Developing Self-Confidence and Managing Stress

Why is it that we always seem to admire people who ooze self-confidence from their every pore?

We feel envious of their ability to handle difficult situations with ease. They never seem to feel anxious and they accept roles of responsibility without even doubting themselves.

Why is it that we always seem to admire people who ooze self-confidence from their every pore? We feel envious of their ability to handle difficult situations with ease. They never seem to feel anxious and they accept roles of responsibility without even doubting themselves.

We ask ourselves, why we can’t be like that – instead of becoming tongue-tied under pressure or buckling at the thought of public speaking.

As a newly graduated jobseeker, approaching that first job interview can leave some of us feeling, at best, inadequate and, at worst, physically sick.

So what can be done to help us? Can we make ourselves appear self-confident even if we don’t feel it? And if we practise often enough, will we start to feel genuinely confident?

The answer – thank goodness – is yes!

Here are 5 top tips to help you manage your stress and develop your self-confidence:

  1. Posture

Posture is vitally important. If we’re feeling nervous or worried, we tend to lower our heads, avert our gaze and allow our shoulders to droop. In fact, we crumple from the inside. However, if you can consciously adopt a more confident stance – with your head held high, your shoulders back and your back straight – and you can maintain good eye contact, then with time you’ll begin to feel as confident as you look. All it takes is practice!

  1. Breathing

When we’re feeling stressed or anxious we can sometimes start to over-breathe. We breathe from the tops of our lungs instead of breathing deeply and this makes us feel worse. But if you can concentrate on slowing your breathing down and using the bottom of your lungs – breathing from your diaphragm – then your body will start to feel more relaxed. If you’re about to head into an interview, take a few minutes to breathe properly beforehand, noticing your lungs inflating and deflating and your breath entering and leaving your nostrils. You’ll be surprised at how calm you feel after only a few deep breaths.

  1. Being in the moment

Before testing events – such as interviews, meetings, exams and presentations – we often make our stress worse by asking ourselves “What if” questions. The situation can become terrifying when we think like this:
“What if I can’t get my words out?”
“What if I forget what I’ve learnt?”
“What if I say something really stupid and they laugh at me?”

“What if they don’t like me?”

“What if I fail?”

Instead of expecting the worst and thereby damaging your confidence, just try being in the moment. When we’re really present in a situation, we think more clearly, we listen much more attentively to what’s being said, we’re not always planning what we’re going to say next and we’re not trying to anticipate the next question. Instead, we can respond more naturally and fully, and we can start to be in tune with the people we’re with. Try it! Be in the moment.

  1. Self-belief

Self-belief is an integral part of feeling confident. But, don’t worry! It’s something that can be learnt. As Mahatma Gandhi so wisely said, “Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” So your new mantras (which you will repeat on a regular basis!) will begin with “I can…” and “I will…” Develop positive thinking and expel negativity from your thoughts. Don’t visualise yourself failing; only visualise yourself succeeding. You can do it!

  1. Being prepared

One of the most practical ways to manage stress and develop self-confidence is to be prepared for whatever lies ahead. If it’s a presentation, practise what you’re going to say again and again beforehand – and visualise yourself speaking clearly and smiling. If it’s an interview, research the company before you attend, try to anticipate the questions that might be asked and prepare some questions of your own. If it’s an exam… well, you know all about those! Practice, research and revision will go a long way towards improving your self-confidence because you’ll feel prepared.
Of course, in reality, nobody ever feels completely confident all of the time, however they may appear to us. Some people have just practised longer! We should remember what Daniel Maher says: “Confidence is courage at ease.” This is a great quote because it implies that all of us need courage sometimes – but some of us are better at controlling our fear than others.

By putting into practice the 5 tips above, your courage will soon be standing at ease too!

Gaps years are a waste of time if you don’t do these 5 things

Top media boss Sir Martin Sorrell thinks gap years are a waste of time – or does he?

If you go by headlines you might be led to believe that Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the world’s largest advertising company, thinks gap years are a waste of time but that isn’t entirely true. In fact, the 71-year-old recalls his own gap year as invaluable and life-changing.

No, what he really said is that gap years are a waste of time if they are not properly organised. Most students taking a gap year aren’t given enough useful things to do and so end up wasting that time.

Sir Martin heads up WPP, a global company with 190,000 employees in 112 countries. He’s led a successful career in media that spans almost five decades and so I think it’s a wise student and graduate that takes note of what he has to say about making the most of your gap year.

