People tell me things. Over the years I’ve heard similar stories from people I meet – sometimes these are in the formality of a client session, at other times they are passing remarks made by people I meet in a variety of places.
The story I hear most often – especially from women, although men aren’t immune to this – is the ‘I lack self-belief’ or a version of that. It’s what I call a sticky story – it can hang around for years unless well and truly put to bed. I’ve noticed that this, or something like it, is what some people fall back on when they’re not making the progress they want, or think they ought to be making. Rather than interrogating the real, root cause of what’s going on for them, it’s easier and less painful to put their stalled progress or inertia down to their lack of belief that they can achieve what they’ve set their hearts on. Often this turns out to be fear and is nothing to do with self-belief at all – this is a normal and healthy reaction to a perceived danger lurking in the environment. I mainly help clients position themselves for more senior roles, and this is a perfectly understandable reaction.
The self-belief label can be incredibly unhelpful. It’s too general and vague and as such, is a challenge to deal with – and in lots of cases, it’s not actually the truth. Like it’s counterpart, confidence, I think it’s an over-used term.
Here’s a process I use with clients, that is aimed at helping them uncover what’s really going on.
Start at the beginning.
Ask yourself what you really want, and what is that going to give you. I do think that sometimes the reason we don’t achieve something is because we actually really don’t want it! I’ve met a few people who have spent years pursuing a goal, only to finally admit that it’s not what they want in their heart of hearts – and never was. Subconsciously they’d been putting the breaks on themselves. Admitting it freed them up to look at the alternative. Now this might feel just as much of a challenge, but at least it’s one with some energy behind it, and no unhelpful story sitting in the background.
Still want it?
Now’s the time to examine what you do and don’t believe in a little more detail, in order to find out what’s really getting in the way and causing you to think that you lack self-belief. What could you be afraid of?
The example I’m going to use here is for promotion to a new role, which is a frequent scenario my clients face. Putting themselves forward for a significant step up career-wise is something lots of people find daunting, as is the work to raise your profile beforehand. If you want to make progress, making yourself visible to the right people is part of journey, and I talk about a way to do that in my second book, Strategies for Being Visible
Create a granular list of everything that this new job entails (or your own situation), detail by detail, referring to the job or person spec, or anything else that you know doing this job would involve, for example, catching the 7.50 train every morning, or presenting sales figures at the board meeting, or liaising with the MD, or cold-calling over the telephone.
Now interrogate your list, point by point. The more detailed the list is, the more accurate results you will get for this.
Then ask yourself this question, out loud preferably, and write down the answers.
In what ways do I believe in myself enough to get this job?
Alternatively, enlist someone to ask you ‘Do you believe you could…?’ This is phenomenally powerful and when I’ve used this approach with clients, it changes things quickly.
Use this sentence to answer the question:
I believe I could…
Finish the sentence every time with reference to the list you have just made and start as small as you need to, for example:
I believe I could catch the 7.50 train every day (I believe I could set an alarm, get up every day etc…)
I believe I could write a sales report (I believe I could ask for monthly sales figures, open an Excel spreadsheet etc, learn how to…)
Back up your sentences with evidence – I’ve written sales reports in my current role, or I’ve presented in front of senior leaders in my first role…
Write the longest list you can, and then notice how you feel at the end of it. In fact, notice how you feel as you write it -tune in to what’s going on for you. Where do you sense reluctance, discomfort, butterflies? When you’re aware of these feelings, dig a little deeper…what’s really going on for you now? Is it really a lack of self-belief or is it that you don’t want to do it perhaps? Or is it nerves? There’s a difference. And if your story is about ‘lacking confidence’, here’s another post that may help On Confidence
Make a note of any areas where you feel you truly don’t believe you could do that. What do you believe you could do instead? Learn, research, ask, practice, get qualified, be brave enough to take a calculated risk? Do you believe that you could learn how to write a sales report for example? Or get more comfortable presenting sales figures to the board? This may take you some time, but identifying practical steps is more helpful than living in cloudy fear. And if you really, truly don’t believe you could learn, ask, research, get more comfortable, take a chance or risk – then you’ll know that it’s not for you.
When you break most things down like this, you may well see that their component parts are usually very achievable and that you do believe you can do most of them, probably because you’re already doing most of them!
The ‘lacking self-belief’ story is just that – a story that you’re telling yourself.
Belief = an acceptance that something exists or is true
Belief = trust or faith in
In the end, self-belief boils down to a choice about believing the evidence in front of us.
This is about telling yourself a different story to the ‘lacking self-belief’ title. This new story is rooted in reality and evidence, as opposed to the old story which is more likely based on out-of-date thoughts, feelings and memories that no longer serve you. This is the kind of supportive story you’ll benefit from hearing as you begin to create the impact you need to position yourself for seniority.
What would you call your new story? If you’d like some help to re-write your own story and then tell others about it so you can position yourself for seniority, you might want to take a look at The Visible Leadership Programme
If you’d like to be a better, stronger leader, and have a happier, more fulfilling career, Click Here To Email Me