Most of us have been there: you are introduced to someone new as, “A talented writer/accountant/marketer/musician” etc. Rather than accept the compliment, chances are you swiftly downplay your strengths, and feel a little embarrassed. But why are we so quick to respond this way when we talk about our achievements?
It’s a scenario that’s very familiar to me. Anxiety about sharing my successes has meant I’ve missed out on opportunities, including a promotion at work and celebrating good news with friends. It also made it harder for me to see myself in a positive light, increasing my feelings of imposter syndrome and affecting my self-confidence. Eventually, I realised I needed to start talking about myself in a better way – from challenging the perfectionist mindset that had me doubting my abilities to overcoming anxieties about seeming boastful.
To help understand why many of us struggle to talk positively about our achievements – and what we can do to change this – I spoke to life coach Denise Bosque.
“Often, when we receive a compliment we feel awkward, as if we don’t deserve it, thinking, ‘after all, it’s only me’,” explains Denise. “This thinking is prevalent in our culture, and is limiting to both our self-esteem, and our confidence. Deep down, we usually think we aren’t good enough, as if the good piece of work we did was more of a ‘fluke’ than our efforts.”
Denise’s words ring true for me. Whenever I receive a compliment, my mind jumps to why it isn’t true. I think about the faults or the mistakes I’ve made, and almost feel like a fraud for being congratulated. This perfectionist mindset makes it harder to accept praise or to share successes, because I’m too focused on the reasons I feel I don’t deserve it.
But having the confidence to talk positively about our achievements to others can become easier when we start to acknowledge these successes to ourselves. “People worry so much about what other people might think,” says Denise. “We have to approve of ourselves first, instead of waiting for validation outside of ourselves.”
“Often, when we receive a compliment we feel awkward, as if we don’t deserve it”
Taking Denise’s advice, I try to approve of myself first. I take some time to look back through some of my work, and make a point of acknowledging the positives in what I see. I also think about my successes, reading through my published writing. I surprise myself by enjoying the experience and, by the end of it, I’m struck by how I feel more positively about myself as a writer. The rejections that come with a writing life seem less important, less dominating, as I acknowledge the positives.
Try taking time to acknowledge your own successes. Set aside half an hour or so and write a list of your achievements. At first, it may feel challenging or forced, but as you get going you may find the words flow. Include things that might seem small, but are still important to you. This act of self-approval can boost your confidence and, in turn, makes it easier to then share your successes with others.
Denise assures me that the more we start to talk more positively about ourselves, the easier it gets. “Your light will begin to shine, and people will take notice,” she says. “Also, you are more likely to be seen as a person who is capable and confident, putting you in the forefront for any promotions. Each time we do this, our self-worth grows along with our confidence.” Talking positively about ourselves and being open about our successes can help us feel better within ourselves, as well as open doors to new opportunities. And sometimes it can be the simple joy of getting to celebrate something we’re proud of with others.
So how can we approach taking this next step? One of the main worries I have about sharing successes is that it’ll seem like I’m showing off. “A much better way to think about receiving a compliment is that you are being honest, and it’s OK to acknowledge that you also thought you did a good job. It doesn’t mean it’s boastful, it’s confident,” says Denise. “This is resilience, and very necessary to lead a balanced life. As humans, we are supposed to be growing, doing our best, and recognising our strengths and weaknesses.”
Many of us worry about seeming boastful and the need to be modest. But maybe we’re too focused on that concern, to the point where we devalue our successes. “We feel it’s ‘bad’ to sound like we are boasting and being big-headed – particularly women. It’s conditioning,” Denise tells me. “All our self-worth and esteem should be sky-high, so that we ride the disappointments and the glories with ease.”
Denise recommends that we rehearse accepting a compliment or saying we did something well to ourselves. It may feel a little awkward practising this, but it’ll help it to become second nature. It also helps affirm this positive idea in our mind, making us more confident in the words we’re saying, so we really believe in them.
I follow Denise’s advice and try talking through my successes to myself. Sure, it does feel a little strange, but there is also something nice about acknowledging these positives.
Afterwards, I go out for dinner with friends. I’m nervous about sharing some recent good career news. The usual doubts niggle in my mind: “What if they think I’m boasting, or dominating the conversation? What if I’m not actually good enough?” But then I think about how important this news is to me, and how hard I’ve worked for it. I think about times these friends have told me their own good news, and how I’ve always felt happy for them and glad to be able to share in their successes. Maybe it’ll be the same for me?
So I give it a go. I tell them my good news. I don’t add a caveat of, “But I also had lots of rejections!” I don’t apologise. I don’t do anything to diminish what I’m saying.
And the result? Genuine smiles and congratulations. They ask me more about it, and I actually enjoy this opportunity to talk about my passion. I thank them for their compliments, and resist the usual urge to be overly modest. Afterwards, I like I’ve not just shared good news, but I’ve shared something of myself – something important to me with people that I care about. And it’s a wonderful feeling.
To connect with a life coach like Denise to talk more about improving your confidence, visit lifecoach-directory.org.uk
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