“Most people live in a restricted circle of potential.”
This observation by William James holds no less truth today than when he made it over a century ago. The reason that so many people never fulfill their potential is not a lack of intelligence, opportunity or resources, but a lack of belief in themselves. Or put another way, too little self-confidence. Without it, you can do little, with it, you can do anything!
But what is confidence, anyway?
Often people think of confidence as something that the lucky few are born with and the rest are left wishing for. Not true. Confidence is not a fixed attribute; it’s the outcome of the thoughts we think and the actions we take. No more; no less. It is not based on your actual ability to succeed at a task but your belief in your ability to succeed. For instance:
- Your belief in your ability to speak in front of an audience
- Your belief in your ability to learn a new technology
- Your belief in your ability to lead a team
- Your belief in your ability to handle confrontation or manage conflict
- Your belief in your ability to change job or career, exit a relationship, or start a business.
Of course, confidence can wax and wane throughout our lives. It’s boosted when we experience a win or receive praise. It takes a hit when our efforts fall short of the mark, we’re criticized, rejected or simply feel a lack of external recognition. We’re only human after all. It’s therefore vital not to become overly reliant on external affirmation to prop up our self-worth, but to take ownership for taking the worthwhile actions needed to sustain it. Which begs the question:
How do you build the confidence needed to overcome your challenges and achieve your goals, particularly when you don’t first succeed?
Below are five strategies, all backed by hard science, to help you on your way, beginning with the most powerful of them all.
Act As If…
Just as the simplest recipes turn out the best dishes, so too the simplest advice can produce the strongest results. The single most powerful way to build confidence is to act with the confidence you aspire to have. That is, to act as if you already possess the confidence you aspire to have. Speak up. Reach out. Stretch yourself. Exit your comfort zone! While there are reams of research on building a robust sense of self-confidence — and banishing the self-doubt that can undermine it – it basically boils down the decision you take to back yourself and take a risk.
Alex Malley, bestselling author of The Naked CEO shared with me, “The only way to build self-confidence is to take a risk and take action despite your fear of failure, messing up or embarrassment. If things work out, then you now know you can domore than you think. If things don’t work out, you now know that you can handlemore than you think. Either way, you’re better off.”
As CEO of CPA Australia, a leading global accounting body over 150,000 members globally, Malley has seen far too many people stay in the same role for too long because they have bought into the confidence-shrinking (and career-limiting!) belief that they can’t do anything else.
I’ve seen the same myself. Someone achieves a modicum of career success only to become unwilling to do anything that might put it at risk. So they start spending more time in their comfort zone where there is minimal risk of failure and little threatens their confidence. At least in the short term! But when we stop reaching we stop learning and when we stop learning, we stop growing…
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