Samantha has a presentation coming up and wishes she felt more confident. She worries about getting asked questions and not knowing the answers. She is all too aware of how little she knows about the topic.
Tom is heading into a meeting with senior counsel, who has asked him to report on his progress and feels nervous and self-doubting.
In law, it can seem as though confidence is a professional requirement. There is an expectation that you will have the answers. It can also seem like everyone around you feels confident, and you are the odd one out.
Here’s what is true: You are not alone. Many lawyers lack confidence, particularly junior lawyers. When so much is new in the early years of practice and the learning curve is steep, it is natural to experience self-doubt and worry.
To help you with accessing confidence when you need it (or courage), here are five practical strategies:
1. Learn your strengths
It is so easy to focus on what you aren’t good at, what you have done wrong in the past. What you wish was different. And what is more helpful in accessing confidence is remembering the strengths that got you to where you are today. Take some time on the weekend to review your strengths using this guide.
When you are taking on a challenge. Remember the strengths that are going to support your effort. Remember the times things have gone well, and why they went well.
2. Prepare and Practice
When you are concerned about your performance put in the extra time and effort to prepare well and practice.
You can also plan for possible challenges that might arise. For instance, if you are getting ready for a presentation, plan your response if you get asked a question you don’t know the answer to. You can say, “that’s a good question. I want to think about that and get back to you. If anyone else would like to hear the answer, please come see me after the presentation.” This will allow you to collect email addresses and send them the answer when you are back at the office.
Visualization is a practice used by professional athletes to hone their performance. You can use it in professional practice also.
Imagine the specific situation or task. Start by taking some slow deep breaths. Connect with your body as you breathe slowly and deeply. When you are ready, imagine yourself in the situation and doing the activity well and confidently. What does this feel like in your body? How are you holding yourself? What are you saying? How does your voice sound? Rehearse the event in your mind and feel it in your body.
4. Shift Focus from inward to outward
Shift your focus from inward concerns about self-doubt outwards towards objectives. What is your intention? What are you seeking to accomplish? How is this going to help someone?
Giving attention to the outcome you are seeking or the impact you wish to have can help you access confidence.
This strategy of shifting attention from inward to outward also applies when you are in dialogue with someone. When you ask questions of someone, with your attention focused on them, you are in an assertive position.
When someone asks you a question, and you find your attention shifting inwards in some variation of “oh no, I don’t know what to say,” pause, take a breath, and ask a question in response even if it is only to repeat their question back. (Women readers, to learn more about power dynamics in conversation, I recommend Kasia Urbaniak’s book Unbound: A Woman’s Guide to Power.)
5. Shift Mindset
Learning is hard. Those activities you will learn the most from and will develop you are going to be tough. You don’t learn much when something is easy.
When you are taking on a challenge, adopt a growth mindset. How are you going to learn from this? How is this going to help you develop professionally?
And the stress you feel? That comes with the territory. When you are doing something new or challenging, you will naturally experience a stress response. This response is to give you the added boost to enhance your performance and learning.
Next time you experience stress arising from a challenge, welcome it and intentionally invite your stress response to help you perform at your best.
Looking for more tips for boosting your confidence? See Lawyer Coach Lora McInturf’s article on Jumpstarting Confidence here.