It’s common for people to talk about feeling confident and having self-confidence, but there is more to confidence than how we feel. Confidence is both about our actions as well as how we feel. Importantly, acting with confidence usually comes before feeling confident. This presents a conundrum to many who avoid doing certain things because they don’t feel confident, or who go ahead and do things but behave unconfidently. If you wait until you feel confident, you will wait for ever: start doing, and a feeling of confidence will come.

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Russ Harris in his book The Confidence Gap lists the following broad reasons for low confidence:

-Lack of experience

-Lack of skill

-Unrealistic high expectations

-Self judgement

-Overwhelming fear of failure

The first  two are addresses through training and experience, as both will lead to more confident behaviour and a feeling of confidence. The last three are all part normal human behaviour, and more challenging as they relate to how we see ourselves: fundamentally, there is anxiety, insecurity and a fear that we will not achieve a standard set by ourselves and others. Chronic self doubt can also lead to the impostor syndrome. So what’s the answer?

Fear is your friend

An awareness of your limitations, a realistic appraisal of your skills, and an appreciation of potential challenges are all highly desirable and important skills. So anxiety about your performance is a good thing in many ways. High self-esteem correlates with arrogance, prejudice, and self-deception, so it is better to aim for self-acceptance and recognise that anxiety about your performance is your friend. Of course, there needs to be a sense of proportion, because getting overwhelmed by fear doesn’t help either. And the more you try to push anxiety away, the more it takes over your thoughts.

So the key is acceptance of fear. Let it exist, and recognise it for what it is – a sign that you care about the task at hand, and a friend to help you do a good job. Confidence isn’t absence of fear, it is allowing fear to be and harnessing its power.

Russ Harris describes the ABC approach to fear:

A – allow it

B – befriend it

C – channel it

“What would have become of Hercules, do you think, if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar –and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges? Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.”


Tips for confidence

  • Learn and practice what you want to be confident in. Acting confidently comes before feelings of confidence.
  • Recognise that fear is normal and is your help.
  • Accept and allow fear to exist, it is there to help and if you try to push it away it is more likely to take overs.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations.
  • Act in accordance with your values. (Even if you don’t reach your goal, you will get the satisfaction that using your values brings)


I like Peter Hawkins’ model of confidence as consisting of authority, presence, and impact.

Authority is about your past: your knowledge and skills, your experiences and achievements, your past demonstrations of integrity and values-based behaviour.

Presence is about the present: your ability to relate to others and respond in the now, taking people with you.

Impact is about the future: the difference that you make to others, ability to transform agendas and mindsets.

Hawkins sees confidence as arising from these three. So to build confidence, you can focus on your own authority, presence, and impact.

Ideas & Advice





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