Why There’s No Such Thing as “Too Much Confidence” or “Over-Confidence”

We often hear the phrase ‘over-confidence‘ (or ‘too much confidence’). There is no such thing!  If it seems too much or ‘over the top’ then it’s not confidence. It might be arrogance, aggression, over-compensation, blind faith or even delusions. Most importantly, it may indicate lower self-esteem. These over-the-top displays of bluff, bluster and bravado are nothing but a smoke-screen.

‘Fake it ’til you make it’ confidence is based on stress

Outer displays of ‘over-confidence’ are part of the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach, whereby you behave confidently until you actually believe it and until it becomes ‘part of you’. So they begin as a way to counter a lack of self-belief. Yes it’s good to take action and indeed confidence does need a leap of faith, however, real confidence, true self-assurance starts within. At its root, confidence is about feeling comfortable in your own skin. If it seems ‘too much’ it’s about covering up for discomfort. Inner confidence is cool and level-headed. ‘Over-confidence’ is hot-headed. That’s because psyched-up displays are more likely to stem from the classic stress responses of fight or flight. most notably, the fight response!

Building confidence is like building rapport

In face-to-face interactions people tend to model and match each other as they build rapport. So they may begin using similar words and gestures as the other person. This happens spontaneously. This is why, embarrassingly, you may find yourself starting to speak in a similar regional accent to the other person. A similar thing happens with confidence. When we are around truly confident people, it rubs off. Confidence is positively contagious. You begin to relax and this brings out ‘the best in you’ and you pass this on to others. The thing about body language is that if we focus on relaxing we don’t have to worry about faking it. The body language takes care of itself. If everyone is a little too ‘in your face’ and intent on ‘faking it’ then the encounter is based on lies and that can be stressful. If you are stressed, then it’s not confidence.

The difference between assertiveness and aggression

We prize assertiveness but it is often confused with aggression. The concepts are often used interchangeably but are very different things. In an assertive state we can stand our ground and make our point and still accept that another person doesn’t necessarily have to accept our view. We can be assertive and still be quite calm. On the other hand, aggression is all about making sure another person accepts our point of view. Aggression is all about force. It’s all about the fight. So if a person dominates a space and leaves no room for other opinions or for others to contribute that’s not confidence. It’s aggression or maybe even outright bullying.

Relaxation is the basis of elite performance

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn my workshops, first  I focus on relaxation. In a relaxed state we are able to access a broader range of emotional responses, skills and abilities. Professional athletes adopt a similar strategy. they begin by learning to take control of their own stress response. This doesn’t mean that they perform in a ‘semi-comatose’ state. They learn plenty of techniques to psych themselves up too. The point is that the cornerstone of elite performance is relaxation. This is what we build upon. So in my workshops, I invite people to take risks and have fun. I’m aways the first in the workshop to risk looking foolish. Usually by the mid-morning break, everyone in the group is chatting as though they are good friends. At least one person comments on that when I ask for feedback. They are surprised at how quickly the group forms. And for my part, I never cease to be amazed at how quickly people will grow and take risks if you provide the necessary conditions. Many of them have attended workshops and training courses where they have managed to get through the whole day without learning anyone’s name. That never happens in my workshops.

Fear and respect are not the same

We all learn more efficiently when we are relaxed and amongst a group of like-minded people, not when we are stressed in a group of (hostile) strangers. This is the basis of my confidence-karma approach, that is, we build confidence in ourselves as we pass it on to others. We begin by relaxing ourselves and then focusing on putting others at ease.  The most frequent challenge I get to this approach is from managers who question whether they will get respect if they ‘try to be everyone’s friend’. Nowhere in my book or workshop do I suggest we should try to be everyone’s friend. Being a boss and focusing on putting people at ease do not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s common amongst managers to confuse fear and respect. Respect is earned and fear can be overcome. You will get a lot of respect from being a person who empowers others.

No such thing as ‘too much confidence’ with the Confidence-Karma approach

So that’s why according to my approach, there is no such thing as over-confidence or too much confidence. Confidence people bring out the best in others, they don’t scare them into submission.

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Confidence Mapping – Using Your Confidence Highs to Deal with the Lows

So often we talk about confidence as an ‘all-or-nothing’ quality. Taking this black-and-white view distorts our perceptions. Some people who are less self-assured, or with lower self-esteem describe themselves as having ‘no confidence’. But is there any such thing as zero confidence? Doesn’t it fluctuate depending on our mood, where we are and who we are with? There’s a lot of life lived out in the ‘excluded middle’, the bit between the polar opposites of ‘zero’ and ‘total’.

In my workshops I ask people to rate their general confidence on a scale from zero to ten, where zero equals ‘no confidence at all’ and ten equals supreme confidence. Some people choose zero. However, if I add a bit more detail about what zero means, I can immediately create a shift for them. I usually ask them to think of the last successful thing they accomplished, however small. Sometimes I am met with blank looks and ‘no, nothing’. However, I ask them how they managed to get to the workshop? They begin to see that confidence must have been involved. When we view the world through black-and-white filters, a great deal of detail is lost.

Mapping Your Confidence Highs and Lows

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn Unlock Your Confidence I present a chapter on Confidence Tracking, designed to explore all the stuff that an ‘all-or-nothing’ view might overlook. I call it ‘looking for what sparkles’, a phrase borrowed from the Solution Focused Brief Therapy approach, which also informs my coaching practice.

