Q: I’m a 16-year-old girl who lacks confidence when dealing with others. Although I am quite good academically, I hesitate to answer teachers’ questions in class and end up stammering and mumbling. Can you help?

The pursuit of self-confidence can be hard going and often fraught with pitfalls and dangers. After all, the opposite of being self-confident is being self-conscious. One puts you front and centre, the other consigns you to the shadows! Many believe that we are ‘born confident’ or that some people are ‘naturally confident’. In my experience, this simply isn’t the case; self-confidence isn’t a given. Self-confidence is learned, it’s a skill. And like anything we want to be good at, the more we practice the better we become at it.

We all know the feeling of being singled out to answer a question in class. All eyes focused on us. Even though we know the answer what often comes out is incoherent gibberish. Youngsters often complain about not being confident enough to interact with teachers and even their own peers. There are ways to improve your confidence levels, but they do take effort and practice to achieve positive results.

At 16 you’re a young person, however, you’re not really a child, but also, you’re not an adult. You’re at the transitional adolescence stage. This is a tricky stage of life to say the least. There’re all sorts of chemicals firing, all manner of emotions coursing through your mind – it’s little wonder you can find yourself tongue-tied and mentally foggy come the time to answer a question in class.

So, the key is to identify and to establish your own current comfort zone. You can even write down at what point you’re most comfortable in terms of your own self-confidence levels – what you’re happy to be seen doing and what you’re happy to be heard saying. I often encounter kids who are bold, energised, opinionated, direct and confident at home and yet the moment they leave the home, they are shy, quiet and self-conscious. Why? Because they are out of their comfort zone. But the paradox of becoming self-confident, is that you must break free of your comfort zone – counterintuitive, but essential.

Clarity, focus and forward planning are your allies here. Use them wisely and deploy them effectively. What I mean is to ensure that you’re fully up to speed on the topics in class, so at least you do know the answer when asked. That’s one part of the confidence equation taken care of. Secondly, focus on your resilience levels by deliberately engaging others in conversation about topics you wouldn’t normally talk about. Then choose slightly harder targets for both the focus of your attention for chatting and also the topics. Naturally you’ll get knocked back, people might think you’re a bit odd or you may be out of your topic depth, but so what? What will happen, though, is that you’ll start to be known as a confident person.

Ready to step out of your comfort zone even further? Why not try other activities such as debating groups, amateur theatre, public speaking – any group where you need to be heard! These will teach you how to address any gathering large or small. Also, you’ll meet different individuals who may have joined the club for exactly the same reason as you. It may seem scary at first but ensure that you don’t quit. After a while, you’ll love the activities and the by-product will be your boosted self-confidence.

Finally, remember that confidence breeds confidence – the more you have, the more you’ll get.

Russell Hemmings is a Dubai-based life coach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting (russellhemmings.co.uk). Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to friday@gulfnews.com.

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