Speak Up / Speaking Out

4 Steps to Unleash Your Confidence and Creativity: A Woman’s Guide

. 5 min read . Written by Rashmi Datt
4 Steps to Unleash Your Confidence and Creativity: A Woman’s Guide

Rashmi Datt is one of India’s top EQ facilitators and coaches who accompanies people on their soul’s journey to fully harness their purpose and passion.

In working with hundreds of women as their coach, I have been inspired by them and humbled by the relentless drive and resilience which causes them to strive and reach towards both– their material goals, and their wish of being ‘at home’- where they can access their creative potential, healthy functioning, natural flow and ease.

Together, we identified some typical  triggers which get women into a state of stuck-ness, leading to ‘fight’, ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’ mode.

I am not good enough”

I met Rashida as part of a coaching program for women in banking. Rashida was confident and smart. But she mentioned that when she has to speak before a group of people, her heart starts pounding. She also admitted that she feels quite calm when addressing juniors or interns, but when the audience comprises seniors and those in authority, a thousand doubts assail her. 

“Is what I am saying worthwhile?” “Will I sound stupid?” “Are these the right words?”

When she speaks, the words come out haltingly, and to her own ears they sound trite and without depth. She longs to be free of this notion: I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

As we dig deeper, we are confronted by childhood memories. Rashida remembers her father constantly making fun of her mother, and of herself too. The way they spoke and laughed was mocked at, and as a result, she has come to always doubt herself.

Self doubt results from some common self-limiting behaviours and beliefs which women typically hold, which have been drilled into them. It causes them to feel stuck, unhappy. They long to be free of these, but these are old patterns which have been ‘swallowed’ as a result of subtle messages received in childhood.

“I avoid conflict and I don’t know how to stand up for myself”

At work, Aparajita is competent, composed and has led several successful creative product launches, and enjoys both respect and credibility of her team and seniors. However, at home when there is a conflict- with her husband on sharing household chores, or with her mother-in-law about child upbringing, she finds herself withdrawing.

She has given up trying to communicate and has learnt to compromise and bite her lips for the sake of peace. But it makes her stifled and unhappy with her behaviour. Aparajita, I realised, is a conflict avoider. 

As we talk about her childhood, I learn that as a child, when Aprajita expressed her needs, wishes, desires, her parents mostly said ‘no’. Her coping mechanism became to withdraw  and avoid conflict.

And while some withdraw, some fall back on trying to please others.

“I try too hard to please others”

Another client of mine, Sanjana, is an engineer in the production planning department in a factory. Her boss is very demanding and she ends up accepting unreasonable delivery dates of tasks and late working. On top of that, she ends up taking calls at home including on holidays, as the second and third shifts in the factory require her inputs. She experiences feeling important, but at the same time exhausted and unable to spend time with her family.

Sanjana’s  belief is ‘If my boss is happy, I am happy’. She forgets to ask: ‘What is it that makes ME happy?’. She ends up being the ANXIOUS PLEASER— placating, taking care, putting her own needs last. 

Sanjana shares a memory that as a child, when she helped herself to fruit (or anything else) from a plate on the dining table, her mother admonished her, ‘Take the piece which is bruised or broken, leave the good ones for others’. She has learnt to put her needs last.

While Sanjana is conditioned into putting others ahead of her, Vrinda finds that she feels good only when she is ahead of others. 

“I am worthy only when I am better than others”

When I met Vrinda, I learnt that she is a Finance Manager, ambitious and driven to succeed. She works hard and long hours. But she is realising that her default mode of existence is to compare herself with others.

When she rates herself as better than others in the room, she feels good, and when she finds others in a team or a gathering are better in competence, expression or in ideating, she starts feeling small, and sometimes even jealous.

She is realising that she is quite competitive and is driven by STRIVING TO BE AHEAD OF OTHERS. This toggling between feeling small and big leaves her unable to connect and relate at a human level. 

As a child Vrinda’s parents often compared her with her cousins, classmates, holding them up as being ‘better’ than her, leaving her feeling the only way to move ahead is to compete with others, and prove herself as the best.

You Can’t Change Your Past, But You Can Change Your Present

Parents inflicted these ‘wounds’ knowing no better, from a place of wanting to protect their daughters. That’s the only way they knew. 

