Former Tesco boss Terry Leahy is the perfect example of someone who has had to work his way to being confident. Yet despite having admitted to being “quite shy and not overly confident”, Leahy grew Tesco’s market share in the UK by ten per cent during his 13 years at the helm, expanded the brand overseas and annual pre-tax profits cleared the £3bn mark.
According to Leahy, confidence is essential in terms of garnering support from others. He said: “Everyone has the ability to step forward and be a leader in a certain situation. However, to do that they have to believe in the organisation and know that if they do step forward they will be supported.”
While becoming more confident is a concept that plagues many today – and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future – Comfort Zone Crusher founder Till Goss has come across a fast-track method that will help anyone overcome their fears.
Remember the scene in the movie Dead Poets Society, where high school English teacher John Keating prompted his defiant poetry students to get out from behind their desks and instead stand on top of them? Despite the two sharing the common link of having a different vantage view, Gross intends for people to do the exact opposite of Keating’s class.
“Lay down on the street for 30 seconds,” he suggested. It is an incredibly unusual tactic, but one he learned by following psychology experts. The crucial question here is how did he find out whether it worked or not?
According to Gross, while he seemed confident and outgoing when he was still in high school, the way he felt inside was often pretty different. There were a handful of situation where he would get really nervous, “especially when it came to conversing with people who were smarter or more successful. This was because of a huge fear of rejection or being exposed as weak.”
This feeling does not go away as surely many businesspeople have, at one stage, had similar fears. Gross stressed, however, that this can often lead to two types of behaviour.
“The first is avoidance. For example, if I was invited to an event, but I didn’t know anyone, I wouldn’t go because there might be a situation where I would stand by myself, talk to nobody and people would look at me and think ‘that guy’s uncool’. Or what I would do is drag my friends along so I would have someone to talk to.
“The second kind of behaviour is looking for approval. I would try to behave in a way that the one I’m talking to would appreciate. What this meant was that I would often change the way I normally acted.”
After high school he set his mind on becoming a psychology coach. He claimed that while he played basketball in high school, he learned that if you wanted to become really good at something then you would try to learn from the best. Of course, he applied this lesson to his coaching and traversed across Europe to find the best in his field.
This is where he came across something called comfort zone challenges, where you would consciously put yourself in a situation that makes you nervous or insecure. For example, if you’re afraid of rejection, then go out and get rejected ten times, as fast as possible. The point is that if you do it over and over again, you’ll eventually stop caring what other people think.
He is very adamant that it works – after all, he did the street challenge himself.
“I have very vivid memories of my first challenge,” he said. “As with most things you feel uncomfortable doing, you put it off and say you’ll do it tomorrow. Going home from university that same day I was waiting for my train around rush hour and asked myself why I kept delaying it. The moment I started pondering about it my heart started to race, my palms were getting sweaty and it became hard to swallow. All those really good excuses popped up one after another – ‘your friend is waiting at home’, ‘the floor is dirty’, ‘what might people think’ and so on.
He probably missed getting stepped on – imagine this challenge being done in the London underground!
“I thought f**k it I’ll do it tomorrow. But with the first step to my train I had an epiphany. That fear and those excuses will always be there, so if I allow that to hold me back now I’ll never do it. I put down my bag, turned around, lay down and I noticed three things.”
Of course, he got a lot of weird looks – it’s bound to happen. He explained that there was even one mum with a kid. The kid wanted to walk up to him because he was clearly doing something interesting, but the mum pulled him away saying ‘don’t stand next to the strange man’.
“But I also noticed that all those weird looks were not as scary as I thought,” he added. “Another thing I noticed was that a lot of people were really confused with what I was doing on the floor in the first place. But the third and most important point was that the majority didn’t even care – they didn’t even look at me. After a few seconds I started to relax. I even stayed in that position for two minutes.”
The crux of the story is to get out of your comfort zone. Even if you feel anxious about doing that speech or meeting a client for the first time, with enough practice and experience you can learn to work around it.
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