Confident people speak up and offer their ideas and opinions in ways that show respect for others and themselves. If they're worried, they don't seem to show it. They present a sense of security about who they are in the world.
However, if you frequently feel worried, there is a tendency to hide your great ideas, thoughts and opinions.
Have you noticed yourself holding back? Even if you have miriad great ideas, nuanced feelings and lots of education, when you feel worry, all of that great stuff stays, well, stuffed inside.
The other day a wonderful and bright woman told me that she said almost nothing in business meetings with her boss because she worried that she would get confused or tongue-tied when explaining her position. She said that it isn’t that she didn’t know the information, and if she were in a meeting with one of her own supervisees, she would express herself with confidence. However, when someone outranks her, even if they have actually hired her to share what she knows, she always feels that she cannot speak.
I can relate. There are times when I have something to say that reflects my thoughts or feelings, and I allow worried parts of me to stop me from saying anything at all. In my mind, the hesitation sounds something like this:
- Just don’t go there.
- No one will want to hear it.
- Maybe I don’t really know.
- What if they disagree?
- Can I be absolutely certain?
- I might sound bossy or arrogant.
- My words might be misinterpreted.
If this sounds like you, read on. It’s important to notice when worry is obstructing your speech and preventing you from being your full self.
Because when you stifle your ideas and opinions, you betray the bright, competent, talented being you really are.
This is not to say that you have to be an expert in everything. Quite the contrary. But if you can’t say what you think or feel, your own worried reactions signal to other people that you lack a sense of security, self-respect and confidence. And even worse, this avoidant behavior and thought process signals to you that you are not capable.
When you worry and then withhold, there is an almost immediate physical response inside. This response may vary, but it is usually frustration due to an internal polarization between your feelings of capability and those of incompetence.
When this internal battle begins, you naturally begin to doubt yourself because your body is feeling like you are in danger. And when you sense danger, you will quite naturally feel lost and probably assume that others have the all the answers. Afterall, they appear cool, calm and collected while you are tied in knots.
Now you are caught in a web that tells you that everyone knows more than you do.
Over time you can spiral down from feeling worried about expressing yourself to habitually assuming that you are not competent, interesting or smart. And all the while, there are parts inside you that know you are bright and capable.
And here’s the thing: These frustrated feelings (parts) inside you can get noisy and critical too. You probably have heard these parts of you respond to your lack of verbal expression without even realizing it. These inside voices sound something like this:
- Why don’t you say something?
- You had a very good idea!
- Now they think you don’t care.
- What you had to say was important.
- You look foolish.
- Their idea is not as good as the one you had.
- They don’t respect you.
As you read these bulleted lists, can you notice what happens in your own body? The worry builds, causing even more self-doubt and lack of confidence. Both messages tell you that “you are not enough and everyone knows it”. So what can you do when you find yourself in this cycle?
Here are five tools to help you understand your worry and bring your unique voice back for you and others to hear.
1. Recognize some of your worry “trigger” symptoms.
Your body does this wonderful thing when you worry. It feels it. Learn the sensation of your worry in your body so well that when it happens, you are ready to treat it properly rather than just allowing it to take over your mind.
After you can discern your worried body response, take a moment to notice if certain situations typically evoke this response. Our friend in the first example noticed that all meetings with her boss were possible trigger times. What types of scenarios present triggers for you? See if you can connect the dots between your worry and your environment. The next time you find yourself in that setting, you will be prepared to offer special care to parts that worry.
Certain types of thinking may also be a good indicators that your worry has taken over. For example, when I catch myself making comparisons with others and losing motivation, I know need to pay some attention to the parts of me that worry.
A more advanced practice is to see if you can discern whether your worried feeling is connected to a childhood experience or experiences. Does your worry feel familiar? Do you feel young when you feel this worry? Check inside your mind’s eye. Perhaps this worry has been around for a very long time.
2. Consider that worry is not trying to hurt you and may, in fact, be a useful sensation.
When you worry a lot, it is easy to develop a fear and loathing of the feeling. Granted, the sensation of worry in the body is not typically “fun”. However, if you can breathe and notice it without judgement, you will see that it offers some benefits.
First, worry can feel very much like excitement or anticipation. If you breathe and stay with the sensation, you may be able to use it in this way.
Second, when you harness worry in a non-adversarial way, you can use it to help you stay sharp and present. Next time you need to speak up in a meeting, ask your worry to be present just enough to keep you on topic. It is amazing what that energy can do.
Finally, when you focus on the sensation of worry in your body (the part of you that holds worry), you can get information to help you feel better. For example, if your worry says that you are too young or naive to speak up, you may discover that it is actually an old notion from your childhood. In this case, take a minute to breathe and remind yourself of your life as an adult. Parts of your personality can feel trapped in a younger version of yourself. Let these child-like feelings (parts) know that you (an adult) is there to run a meeting or have a conversation.
3. If you do have some concerns about what you are going to say, own them.
I realize that this advice may sound counter-intuitive, but hear me out. When you speak for a part of you that feels worried, it does several things for you and those around you. Because you have named that a “part” of you feels worried, insecure, fearful, apprehensive and so on, the part immediately calms. If you don’t believe me, try it.
You can also mention that other parts of you know what you think or feel. In this way you reveal to yourself and those around you that other parts of you are clear and confident. This benefit is great because you remind yourself that you also feel strong and self-assured while those in the room see that too. You have suddenly become a whole person in the room. This allows others to do the same if they like and can instill mutual respect and confidence.
4. Show appreciation for others’ willingness to speak without taking away from your own words.
This is a quick technique that interrupts negative comparisons and social insecurity. Take a moment to acknowledge what you appreciate about the people around you. This may be internal or out loud, but people often are happy to hear it. In this way, you open yourself to be part of the group who is conversing rather than setting yourself outside or beneath them. When you do this, everyone becomes your peer, and your respect for the group as a whole builds. The possibility for you to speak up is much higher when you feel equally valuable. And others can feel this positive energy from you.
5. Update your inner world when you feel confident.
This is an often-forgotten but very important step. When you have a positive interaction in which you feel confident to speak up, or when you were able to ask your worries to step aside so you could express your own thoughts and opinions, take the time to make sure that this information is received by all of you. Breathe in and thank your worry for helping with your energy and focus without taking over. Breathe and remind parts of you that feel young and insecure that you are indeed a confident adult. Thank yourself for being present even when it was hard for you.
When you have experienced a lifetime of worry, it is important to take every opportunity to re-organize your inner world to live confidently, respectfully and securely yourself.
For more help to calm worry, check out Calm Your Worries: Unlock Your Secret Code to Lasting Stress Relief and Self-Confidence.