Is it really possible to think your way to a successful outcome? Yes, provided you apply the right techniques, says Urvashi Desai.
“I feel like a fraud”. That’s was the opening remark from one senior figure I coached recently. She’d just been appointed to a very high profile role but almost immediately imposter syndrome kicked in. This happened despite the fact that she clearly had all the right credentials. Why else would she have been chosen for the role in the first place? She’d even handled an interview in a car park. That shows just how much confidence she had. At least initially. But now she had to step into some big shoes, she was – if you’ll excuse the pun – getting cold feet.
I got her to imagine herself as a wiser, elder figure. Now, I asked her, what advice did she think this elder, wise self might offer her right at this moment? By doing this she was able to tap into the very same self-confidence that won her the new role. Imagining the wise elder allowed her to reach the conclusion that she was exactly where she wanted to be – and deserved to be. Yes, the role would be stretching, but she could now form a strategy to help her overcome the little niggles that she had about her new position.
By simply visualising her wise elder self – and therefore her own confident self – she was able to unlock that confidence once again and recognise that this was indeed her dream job, and one which played perfectly to her own purpose and values. It was not just where she wanted to be but deserved to be.
Why visualising works
Visualising can get a bad press. For some people the idea is, if I can put it this way, a little ‘woo-woo’. By that I mean that it’s all very imaginative, but not very real, let alone useful. But it is in fact supported by a considerable body of scientific research. It’s also undeniably a powerful technique. Our brain has a marvellous capacity to change, and visualisation techniques take full advantage of that capacity.
Visualisation is something we all do instinctively. In the context of performance coaching all we are doing is deliberately and intentionally using an ability we all have to create mental images and using those to help us to achieve our goals. Sports people do this all the time to lift their performance. Just as it can be a powerful way for them to achieve their sporting ambitions, the deliberate effort of visualising can do the same in helping people achieve in business or other areas of your life.
So just what are some of the visualisation techniques you can apply to help you reach your own performance goals? Here are five I find particularly useful.
Focus on the outcomes
For an Olympic athlete this might be imagining themselves on the podium receiving their gold medal, hearing their national anthem and the cheers of the crowd. The technique is the same in business coaching. Say you have a public speaking engagement, you can visualise yourself onstage performing to your best level. It’s a wonderful speech and you too can hear the appreciative applause. Just by doing this you should already be feeling your body fill with confidence. Because nerves and anxiety are likely to be the major factor in so many situations, by focusing on the successful outcome you can take care of a lot of the noise, the intrusive thoughts and feelings you might have, because you are totally focused on something positive. It’s a very good way to alleviate those fears and helps put you at your ease.
By going through a tricky situation in advance, by visualising just what you are going to face, by having a trial run, so to speak, you can prepare yourself for all the challenges you think you might have to face. Who are going to be the players in the room? What conversations are likely to happen? What’s going to come up and what’s your response going to be? How are you behaving at that moment? How is your response going down with those key players?
The more you can build the picture, give it shape and colour, using all your senses, the better. Can you hear that applause as they congratulate you on the successful outcome of your project? Can you feel the handshake from your boss as they thank you for all your hard work? The more senses you can bring to the fore, the better it will be and the more confidence you’ll build.
It’s also worth going through a worst case scenario. It can be scary, but by thinking it through, by imagining your responses, you can actually take away much of the fear that comes from worrying about a negative outcome. Having thought through the strategies to overcome that fear, you’re not only better prepared, but it can also be very empowering before you even step into the room.
Take a breather
And just before you do, take a deep breath. It may be a cliché of sorts, but taking a deep breath really does relax you. Anxiety does things to our body, making our breathing shallow and restricted. That can have an immediate impact on your voice, making you sound unconfident and hesitant. It’s useful to visualise that breath. How? First, sit yourself down in a comfortable position. Clear your head of all those fears and anxieties. In fact, visualise them. They could be dark in colour, like smoke. Now breathe them out, feel them exit your lungs. Now breathe in all the positive things you want to have happen. Fill yourself with light, energy, joy – whatever you need to restore your confidence in that moment. It’s a powerful, easy and quick way to re-establish your confidence.
Connect to a happy place
Another way to put yourself at your ease is to have a happy place you can instantly connect with in your imagination. This might be the top of a mountain you’ve climbed, a warm and sunny beach you’ve enjoyed, a deep cool forest you’ve walked into. Whatever that place is, by summoning it up you can put yourself at ease so you’re ready to embrace whatever it is you have to deal with at that moment.
Ask your wise elder self a question
We’ve already seen how this can work, but it’s worth revisiting, not least for moments when you are indecisive or have options and you’re not sure which you should choose. By visualising your wise elder self, you can tap into the power and wisdom you actually already have within you. Start by visualising that elder self as vividly as you can. What are they wearing? Where are they sitting? Remember, this is you in the future with all the wisdom and experience of life. Then ask them those important questions. What should you be paying attention to right now? What matters to you? Because you are now focusing on the long-term perspective this removes all the trivial anxieties we have about those options. You can then concentrate on what is most meaningful to you in terms of your values, purpose and beliefs. Moving away from your head to your heart – and connecting with your wider experiences.
Fire up your self-confidence
Above all visualising helps your self-confidence. It’s going to fire up the yes, I can do this feeling inside you. Self-confidence is about taking control, trusting your own judgement and your own abilities. That goes for everything inside and outside the workplace. Without self-confidence you’re not going to go very far at all. So what do you need to do to unlock your confident self?
What you need are ways to move you away from negative emotions and boost your positive ones. I often come across clients who feel they have capability issues. They can’t do something because they feel they haven’t got the expertise. When I examine this I often find it isn’t the case at all. They are perfectly capable, and even have evidence to show they have the right expertise. What they lack is the self-confidence.
So here are two techniques to help you engage your inner confident self.
Look to the past
What’s lacking often is not the expertise, but the ability to believe in yourself – that you can do it. One way to boost that confidence is to look at past evidence. We’ve all had successes in the past. These can also be from personal life, not just delivering a great project at work. Women (as we’ve seen from my opening example) often put themselves down, especially if they are returning to work after a family break or illness. But they’ve often being doing other things which have great value and which have given them skills which are still highly relevant and which can – and should – be used in any current project.
Use your body
The way you present yourself doesn’t just have an impact on how others see you, but also on how you feel about yourself and your own confidence. Your body really does keep score, so you must look after it and be aware of how you present yourself physically.
You need to present yourself in the way you want to be seen. Does your voice project confidence? Does your body language project confidence? It’s all common sense, but the more you feel right, the more confidence you’ll have that you can really deliver.
The secret of success
If I have one final observation it is this: know yourself. Ask yourself “Who am I?” This is the most important question we can ask ourselves, and you can take it as deep as you want! The more you know about yourself, where your passions are, your beliefs, values, what matters to you, and can tap into those, the more you’ll find the answers you need to unlock your self-confidence. That also means dealing with the fear. Asking yourself – just why am I nervous? Don’t placate your fear. Examine it, as if it was a witness in a trial. Through such self-examination you’ll find you really move the dials. So don’t be afraid to go deeply into this.
In short, don’t be afraid of your own fear. The deeper you go, the more successful you will be. And both visualisation and self-confidence lie at the heart of unlocking that success.