However these beliefs become so much part of our neural wiring in the brain, that it takes hard work, courage, self-reflection, and sometimes outside help from a coach or a therapist to change.

What can we do at such a time?

  1. Develop the neutral observer. The neutral observer is that part of us that can step back and see what is going on, without judgement or blame. This enables us to access both our feelings and thoughts. because when old wounds are triggered, feelings flood our brain, leaving rational thinking out.
  2. Develop kindness and curiosity for the feelings that arise.
  3. Honour the urge for growth and completion—for example, even in noticing the competitiveness in you, there is the emerging wish for connection and care.

And Finally, Slow Down To Shift Into Your Power

In working with these women and many others like them, I have found this 4 step process to be very helpful in untangling our thoughts and feelings. It’s called SLOW.

1. S = Stop, slowdown, become still, delay, wait, pause 

When emotions like anxiety, embarrassment, frustration, helplessness or shame grip us, our breathing become shallow. The back tenses up, the jaw tightens up and the stomach also contracts. 

The next time this happens to you,  observe these signals to slow down, pause and notice what is happening.

2. L= Label or identify the feeling

The ability to pull back and observe ourselves, recognise and label our emotions, helps in not being swept away by them. Once we give a name to our emotional response, for example, ‘I am feeling anxious as I was excluded from the list of meeting invitees; also belittled’ we have an opportunity to gather our thoughts.  

“it’s not the end of the world”

“I can check with the organisers if this was an error, instead of jumping to conclusions,  and express that I would like to attend”

You get the idea. 

Otherwise emotions can paralyse us into not taking any action at all, or react in impulsive and self-defeating ways. 

3. O = Oxygenate your brain 

During stress, the body instinctively leans forward, draws the arms together, and bends the head down. These postures result in a reduced lung capacity.

Take a gentle breath, as deep as you can. Inhale and exhale deeply thrice and change your body position. If possible, shake your shoulders and arms. Imagine you are letting go of whatever has happened.

 Regular breathing messages the brain that it is in a safe place away from threat.

4. W = Wise choices I can exercise 

When overpowered by emotions, we tend to go into ‘freeze’ or ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ mode. But once we access our rational thoughts through the process of pausing and breathing, other options are made available to us.

Zerka Moreno, the co-founder of psychodrama refers to this as ‘becoming one’s own therapist’. 

Rewrite The Narrative

Once Rashida recognises her unconscious belief of ‘not good enough’, she is able to challenge it, and tell herself: ‘I don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes what I say will be meaningful and original, sometimes my ideas be ordinary. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I AM ENOUGH.’

Aparajita decides to change her stance of ‘conflict avoider’ to ‘TACTFUL NEGOTIATOR’, i.e. choosing her time, tone and words to get her message across, putting her frustration and anger aside.

Sanjana consciously moves from ‘anxious pleaser’ to ‘CLEAR COMMUNICATOR OF WHAT SHE WANTS’, choosing when to communicate with her boss, clarifying that when she is at home, she will answer only WhatsApp messages once at 9pm, as she wants to be with her family at this time.

Vrinda decides that she likes the ambitious and hardworking part of her, but she is also going to give importance to ‘BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS’ which will be her place of nurturing and care for herself and others.

Thus, it’s possible to heal and fully realise our essence and beauty that we were born with.

Business Coaching needs to move towards transformation from within.

As long as business coaching and leadership training offered by companies to their employees, especially to women, remains at the level of productivity hacks, motivational speeches, or programs that call for outward behavioural change rather than deep personal transformation, we might see more and more women schooled in the appearance of confidence and leadership.

But underneath still feeling troubled by the ‘imposter syndrome’ (am I really the person I am showing to the outside world?). In this process, we end up creating leaders who are often agents of the same old institutionalised patriarchal structures, no matter what gender they might be.

However, when we use coaching and training as an opportunity to work on women’s most deep rooted issues, we allow them to uncover newer and more powerful versions of themselves. It is in the understanding of our wounds, and in their loving acceptance, we will find gifts that unleash true power, resulting in authentic creativity and confidence.

 This is the most rewarding part of my work as a coach. 

If you are interested in working with me, you can find more details here

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