It’s often suggested that pushing away your fears — feeling your fear and doing it anyway — is the right way to step out of your comfort zone. Ignoring your fears can, in fact, help you accomplish a task for an important immediate objective. And you may experience a sense of pride.
But what if you are confronted with the same fear on a regular basis like teaching a class, selling your service, or networking? Where are you the next time? Has the fear disappeared? Or is it standing by waiting for you to make another heroic effort? And how many heroic efforts do you have energy for?
My experience indicates that this “sweep the fear out of your way” approach isn’t always beneficial and can actually work against what you are aiming to achieve: confidence.
Take when I jumped right in using Periscope live streaming, for instance. It was scary, but I was determined to commit to broadcasting daily. I heard someone suggest that that by 100 scopes, I would feel proficient and relaxed. So on I bravely went.
Well, at 75 scopes, it was clear that my fear wasn’t going anywhere soon. Yes, I was doing it, and I think that I was helping people in some ways, but the feeling inside was really uncomfortable. My heart was still pounding out of my chest; I hadn’t become the cool, confident live streamer that I hoped to be.
I realized that I falling into what Albert Einstein described as insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
Nothing was going to change no matter how many times I pushed past my fear.
In fact, what I had been doing was reinforcing feeling the fear, by going on camera afraid each and every time!
I was deepening the neural pathways in my brain by associating going on camera with fear! . . . which, of course, is just the opposite of what I wanted to happen.
Here’s how I look at it now. Having fear is human: it’s there to protect us from physical danger, like being chased by a predator. But in the comfort of our modern lives — in the absence of such predators, aggressors, hippos, and such — this kind of fear points to stress or triggers from past negative experiences where we felt shame or hurt in some way.
These experiences are operating in the background of our psyche, taking up mental bandwidth and memory, just like apps running on the background of the computer.
If you stay in your comfort zone, protected by the familiarity of your routine, you may continue on blissfully unaware of such limiting beliefs that you acquired long ago.
Think about going on camera, on the other hand, and you can be sure you’ll remember plenty of instances from the past that have impacted your feelings of confidence or lack of it.
Don’t worry: this is good news. We can feel grateful for the fear, eager to embrace and understand it: it’s a signpost of what needs to be done, a powerful tool to declutter our mental closets. And just like an actual cleaning out of our closets, we can sort through what we want to keep and what no longer fits. And when it’s cleared out — wow, so much spaciousness! We feel renewed and energized.
But this fear can’t always be overcome by just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. It’s funny, because we wouldn’t put that expectation on ourselves if we were picking up, say, the violin. Yes, to build confidence, you have to practice confidence.
So — how does one practice confidence? Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Speak well to yourself.
It’s always delightful to get nice feedback from others. However, don’t fall into the trap of seeking approval outside yourself. Approve of yourself: be the one that says the words you long to hear for encouragement. Speaking to yourself with compassion, friendliness and encouragement — the way you long to be spoken to — confers a host of mental benefits. After all, the most important relationship you have is with yourself. Make it a good one.
2. Practice patience.
This is the same as mindfulness, which has been proven to have significant benefits for your physical and psychological well-being. And you can practice anytime, anywhere.
It goes like this: be aware of your awareness; that is, begin to observe yourself and your surroundings. Start with your body sensations, feeling your feet and legs, your belly and chest, your arms, neck and head. Notice your breath flowing in and out, the sensations that you are experiencing. Let your eyes notice what is in your visual field, your ears, what you are hearing. Perhaps sensations of smell and taste as well.
Then, go beyond these simple sensations to feel the energy, the quiet, or the noise that surrounds you. If you are preparing to go on camera or onstage, practice being in your sense of presence in those particular environments.
3. Input the image of confidence in your imagination.
Visualize: close your eyes and relax your body completely. Visualization has been shown to reduce speech anxiety.
Stay firmly connected with your sensation of relaxation and, in your mind’s eye, see yourself speaking on camera or doing whatever activity you would like to build confidence in. Allow the feelings of comfortable presence to pervade your body and your mind.
4. Stand or sit in a posture of confidence.
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy and others have studied the effects of being in confident body postures affects the hormones in our body, making us chemically predisposed to feel more confident. But we don’t need even science to tell us this: you know what confidence looks like when you see it.
Look for the sensation of easy confidence and practice feeling it in your body. Feel your feet on the ground, your body relaxed and open. Think regal.
5. Be prepared.
As my experience on Periscope showed, winging it does not bring about confidence (unless improvisation is your gig). So know your material well. When you’re confident about your material, you can go off script without worrying about how to get back.
“Face your fears.” So, do you go with the old adage or not? Ultimately, the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” We are complex beings with strengths in some areas and growing edges in others. Have both approaches at the ready: when you feel yourself teetering on the edge to try something out, give yourself the nudge you need to just do it.
On the other hand, when you feel yourself hanging back with a strong “No!” in all of your cells, don’t try to fight past the feeling. Rather, take it as a gift and invitation to clean out the past burdens that are no longer serving you. And when the gutters are swept clear, enjoy the new flow and freedom to step into new exciting territory.
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