First I ask some simple questions, again these are the type of things I ask in the first life coaching session with clients. On one level they help to put people at ease and help build rapport. These are also great small-talk questions if you’ve exhausted the topics of ‘what do you do for a living?’ and ‘What do you think of the weather?’ So here are a few questions to consider:

  1. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  2. What hobbies, pastimes, and sports to do you enjoy?
  3. How do you like to relax?
  4. With whom do you enjoy spending your time?
  5. What are you favourite places to visit?

I suggest that you would feel more confident in any of these situations than being asked to speak in public, asking the boss for a raise or tackling a problem that you’ve never met before. How do your zero to ten ratings differ? So the next question is ‘What can you ‘borrow’ from any of these situations to take to a ‘difficult’ situation?

Life Spheres – Roles, People and Situations

Consider the various ‘life spheres’ you belong to: Family life, work life, social life, leisure time etc. Note where you ‘shine’ and how confidence may fluctuate. How do your ratings differ? Again, what can you borrow from the life spheres in which you feel more confident. How might you apply this to another sphere where you feel less so?

Now think about your various ‘life roles’ such as friend, parent, child, colleague etc. Again note the variations in confidence ratings. What can you take away from this to help you to deal with people who present a little more of a challenge?

What about the various people with whom you interact such as older people, younger people, children, colleagues and so on. How do your confidence ratings vary? Again, what do you deduce from this?

Working through these exercises you begin to create a map of where your confidence levels peak and where they dip. The peaks are resources that you can bring to other situations.

Recently, I did some speed coaching at well-being festivals (MInd, Body Spirit; and Mind, Body and Soul). It was part of the promotion for the book, to show how quickly the book will help you to gain insights and make changes. Each ‘client’ had just 15 minutes and one of the techniques I used was the scaling question. The notable thing is that everyone wanted to talk about ‘difficult people’ or ‘difficult interactions’. When I asked them how things differed from ‘non-difficult’ encounters, everyone recognized that they were more tense approaching these people and situations in contrast to more pleasurable encounters. I didn’t make any suggestions but everyone came up with the same solution: Relax, smile more and set the scene for a positive reaction. Often we think that we are reacting to difficult people whereas we are helping to co-create the encounter. Sometimes a little push in the ‘right direction’ is all that it takes.

At the heart of this is true empowerment  and is self-esteem building as none of this process involves learning ‘new-fangled’, convoluted techniques. Real confidence is all about tapping into your existing resources. It’s all about transferable skills, that is. finding out what you do already and then just moving it around a bit! So get mapping.

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Attitudes and the Karma of Confidence

Bringing social psychology into coaching for confidence

Attitudes, karma and confidence and are not three concepts that obviously go together. However, they are connected. It was making this connection that helped me bring my expertise in social psychology into my coaching practice to create a unique approach to confidence and esteem building. What karma, attitudes and confidence have in common is ‘action’. Ultimately, to build confidence means to increase our courage to take action. To build anything requires action otherwise it remains a fantasy. So where do karma and attitudes come in?

Karma = Action

We use the word ‘karma’ in everyday life to mean ‘what goes around, comes around’ usually in the context that people will eventually pay for their misdeeds in one way or another. However karma literally means ‘action’.

Poster: What is Confidence Karma?I’d noticed in my own career that when I worked with mature students I focused on more intently building confidence in them. It was the beginning of my coaching career. The by-product was that my confidence in my own abilities also increased. In confidence terms, what goes around comes around. And so, the concept of confidence-karma was born. Often we get the idea from reality TV programmes that we gain confidence at the expense of others. We see people making themselves look better by putting others down. This is not authentic confidence. It’s not even assertiveness. It’s actually a form of aggression. At the heart of aggression is the inability to assert oneself in a productive way. Truly self-assured people put others at ease. Fake confidence is all about the self; real confidence is all about the social.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThis became a guiding theme in Unlock Your Confidence. It may sound a bit grand but I wanted to put the social conscience back into self-help. All too often self-help books are a bit ‘me me me’. Building assertiveness, esteem and confidence in other people puts the focus outside of the self, but still keeps the self at the centre, only in a more productive way. Passing on confidence always has a knock on effect. It’s positively contagious. So where do attitudes come into the equation?

Attitudes make us ‘fit and ready for action’

In social psychology one of the key areas of study is attitudes. The word attitude means ‘fit and ready for action’. It is through out attitudes that we make sense of the world, they comprise our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. To increase the likelihood that our behaviour will change we can work on our thoughts and feelings. Attitudes are the ‘get ready’ before the ‘go’. In confidence building, I take this triangular approach and bring social psychology into my coaching practice. Ultimately one of my main aims as a coach is to get people to re-appraise their attitudes towards themselves. In so doing, you jettison attitudes about yourself that do not support your values and goals. You also get to consider attitudes that do. This builds courage. So, are you someone who seeks to build others up?  Do you compliment, praise and show gratitude? Do you have the courage to nurture and encourage?

Building Confidence is Always Good Karma

Confidence-Karma is about having the courage to see the bigger picture. We shape our social world as much as it shapes us. We can make a difference just by taking control of this cycle of influence, even if just in a small way. Just as there’s no such thing as an insignificant random act of kindness, there’s no such thing as an insignificant act of confidence building. An attitude worth adopting is: building confidence is always good karma – and for it to have real meaning to take action on it.

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For more information about coaching to build confidence contact: Gary Wood. Coaching is face-to-face in Birmingham and Edinburgh, via telephone in the UK and worldwide via Skype.