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Recognise your fears to build your confidence

Grammy award winning singer Adele’s latest album, 25, has sold more than 4.2 million copies in the U.S. and is officially the first album to ever sell one million copies for two weeks in a row. She is an extraordinarily successful singer and songwriter, yet surprisingly she admits to feeling crippling stage fright before her acclaimed stage performances.

There is hope for anyone who is sometimes lacking in confidence if someone with that level of success can sometimes feel insecure. I am not a naturally confident person and in order to achieve my aspirations and career goals I use my Psychology training to understand the processes and techniques that can lead to increased confidence. Any personal development in adulthood usually starts with increased self-knowledge, and the knowledge that will help you increase your confidence is this: know what you fear.

Fear is an essential emotion that has a powerful effect on our thoughts and behaviour. However, when we don’t try to consciously understand our fears they can have limiting effects on us that we may not even be aware of. In order to help you to understand how your unconscious fears may be limiting you I’m going to explain the functioning of a key brain structure, the amygdala, and how it functions to activate fear in response to perceived threats. I’m then going to share with you the most common fears that can undermine your confidence and what you can do to curtail their impact on you.

The Amygdala is an ancient human brain structure which constantly scans our environment for threats. When humans lived side by side with nature and were under threat from predators the Amygdala was essential for alerting us to danger and keeping us alive. However today we tend not to fear for our lives on a regular basis so the Amygdala tries to help us by focusing its energies on the next most threatening thing: other people.

This perfectly natural functioning of an essential brain structure means that we are all prone to extreme sensitivity to threats to our self-esteem and our self-image. When we are in a situation (read: any social situation) where our social status or acceptance could be called into question we are at risk of feeling under-confident as the Amygdala starts to perceive potential threats and activate our fears. Consequently we may act according to these subconscious fears and limit ourselves, rather than act according to our capabilities and thrive.

So what can you do?

Increasing your self-awareness will help you to manage limiting fears which could impact on your confidence. Look at this list of the most common unconsciously limiting fears that people tend to have:

We fear Greatness.

We fear Failure.

We fear Not being good enough to achieve what we want.

We fear Not being Loved.

We fear Rejection.

We fear Success.

We don’t Deserve/We’re not Worthy of Success.

Do any of these instinctively resonate with you? This is a very personal question and it may not be easy to answer or admit to. However it is likely that one or more of these could occasionally be undermining your confidence.

If you have identified that there are situations where a limiting fear is affecting your confidence then there are techniques that you can implement to reduce the impact of the fear, and to ultimately conquer it. Three techniques are listed below, but there are many more:

  1. Realise that it is extremely common to feel unwelcome emotions such as fear and spend some time thinking about people who you admire who at times have also felt fearful and lacking in confidence.

  2. Depersonalise the feeling by saying “There is fear/discomfort/self-doubt being felt”, rather than “I feel scared/uncomfortable/insecure”.

  3. Write down the worst thing that could possibly happen if you ignored the fear and acted with confidence anyway.

In order for these techniques to be effective it will require practice and repetition. With time you’ll feel more confident in your decisions and actions and you will notice yourself acting more according to your potential than to your fears.

There is an ancient Cherokee legend, “The Tale of Two Wolves”, which illustrates the internal battle that we all face between “good” and “bad” thoughts. When we need to act with confidence in order to achieve our goals we will experience “welcome” and “unwelcome” thoughts. These are the two wolves that are battling inside of us. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.

Lani Du Toit is a Coach and Learning & Development professional who uses Applied Psychology in professional contexts.


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