Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

This is an extract from Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.
– Marie Curie, 1867–1934, physicist and chemist


Confidence: Gift or Process?

True confidence embraces and harnesses your capabilities enabling you to seize new opportunities and take on new challenges with hope and with trust in yourself. So, if you’ve ever missed a chance in life because you let your inner voice of self-doubt talk you out of it, then the Confidence-Karma Approach is for you.
Have you ever wanted to take the driving seat in your life instead of settling for the back seat? Have you ever shunned an opportunity and said ‘no’ when you longed to say ‘yes’? Living with confidence is about living with courage rather than habitually cowering in fear. So if it’s time for you to make better choices and seize life’s chances, or even if you just want to feel more comfortable in your own skin, then read on.
It’s tempting to see confidence as an elusive gift bestowed on the chosen few. Nothing could be further from the truth. Confidence is not an all-or-nothing gift, it’s an on-going process. When we talk about ‘losing confidence’, it is really just an interruption in that process. We all have the inherent abilities for confidence building. It’s your birthright. To regain this birthright (and unlock your confidence) you do not need to walk on hot coals, break wooden planks with your hands or throw yourself out of aeroplanes. In fact many people would prefer to do any of these rather than tackle public speaking, ask someone out on a date, or get involved in other aspects of everyday life or special occasions.
Confidence is not a scarce commodity. There’s plenty to go around. True confidence rubs off on to others. In fact, it’s positively infectious. What you need is everyday inner confidence not confidence tricks. Confidence is gained and regained in the same way you learned everything else from the day you were born, that is, in meaningful, purposeful, baby steps and with a little courage and persistence. Many people just want to be able to walk into a room full of strangers and chill out, not freak out!
Unlock Your Confidence offers a complete personal-development programme to attain true inner confidence based on the Confidence-Karma Approach. It draws on evidence-based psychology, learning theory, teaching practice, elements of psychotherapy, and insights from professional experience in coaching and training. It reveals the keys to confidence through explanations, exercises, anecdotes, diagrams and opportunities to carry out personal experiments This book won’t give you all the answers. It gives you something far more precious. It shows you how to ask better questions. Once you begin to ask the right questions and start providing your own answers you are more likely to own and act on self-realizations, and you are more likely to pass on your own eureka moments to others. Many of the tools and techniques will help you to question the relationship between the self and others and its implications in confidence-building. That’s a fundamental principle in the Confidence-Karma Approach.

Self and Others

Some people get to grips with the confidence-building process more quickly than others. I declare that I was a confidence ‘late bloomer’. Two situations changed my outlook. First, I went island-hopping alone in Greece. Second, I began teaching psychology.

All About Me

When I went on holiday alone for the first time I realized I had to take responsibility for all aspects of my experience. This included sitting alone in a café in a picturesque harbour without feeling that I had to pretend to be reading a book. I didn’t have to signal to others that I had a purpose in being alone. I could just sit there enjoying the present moment. It was genuinely the first time in my life that I had felt truly comfortable in my own skin. It wasn’t about other people, it was all about me.
All About Others
By contrast, standing up in front of a group of part-time mature students ceased to be just about me. It was all about them. They had an abundance of motivation and certainly showed courage in taking the plunge to take a new direction in life. However, many of them lacked confidence.
So to build on my training in psychology and teaching I took an intensive coaching-skills course (the first of many). Armed with new insights and skills I developed several extracurricular personal development courses for my students. These formed the basis for my book Don’t Wait for Your Ship to Come In . . . Swim Out to Meet It. Although my initial goal was to help others, I achieved a personal goal in the process. This also opened up another opportunity for me and I began providing one-to-one coaching. This has become one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.
Since my career now involves ‘talking for a living’, it’s rather a turnaround from school when I dreaded speaking in public. My biggest fear at school was reading aloud in class. I’d hesitate and stutter over the words, much to the amusement of my classmates. Reading alone was never a problem, only when I had an audience.
Throughout this book I include case studies as well as snippets from my own journey. The case studies are composites, with details altered to protect anonymity. All people alluded to also gave permission for me to discuss general scenarios. The case studies and personal anecdotes highlight how I made the connections that developed my coaching practice and led to this book. Unlock Your Confidence didn’t take nearly as long to write as it has to live it. This book offers you a short cut, so you can get on with living with confidence right now.

