Man to Man: How a Special Forces mindset can help you build real confidence
In 2015, after eight years and three tours of Afghanistan, I swapped the battlefield for the boardroom and joined a management consultancy in London. On the outside, it looked like I had it all – a prestigious well-paid job, a five-year relationship, a nice home in London – but I felt lost.
It seemed like somehow, on leaving the Special Forces, I’d lost my mojo, my confidence. The knock-on effect the identity shift was having on the rest of my life? Catastrophic.
It’s like I was existing, not living. Trapped in the modern live-to-work cycle, cranking out long hours to hit targets, with no time for the things I was truly passionate about: the outdoors, travel, new challenges…
On leaving the Special Forces, I was faced with self doubt
Over time I found myself faced with a new type of self doubt – imposter syndrome. I’d never experienced it before, even in my most dicey moments in the Special Forces.
Then, I had an epiphany. I was still the same guy inside who’d been able to handle immense stress, lack of sleep and physical exhaustion. But somehow, in my new life, minor inconveniences felt massive. This relatively comfortable existence was so much harder because it wasn’t me. It didn’t resonate with my core values and identity.
So, I quit my job and followed my passion, founding The Natural Edge in 2017 to offer actionable mindset tips and life coaching based on my Special Forces’ experience.
So, I quit my job and started offering life coaching
Since then, I’ve dedicated myself to using my training, along with the latest research and psychological approaches, to help people of all backgrounds to live happier, more fulfilled and confident lives.
So, what do I tell my clients when they’re struggling with low confidence and imposter syndrome? Firstly, that we’ve all experienced it. Whether it’s meeting new people, signing up for a solo trip or starting a new job, we’ve all heard that nagging voice at the back of our head that says “you’re not good enough/ knowledgeable enough/ interesting enough, and pretty soon everyone is going to find out”. You’ll be exposed. You’re not capable. You can’t do things alone… Except you aren’t and you can.
In all likelihood, you’ve reached this point in your life because you’ve worked hard, gathered skills and become a pretty interesting and well-rounded person along the way. So, why does it still feel like we’re faking it, when we’re no more likely to fail than anyone else? What are we afraid of?
Think back to a time where you thought you had all the answers
While there’s nothing wrong with maintaining a realistic self view, the point is to be able to step back and realise when you’re being overly critical. As philosopher and go-to sage, Bertrand Russell, once said: “the problem with the world is that the people who know a lot are so full of doubt and the people who know little are so certain of themselves.”
Think back to a time when you were more naïve, perhaps as a teenager, while studying or taking the first steps in your career. There were probably occasions when you bit off way more than you could chew – be it personally or professionally.
Or times when you thought you had all the answers and were more than happy to share them, only to work out later you were wrong. But how much did you learn from these experiences?
Imposter syndrome is inextricably linked with low self-confidence
If we spend our lives assuming we aren’t good enough – that we shouldn’t put ourselves out there or share our opinions with the world in case we are ‘found out’ for not being an expert – how many growth opportunities will we miss? Imposter syndrome isn’t just stressful and opportunity sapping, it’s also been proven to worsen mental health, heightening feelings of depression.
And it’s inextricably linked with low self-confidence. By constantly doubting ourselves and our worth, we occupy bandwidth that might be channelled more productively – or pleasurably – elsewhere.
Then, in a self-esteem double-whammy, we probably beat ourselves up for never having the guts to do all the things we wanted to when we had the chance.
In a growth mindset culture, there are no ‘imposters’
But, the good news is, you can beat it. Psychologists believe that rather than a personality trait, imposter syndrome in particular is a tendency. This means that we all have a capacity for it, but some of us lean in towards it more strongly.
If we believe our abilities, our areas of expertise and knowledge are not fixed but subject to change, and if we have what’s called a “growth mindset” and can take on challenges and learn from them, then we can use mindset techniques to consciously change patterns of belief around unworthiness.
In a growth mindset culture there are no ‘imposters’. There are only people who are developing their confidence like any other skill, to be used as a tool to enhance their lives.
Next time you’re faced with a new challenge, take a step back
In fact, one of my mantras is “mindset is a skillset”. I truly believe that, like any skill, these approaches need to be practised and internalised to make real change.
So, if a lack of confidence is holding you back from something you want to do – from asking for a promotion to taking that trip or inviting a potential friend to meet for a coffee – try one of these takeaway tactics and see how mindset work could improve your outlook.
Firstly, look for the ‘why’. Next time you’re faced with a new challenge and feel the panic descend, take a step back. Instead of underrating yourself, take emotions out of the equation and ask why you find yourself in this position. Did you knock a similar project out of the park last year? Have you got specialist knowledge of the area? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do and have been preparing for over a long period? Try writing this down to remind yourself if the overwhelm sets in.
Mindset is a skill set that requires you to put the reps in
Next, don’t associate your successes with extrinsic factors – “I was lucky”, “I had help…” imposter syndrome subscribers tend to palm off their successes onto extrinsic factors. When someone congratulates you on a job well done, make it your mission to just say “thank you”. Internalise that credit, you earned it.
Finally, acknowledge your efforts – stop pretending it wasn’t hard work. It can feel exposing to admit that we’ve actually worked hard to achieve something, like we aren’t good enough without the work. The secret? No one is. Name me one top-tier athlete who was so naturally gifted they didn’t graft for success. Success and hard work go hand in hand – own your effort.
And remember, this will not happen on its own. Just like physical transformation, mindset is a skill set that requires you to put the reps in if you want to see real world changes in yourself.
Follow this, and you’ll break free from self-doubt and limitations
By consistently applying the tactics above you can ditch the negative beliefs about yourself that are holding you back and forge a strong, confident mindset to propel your forwards.
Do this and you will break free from self-doubt and limitations, and be free to explore new opportunities, face challenges with courage, and make bold decisions that can change the course of your life. It gives you the freedom to be yourself, express your opinions and pursue your passions without fear of judgement or rejection. It allows you to embrace life, take risks, try new things and push yourself out of your comfort zone without being held back by fear or uncertainty.
Man to Man is a SOLO series exploring male friendship and modern masculinity, delivered by different voices, including founder of The Natural Edge, Simon Jeffries.
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Images: courtesy of Simon Jeffries