Powerbombs, Neckbreakers and Chokeslams. Wrestling with your inner critic.

Last week was confidence week at work. I spent much of my teens and 20’s playing ‘chase the confidence’ game. As a gay woman trying to carve a career through what felt like a path designed for men and extroverts oozing confidence, it was a constant battle.

I’m not an expert on mental health so I won’t bang on about it with too much authority, but I have learnt some solid techniques and will talk about what I have learnt trudging through those years.

The fundamental issue for me was wrestling with my inner critic. Mental health is a fluid thing, but what is always true is that my confidence is dependent on my mind not constantly telling me that I’m shit.

Make no mistake. Your own mind is your biggest critic, and if you don’t confront it, it can run you into the ground. Why would your own mind do something so self-destructive? Who knows. I don’t think I’ve met a good enough psychologist yet to know the answer.

So what do I do to keep my inner critic in check?

1. Mindfulness

I take my mind to the ‘brain gym’ to keep it healthy. If I left my mind to its own devices, it’d focus on negative thinking. Wrestling with that all the time can wear you down.

So I get to grips with the negative thinking through mindfulness techniques and yoga, they are superb workouts, they help you to relinquish control of and accept your thoughts, but you must do them regularly. Set yourself the challenge of doing 4 weeks of Mindfulness and 30 days of Yoga. I guarantee you will not regret it. You can do this stuff at home if you’re low on confidence. If you haven’t tried either of these things yet, i’d recommend you stop reading this and if you can, get into Headspace and Yoga with Adriene. Come back in 30 days.

2. Keep learning

I don’t like the phrase ‘fake it till you make it’. work on developing your knowledge and skills. Read, read, read and absorb as much as you can from others. Different perspectives are great. Matt Jukes and Ben Holliday publish good reading lists.

Going to a conference is great but my career has mainly been in the third or public sector, so I’ve never had any budget. Often if you wait an extra month you can consume the talks online. Geek admission: when I was trying to learn more about service design I watched Kate Tarling’s videos obsessively. I sat there with a pen and paper pressing play/pause until I had captured and understood everything she said. It’s no replacement for practical experience but it gets you close to the lessons.

3. Get outside your bubble

Throw yourself into things outside of your direct remit or job description. Getting outside your bubble shows you a different perspective, you will meet different people, learn different stuff, teach other people stuff and gain an understanding of other peoples’ knowledge on your subject area. You can be confident that you DO know more than you thought you did.

4. Hold your beliefs lightly

To those that disagree with your views – they will always exist. Listen and talk and try to understand them. Don’t force your beliefs – hold them with lightness and security. Being fearful and defensive reflects insecurity.

Trying to explain stuff to people in an informal way helps you to form and validate your own thoughts. It can be scary because it exposes what you don’t know, but that is ok too.

Some people do just like to be provocative or deliberately insulting. Don’t give them the oxygen.

5. Do things that scare you (a bit)

If something scares you do it anyway. It’s a shortcut to confidence but, like ripping off a plaster, it can sting a bit. I used to be terrified of presentations. I would worry about the smallest thing for weeks. As it got closer I would get palpitations, sweaty hands, a shaky voice. It was hell. I would run myself down for being so petrified. I had two choices, run forever from the thing I feared or throw myself into overcoming it. The latter turned out to be the easier option.

I signed up for presentation practice at work, watched endless Youtube videos, tried hypnotherapy (nope) acupuncture (maybe) improv classes (decent). The biggest thing that helped me though was getting the right medication, (I think I had been suffering from low level anxiety for years) and putting myself into increasingly uncomfortable situations to practice, practice and practice.

My heart no longer jumps into my throat when I need to do a presentation. FINALLY, I have managed to gradually replace most of the negative mind chatter with urgency and desire to get my view across. The important thing for me, my team and our users is that I get mine and their voices heard and understood.

So, the aim for this confidence lark is to keep learning but understand that you are good enough and you deserve to be here. Everyone has unique skills, experiences and we need them ALL to be effective, productive and creative.