. So it felt amazing to have conquered that fear. I’m now eager to do more public speaking.

The week after the talk, I was invited to a confidence workshop. I wondered if it was worth going; after all – the event was over and I’d managed to get through it. To enjoy it, even. But I went along out of interest and learned some helpful ideas about what confidence is, and how to get more of it.

The workshop was led by Pattie Horrocks, a life coach. She explained that confidence is about believing in yourself. Accepting yourself. Embracing your imperfections, and being able to say: I gave it a shot, I did my best. On that day, at that time, I did the best job possible. And then to move on, and not dwell.

She said that we need to be kind to ourselves, because some days we won’t perform so well. But that doesn’t matter. She emphasised the importance of practising gratitude; of focusing on the good things in your life. The small achievements, as well as the big ones (sometimes that might be just getting through the day).

Patti then talked us through a visualisation that’s similar to the one in the Clementine app…

You imagine a circle on the floor in front of you – your ‘circle of excellence’.

Relax, breathe, centre yourself.

Then think of a positive experience – what can you see/hear/smell/taste/feel?

Project these feelings into the circle in front of you.

When it feels strong, step into the circle, turn up the volume of your sensations, get the strength of the experience and feel it in your body.

Then create a gesture to anchor that feeling. Maybe you could clap your hands, or squeeze your thumb and forefinger together.

Step out of the circle and disassociate from the experience. Shake off your hands and feet.

The idea is that when you are next in a difficult situation, or feeling unconfident, you can use that anchor (eg. clapping your hands) and it will take you back to how you felt in your circle of excellence: calm, centred, in control.

Here are some other brilliant tips from Patti for how to improve your confidence…

  • Plan, prepare, do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the situation and people concerned in advance.
  • Be clear about what you want from the situation.
  • Rehearse what you want to say with a friend or colleague.
  • Know your strengths and areas for development.
  • List your strengths and celebrate them, feel good about them.
  • Be aware of areas where you’re not so strong and find ways to address them.
  • Accept compliments and compliment yourself.
  • Enjoy your own successes!
  • Use negative feedback as a learning experience: how can you do things differently next time?
  • Stay positive and offer others compliments.

What does confidence mean to you? And what do you do to make yourself feel more confident?