Young woman posing as superhero or wonderwoman

I sat with a knot in my stomach and my hands folded in my lap, trying not to fidget and hoping that my supervisor couldn’t tell my armpits were sweaty.

I was waiting for my first performance review at my new physical therapy job.

He took a deep breath and began like this:

“I am really glad to have you on the team. You’re a hard worker and you have a great attitude. I love that you are so committed to learning and the clients love you.”

I could feel myself slowly exhale as I heard his praise.  The knot in my stomach was just about to unravel when he continued.

“Of course, there are some things I want you to work on. Specifically, you need to stop saying ‘um’ so much and be more confident.”

The knot in my stomach re-tied itself and the sweating intensified.

Telling me to “be more confident” at that point in my career was kinda like suggesting I go figure out a way to get George Clooney to ask me out.

It sounded great but I had no idea how to make it happen.

I’d been a physical therapist for four years when I took this job at a specialty clinic. I’d mastered the basics but I really I wanted to become an expert.

So I took a job where I knew I would be the “low man on the totem pole” with respect to my clinical knowledge.

I expected there to be a learning curve.

What I didn’t expect was the hit my confidence was going to take.

A relative newbie in a clinic of seasoned experts, I felt like everything I said was examined and considered for it’s merits as if I were presenting oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

And under the weight of the expectations — his and mine — I felt my confidence crumbling like a shortbread cookie.

My supervisor was a guy who exuded confidence, and when I asked for specifics on how I could build my confidence, his advice was something along the lines of “Just Do It.”

Thanks, Nike.

He made gaining confidence seem equivalent to buying a box of Cheerios from the store. One step and you are done.

While I wish this were true (because how awesome would it be to pick up a Box O’ Confidence the night before a big presentation?),  in reality, confidence is a quality that is developed over time.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back I can see that I used one mindset shift and 3 practical habits to be more confident at work.

The Mindset Shift

As I spent time reflecting on my review, I realized that my confidence was being drained by the constant comparisons I made between my supervisor’s clinical knowledge and mine.

Because I didn’t know as much as he did, I labeled myself as unworthy and not good enough to be of service to my clients.

My constant internal focus on what I didn’t know shifted my attention away from the things I DID know.

What kept me stuck was believing the thought “I’m not good enough until I know what he knows.”

It took a heart-to-heart talk with my mentor, Kelsey, to help shift my mindset around my value.

Kelsey reminded me that I had other skills beyond just my book knowledge, like the way I listened and gave advice to my clients on how to re-think their perspective on their injury.

(My early attempts at mindset coaching in the clinic.)

After this conversation, I realized that while my knowledge was one component of helping my clients recover, it wasn’t the only component that mattered.

I created a new belief of “I am worthy now AND I am excited to learn more.”

3 Habits I Adopted To Be More Confident At Work

In addition to this new mindset, I needed a new set of habits to help me ditch the “ums” and communicate more confidently with clients. Here’s what I did:

1- I took a 5 second pause before answering any tough questions.  

My physical therapy clients often asked emotionally charged questions like “Do you think I’ll be dealing with this injury for the rest of my life?”

I was torn between wanting to say “Of course not” and secretly wondering “How can I know for sure?”

This created an internal state of brain lock-down, which translated externally into lots of “ums” and stammering.

When I stopped and paused for 5 seconds, I was able to get over my initial wave of fear around saying the wrong thing, and offer my best professional opinion in a calm, clear manner. And no “ums” :).

2- I gave myself permission to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find the answer” or “let me think about that”.

These two phrases put me at ease by easing my need to ACT RIGHT NOW. My sense of responsibility to serve my clients made me feel like I needed to know the answer to every question they asked and answer them immediately.

When I let go of those two beliefs, I immediately felt light a weight had been lifted off of me, which surprised me.

Because when I started using these phrases, I expected to feel dumb. I thought people would judge me as stupid for not knowing the answers to all of their questions.

To my surprise, I discovered that my clients appreciated my honesty and started trusting me more because they realized I wasn’t going to pretend or feed them a line of BS if I didn’t know something.

And as my clients started trusting me more, I become more relaxed, which made it easier to learn. And the more I learned, the less I needed to say “I don’t know.”

3- At the end of the day, I identified at least one thing I did well and gave myself kudos for it.

This may seem like a blow-off or “fluff” step, but it’s really important.

When I started my new job, the learning process was endless. For every one concept I learned, I had two more questions to ask about something I didn’t know.

I needed to feel a sense of accomplishment each day to connect with a sense of forward progress.

So when I’d leave each night, I’d review my day and pick out at least one moment that I was proud of, like how I answered a question from a client or how I made a critical adjustment to a client’s program.

These small daily wins helped me feel like I was making progress, even on days when I felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I still didn’t know.

Confidence is a quality that emerges over time. Shifting your mindset toward a belief that “I’m worthy now” and using these 3 habits can provide a framework for you to build your confidence at work.

PS- In my new e-book, The Confidence Breakthrough: How To Makeover Your Mindset & Transform Your Success, I offer a much deeper dive into dissolving the mindset blocks that are based on negative past experiences. This step-by-step, personalized guidance I previously only shared with my private clients.

I am offering this to you now TOTALLY FREE. (Cool, right?)

To get your copy, just click the link and enter your email address. I’ll send you a link to your email inbox so you can download it.

Cheers to your success!