What Goes Around Comes Around

The most satisfying aspect of my work is getting the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Mostly this is helping people learn how to learn. There have been a number of guiding lights in my life and one of my core values is to pass this on. So the Confidence-Karma Approach has been developed to help anyone discover the master keys to unlocking confidence in themselves and in others. It looks inwards and outwards and so avoids the ‘me me me’ trap. Taking care of oneself is a good thing but not to the exclusion of all else. We are social beings and confidence is framed by our interactions in the social world. It’s rather difficult to be confident or shy on a desert island with no one to share your coconuts!
The concept of karma is found in many cultures and is popularly defined as the principle that ‘what goes around, comes around’ in that we reap what we sow in life. However, karma is also a pertinent concept for personal development and in particular confidence building. Karma means ‘action’. Writer, artist and politician, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) said ‘Knowing is not enough; we must apply, willing is not enough; we must do.’ This is in stark contrast to a line from an online review of my previous book. Initially I was perplexed but now it just makes me smile. It read:

‘This book is an average self-help book, as you do need to apply the advice within if you are to gain something.’

The implication is that a really good self-help book is one that magically transforms you just by you reading it or stroking the cover. However, that attitude leads to more ‘shelf-development’ than ‘self-development’. The books may look lovely on your bookcase but aren’t really doing much except collecting dust. Unlock Your Confidence is all about an equitable return on your investment. If you invest your money and buy the book, you get a book. If you invest your time and read the book, you get the insight. If you take action and invest time and energy in putting the insights into practice you will get results. The magic comes from doing. Wishful thinking is just the beginning, not an end in itself. The film The Wizard of Oz provides us with an eternal truth. None of the main characters would have gained courage, compassion and the ability to learn just by reading the Oz holiday brochure. It was all about the journey. Ultimately the choice is yours. Do you want a book, insight or results? If you commit to the process you can have all three! Why short-change yourself?

Eureka Moments

We all get flashes of inspiration from time to time. Sometimes our brains make connections when we least expect it. I had three such eureka moments that inspired the Confidence-Karma Approach, and they also gave me the idea for a simple concept that seemed to summarize neatly a number of key principles in psychology. These insights also helped me to tap into my own skills, strengths and experience to inspire this new twist on confidence coaching that helps my clients get the results they desire.

Insight One

Reviewing my notes after a particularly intense coaching session with a client, let’s call her Jenny, I saw that I had scribbled ‘like prejudice’ in the margin. It occurred to me that the client’s perceived lack of confidence was grounded in the relentlessly negative attitudes towards herself that prevented her from taking action on her goals. The origin of attitude in Latin is ‘fit and ready for action’ and Jenny clearly was not, despite having the skills. It was then that I began to formulate the idea of auto-prejudice and the way we can block our own confidence rather than build it. I’ll say more about this concept later.

Insight Two

Around the same time as the auto-prejudice insight, I was running team-building workshops for a university’s management development programme. My sessions were meant to be fun and experiential rather than ‘chalk and talk’. However, one manager (whom we’ll call John) took great exception to the ice-breaking warm-up exercise. It was only a game to help people remember each other’s names. It never occurred to me that it would provoke such an extreme reaction. John said he didn’t want to take part and I just tried to reassure him that it was only a bit of fun to get us in the mood. John stood up, thrust his hand forward in a halt gesture and bellowed quite theatrically and aggressively ‘NO! I DO NOT WISH TO TAKE PART.’ I suspect that John’s work supervisor had ‘diagnosed’ John’s problem as a lack of assertiveness and probably sent him on a course to remedy it. The result was that John just had better skills to argue for his limitations and defences. What John needed was something to challenge his auto-prejudice that things are set up to make him look foolish. To counter this, perhaps a few sessions of coaching might have been more appropriate, tailor-made to John’s needs. It was probably a boost in self-esteem rather than assertiveness that he needed. It’s an often overlooked factor in confidence building.

Insight Three

The next day I visited a friend whose son was a habitual TV channel surfer. As he made a whistle-stop tour of every channel in a matter of minutes, a segment of a programme on bridge building jumped out at me: the triangle is the most stable and strongest of shapes. The three points of the triangle in turn made me think of the special significance that the number three has in psychology. Many models and theories use key principles or concepts, such as Sigmund Freud’s Id, Ego and Superego and Eric Berne’s Parent, Adult and Child. In my area of psychology, attitude formation, there is a similar idea of working through our feelings, actions and thoughts (more on this in the next section). So this led me to consider the triangle as a simple device to represent psychological principles pictorially. For confidence building, this helps us to cut straight to the heart of a theory without getting bogged down in detail. In Chapter 6 we’ll consider a number of psychological theories in this way, in order to create a shift in perspective and see ourselves and the confidence-building process from different angles. Here’s how I put the three eureka insights together.

