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Three Ways to Be More Self-Confident

by Lindsay Lyman


hink about a leader you really value and respect. I’m guessing they’re not burnt out and working crazy hours. They’re not rushed and stressed or emotionally unpredictable. They probably show strong signs of emotional intelligence and don’t shy away from saying “I don’t know.” Some might call these types of leaders confident. What they really are is self-confident.

Confidence is a feeling you have once you’ve done something so many times you don’t worry about the unknowns that pop up along the way. Your brain has so much evidence of things working out that you’re not worried. Confidence is a belief in your ability based on past experience.

Self-confidence is that same calm feeling but does not require experience. True self-confidence is a belief in your ability to figure things out. It’s knowing you’ll make mistakes, things will go off plan, and you will still find a way.

Based on thousands of hours of coaching high-performing tech employees, I’ve found having self-confidence comes down to three main things: 1) Stop optimizing to other people’s opinions; 2) Learn how to fail; 3) Have your own back along the way. Sounds easier said than done, but here are a few things to try today.

What Other People Think About You is None of Your Business
As humans we all want people to like us and say we’re doing a good job. That’s not a bad thing. But when you’re working to get external validation so you feel valued yourself, it’s a losing game. For example, say you lead a team and want them to be happy so they succeed which in turn will make you look like a strong leader. Sounds great, but the reality is you can’t make your team feel anything. In my experience, if you need them to be happy all the time, this means you want them to be happy when things don’t go according to plan. When there are layoffs. When their loved ones are sick. When they’re overwhelmed and doubting themselves.

What if instead of wanting them to be happy, you focused more on creating a safe place for them to grow and learn? What if instead of chasing happiness, you normalized the hard parts and made it okay to have a bad day? Don’t go on camera when you need a break. End a meeting early and go for a walk. Start your meeting by asking what support from you as their leader looks like today. When you do this, your team learns it’s okay to not be okay and in turn reduces their stress about needing to fake it till they make it. When they feel less stressed, they do better work.

When you as the leader are human, have good and bad days, and can still show up with empathy and grace for all involved, that’s where the magic happens. Others can and will judge you along the way. That’s okay. The thoughts they have about you tell us significantly more about their worries and fears than what you should change. Be proud of how you show up in the highs and the lows and the rest will follow.

Make Failure Your Superpower
In my 20 years of corporate experience, people constantly tell me to ruthlessly prioritize, to lean in, to scale, and keep doing more with less. This sounds great, but also makes me want to take a nap. The problem is most of us are walking around working as insecure overachievers. We’re one escalation away from losing our sanity because we want to succeed at almost any cost.

We’ve been taught to think this way. Growing up, we were graded on our schoolwork with the goal of getting the best grade possible. We want to win the game, be the best, and achieve the gold star. It’s fun to do, but if you don’t know how to fail, learn, and pick yourself up, you’re going to burn yourself out.

Logically you get that learning comes through failure, but when was the last time you emotionally gave yourself permission to fail at something? Why is that? What is it about failure that we’re so afraid of? The worst thing that could happen is a feeling. When you know how to feel embarrassed, disappointed, judged, and failure, nothing can hold you back.

I try to purposefully feel failure to teach my brain and body that it’s okay. I want to make failure my frenemy. I’ll ask for a drink to be comped when I eat out. I’ll say no to the next ask at work and won’t give an explanation. I’ll stop reviewing my deck five minutes before my presentation. I want to get comfortable feeling all the uncomfortable feelings.

The faster you get through all the bad ideas at work, the faster you’re going to get to the good ones. Go after the bad ones and feel the frustration. Take action once you feel like your plan is around 75 percent there. Be willing to fail as you learn. The goal is to learn, not to make it perfect. And when in doubt, adopt my family’s motto of “C’s and B’s get degrees.”

Have Your Own Back

In college I went out on a date with someone I was really into. They were gorgeous and intellectually dynamic. I planned my outfit all week and had some deep questions to ask so they would know I was not like all the other girls. At the end of the date, they politely told me they had a fun time but did not see it going anywhere.

Devastated, I called a friend that I’ve known since I was a child. She listened and then said it probably did not work out because I looked fat in my outfit. And that I talk about myself too much and that when I get nervous, I don’t make a lot of sense and sound dumb. I cried myself to sleep that night.

That friend I’ve known since I was a child was myself. It was the conversation I was having in my own head. We say and think things about ourselves that we would be mortified to admit in public. If left unchecked, your human brain will do its job and show you all the things it thinks could be wrong or dangerous. It’s not showing you the good because that’s not relevant.

I have found this is why you need to learn how to manage your brain and be nice to yourself. To have your own back. To talk to yourself like you would a friend you love and care about. Tonight, while you’re brushing your teeth, look yourself in the eye and tell yourself something you’re proud of. And mean it. It might sound like this: I’m proud you showed up today even though you really did not want to. Good job not reacting during that annoying call. Good job getting that one thing done.

There’s no wrong way to do it, but try talking to yourself just as much as you listen. Give your brain equal airtime to the good things. In my opinion, your brain is the most valuable tool you have. Manage it to operate at its highest capacity. If you want help on knowing how to get your brain unstuck from the negative self-talk, here’s a free five-minute course to get you started.

There will be times when you’re reaching goals and driving your career forward. There will also be times when you’re stuck and questioning it all. When you’ve learned the skill of self-confidence, you have all the tools you need to keep going to become the type of leader you want to be. What you do is not what counts, it’s who you are along the way that makes all the difference. You got this!

headshot of Lindsay Lyman
Lindsay Lyman is a certified life coach. She is the founder of Lindsay Lyman Coaching, a coaching program designed for tech employees, and host of the podcast More than a Paycheck. Previously, Lyman spent 11 years with Amazon, where she built teams and launched new products. She has spent thousands of hours learning how to help others take care of themselves every day without needing to work harder or choose between their career goals and their sanity. She has found tools for becoming more confident and is passionate about teaching these tools to others. She believes confidence helps others contribute to the world.

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