COACHING CONFIDENCE – so what’s it all about?

Henry Ford said ‘Whether you believe that you can or you believe that you cannot; you are right’.

I often talk to people who want to achieve something, make a change or take a step into the unknown, but apprehension holds them back. It is hard to follow a dream and put yourself ‘out there’; it takes confidence. Self-confidence is a key factor that differentiates success, without it you lack the drive to see through your challenge to the end. The good news is that self-confidence can be developed.


Confidence comes from the Latin fidere, ‘to trust’. Self-confidence essentially means to trust and have faith in oneself. Confidence enables us to act, rise to challenge, take control and show leadership in pressing situations.

Some people lack confidence generally, for others it can be situational – such as public speaking. Confidence requires courage and can be equated to:

Confidence = courage x competence.

If for example you have a mountain of competence without courage, you will not have the confidence to act. Ultimately confidence is what gives us the power to act, to take forward the idea, to put ourselves in challenging situations. It is for this reason that confidence is linked to success, a key requirement of leadership and creating presence. People with confidence will ultimately put themselves forward and take decisions that can push boundaries.


Our level of confidence comes from our experience and belief – as early as childhood the environment, decisions and experiences we have will have left their imprint. Men generally have more confidence than women, when growing up they tend to play more sport, accepting winning and losing. They tease and are more rambunctious – building resilience and forwardness.

Girls pride themselves on doing things right, making things perfect, listening and sitting quietly. Conforming unchallenging obedience does not necessarily prepare for the cut and thrust of the corporate world. Women show more development in the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain), which can lead to overthinking and failing to take action.

If we see something and take action without thinking then would we be more confident? Experiments have shown that when women are forced to act in comparison to when they have a choice, there performance in tasks moves from being less than their male counterparts to equal. Again, confidence comes from acting, which requires courage. Courage requires strength and this attribute opens up possibilities.

Cameron Anderson, a psychologist from University of California at Berkeley, studied overconfidence. He conducted tests to compare the relative value of confidence and competence. He gave a group of 242 students a list of historical names and events, and asked them to tick off the ones they knew. Among the names were disguised counterfeits: a Queen Shaddock made an appearance, as did a Galileo Lovano. He measured excessive confidence; some students checked the fakes instead of leaving them blank, suggesting a view of inflated knowledge. At the end of the semester, Anderson asked the students to rate one another in a survey designed to assess each individual’s prominence within the group. The students who had picked the most fakes had achieved the highest status.

Our level of confidence shows in our body language, our tone of voice and pace of speech. More expansive body language, using a low tone and pace denotes confidence. As does the level of prominence someone takes in a group situation. Research shows that it is not competence but confidence that drive perception of ability. Therefore confidence is a part of talent. People are able to discern fake confidence, therefore the trick is to  really build your own self-belief.


Internal attribution of failure – the difference between that was hard and I’m not good enough. Unconfident people tend to internalise failure to be about them rather than looking objectively at the issue that arose.

Perfectionism – requires the meeting of exacting standards and stops risk taking that might provide unexpected fruits. The drive for perfection stops us from getting much done.

Seeking approval – be the person in control of your life and your decisions. Your belief in your capability is crucial, if that has been damaged consider why. It could be an external person who has something to gain, or a previous experience – that limits your beliefs well after the event.

Negative self-talk – you get out what you put in. If you are talking yourself down you will be two steps behind before you start. BE KIND TO YOURSELF!


Research into neuroplasticity (the brains ability to change) has shown by strategising and practicing new behaviour we can lay new pathways that better enable us. Psychologists now believe that risk taking, failure, and perseverance are essential to confidence building. As in sport, owning victory and surviving defeats are important lessons at work; as are enabling people to strive for success and manage when it does not always come off.

Identify your strengths – people that perform to their strengths are shown to be 30% more effective and productive. You can start to identify your strengths by thinking about times when you have been performing at your best, what you were doing, where you were, who you were interacting with? Map these out and use that information to help design your future actions.

Visualising – The process in which you envision in detail the outcome you want to achieve. You truly explore what it will be like and how you will be, put yourself in the situation in as much detail as possible. Sports coaching strongly shows the correlation between visualisation and success and it relates to all fields of life.

Role Modelling – Identify a person that holds a characteristic or ability you are seeking to emulate, it may be someone who is great at presenting for example. Observe them carefully, their posture, movement, body language, expression, tone and patterns. Practice caricaturing them, as our feelings are shown in our body language role modeling a person with confidence can stimulate your brain with the same feelings.

Set Goals – Set goals that are manageable, identify steps along the path and acknowledge completing and achieving them. Celebrating your successes and achievements boosts Serotonin that increases feelings of robustness and self-esteem. Producing a positive cycle to raise your confidence, increase action and ultimately achievement.

Reflect on past successes – thinking back to past successes, remembering in detail when something has gone well, reliving those feelings, seeing what you saw, hearing what was said builds Dopamine; positive brain chemicals.  It will also teach you your successful patterns.

Taking Action – Everything starts somewhere, whether it’s a little step or throwing yourself in at the deep end – it’s about what is right for you. Planning ahead, creating strategies and using the tools listed above will all help you upgrade your confidence levels.

Three good things – Practice listing three good things that have happened to you during the day, write them down on a pad. After a week read it back, you will be surprised how beneficial it can be.

Body language – practice adopting powerful body language, which will help you develop your presence. This Amy Cuddy TED talk on confidence with particular attention to body language is a great place to start.


Coaching Confidence – Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are TED Talks

Coaching is a great tool for supporting confidence, at VP our focus on strength and positive psychology are natural partners in helping our clients grow their confidence and presence which can be a real game changer.

Most of all start taking action!

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