Here are the five things you need to do in order to ensure your gap year isn’t a waste of time:

  1. His first piece of advice is to study abroad, and this could include either undergraduate or postgraduate study. The reason for this seems to be mainly for the language opportunities studying abroad presents, and if you can study in a country that speaks Mandarin, even better. The media boss regretfully confessed that he speaks no foreign languages at all while his wife speaks five.
  1. Choose your gap year programme carefully not only by vetting the opportunities they have on offer but also by looking at how well organised they are. Are there set job roles, tasks, schedules or projects? Sir Martin’s main criticism is that most programmes are ill directed and ill organised so that students are not kept usefully occupied.
  1. Are the tasks you will be asked to do actually useful in the working environment? You may not be always able to choose what you want to do but whatever it is, it should be the type of task that develops the skills employees ask for. You should have the opportunity to solve real business problems. For example, Sir Martin developed his analytical skills quality-checking hire purchase agreements in one role and his sales skills selling television equipment in another.
  1. Another criticism made by the media boss is that although he studied at Cambridge and Harvard, his felt his education had been too narrow. A gap year can add that broader element to your education through the opportunity to develop a wide range of highly sought-after soft skills, such as leadership, teamwork and resilience. Look for the opportunity to take on new responsibilities and experiences you’ve not had previously or might not get to experience at home. Learn about the local culture and how the people who live in the country you’re working in interpret the world. Keep a diary of the little things you notice – it’s not just about what you can bring to the role but also about what the people you serve can teach you. Make a note of how the experience of working abroad changes and affects you.
  1. One final point made by Sir Martin is that education needs to change in order to meet the needs of our changing world. In this respect, the most useful language skill after Mandarin, he believes, is coding. Learning how to code should be compulsory in schools, he said. If you can marry your gap year experience with the opportunity to learn even basic coding skills, then you will be well equipped to speak the language that lies behind all business growth today.

In order to gain the most from them, gaps years should be well planned and thought out. While you may be considering a gap year as an opportunity to take a break from studying or from having to make a decision about what type of job you want to do, you should still keep in mind that their main purpose should be to benefit your career prospects.

How to use a work journal to develop your soft skills

Here are 5 simple but powerful ways a work journal can help you develop the soft skills employers look for

Keeping a journal of your work activities can help you develop the soft skills you need to succeed in the workplace, whether it’s your first job or several jobs down the line. Noting events and thoughts as they occur aids reflection, and reflection, of course, is key to learning. I thoroughly recommend it for any ambitious-minded graduate as it will help to catapult the pace of your career progress much more quickly.

A work journal helps you home in on your soft skills

A journal is invaluable because it’s a way of keeping a record of what you’ve learnt – or haven’t. Most of the soft skills you need to succeed are those you learn on the job, skills such as problem solving, resilience, team-working and business awareness. You can only gain these skills by being placed in scenarios where you can develop them, through your daily ups and downs, triumphs and challenges.

You can use the work journal to help develop your soft skills whether you are employed, on an internship, involved in extra-curricular activities, or volunteering for a local or overseas charity.

A work journal can help you chart this journey and is a source of information you can review and reflect on in your own time. It’s an aide-memoire and often a source of inspiration. Besides, writing things down is marvellous therapy!

So, here are 5 ways keeping a work journal can help you develop the soft skills needed to excel in your career:

1. Develop problem solving skills by learning from the past

In a new role you’re bound to face many challenges. If you can keep an accurate record of how you solved problems or overcame difficulties, you’ll be able to use this information to assist you in similar situations in the future. Wasn’t it Edmund Burke, the 18th-century Irish statesman, who said, “In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind”? So by making notes on how you’ve resolved issues, reflecting on these notes and learning from your mistakes, you’ll be able to act with confidence next time. It will help you understand the steps you took to overcome the challenge and, importantly, you will be able to show a future employer that you have the soft skills of problem solving.

2. Develop the skill of self-awareness

Keeping a diary or journal is also a great aide to becoming more self-aware. Through making notes each day or each week and then reviewing how you coped in various situations, you’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness is a highly prized soft skill. It enables you to be able to pinpoint habits that are holding you back or skills that require further development. You may even wish to set yourself a weekly or monthly target. This target might focus on a personal quality that needs developing – e.g. assertiveness – or a new skill that needs learning – e.g. presentation skills. You will learn new things about yourself!

3. Record achievements to build resilience and self-motivation

If you’re going through a difficult patch and feeling like you’re making little progress at work, you can always find comfort in your diary. Here you’ll have proof that you’ve been learning, improving and achieving on a regular basis! When you review your notes, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. This can help you develop the soft skills of resilience and self-motivation.

4. Recalling little details helps you learn

Writing notes while the information is still fresh in your mind helps you retain important details you could otherwise forget. It helps you learn. For example, jotting down step-by-step guidelines on how to use a piece of software or how a department works will help you remember the process – not only because you have your notes to look back on but also because the practice of making notes helps stuff ‘sink in’. You’ll then become more accomplished and confident at actually performing the task more quickly. You may notice little details that otherwise could have been lost or overlooked by others, and this, in turn, could improve the way you perform tasks, support colleagues and serve customers or clients. Remember, the ability to learn is a soft skill all employers look for.

5. Communicating, or selling your skills, is easier

If you keep detailed notes about the roles you’ve carried out, you’ll be able to sell your skills much easier. You’ll also be able to update your CV more easily when it comes to applying for new posts. This practical benefit to keeping a work journal will develop your communication skills – simply re-read your work diary before attending a job interview and it will jog your memory about the work you’ve done, how you’ve problem-solved, what you’ve been able to offer the company, the skills you’ve acquired and the difference you’ve made.

A work diary or journal is an excellent place to record your experience as you develop your soft skills at work: the process of moving from beginner to proficient, what you found challenging or easy, what you’re learning, your ideas and thoughts, and what you hope to do next.