Are you playing it safe?

How to take action when it feels scary

A woman I coached (I’ll call her Susan) wanted to increase her visibility within her company and industry. She decided that doing more speaking would be a good strategy to help her accomplish this goal. She’s bright, accomplished and articulate so this seemed like a great direction for her. When Susan shared that she’d been invited to speak at a conference, I was excited for her. But she didn’t sound so thrilled.

“I’m going to say no. I’m not really ready.”

When I asked her what it would take for her to feel ready, she said: “First I’d need to do a lot of research. Then I’d have to write my presentation. And I’d want to figure out what questions people might ask so I could prepare the answers. Of course, I’d need to practice – a lot. I need to build more confidence in my public speaking.”

As we talked this through, she acknowledged that she has deep knowledge on the topic and a lot of related experience so her research wouldn’t need to be extensive. Susan is a strong writer and could handle the writing piece. And she could carve out some time in her schedule for practice.

But Susan still resisted saying yes. What was really going on here?

“The truth is, this scares me. I haven’t spoken at a conference before. What if I forget what I want to say or can’t answer a question? What if the audience thinks I’m terrible? It would be a huge public fail!”

Have you ever passed up an opportunity because you felt this way? Welcome to the club! Confidence expert Dr. Russ Harris calls this getting caught in the confidence gap:

“The confidence gap is that place we get stuck when fear gets in the way of our dreams and ambitions.”

Our fearful thoughts aren’t the problem – they’re totally normal. Our brains are wired to protect us from perceived threats like criticism, hurt and rejection. It’s how we react to these thoughts and what we make them mean that matters.

Here are some tips to help you bridge the confidence gap so your dreams don’t get derailed.

  • Let go of unhelpful thoughts. They are words, not the truth of who you are and what you’re capable of achieving. Use helpful thoughts to fuel action.
  • Own your value. Inventory your skills, talents and achievements. Remember the times you solved a problem, created a new solution or met a challenge and tap into that experience.
  • Shift your perspective on failure. View setbacks as opportunities to learn, grow and improve – not as evidence to support an old “story” about why you can’t do something.
  • Take turtle steps. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound is fine for Super Man, but leads to overwhelm for most of us. Consistent, small actions groove a pattern of success that leads to big breakthroughs.

And as for Susan, after working through her fears of the worst that could happen during her presentation, she decided the upside of doing this talk was greater than the potential risk. Was she nervous? You bet. Did she over-prepare? Absolutely. Did it go perfectly? There were some lessons learned. The confidence boost she got from facing her fears and acting anyway? Priceless.

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