There is an incredible power in self-belief. I spoke to some of the experts, to learn just how powerful it can be and the results that it can drive.
Self-belief drives the creation of businesses that would never have been built, leaders who would otherwise never have led, holds together families that might never have survived. Through history, it has helped to win wars, to redraw continental lines, to foster and maintain difficult trading alliances, to inspire world-changing inventions and bold innovations, and to motivate generations of children to strive to push and overcome the next set of unthinkable boundaries.
And yet ... at an individual level, even the greatest among us confess to suffering from self-doubt and sometimes a lack of self-confidence. There are a multitude of reasons why this is the case, from the power and intrusiveness of the media (with its appetite for salacious headlines to 'sell copy'), to the thoughtlessness or even, at times the spite, of human nature in all its many guises.
I'm not going to comment on the reasons here. The fact is they exist and they happen and in many cases, they're not something we can avoid.
What interests me far more, is how we deal with it. Because it's clear that we do deal with it. Some of us better than others. And when we nail it, really extraordinary outcomes happen.
So I asked a handful of successful businessmen and women how they have approached a lack of self-confidence and moments of self-doubt.
Introducing those who know about self-doubt & who've mastered it ...
Esther Stanhope is a former BBC producer turned entrepreneurial impact coach. Esther founded Esther Stanhope – The Impact Coach (who gives you extra oomph!), a thriving small business dedicated to helping businesses and individuals to achieve their ambitions by pitching themselves perfectly, whether to target investors, customers and business partners, or even to themselves as they climb their own career ladders.
Chris Ward is founder and Chairman of Abbey Protection Group, a highly respected, UK home-grown insurance, tax and legal business that has listed, acquired others and been acquired in his time at the helm. He's no stranger to envisioning and creating opportunities for change, successfully handling them and leading the outcome.
Hannah Martin co-created and heads the Talented Ladies Club, a brilliant and evolving digital hub, packed full of empowering business management resources and contacts for startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses. Hannah has a particular interest in supporting mums to run their own businesses and forge successful careers after having children. Coaching and mentoring mothers to have confidence that they can have successful and fulfilling entrepreneurial futures at a time when many mothers suffer from a distinct lack of confidence, is something that Hannah understands perfectly. Her success at it is something that her 60,000 online monthly readers can attest to.
Adam Elgar is a serial entrepreneur whose most recent enterprise is the hugely successful and award-winning Passle. Passle is a digital marketing platform that provides a plug-in software solution for businesses of all shapes and sizes, enabling busy experts to target their customer audience by publishing authoritative and engaging content, without the hassle of creating it from scratch all the time.
At the same time as speaking to these seasoned entrepreneurs about their experiences, I ran a Twitter poll on the topic. Here's what they told me and what I learned.
Have you ever experienced a lack of self-confidence?
Esther: 'Yes. I experience a lack of self-confidence regularly. I've just learned to manage it. It's funny, because people think I am naturally very confident, but it wasn't always that way.
'When I was producing live radio studio shows with politicians and celebrities, even Hollywood stars like Madonna, none of that fazed me.
'But when I was offered the chance for a promotion and part of that process involved facing a panel of interviewers in a very structured interview environment (you know when 4 or 5 people sit on the other side of the table writing notes about your competencies?), well, I went to pieces.
'I forgot how to speak normal English ... And that's the only language I speak! My personality was left outside the room. Instead I 'ummed' and 'errred' through the whole thing. It was a horrible experience and it really knocked my confidence. But it was also a wake up call. Because I should have nailed it and I was the only person that stood in my way.'
Chris: 'Yes. A number of times. I was (academically) a bit of a failure at school. So I've had moments of anxiety about a number of big things: from worrying about whether I would get a job and be able to afford a car; to later on, whether I had the ability to lead and to manage Abbey; to when we decided to float the business on the AIM market and I was worried about having the right skills to communicate with the City..'
Hannah: 'I don't really suffer from a lack of self confidence, so I can't think of an example. I do get shy, but that's not the same thing.'
Adam: ‘Everyone should occasionally lack self-confidence. It’s one of the thoroughly rational behaviours that prevents us from attempting unachievable, life-endangering feats (like jumping over buses, for example!).’
How do you get yourself through moments of self-doubt?
Adam: ‘I take a look at the situation and work out what can be done with the things that I can control, so that I can make the challenges manageable – and mitigate my self-doubt.’
Chris: 'I never like to be beaten... Ever. Including by myself. So my approach is always head down, get on with it and remember 'the swan' [look serene and in control on the surface and paddle like heck under the water].'
It's an approach shared by the overwhelming majority of contributors to my recent Twitter poll on the topic. The poll posed the same question and gave a series of options to choose from. Here are the results:
- 17% turned to friends and family for support through moments of self-doubt
- 10% looked to their role models for inspiration and motivation
- 66% persevered and kept themselves going to achieve their objectives
- only 7% stated that I was not something from which they suffered.
