What does confidence mean to you? According to Merriam-Webster, Confidence is a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or, of reliance on one’s circumstances; faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way. Many have heard the Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” When you ponder this, it boils down to what we believe about ourselves. Too often, internal messages and biases, as well as outside judgments put a damper on the level of confidence we feel. If, however, we understand that feelings and beliefs are in our power to control, pausing and examining what we are thinking is the first step to choosing an effective approach and response. Let’s look at three automatic defaults that often drive our reactions – Limiting Beliefs, Assumptions, Interpretations.
1. Limiting Beliefs
Limiting beliefs are the ways we view ourselves, others, events and life overall; the way we think things are. All too often, in a fast-paced environment, the default is to rely on what is quick and easy to access. A simple questioning of our thoughts will lead to recognizing and sorting through biases and actions that can have a negative impact.
An easy way to examine these beliefs is to start with words; because the power of words is often underestimated, or at the least unrealized with respect to impact. Words can be used to help or harm. By examining the words we choose and how we determine to use them, we can ensure that our comments are driven by integrity and honesty.
Sometimes, the internal messages we hear come from an inner critic that is eager to frame one’s capabilities in a category of “not enough” syndrome. While this syndrome affects both men and women, studies have revealed that often women often want to be 80-100% certain before they accept a new role or job. This is where the “not enough” message tends to override reality. When we focus on what we really want, we can clearly identify what is needed for a situation and create steps to achieve our goals. However, if the “not enough” syndrome is driving, such beliefs limit forward-thinking and striving to continually improve and achieve goals.
Over the years, I have worked with clients (women and men) who have held themselves back from going after a job or project. They stated that they don’t have enough of something and don’t feel confident in applying. Then the next words out of their mouths are: “But I know I can totally do it.” Where is the disconnect between what they believe and the words they choose? That is where the work needs to happen; to identify what actions are needed to succeed and set goals and steps to get there. If continual learning and growth are values one holds, pushing through the negative messaging reflects being in integrity and builds confidence.
In addition to putting oneself in a “box” of incapability, sometimes words are used to do the same to others, often unconsciously. Leaders sometimes impose the “not enough” pattern on individuals they lead. If a leader is truly looking to unleash and support the pure potential of their workforce, it is critical to be aware of the automatic judgments and beliefs that hold people back. These biases are damaging to careers and the potential of the individual, team and organization. People don’t thrive and often choose to leave the organization.
Like limiting beliefs, assumptions are automatic. We make them about ourselves and others because our mind is relying on past events or “inherited” beliefs, with a presumption that history will repeat itself, or that the belief is true. This is incredibly damaging when not questioned. Stereotyping people, events and things is the default. We consciously or unconsciously put ourselves or others into categories, and perpetuate biases that harm progress, inclusion and potential. The unconscious nature of falling into this trap is how we buy into the stereotypes that society reinforces on others and on ourselves. It is critical to make these beliefs conscious so that we can examine their truth and the impact on holding the assumption in the first place.
In a recent workshop I gave, a discussion centered on looking at common characteristics assigned to a group vs. questioning biases and assumptions. The example dealt with a conversation about an organization choosing candidates from top tier schools over expanding the candidate pool to other schools, with the assumption that someone from a top tier school is smarter and more capable. While there may be characteristics and requirements to get into certain schools that are stringent and specific, relying on the assumption that someone is smarter or more capable does not account for an individual’s unique and distinctive abilities.
Assumptions squelch risk-taking, possibilities, inclusion and growth. When someone’s aspirations for themselves and others are based on predetermined expectations, they hold themselves back or do not give others a chance.
Interpretations is the assigning of meaning to what someone says or does. – Relying on unquestioned interpretations is also defaulting to automatic judgments, and often results in taking something personally. A snowball effect begins which creates a vicious cycle of taking things personally, not feeling good enough, risk aversion, all the while judging and blaming the situation and others from a narrow perspective that diminishes confidence. The best actions someone can take when they are aware of making interpretations about a situation or someone, are to determine if there is another way of looking at the circumstance, and to seek out multiple perspectives. We see the world through our cultural filters which include race, gender, age, experiences, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation, religion, education, status, and many other aspects of diversity that make up our historical perspective. We need to be conscious of those filters.
The responsibility for success lies both within the individual and within the leaders in organizations. Systems and cultures need to be examined. Individuals need to focus on what they have control over, where they have influence and what they need to do to give their best performance. Challenging automatic beliefs, assumptions and interpretations, which hold ourselves and others back, increases self-awareness and allows for greater self-confidence and success. Challenge the Truth of what you believe and the result is greater confidence.