Many times, back when I was working in the corporate world, I would sit in a meeting listening to a discussion knowing that I had a valuable perspective to offer. But as I thought about offering my opinion I would start to feel my heart beating hard inside my chest and feel myself growing hot. I told myself I wasn’t confident enough to speak up. I wasn’t ready. I would wait till the next meeting when maybe I would feel more confident.
Are you waiting till you feel more confident?
Maybe, like my younger self, you’re waiting to feel more confident before you speak up in a meeting at work.
Maybe you’re waiting to feel more confident before joining Toastmasters.
Maybe you’re waiting to feel more confident before you put in an application to speak at your industry’s annual country-wide or global conference?
Why Does Waiting for Confidence not Work?
Most of us want to feel more confident before we take action. It makes sense – you want to know that you can do something, before you do it. That feels safe.
But it leaves us in a paradox.
That’s because confidence is the belief that you have the ability to do something. And so it’s difficult to be confident until you have actually done the thing.
We have it exactly backwards. Confidence doesn’t precede Action. Confidence follows Action.
So if you wait till you feel confident before taking action, you’re liable to be waiting a long time.
Before you take action, what you need is not confidence, but courage.
Why do you Need Courage?
When you’re contemplating doing an action, like speaking up in a meeting or applying to speak at a conference, and decide not do it because you don’t have enough confidence, what you’re feeling is fear.
Fear is a signal. In our distant evolutionary past, fear alerted us to life-threatening danger.
As a result, we still have a black and white response to fear. We interpret any sign of fear as a strong, pulsing red warning light of “DON’T DO IT”.
This made sense in our distant evolutionary past. But most of the things we feel fear about these days are not life-threatening.
So rather than just automatically obeying the fear signal and retreating, we now need to be discerning and decide when to obey the fear signal, and when to override the fear signal.
It requires courage to override the fear signal. You have to act despite the feelings of fear.
When to Override the Fear Signal
Many years ago, I went on a retreat where we sat in a circle with no particular topic to discuss. There was just one rule. Speak only when your heart starts beating fast and you feel yourself growing hot. In other words, we were to speak only when we felt fear.
Why was that? Because the fear was an indicator that what we had to say was something significant. That what we had to say was outside of our comfort zone. That, alone, made it worth saying.
Consider the fear signal as an indication that you are going outside of your Comfort Zone. And most of the time, that’s a positive sign that the action you’re contemplating is an action that will bring you personal growth.
Because all growth takes place outside of the Comfort Zone. No growth takes place inside of the Comfort Zone. We should really call the Comfort Zone, the Stuck Zone or the Rut Zone.
How to get more Courage?
Courage is Action in the face of Fear.
To get more courage you need to build your Courage Muscle.
Think of your Courage Muscle like a muscle in your body that you want to strengthen. If you wanted to strengthen a muscle in your body you would do strengthening exercises over time, starting easy and gradually building up as your muscle gets stronger.
You can do exactly the same with your Courage Muscle. Take relatively easy actions that take just a little bit of courage to begin with.
For example, if you feel a lot of fear around speaking up in a meeting you might start with talking to the checkout operator at the supermarket or talking to the person next to you in line.
If you feel a lot of fear about joining Toastmasters, you could start with talking to a Toastmasters member on the phone (use this link to find a club near you).
If you’re feeling fear around speaking at your industry’s annual country-wide or global conference, start by doing more informal presentations at regular monthly gatherings in your city.
Once you’ve taken one easy action, build on that with progressively more difficult actions.
Every time you take an action, you will be strengthening your Courage Muscle.
And every time you will feel progressively more confident. Stop waiting for confidence. Start taking action and confidence will come to you.
How to Tame your Fear of Public Speaking
In this video-training series (plus workbook with transcripts) you’ll learn:
- The three things you must know BEFORE you begin to tackle your fear of public speaking
- Why the positive-negative thought classification doesn’t work for fear of public speaking
- The two powerful self-talk tweaks that can make an immediate difference.
I am intrigued by the idea of sitting in a circle where you only speak up if you feel “fear”. It sounds as if it would reverse the usual amount individuals in a group speak? I’m so tempted to try it out, but also afraid of the response it might get! ?
Hi Julia, I should clarify that this was in a retreat context over 3 days and with facilitators who were skilled at “holding” the space. At times, there were long silences. All the participants chose to attend knowing something about how the retreat was going to be run. I’ve used the word “fear” as the label for the sensations of my heart beating fast and feeling hot, because that’s the topic of this blog post. This wasn’t the label used at the retreat. Wish I could remember more – but it was more than 20 years ago!
Interesting stuff. With new year’s resolutions being in the air, I’m focusing on developing or changing a couple of habits, rather than focusing on declaring the resolutions themselves. So building a confidence muscle fits well in the “habit” category!
By the way, have you come across Speaking Circles? When I was in Toastmasters, I researched them a bit. Sadly, they’re not widespread like TM clubs, but their focus seems to be on support for the speaker rather than on constructive criticism.
You can read the first chapter of a related book online. The author writes “When we stop resisting the fear, we stop giving it power.” (Or click my name above to read a comparison of Toastmasters and Speaking Circles.)
Hi Craig, yes I have come across Speaking Circles. A few years ago, Tony and I did a Speaking Circles weekend. The approach of authentic, heartfelt communication has influenced us in our training in the corporate world.
Loved your article on the differences between Toastmasters and Speaking Circles. Toastmasters does a great job and has helped so many people and I think there is definitely room for some alternatives!
Thanks Olivia for your insightful posting. I have been somebody who has experienced that fear you refer to on countless occasions and, almost always, decided that I would act upon it ‘later when I am better informed.’ Over the years, I have come to realise how much this ‘small poppy syndrome’ has shut off possibilities on the other side of pain. An Aha-Moment related to this was my discovery of ‘The Tools’ by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels. Are you familiar with their work? When it comes to the fear of getting out of my comfort zone, I use their ‘Reversal of Desire’ tool, aka ‘bring it on’ which helps to turn pain into pleasure. It has changed my life.
Thank you John for your comment. I love your line “shut off the possibilities on the other side of pain”. I will look up the work you mention.
I need to be more confedince when I make an interview for a promotion ? cause my Heartbeat is growing very fast which affect on my concentration and my answering
Hi Mohamed, I get that this can be a very concerning problem. One thing which may help you is realizing that it is perfectly normal to be nervous when you’re in an interview, and so it’s normal for your heart to start beating very fast. So next time that this happens you can tell yourself “It’s normal for my heart to be beating very fast. It’s because this is an important interview for me. I can still do this interview well even with my heart beating fast”.
If you really want to have a breakthrough with this situation, ask a friend to do a practice interview with you. And just before you’re about to do the interview, go for a run to get your heart beating fast. Do this several times. You’ll have trained yourself to do really well in an interview with your heart beating fast!
Hope this helps
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