Fit and Ready for Action – Confidence-Karma Triangles

Unlock Your Confidence employs a number of insights from social psychology, recognizing that self-image is a product of us being social animals. It also draws direct parallels between attitude formation and confidence building. Attitudes are general feelings, thoughts and evaluations, including our beliefs, which create ‘a mental state of readiness’ to respond behaviourally. Similarly, confidence is an assessment of our ability to effect change. First we assess whether there is a way to make a change and then whether or not we are up to it. In the team-building session with John he pre-judged the intention and assumed that the purpose of the exercise was to make him look silly. On the second day of the course, once he had seen that everyone was having fun, he chose to join in. He also said ‘It’s a good job you’ve changed things today as yesterday was bloody awful.’ Actually, I hadn’t changed anything. His attitude had changed and so did his readiness to take part. Attitudes and confidence are both formed from feelings, thoughts and actions. This led to the first Confidence-Karma triangle – The Big FAT Confidence Triangle.


These three components are interrelated. As we learn and make sense of the world we can begin from any angle. Sometimes an action stirs feelings that we later make sense of. At other times we may have a feeling, rationalize and take action. In Unlock Your Confidence we approach confidence building from all three angles. When approaching an exercise in the book, you may feel slightly uncomfortable or silly. So do you let this override
the thought and prevent you from taking action or take action in spite of the feeling? If you do give it a go, then you’ll have new information to think about. This will impact on your feelings and the likelihood of taking action the next time. In everyday life you may get an opportunity to act spontaneously, such as helping someone off the bus with a pushchair or reaching something from a supermarket shelf to help an older customer (action). This may make you feel good ( feeling) and so you may be more likely to do it again. It also gives you chance to think about yourself (thought) that you are a community-minded person. So the chance for spontaneous action
has caused you to think about your self-image and your values, the type of person you are and what you stand for. This is pretty much what you will be doing in Unlock Your Confidence.
The Feelings–Actions–Thoughts triangle is applied in the realm of prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is usually irrational and operates at the level of feelings. Laws have prohibited hate speech such as racist comments. This is often coupled with rational arguments surrounding human rights and equal opportunities.
The idea is that people then come to reappraise their feelings and so prejudice is reduced. That’s the general idea. As I was coaching Jenny, the links between confidence building and prejudice reduction became more apparent. Auto-prejudice is like an autobiography. It’s the on-going story we tell ourselves based on our perceptions (our
feelings) of the way others behave towards us and the things they say. We add to this our own thoughts as we try to rationalize. We look for evidence to support the feelings, which in turn informs our actions. On paper Jenny had the qualifications to apply for jobs but let her feelings get in the way. The easiest way to prevent unpleasant feelings is to refrain from doing activities that cause them, even if those actions are in our best interest. Our self-evaluation is called self-esteem, our sense of selfworth. Implicit within this are the questions ‘Am I worth it?’ and ‘Is it worth it?’ In confidence building, self-esteem acts as the stabilizing factor, the bridge between ‘faking it’ and ‘making it’, that is from outer display of confidence to true, inner confidence. This leads to the second confidence triangle. So confidence comprises our self-image, self-efficacy, which is how we judge our abilities to operate in the world, and self-esteem, which underpins everything.
People with low self-worth (esteem) are not truly confident even though they may put on a convincing display. You can’t brag, boast, preen, peacock-strut, belittle, bully or bitch your way to confidence, although some people will insist on trying. Confidence is not about making ourselves feel better at the expense of others. If what you’re passing on belittles others then it ain’t confidence! Some people just like to hear the sound of their own voices, as it drowns out the screams of self-doubt. It’s all bluff and bluster. Some confidence approaches are all about ‘outer’ manifestations of confidence. You may be cajoled into walking on hot coals or bungee jumping, reasoning that if you can do these dangerous activities you can do anything. The huge assumption is that daredevil
activities and thrill-seeking are part of what we truly value in life, the things we stand for. In fact people may not necessarily make the internal connections (between actions, feelings and thoughts) and translate this sort of activity into everyday empowerment.
It could be that some people are so desperate that they don’t care about their personal safety. If you don’t value
yourself then you can take risks as you have nothing to lose. That’s not true, inner confidence. If we don’t address esteem issues and personal values then all we really have is a recipe for risktaking. True confidence is definitely about bravery and courage but not about recklessness. Sometimes you can ‘fake it ’til you make it’, but what’s better than starting with the genuine article? By putting self-esteem back into the equation and by exploring attitudes and auto-prejudice we have a powerful model for change that can be used as a framework for your own exploration after you have finished reading this book.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

There is no such thing as ‘too much confidence’. If it seems that way, then it’s not the genuine article. It’s still ‘faking it’. What we call ‘over-confidence’ is not confidence at all. It’s a smoke screen for low self-esteem. In Unlock Your Confidence the ultimate goal is quiet, inner confidence. Being comfortable in your own skin
begins with the ability to relax. That’s the basis from which all else proceeds. Relaxation is also the best state in which we learn and so is the best place to be when we try to make changes. Since we all have the ability to relax this puts confidence within the reach of everyone. Confident people aren’t the ones who walk into a room and put on a display and make others feel uncomfortable. True confidence puts others at ease. Confident people bring out the best in the people around them. So focus on taking control of your ability to relax, build on your strengths,live according to your values, set goals and seize opportunities to pass on confidence to others. Confidence is a process and always a work in progress.
Unlock Your Confidence contains a chapter on each aspect of the confidence-building process and how they all link together.

