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3 easy ways to develop confidence and self-esteem

Confidence and self-esteem are vulnerable to your inner voice of doubt. Whispers of negativity chip can away at your achievements and ability. It doesn’t have to be like that. By learning to make minor adjustments in your behaviour, you’ll be able to calm doubtful thoughts and restore your peace of mind.

According to author Patsy Rodenburg there are three circles of presence. The first circle is a small place to be. Closed and confining, it stops you sharing eye contact or speaking freely in larger groups. In the third circle, the opposite is true. Here everything is open to you, it’s yours for the taking. Your voice talks over others and you’re terrible at listening. Both these circles are expressions of insecurity, preventing us from being successfully present with others.

The second circle is a better place to be. Here your focus is on everything but yourself. You listen to others and notice the details of their behaviour. An interesting feature of this circle is that this is where you tend to be when in danger, when it’s imperative to be fully alive to a situation.

Our Learnflix eLearning course on Confidence and Self-Esteem helps you spend more time in the second circle. Here, where peace of mind puts its feet up and makes itself at home, your inner voice of doubt struggles to be heard. To get there, try focusing on three key areas of understanding.

The power of presence

The first step is to identify the voice of doubt. By singling it out and recognising that its suggestions are misplaced, it becomes easier to listen to a healthier line of thought. By re-focusing your attention on to who you’re with, your inner voice will quieten. This will bring you into the moment and help you to be fully present. The more present you are, the more at ease you feel. The more at ease you feel, the more confident you’ll be.

An easy way to focus on others is to compliment them. By commenting on the positive behaviours of other people, you’re forcing your mind to stay present. At the same time, you’re priming your mind to focus on the positives in yourself. Stay open to compliments from others, accepting their positive comments and using them to feed your confidence.

Fake it ‘til you make it

Being present is a healthy place to be. The confidence we need to stay there comes from many different factors, some of which might be work in progress. Until you’ve nailed them down you can simulate them, a trick that gives you an immediate boost in confidence and puts you on the road to acquiring them for real. Researchers found that, when given problems to solve, volunteers who sat up straight and folded their arms persevered for nearly twice as long as others.

Similarly, psychologist James D. Laird showed that we can make ourselves happy just by smiling. Smiling lowers your heart rate and enables you to cope more effectively in stressful situations, which in turn helps you to feel more confident in your own skin. The science is on your side: in simulating confidence, fake it ‘til you make it.

Other changes in body language can help you too. For example, try stretching your body out while keeping a beaming smile on your face. This is a simple form of the ‘power pose’. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy and her team found that power poses have an unexpected impact on hormones. They found that testosterone increased by 20% while cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress) decreased by 25%.

Minds and bodies are intrinsically connected, each influences the other. There are many ways that you can strengthen confidence and self-esteem through simple physical adjustments, from posture to deep breathing.

Looking out for yourself

By developing presence in the moment, both psychologically and physically, you can get a good start on finding confidence and self-esteem. You’ll be able to lock them in place with a long-term mindset in which you look out for yourself, for example through better sleep, eating properly and taking regular exercise.

In your new way of thinking, try to limit the judgements you make of others and yourself. Judgement puts emotional, reactionary barriers in the way of managing your self-belief. Negative conclusions never tell the whole story about ability or appearance, whether someone else’s or yours. Simple observations are a softer way to go.

Confidence is a result of behaviours. In developing our confidence and self-esteem, we must first change the way we behave. Confidence is not something you simply have or don’t have – it comes from working at it; here’s your opportunity.

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Mindfulness – stress reliever that’s easier than you think

Mindfulness is one of those labels that at first glance can trip us up. To some, it means fending off tension, to others it’s a vague something that fits in between meditation and slippers. Under the label lies a skill that can help to reduce stress and raise productivity. And like all skills, mindfulness can be taught, perfected and used with measurable results. So what is it exactly?

Mindfulness is the opposite of being on auto-pilot, where you’re not fully engaged with what you’re doing. By focusing only on the moment, you readily take in the things that your senses pick up, from a light breeze floating through the window to the radio coming from the sweary builders next door. We might also recognise thoughts and accept emotions – we are mindful of everything that touches us in this, and only, this moment.

As part of this process, being mindful means curbing thoughts of moments that are behind or ahead of us. Dwelling on the past or the future can take us out of the moment, effectively ignoring the reality of now. Skipping part of reality encourages anxiety and tension. By engaging with the reality of now, tensions in your mind become more settled.

Supported by neurological research

Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction techniques, believes mindfulness lights up parts of our brains that aren’t normally activated when we’re mindlessly running on autopilot. Is he right? In support of his claims, research has indeed suggested that mindfulness training can have a physical impact on the structure of the brain. It can potentially reduce reactions in the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with decisions. Mindfulness training can also increase connections between the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that helps to regulate emotions.

A study in 2019 suggested that mindfulness training in children promotes changes in the brain linked to a reduction in stress. The study went so far as to recommend that mindfulness training be integrated into the school curriculum for entire classes. It supported earlier studies that suggest stress can be reduced by mindfulness training through reduced responses in the amygdala.

