Then, it happens. You can feel your breath leave your body. The nerves take over. You feel like the poster child for imposter syndrome.
Relax. You’re not alone.
“No matter who you are, everyone goes through this,” says Wayne D. Pernell, PhD, a consultant and coach who works with entrepreneurs and the author of Choosing Your Power: Becoming Who You Deserve to Be, at Home and in the World. “Even the highest performers will at some point question, ‘Am I good enough? Am I the one to be doing this?’”
Sometimes, knowing that you’re not alone is reassuring. But when that’s not enough, these simple techniques can help you feel more confident.
TRICK YOUR BRAIN INTO CALM
Deep breathing exercises are a helpful place to start, like these used by Navy SEALs. Psychologist Barbara Markway, PhD, author of The Self Confidence Workbook: A Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Improving Self-Esteem recommends a few minute-long calming exercises:
- Become aware of your safety and breathing. Your fight or flight response may be in overdrive. Simply noticing that you’re safe and taking in oxygen can help you shift from fear to calm.
- Take note of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
- Quiet your fears by visualizing a stream flowing past you. Each time a thought pops into your head, imagine the thought as a leaf on the stream, slowly passing by and out of view.
“These exercises can help you center yourself when your anxiety is starting to rise. [They are] best done before your anxiety is at a high level,” she says.
REMIND YOURSELF HOW AWESOME YOU ARE
When “confidence coach” Heather Monahan‘s son was 9 years old, he asked her to write, “I can do all things” on his basketball shoes. Regardless of how he played, “I need to be able to remind myself of how I feel right now,” he told her. It would help him center himself if he wasn’t playing his best. Monahan says that’s a great tip for professionals, too. Write down affirmations that remind you of your capabilities and strengths and keep them somewhere you can find them if nerves strike.
Another suggestion is to keep a file of praise, accolades, awards, and other evidence of how good you are at your job, Markway says. Read the pieces when you are struggling with a confidence crisis.
GET CLEAR ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS
The physiological changes of stressful situations, including changes in breathing and heart rate, can make it hard to focus. Take a moment to really analyze what you’re feeling, says Louisa Jewell, author of Wire Your Brain for Confidence, the Science of Conquering Self-Doubt. Are you anxious or are you excited? Often, the physiological responses are the same, Jewell says. Can you reframe negative feelings, like fear, into something more positive, like anticipation? If not, remind yourself that it’s perfectly normal to be nervous before a high-stakes situation. “Identify what you’re worried about, and then strategize for that,” she says.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, Markway adds. “Sometimes we live in fear that if others really saw us—our struggles, our mistakes, our failures—they would reject us altogether,” she says. Often, the worst-case scenario in your head isn’t realistic.
PHONE A FRIEND
If you’ve got a mentor or someone who’s just really good at helping you calm down and focus, reach out. Monahan, who hosts the podcast Creating Confidence, has a billionaire friend whom she calls when she needs advice or a pep talk.
“Anytime I’m thinking, ‘Oh, is this a crazy idea that I want to turn my book into a movie? I don’t know. Should I even be pursuing this?’ I call him. And that’s the guy I tap, because he’s light years ahead of me,” she says. “And as soon as I run it by him, he goes, ‘Yeah, why wouldn’t you do that, Heather?’”
Monahan also shares some of her vulnerable feelings with her social media networks, and her friends and followers often rally around her, helping to restore her confidence. It’s not for everyone, she admits, and public profiles run the risk of attracting trolls. But “I see the trolls and the haters as a sign that I’m shining my light and I’m starting to reach an audience beyond my innermost circle,” she says.
By taking a few moments to restore your sense of calmness and refocus on your abilities, you can help shake the nerves—or at least get them to a manageable state. Then, you can pursue your big goal or opportunity with greater confidence.