How to Get the Most from This Book

I’ve arranged the material in this book based on core teaching and learning principles. The layout of this book mimics the way we learn most effectively. Once you’ve finished this introduction, flick through the book to get a feel for the layout. Context helps us to process information more effectively, so each chapter begins with
a quotation and a summary to set the scene. The exercises in the main body of the chapter help you to link the material to your own experience. The reminders and prompts for reflection (thoughts and feelings) at the end of the chapters help to consolidate what you have learned. Each chapter concludes with a review of the model
that underpins the book plus a Karma Call, a guide to things you can start doing right away, however small, that will start making a difference. To get the most out of the book, I recommend that you work through the exercises from cover to cover rather than cherry pick. It will help to keep a personal development journal or have a notebook to hand. Writing things down means that we use more cognitive processes. It slows down our thinking and means we are less likely to jump to conclusions. Taking the time to work through the exercises thoroughly will help to integrate the triple aspects of feelings, actions and thoughts and help you discover the keys to lasting change.

Confidence Triangles

The confidence-triangle learning devices throughout the book offer a shorthand way of remembering key points and concepts. Copy them into a notebook and carry them with you and reflect on them throughout your day. Take any opportunity to explain the principle to other people. In Chapter 3, I offer a short confidence triangle
meditation exercise.

Tools for Change

The Confidence-Karma Approach uses three main tools for change that I also use in my coaching practice and have found to be very effective. The questioning techniques are gentle but persistent. The questions focus on your own strengths and ability to find solutions, and encourage small changes in your attitudes and behaviour. At first the questions may seem a little odd, almost clumsy. This is intentional. But please trust in the process and take time to answer all of the questions, using your journal or notebook, even though the questions are sometimes only subtly different. It is through this repetition that this style of thinking becomes second nature. You can also use this style of questioning to help build confidence in others. The other technique is the scaling question. Sometimes when it’s difficult to sum up how you think or feel in words, a simple score out of ten allows you to quantify your attitude so that you can begin to look for solutions more quickly. Scaling questions also offer a simple and effective way to monitor progress. The third tool is the use of personal experiments. These are
invitations to try things out without the threat of failure, since all we are interested in is the feedback
from the results, irrespective of what the result actually was. Also take time to keep a record of your personal experiences in your journal or notebook. All of these techniques are from Solution Focus Brief Therapy and Motivational Interviewing and are incredibly powerful and require you to take an active part in your personal development.

What’s Next? – Step-By-Step

The Confidence-Karma process begins by establishing what’s going on for you right now. It’s about getting an idea of what confidence means for you. It’s very much how I would work with you as a client in the coaching process.
Chapter 1 offers self-evaluation exercises in confidence and esteem and also looks at your definition of confidence and the attitudes it entails. The chapter also offers a model explaining how all the various aspects of confidence building fit together and how various components in the model control and influence each other.
Subsequent chapters explore each component of the model, with various exercises so that you experience and understand how the model works.
Chapter 2 continues the self-evaluation process by considering how confidence fluctuates in different environments
and the factors that may affect it. It also gets you to consider your skills and strengths. The Confidence-Karma Approach is always about building on what you already have.
Chapter 3 explores the mind–body connection, in particular relaxation, the cornerstone of confidence building. The various exercises are to help you control stress, get in touch with your body and consider the impact of health on confidence.
Building on the mind–body insights, Chapter 4 offers tips and exercises for creating positive first impressions, improving communication skills, including use of body language, and developing assertiveness. This chapter is useful for developing confidence in others too.
Chapter 5 is the heart of Unlock Your Confidence and the Confidence-Karma Approach. It deals with values and attitudes. These are the real drivers and shapers of our behaviour and our lives, and the fundamental keys to unlocking your confidence.
Chapter 6 introduces a number of psychological principles and how these impact on confidence building, using the triangle device. The aim of this chapter is to get you to consider your feelings, actions and thoughts from different perspectives.
Chapter 7 addresses resistance to change and suggests tools for building resilience and coping.
Chapter 8 begins the process of raising aspirations by exploring how our inner dialogue and imagination impact on confidence building.
Chapter 9 continues the process of raising aspirations by considering goals and the benefit of linking them with values and strengths.
The whole process is rounded off in Chapter 10 with special exercises to help you consolidate your learning experiences using the Confidence-Karma Approach.
So take a deep breath and let the journey to a more confident you begin.

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Vicky Hartley is the Marketing Director and Head of Digital for Watkins Publishing Limited (including Duncan Baird Publishers)