Cultivating Inner Confidence
This is a script from a recent presentation I made with diverse female leaders who are part of Kahilla‘s leadership development program.
Hi, I’m Nancy Choi.
As someone who is operating both as a leader at a Fortune 100 company and an Executive & Career coach of impact-driven leaders, I can see how important it is for leaders to develop healthy Confidence to enjoy their journey and truly be impactful. The opposite of Confidence is ultimately Shame and Fear. And when shame and fear are present, we aren’t at our best for ourselves and for our team.
Confidence is something I’ve had to navigate as one of the only women and people of color in many spaces. It wasn’t always easy because the confidence role-modeled to me from existing leaders wasn’t really authentic to me – there are generational, gendered, racial and cultural differences that make this incredibly nuanced.
By the end of this conversation, my goal is for you to learn from my experiences and some practical tools you can immediately use tomorrow.
When I was accelerating in middle-management, I went to a Womens leadership event with a womens leadership coach. Her advice was all about playing the game of the King of the Hill and the language and actions that made sense in that context. I found the advice really insightful at the time and shared it with my friends and other women I knew. But looking back, I can see how it was only focused on external posturing… and how that doesn’t really provide long-term resolution in our imposter syndrome.
Here’s some of the advice she gave:
- You teach people how to treat you and talk to you
- Men hire for confidence, not competence
- Stay connected to what’s working and visible
- Stop picking up the bomb and trying to fix everything
- Own your praises and compliments
- Use humor with swagger and confidence
- Break results into small pieces and feed them to people
The advice is actually not bad. It’s just that it’s missing a critical ingredient: about the inner work.
You see, imposter syndrome is really about inner alignment with your power. It’s about being an imposter to yourself for so long that you don’t ultimately know how you belong and who you really are.
For example, the advice of “you teach people how to treat you and talk to you.” How do you talk to yourself? Start there first. It took me a really long time to change how I talked to myself to be more loving and supportive. This is actually a skill that can be learned. It’s called Mindful Self-Compassion. This is ultimately about being my own inner ally.
Grounded Confidence = Skills + Curiosity + Practice
- Skills: cultivating self-compassion, be-friending your judge, regulating your nervous system, uplifting your self-belief
- Curiosity: Learning > Achieving, staying in wonder about the world
- Practice: Investing in habits and experimentation mindset
Let’s unpack this together today.
#1 – SKILL + CURIOSITY
So right now, let’s try learning a new skill. Think of a behavior you’d like to change about yourself. Something you often beat yourself up about. First, notice what kind of words and tone you use when you’re hard on yourself about this. Instead, get curious about a compassionate voice that you would use with your friend, your child, someone you really care about. And try speaking to yourself in that way regarding this issue.
If you find yourself overthinking or beating yourself up next time, tap into a more friendly way to be in your own corner. What you’re doing is you’re flipping the script from Failure → Learning. This is a critical unlock.
Here’s a personal example on how I learned to flip the script.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m hard on myself anytime I make a mistake and especially if I think it could have been avoided with more preparation or skillfulness. E.g. messing up a presentation to a senior audience. I used to get really mad at myself. There’s actually research that shows that women tend to be more self-critical because women aren’t allowed to express our anger outwardly… so we often turn it towards ourselves in the form of self-criticism.
How I flipped the script: Instead of, “Why did I mess up that presentation?” → “What did I learn from that experience?” An example of this was learning to enroll allies in the room ahead of time so that I had some people in support of my key message whom I could look to when I felt nervous. Learning these things helped me feel a lot lighter in situations that felt heavy in the past. It helped me more externally confident because I knew that there was no such bad thing as a bad outcome: only more to learn and practice! Being a beginner is way more fun than being a master at something. Shifting your perspective can accelerate your path towards effortless confidence!
The other part of overcoming this is becoming friends with that inner judge. This is the part where you get curious! A first step with this is to ask yourself, “What is the judge trying to protect me from right now?” Oftentimes, this part of us has good intentions and often it’s a protective instinct.
#2 – BODY SKILL
Reflect on what your posture creates in and around you.
How you hold your body is indicative of what you’re feeling on the inside.
So, when I know I’m going to enter a space where I might feel like an imposter, I will tend to my body and mindset before going in.
- Microdosing mindfulness: Connecting with the breath and the present moment. Feeling my feet on the floor and feeling how the ground supports me. Connecting with nature and the flow.
- Mini dance breaks with music. Bathroom breaks, being conscious of water running over your hands.
- Sometimes having a tool with you… I connect with trees and wood so I have a little wooden stone that I’ll carry with me in my pocket or hand.
- Finding a human connection first – asking a question that might help you feel a connection through personal life or humanity. And seeing the audience or the group as human beings, just like me, who all carry their own burdens and gifts. Connecting with them with eye contact, relaxed and welcoming posture, and being mindful of how I take up space next to them and the quality of my presence.
- And yes, if a Wonder Woman pose helps you then do it. But make sure you’re fully feeling yourself while you’re doing it – it’s about taking up space and standing firm in your full power!
These are all exercises that help us access more connection with ourselves and others at a bodily level. It helps us with the grounding that allows us to stand our ground solidly.
#3 – PRACTICE
The importance of our habits 🔄
Coming back from sabbatical, I notice how rushed people are and how glued they are to their devices. I think these things are barriers to developing true inner confidence because we’re not in a state of connection. Social media often makes us compare ourselves to others and take everyone else’s advice before our own.
What I’ve really realized is how important our habits are for our confidence and well-being. I’ve had to revise my daily habits because I noticed how quickly I slipped back into bad habits when I returned, and I wanted to hold on to the expansion and perspective shift I had while away. (I write about this on my blog and social media if you’d like to follow @Millennialexec)
So I highly encourage you to think about these habits:
- What are you consuming and allowing into your psyche and energy field? Information, advice, media, food, substances, etc? What would you change?
- Who are the people you spend the most time with (in-person or virtually)? What kind of state do those relationships keep you in? What kind of beliefs about yourself and the world do those relationships foster? What would you change?
- What kind of judgments do you often make about yourself and others? What do you choose to believe in consciously or sub-consciously and how does that impact your actions? How could you re-train your perceptual awareness so that you offer a more generous and kind interpretation?
- What are activities or practices that help you re-center and ground yourself? How could you introduce those regularly, and especially during times when you feel shaken? (e.g. Meditation, prayer, journaling, knitting, coloring, consciously drinking a cup of tea…)
Changing some of these habits can go a long way to support you in being more grounded in your confidence and ultimately be kinder to yourself. And the extra spaciousness will allow you to focus on bigger step changes for your career.
Reflect & Level Up! 🌟
“Our income and impact is in alignment with our self-beliefs and self-identity.” The work always maps back to coming back to ourselves, coming back home. If you want a different income or impact in your life, start by going within.
Today we covered 3 critical points:
- How to stay curious rather than judgmental… maintaining a beginner’s mindset
- How to develop new skills that give lasting results… inner self-compassion and body connection
- How to create habits that provide you the runway to practice and experiment
I believe that as women of color, we are often our own toughest critics when in actuality we need to be our best inner allies. I hope that you’re walking away with more confidence that you, like me, can make meaningful progress in inner allyship.
If you’re interested in doing inner allyship coaching, I’d be happy to talk.