Sarah Clark is Founder & Director of Mariposa Coaching. Her extremely long list of credentials includes Stress Management, Performance Coaching and Problem Focused Counselling. Sarah runs workshops which involve young people and so we asked her for words of wisdom about confidence-building strategies. Here’s what she told us …

Sustainable belief in yourself

We can learn to project confidence even when we are not feeling it. However, what we call ‘true confidence’ means you draw on your strengths at the same time as recognising your more vulnerable areas and it becomes a more realistic form of confidence. This means you don’t have to keep up any pretence, but you are confident about who you are. We call this sustainable belief in yourself which comes from within.

Sustainable belief in yourself creates confidence at a deeper more authentic level which is more about gaining confidence in the longer term. This happens when you are able to identify your vulnerable side as well as draw on your strengths. So, you are able to identify emotions, for example, that are knocking your confidence such as fear or stress or embarrassment, but know them for what they are and have a strategy to overcome them.

Here are some strategies to stay true to yourself whilst upping your confidence levels…

Challenge negative thinking – it is a skill in being able to recognise any negative thinking we have, be aware of it coming in and then challenge it so the power of the thinking gets less. How can we do this? Let’s take an example of something that might sap your confidence. It could be you have to give a talk at school/college. What are your initial thoughts? Let’s imagine the negative thoughts that can come up. They could be ‘my presentations always go wrong’, ‘I will get embarrassed’ or it could be something more specific like ‘I will forget my words, my hands will shake and my mouth go dry’.

Recognise the negative thinking coming in – but if you start to believe that the thinking is actually what is going to happen then it can start to become what is known as a ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’. You think it and then it happens. If you think like this is it more likely or less likely to happen this way? More likely yes? So we need to challenge it!

Evidence? – we can ask ourselves when we have the thought that the presentation is going to go wrong ‘what is the evidence’? At that point you haven’t even done it so you are totally fortune telling the event. Unless you have special super hero powers to see the future it doesn’t even exist!

Increase tolerance levels – You can ask yourself if you get a little embarrassed ‘what is the worst that can happen’? I am a parent and I will let you into a secret, I still get embarrassed, and most people you ask will probably say they do too. So, it is normal and part and parcel of a situation where you are challenging yourself and increasing your skills that it can be a bit embarrassing. We can build up a higher-level tolerance to uncomfortable feelings like this. What if, for example, we say to ourselves ‘it is going to be a bit embarrassing, but I am going to cope’.

Put forward-planning in place – we can put forward-planning in place as another way to counteract negative thinking. In the presentation example, take the idea that you will forget your words – if you plan it ahead you might have cue cards, a PowerPoint or some kind of prompt. You could take a water bottle if you mouth gets dry and have something in your hands to steady them. This in itself will make you feel confident that you have covered all your bases.

Imagery – in the planning and just before you do a task, if you are feeling under-confident, it can help to use a little visualisation – we can call this coping imagery. So, if you see yourself coping with the situation, see ways that work for you – so, in this example, your mouth will get dry, but you will see yourself taking a sip of water and continuing. By using imagery like this the brain gets rewired for a greater chance of this happening and confidence levels increase.

Relaxation – how we breathe links to how we feel. Have you noticed when you are anxious that your breath is shallow and fast and when we are relaxed it slows down? Also, it is really hard to focus on anxiety when we are focusing on our breathing as we are not made to do both at the same time. So it can serve as a helpful distraction. If you fill up your lungs with air to a count of 5 and then breath out to a count of 5 and repeat everything will start to relax and you will feel more in control.

Give yourself supportive words – think back to the last time you achieved something you were really proud of. Often when we are feeling less than confident we can’t see what worked well, we just go into doom and gloom – sound familiar? So, look for exceptions when was the last time you surprised yourself and were more confident that you think you were. You are not under-confident in everything and you are not under-confident every time you do something. You could think, for example, ‘when I do lots of planning and use cue cards I have given a fluent presentation’.

Get feedback – ok so this one is often not so easy. We can find it hard to take feedback from others but in reality, we gain confidence when we hear what our friends and family say that is positive about us in given situations. Also, feedback enables us to make more of an objective viewpoint if there are areas in which we can improve – it takes us outside of the words we have in our head. It can also help us to prepare for the next time.

Make a confidence record – so a really super easy activity is to take a piece of paper and write down situations you have handled well. What are your top achievements? If you were to ask your friends what would they say? Then when feeling like your confidence has taken a knock just pick up this record and give it a read.

It’s all about the goals – one way to overcome fear and increase confidence is by focusing on your values and goals. Think about a given situation where you are feeling less confident and consider why are you in this position, what do you want to get out of it? So, for example, if at a work experience placement, you fear turning up late or going to the wrong place, focus instead on the goal of getting donuts when you get there. Or focus on the outcomes of the learning about a subject you are interested in and it will more likely mean you overcome that fear and keep going until you get there. You have your goal in sight after all.

Make things more realistic – sometimes we can feel less than confident when we set our expectations too high. Usually we are harder on ourselves than anyone else is on us! When given a task we can think to ourselves ‘it has got to be perfect’ or ‘I need to get a really high score’. Then what can happen is we make ourselves miserable in trying to get there. So, do we have to be perfectionists, or can we do our best, do a good enough job? Are we are setting the bar too high to realistically achieve what we set out to do! If we think ‘we can do a good enough job, I can try my best’ then this can bring down anxiety and you are more likely to do better than you thought you did! If we ask a friend for feedback they would probably give you much more positive feedback that you give yourself.

Keep on keeping on – the only way to get more confident in situations is to keep on practicing them even though this means coming out of your comfort zone sometimes – but think what you can achieve! If you think of a wave coming in, at some point it is going to crash on the surf, it doesn’t go on for ever. If you stretch yourself now it might seem really overwhelming at the time but looking back in 5 years’ time it will be a much smaller thing and you will be pleased you had done it – trust me!

And finally …

Coaching can give you the skills to help you to increase confidence levels for optimum performance, work to your strengths and challenge interference that can get in the way. I have been working in this field for about 17 years now. I coach teenagers as well as adults and can tailor it to your school or college needs too.

A huge thank you to Sarah Clark at Mariposa Coaching.

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