I find this result really encouraging. It shows that we keep going; that most of us are determined, even in the face of self-doubt. Because it’s natural to feel self-doubt and most of us know that there’s a danger to arrogance and that ‘pride comes before a fall’, as the old saying goes.
Oprah Winfrey not so long ago claimed that 'it is confidence in our bodies, minds and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures.' This is interesting. We feel self-doubt and we persevere; by persevering, we overcome our self-doubt or lack of confidence and in doing so, we open up new opportunities … where quite possibly, a bit more self-doubt might be felt. But by then of course, we know the formula: keep going.
Emerson once astutely observed that 'to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.'
He was right too of course. The very fact that it's a great accomplishment stems from the fact that it's generally not easy to keep going.
So what is it that keeps us going and pushing on in pursuit of our goals? How do we achieve this?
What techniques can we use to make ourselves just that bit stronger and braver, so that we don't drop out?
Well, it seems a good starting place is to create 'positive templates'. Hannah told me how to do this.
Hannah: 'I visualise myself in the situation that I am worried about, being exactly as I would want to be. For example, if I was nervous about giving a talk to a large audience, a few days before the event, I would play videos in my head of the event. In them, I was confident, brilliant and everyone loved my talk. So I create in my head a positive template and replace my fear by an expectation that I will enjoy it.'
Standing tall, literally, is a proven tip for success that Esther advises.
Esther: 'I've learned to take my own advice and practice what I preach. There are 4 key things I do (and advise):
1. Tell your doubting self: 'No, not today thanks... You are not helping me. I don't have to be perfect, but I can do this. So I AM going to give it a go.'
2. Physically stand with a strong posture (this actually increases testosterone, which is empowering). Plant your feet, stand tall. Don't hop or wobble about.
3. Breathe way down in your diaphragm and blow out slowly through your mouth (this gets rid of cortisol, the stress hormone).
4. Smile. This relaxes your face and gives you warmth.
Then pause - don't be afraid of pauses - and go for it!'
So armed with this knowledge, how can we help others and spread the word that there are ways to master moments of self-doubt?
What would you say to your younger teenage self or your own children about self-doubt?
Adam: ‘I’d say that self-doubt is a perfectly sensible and rational thing to feel.’
Esther: 'It is. So go on, go for it. Don't be afraid of failing. You learn fast when you make mistakes. It's a good thing and you don't have to be perfect. Oh yes, and smile - eyes and teeth!'
As for Chris, in the words of someone else who has been there, done it and definitely got the trophy: "acknowledge and understand that it's ok to feel it [self-doubt], then go on with your dreams". They are yours for the taking.
Hannah: 'I agree. I tell my children (and would go back and tell myself) that it's ok and normal to have doubts, especially if you're doing something new or taking a big step forward. Everyone feels like that. And nobody is an expert in anything until they have done it several times. Even the most brilliant people started somewhere and made mistakes!
'But once you have pushed the boundaries of your life out, they never go back. And you will grow into whatever space you create by being brave.'
Esther: 'That's it, exactly. Step outside your comfort zone - because when you do, and you find the courage to truly challenge yourself, great things can happen. Take the leap!'
I am a huge believer in taking leaps. And it is a courage and a trait that I have also learned. Like Esther and Adam, I've had moments of self-doubt. Like Chris, I have powered through them. And like Hannah, I am changed for the better because I pushed those boundaries and I never gave up.
But to all of the above, I would add just one final comment. In every case, it is people like Hannah, Chris, Adam and Esther who have inspired me to keep going and who have been compelling role models for me. There are too many of them to name here, but they know who they are. And they know how they've changed me. I didn't become who I am today alone.
The great truth is that good mentors, formal or otherwise, can be instrumental in helping you to belief in yourself, even in moments when what lies ahead is intimidating. I encourage you to be proactive, seek them out. Your success is in your own hands.
I'll sign off now with a concluding quote from Mark Twain. It is one to which in moments of self-doubt, I have often turned. And as someone who is constantly trying to change the world and who has frequently felt like I'm in a minority, pushing hard against a far more conservative tide, I believe these words say it all:
'Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do, than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.' Mark Twain.
If you're thinking about the next step or a new venture, then I dare you to join us in challenging yourself to succeed. Unless you’re planning to jump over any buses, we look forward to hearing how you get on.
For more on this topic, I recommend the attached article. It's a really good, quick read.
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Find me an extremely successful person who doesn’t greatly believe in themselves. It’s not going to happen. Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., Michael Jordan, Elon Musk and Mark Cuban are just a few highly successful individuals who benefited greatly from this confidence. However, it’s not their levels of success that I want to talk about. It’s their willingness to get up again and again when they failed or experienced a setback while in pursuit of creating the life of their dreams. They were only able to keep going and achieve success because of the level of belief in themselves despite the enormous amount of failures they had experienced for years leading up to their big breakthroughs. Their belief is what created a vision so big that they didn’t care how many times they failed at something.