Your experiences, education, talents and skills will take you far in life. They’ll help you build an impressive résumé and open doors to opportunities. But what’s the one quality that will get you even further and help you capitalize on whatever life presents you? Confidence.
Confidence is belief in your abilities. It’s the feeling that you can rise to the occasion when the pressure is on. It not only fuels your ambition but encourages you to set stretch goals. It even has a powerful influence on the results you experience. As the great Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
We all want confidence, especially during those critically important moments when we feel like so much is on the line and our actions will make or break our future. But to have confidence in these clutch moments, we need to first understand its nature.
Confidence isn’t a skill like biking, typing or juggling balls. A skill is something you only have to learn once and then you’ve pretty much got it for the rest of your life. Confidence is an emotion, which helps explain why it wavers at times (or is sometimes entirely absent when you need it the most). It’s shaky confidence that makes you sometimes feel like you’re on a roller coaster—experiencing highs upon receiving great news and then plummeting a few seconds later back into the valley of insecurity.
There is so little we control in life. But we can control our confidence. Confidence can be developed and managed. It starts with employing the right strategies, which include:
Developing positive self-appraisals
Surrounding yourself with positive role models
Managing confidence-killing emotions
To examine where you are on the confidence continuum, the best place to start is by thinking about your successes in life and how you handled them. Did you achieve your successes or did you experience them? The difference might sound nuanced, but it’s very profound.
1. Experience success.
Confidence is about seeing yourself clearly, appreciating your abilities and having a solid foundation on which to build when presented with challenges. There’s nothing more solid than concrete examples of past successes.
To start experiencing success, be conscious of your successful moments and bookmark them, don’t run past them. Attribute your success to yourself, not to someone else or some random event or luck. Branch Rickey, the no-table baseball executive who brought Jackie Robinson to the big leagues, once observed, “Luck is the residue of design.” Meaning that if you work hard and prepare hard enough, there’s a good chance that good fortune will smile on you.
Hard work and preparation not only help you catalog your success but also fend off the imposter syndrome: a psychological phenomenon even the most successful, talented and accomplished professionals experience at peaks in their careers. It’s a feeling that your success isn’t really due to your own hard work but merely a result of other people or other circumstances, and you just happened to be nearby to catch some of the glow of others’ shining moments.
So much of confidence is being conscious of how you handle your success and managing your internal dialogue when those moments occur. This leads us to our next confidence-building action: developing positive self-appraisals.
2. Develop positive self-appraisals.
Developing positive self-appraisals begins with paying attention to our thoughts, which can be difficult to do because it’s hard to stop a train of thought that’s already barreling down the tracks. This is where cognitive discipline comes in. As we listen to our inner dialogue, it’s important to separate the words, phrases and mantras that are helpful from those that are damaging and could derail us.
When we catch these self-defeating appraisals, we have to hold them in our minds and reframe them. For example, imagine that you need to confront your boss on an important issue that you disagree with him about. Rather than thinking, It’s hopeless, I can’t do it. It’s not really my place to disagree with his remarks on my performance review, stop yourself and rewrite your script: If I don’t stand up for myself, no one else will. He should know that I don’t agree with how my performance is being characterized.
When you find that you’re beating yourself up, stop in the moment and start down a new path, one where you begin to promote yourself and all the great things you’ve done. When you refresh your memory about your accomplishments, you start to feel like you’re prepared to face whatever comes your way.
Although it’s important to be able to rely on yourself in those moments that count, this next strategy helps you also rely on others who can help you develop and promote your confidence.
3. Recognize positive role models.
The best way you can pinpoint positive role models is to think about the people you know who embody positive behaviors. These are people who are credible, accountable and service-oriented, who have solid character and seem trustworthy.
Once you identify the people in your own life who exhibit spark behavior, you have to develop and nurture these relationships. Engage the people you admire and respect on a consistent basis, whether through conversations over coffee or ongoing email exchanges. One colleague of ours makes it a point to schedule two lunches each month with different people she admires. Her conversations with them don’t have an agenda; this is simply her way of maintaining the relationships she’s worked so hard to build.
Finally, we have to be open to input. If our role models are challenging us, that’s a great thing. We need to get uncomfortable in order to develop. Remember, no matter how much we want it, change isn’t easy. But it can be made easier by a focused effort to develop our confidence.
4. Combat confidence-killing emotions.
We all have our own internal signals when we’re experiencing fear. Though our survival might not be threatened, our security, stability and long-term success could very well be. When we have these fear responses, we need to tune in to them. Just by paying attention to our emotions, we can identify when we’re feeling anxious, and when we do, we can’t ignore that emotion. We have to confront it. Sometimes asking ourselves a simple question (What can I do about this right now?) is enough to propel us toward action.
To combat worry, another confidence-killing emotion that is often induced by stress, it’s important to determine whether your concerns are real or manufactured. Our brains, even as brilliant as they can be, often have a hard time distinguishing between the two. Sometimes, when left unattended, your imagination can run wild, and what you’re worrying about is neither logical nor rational. You can quickly find yourself worrying about things that can’t possibly happen, or that are even well beyond your ability to influence.
To deal with the confidence-killing emotion of insecurity, it’s helpful to refer back to the second confidence-building strategy: developing positive self-appraisals. Whenever you experience insecurity, you need to tame and quiet your inner critic. You need to flip the criticisms of yourself and offer yourself praise instead. Rather than beat yourself down, pause in the moment and recall all the things you’ve done, all the milestones you’ve achieved and say to yourself, I can do this. This mental reminder can often be enough to get you back on the confidence- building track that gets your head back in the game.