“I didn’t realise you’d be so fabulous, tall and beautiful,” said the Fitness First sales person to me yesterday.
I paused and tried to hold in my natural reaction – a big bellied laugh (note: the belly is the reason why I’m joining the gym). Me, fabulous? Tall – well, yeah, I can accept that because it’s something that can be quantified, but I have difficulty accepting abstract compliments. My knee jerk reaction of laughing at these is nothing new, and I guess it all boils down to a lack of self-confidence.
Let’s get real here, though. In this instance, I was being complimented by a sales person – this woman’s job is to charm the pants off people in order to get them to sign up to the gym for exorbitant prices. Anyone with half a brain would feel slightly amused at the obligatory dishing out of compliments that ensues when someone in sales is trying to double their commission out of you.
However, when I think about it, I was looking good yesterday. I was wearing a new dress, my hair looked nice and I made an effort with my make-up. Why should I be so damn cynical about this? And why do I find it so hard to believe that someone is giving me a compliment for any other reason other than I do actually look nice?
Unfortunately my lack of confidence affects others areas of my life. For example, I’ve always wanted to write a book. This is one of my dreams in addition to working abroad (accomplished), working for myself (accomplished) and travelling loads. Despite my achievements to date, I cannot seem to bring myself to sit down and type out a novel, and deep down I know it’s due to this nagging voice that keeps telling me that I’m just not good enough to do it.
Self-deprecation is an art form to us Brits; we mock ourselves and our achievements. We tend to look at highly confident people with a bit of suspicion. But recently I’ve been thinking about self-confidence and how far it can get you in life, and I realised that you’re likely to assume that someone who walks into a room with their head high and looking like they have it all together is more successful than someone who walks in looking at the floor and who quickly scurries to the corner (regardless of whether this is the case or not). Another person’s confidence somehow subconsciously tells us how accomplished they are in life.
I recently wrote about self-confidence in an article for The National, and during my research I found psychological studies that show a person’s levels of confidence seems to predict personal success. A recent study by researchers at the University of Melbourne, for example, found that participants who believed themselves to be highly confident throughout different stages of their lives received promotions faster and enjoyed higher salaries.
This isn’t really that surprising, though. When you think about your colleagues, you’re likely to find that the ones who have achieved the most in the shortest space of time will be those who are the most self-assured about their abilities, judgment and power.
Another interesting fact I discovered during my research is that self-confidence can be learnt. Experts tell me that all you have to do is challenge yourself out of your comfort zone and you’ll feel more confident. “Some people feel very safe in their comfort zone and cannot tolerate the anxiety of change or trying new or difficult things. There are others who push themselves too hard and too fast and enter the ‘terror’ zone, which results in them feeling paralysed and incompetent to cope with their situation. The middle way is to push yourself appropriately out of your comfort zone and into the growth zone. This is where your confidence will develop,” said Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and director of The LightHouse Arabia, in an interview I conducted for the article.
While I feel proud of what I’ve done with my life to date, I can’t help but wonder how much more I could have achieved if I didn’t always question my abilities. I feel it’s time I stop questioning myself and my every move, and to start acting rather than procrastinating. Easier said than bloody done, though.
I joined the gym yesterday (no, it wasn’t because the lady said I am fabulous…), and for those of you who know me, this is definitely a place where I feel out of my comfort zone. I’m way more comfortable sat on a balcony sipping cocktails than lifting weights and sweating it out on a treadmill. So perhaps, just perhaps, this new gym habit of mine (well, I’m hoping it will become a habit), will be what I need to make me ‘feel’ more confident.
And if all else fails, perhaps faking it is the best way forward. I do actually really love myself, after all.