It’s not about becoming a Jedi

Our Learnflix eLearning course on mindfulness will help you try it out for yourself. Before you start holding your thumbs to your forefingers, there’s no need to ‘clear your mind’ or chant anything. Feel free to do those things if you want to, there’s no judgement here – the point is they are not necessary for mindfulness. It’s easier than that.

Mindful meditation is not a zen-like state, there’s no magical, fixed destination to get to. You’re not looking to become a Jedi. It’s simply a moment or two of experiencing your surroundings. By suspending judgement of what you find there, you can freely explore all that this moment means to you. It takes a little practice, here’s how to begin:

1. Set aside a few minutes each day. It might be 10 minutes, it might be more – whatever works best for you. You don’t need any ‘meditation equipment’, you just need an open mind.

2. Keep still, relax. Listen to the moment, soak up all that your senses connect with. Listen to your thoughts, accept everything as simple elements of this moment in time.

3. Avoid judging. When judgements arise, make a mental note of them but don’t let them colour anything, let them roll in and roll out. They’re just passing through.

4. Circle back to where you started. Remember why you’re doing this, remember the point is to be open-minded to this moment. Remember to notice all it offers. Mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.

5. Be kind to yourself. Your mind will wander, it will ask questions, throw up doubts, wander here and there and back again, let it do so. Don’t judge yourself for it. Recognise when your mind has wandered off, and bring it gently back into focus.

By learning to see thoughts as being limited to now, we can manage them more easily. In mindfulness, thoughts are limited to this moment, they are not indelible facts, we don’t need to buy into their meaning. We’re not obliged to act impulsively and instantaneously. By retrieving a calm sense of control, we can use mindfulness to help boost the immune system and break bad habits. As author Sharon Salzberg puts it, mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.

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5 key tips on channelling anger as useful energy

Anger management is a skill best kept close at hand, you never know when you might need it. A few years back, while working on a TV drama, I found myself at a swanky rooftop dinner in Rome with a 1950s screen goddess, a famous astronaut, his wife, a free bar and a range of spiky opinions. One thing led to another and fruity stabs of anger were soon floating from the venerated Castel Sant’Angelo. Since I was nominally responsible for keeping an eye on our guests, it fell to me to tackle their rising tension.

I was pretty much out of my depth the moment we sat down to dinner. By the time the coffee turned up, I was in danger of sinking without trace. I got a couple of key individuals to listen to reason, though some anger management training might have speeded things up. Like all emergency responses, however, anger management only works if you’ve nailed it before the crisis. Nobody wants a fire extinguisher a day after the fire.

Typical causes of anger

In the norms of daily life, anger comes in various forms,  such as:

  • Normally sane and sober people can struggle to stay calm during a sudden, incendiary crisis, for example a moment of blatant injustice.
  • Alternatively, minor issues can be perceived as bigger problems by someone whose patience has already been stretched by long-term tension, like a pandemic, for example.

Being ourselves, beyond the person we are at home

Before the pandemic, I used to go to meetings, meet friends in the pub and live more of a life than I did in lockdown. In lockdown, I spent most of my time at home. My wife – forced to put her business on ice – spent most of her time in the 1950s, or so it felt like. Previously, for both of us and the kids, there was more to-ing and fro-ing, more engagement with the world. As we moved between home and work, home and school, home and the pub (the children not so much), there was regular time to ourselves, time away from home, time to think, time to be who we are other than the person we are at home.

Without the variety we normally enjoyed, and the life-affirming reactions that came with it, lockdown settled on us like a form of fog. As wearing as we found it, we knew we were fortunate. For family and friends working in healthcare, or experiencing financial hardship and uncertainty, things were far tougher. For everyone, there was a background sense of tiredness and tension, misunderstood by the likes of Bill Michael to their cost.

Managing anger

Once the first lockdown began in March last year, there was a national increase in demand for domestic abuse services, according to the Office for National Statistics. In August, a survey by campaign group Women’s Aid found that 91% of respondents currently experiencing domestic abuse said the pandemic had negatively impacted them in at least one way. At Working Voices, we received a spike in calls looking for help with anger management.

While some problems are best handled by a psychologist, others can be managed through awareness and self-development.

Our online anger management course touches on 5 basic points:

1) Anger is a useful energy

Anger is a normal reaction, recognising this helps in managing it. It shouldn’t be feared or suppressed, these responses may be counter-productive. Better to channel the energy it brings.

2) Responses to anger

Channelling anger begins with recognising when it’s present. Remember you have choices. Choosing to think of the bigger picture, and looking for a positive outcome, help to keep control of anger.

3) Proper expression

Be assertive not aggressive. Learn to control your voice, which will help to stop things escalating and will give you more time and space to express your needs.

4) Prevention

Having managed your anger in the moment, learn lessons for next time. Recognise triggers and strengthen interpersonal communication by better use of emotional intelligence.

5) Coping

Develop a new daily routine that will help soften triggers and carry you past potential problems.

After that tricky night in Rome, I was glad to usher our celebrities safely back to the hotel. On our return, I discovered that Michelle Obama had checked in during our absence and the place was crawling with armed guards. Soothing bruised egos was one thing. Now there was the potential for a minor diplomatic incident. Relying on the last strategy for anger management I had left, I led the guests into the bar, bid them good night and went to bed at a run.