Book review: “What’s Stopping You Being More Confident?”

The following review of What’s Stopping You Being More Confident? recently appeared on the human resources website HRZone.

Deborah Bishop - Book Review

This book was reviewed by Deborah Bishop, Director ofWork Tree Consulting.

Title: What’s Stopping You Being More Confident?
Authors: Robert Kelsey
ISBN: 978-0857083098

Introduction

When I contacted Jamie at HRZone and offered to do a book review, I had a choice from a list. This book was of interest to me as I have noticed in my own professional life the issue of confidence has a great effect. I have wondered how it is connected to my actual ability. Returning to work after a sizeable absence to have children completely changed my view of myself and it was hard at times to work out whether the lack of confidence I have felt is a good brake to moderate me until my skills were refreshed and my pace of travel back up to the rat race, or whether losing confidence and often identity are an unfortunate consequence of being at home, out of the world so regular praise and validation are not easily possible. I don’t have an answer to that question. I only have the observation that on the days I feel more confident in my abilities I act more decisively, work more productively and am a more positive person to be around. I cannot claim to have read this book out of a drive to fix a problem, but confidence is most certainly an issue that greatly interests me.

Review

Robert Kelsey takes the reader on an authoritative journey in his book on how the long-term under-confident can gain confidence.

His authority comes from having taken this journey himself. In the Introduction he writes: “I’ve lived with poor confidence throughout most of my adult life. Even now with a ‘successful’ PR business under my belt, and as author of the’bestselling’ ‘What’s Stopping You’..my under-confidence is easily triggered, perhaps in areas where I still feel less capable.” He started off with a job in the City, he then wrote a novel based on his experiences. He perceived both as a failure and went on to move into journalism before starting on the successful ventures he mentions. The frankness he displays in discussing his life and his career in the Introduction is carried throughout the book, and this early engagement with the reader lays out his credibility very effectively.

The approach in the book can at times feel like a dense whistle-stop tour of a vast array of research, psychological theory and therapy techniques. He covers ground from the scripts we run in our heads and how they impact our behaviour, the positive benefits of a “growth mindset” and how that is a key ingredient in successful people. He looks at how our reactions may be negatively set so we interpret events in a way that is either pessimistic or implies a slight or criticism to our person. He looks at the theory suggesting that we can learn to be more optimistic. He cites such heavy-weights as Maslow, explores the roots of Cognitive Behavoural Therapy, draws on self-help books such as Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Some books I have read that would be considered “self help” can at times be repetitive and drawn out and I have been left with the feeling that they have one simple message which they have put in large print to get a book out of it. You certainly couldn’t accuse Kelsey of that.

Whilst I learnt a lot from the book and appreciated the fact that he treated the reader as intelligent and capable of absorbing and acting on such a wide range of work, at times I felt he had taken on rather too much of a task. It is harder to remain engaged when the work is in danger of veering towards an academic textbook. It is certainly true that as a reference book you would always be able to find a tool or theory to tackle whatever confidence issue you were facing, but I think the sheer number of times he had to resort to using numbered lists to explain things indicates that perhaps sometimes less could be more.

I considered Kelsey’s own journey and personality a great strength in carrying me through the book. The anecdotes he uses are of an open quality and contain vivid details. He always explains why and how the theory he is expounding is connected to his own experience. The examples he provides are a brave and useful way of showing the reader how the theory works out in practice. I was left in no doubt that he gained success and greater mental peace by following this journey, but he never falls into the trap of being evangelistic. If I were to have judged this book by its cover I might have thought I would be in for a great-deal of saccharin, where over-enthusiasm substitutes for substance; I therefore found Kelsey’s matter-of-factness and emphasis on the hard work involved in changing ourselves rather refreshing and believed him all the more for it.

The first three parts of the book are taking different approaches to the theory behind lacking or gaining confidence and practical steps such as goal-setting as a means of achieving improved confidence. The final two parts are about Situations and Barriers. Whilst I would certainly credit Kelsey in being thorough on the first three parts, for me I think he comes into his prime in the last two parts of the book. He looks at circumstances like networking and how to do that effectively.

His insights into office politics and particularly dating had the gravitas of the experienced and I found them very insightful. The blog post he quotes where he attempts to offer advice to under-confident short men on the dating scene he said has “to this day received more positive attention than any other” and I can see why. For example: “Clearly your physical appearance makes you miserable. Yet the key thing to remember is it’s your reactions that are unattractive. Short guys are always getting the girl, as are geeky, ‘ugly’ or fat guys: self-haters, sulkers or depressives, meanwhile, will only attract the same insecurities.” I think it also taught me more about recognising behaviour that we can sometimes interpret as arrogance.

He extends this discussion in his chapter on hubris, which also provides a cautionary tale for anyone embarking on this journey. He warns the reader from his own experience that it can be easy to slip into hubris, which he describes as “perpetuating a lie against ourselves: claiming excellence….we still have no control over our confidence. Indeed we remain as insecure as ever, just an insecure person hiding behind a veneer of arrogance.” So he carefully anticipates a potential swing from one extreme of behaviour to another as that is what happened to him. In my view, it is a very successful aspect of the book to tackle head on the possible obstacles to successfully gaining more confidence and this aspect of his quest to be complete sets him apart from many self-help books.

Conclusion

To finish then, two key questions to ask. Would I have finished it if I didn’t have to because I said to Jamie at HRZone that I would read it and review it? Yes, I believe I would have done. I believe you would find much offered to you in this book whether you are in Kelsey’s target audience of the long-term under-confident or just someone with an interest in psychology or the human condition. The second key question: would I recommend it? Again, yes I would. The book has range, depth, integrity and whilst it doesn’t threaten you with quizzes or exercises, the congruence of all the theories he draws on and the consistency of the message make it worthy of your time.

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