In the DIODE Leadership Camp series that I frequently facilitate and coordinate, I meet teenagers from various backgrounds and young adults from various disciplines.
The teenagers, being participants of the camp, would often be there by force; and the young adults, being the facilitators, would often be there by choice. But both share similar issues when it comes to self-confidence.
The issue with self-confidence is that it happens to be a building block for most things in a person’s life. The person’s level of confidence translates out into how well the person speaks, how well-equipped is the person at making decisions, and how motivated is a person at trying new things or even to excel in their daily tasks.
Hence, low levels of confidence equate to immature expression of opinions, poorer decisions and inconsistent performances.
While there are many factors which influences a person’s self-confidence, this article addresses self-evaluation as one of its major influencers.
Before we go into detail on how that happens, it must be noted that self-evaluation is not only limited to what we think about ourselves, but also what we think people mean when they are evaluating us!
Sometimes it may not even matter what other people are saying because we usually draw out and interpret what we want to hear based on how we evaluate ourselves.
The best way to describe this is perhaps through what I have observed during the camps and how, as parents or mentors, we can help in boosting the confidence levels of our youths by helping them use a simple self-evaluation principle to guide their thought processes.
The goal is help them derive the best out of every feedback or evaluation for themselves in any situation they may encounter in the future.
Observing cues from the student
Those lacking in self-confidence are poor at self-evaluation. This phenomenon is apparent when we ask participants at camp to single out their strengths (what they think they know best).
We seek specific examples and use it to show proof and evidence that the statement “not good at anything” is false.
The best specific examples will come from the individual whom you are mentoring. If it comes from you, chances are they are going to say that you are biased or that you are just saying it. And finally, once you have proven that statement is false, reinforce it by asking what else is he/she good at?
This whole process is just the beginning. It teaches students to seek for specifics when they receive feedback and analyse the statement that has been thrown at them.
But what’s more important to note is that people these days focus too much on what they need to improve, that they forget what they are good at.
This is one of the major causes of declining self-confidence. And so when mentoring people, it is important to remember to use their strengths as energisers to help them manage their weaknesses.
In the case of one of my participants in camp (see accompanying story), she loves to draw and that was why she loves science. She could draw all the organs of the human body and plant cells, but somehow was bad at memorising the names of rivers and mountains. And so I suggested why not draw it out instead? Apply what she does to learn science in geography!
Merging what people love to do, to things people don’t really like to do, usually helps to make doing the things they hate easier. But it is also important to note that when doing that, the main focus should always be on what they love and not what they hate or they may just end up hating what they love.
It is important to self-evaluate for improvement, but be sure to enhance what you are already good at, and simply manage what you need to improve on.
Drive the motivation from what you love doing by merging into things you don’t really like to do. This usually helps make doing the things you hate easier.
But it is also important to note that the main focus should always be on what you love and not what you hate or you may just end up hating what you love.
The girl who could
A useful principle of self-evaluation is “Focus on what was Good, Manage what was Bad and Seek Specific Examples”.
During a session called “Leading with Confidence” in the DIODE Youth Leadership Camp, one of my participants could not think of three strengths she possessed.
She wrote down in the first column, that she was pretty, and left the second and third column empty for the longest time. Noticing this, I asked her to elaborate on her response and found out that throughout her whole life, she was told that her only worth is that she is pretty and nothing more.
And so following the principle, I asked for specifics, “What exactly did people say you are not good at?” She started giving a whole lot of answers which were vague such as “people say that I’m not good at anything” and “I am useless”.
Probing further, I asked her to define her meaning of “anything”. Some of the examples she gave were math, science and geography. And then I asked her two questions, “Did people say those subjects specifically, or is it something you think?” and “What were your grades for those subjects this year?”
Funny enough, she actually got As for math and science, but B for geography. And so my reply was:
“Obviously people were wrong that you’re not good at anything, you’re really good at math and science, any maybe a little poor at geography. What other subjects are you good at?”
Immediately, she got name a few more which she enjoyed doing and have been constantly getting excellent grades for.
Notice the language patterns being used. First, when she could not provide answers to the strengths, instead of asking “What’s the problem?” I asked her to elaborate on her answer. Asking “what’s the problem” or “what’s troubling her” is helping her label the “lack of knowledge of her strengths” as a problem, which may send her confidence down, while asking for an elaboration sends a message of interest and helps her explore her strengths instead.
The second part is getting people to practice positive reinforcement. And so after the session of “Leading with Confidence”, I pulled her aside and spoke to her in private over lunch. I explained how people would say things based on what they see, and it is up to her to evaluate those statements.
I showed her how we did the sequence during the activity earlier and told her to focus on developing her strengths in math and science, and use it to manage her geography which she was weaker in. And together we sat down and made some plans on how she can do that after camp.
Marcus Lim is a part of Leaderonomics Youth and he is excited by new ideas, concepts and challenges. Being a practitioner of the art of movement, Parkour, he believes in building confidence and self-awareness through physical representations and movement of the body. He plays an active role in developing young leaders by coordinating and managing the Leaderonomics Club in high schools around the Klang Valley. If you are interested in developing yourself as a young leader, email us at email@example.com or visit our site at www.leaderonomics.org/youth/leaderonomics-club/. For more Starting Young articles, click here.
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 2 May 2015