Let me start off with a little bit of honesty.
You may not know why you are reading this. But I’m pretty sure I do.
And let’s be clear. It’s not because you lack a skill. Nor is it because you lack time.
It’s not because your co-workers are difficult, or you need a quick boost of motivation from the Internet.
And it’s definitely not because of that sneaky little lie your ego is harboring.
You know the one.
The one that waits gutlessly until your body is tired. Until you’re hungry or you’re sleepy or your boss has just scolded you.
The one that seizes the moment and whispers “maybe you’re just not good enough,” and in the second of weariness you just about believe it.
No, that’s not why you are here.
You’re here because you understand that a lot of the time, skill doesn’t mean confidence.
You know how I know this?
Because if you truly believed the lie, if you truly believed you weren’t good enough, you wouldn’t be reading an article about confidence.
There would be no need to; the outcome would be fixed – so why on earth would you waste your time?
You’re here because you want to feel more self-assured, at work and in life. You want to bridge the gap between what you know you can do and what you are doing.
So let’s just clarify what exactly this thing called confidence is.
Confidence means having a belief in your abilities and translating that belief into action.
If you talk about what you’re going to do, that’s not confidence.
If you constantly imagine yourself succeeding, that’s not confidence.
If you plan and plan things to do, but never actually do them, that’s not confidence.
Confidence is only expressed through action.
And without getting too abstract, this means that your true level of confidence is always changing; it changes moment to moment based on your potential or capacity to act on any given day.
This is a scary realization.
It means that just because you got up and spoke in public last week, it doesn’t mean that you will do so again next week.
But it’s also great news.
It means that just because you couldn’t get up and speak in public last week, you won’t be incapable of doing so next week!
“Confidence, ultimately, is the characteristic that distinguishes those who imagine from those who do.” – Katty Kay, The Confidence Code
So where do we find confidence?
Well, while roughly 50 percent of confidence seems to come from our genes, the other 50 percent comes from personal experience.
What we can do is practice certain habits that make us more likely to act, and therefore make us more confident in any given situation at work.
Reduce your attachment to the outcome
“Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.” – The Bhagavad Gita
This is clearly easier said than done.
We’re often heavily conditioned, particularly in the West, to expect an end result from our actions, and to wait attentively for feedback and praise.
We want a return on investment in everything we do from emails sent to hours worked to movies watched, even to time spent with loved ones.
The question, even unconsciously, What am I getting out of this? is a precursor to much of what we do.
But if you want to be confident you have to ditch this idea, or at the very least learn how to manage it.
The more invested you are in the outcome of something, the less likely you are to follow through. This is because your attachment creates a fear of failure.
You start worrying about the pain you’ll experience when you don’t get what you want. What if I fail? What if I look stupid? What will people think?
Confidence comes when you’re naturally focused on the present moment and not anxiously anticipating the future.
Putting it into practice
Developing non-attachment requires a lot of self-awareness, and journaling is a really great, effective way to see results in a short time.
Here’s a practical exercise you can use to start journaling today:
- Identify your explicit or implicit goals. What are you striving for? What do you want? What to you spend a lot of time thinking about getting?
- Visualize failure. What would happen if you failed? How would you feel? What would this do to your self-image?
- Reframe the goal. How could you be ok with not achieving the desired outcome? What part of the process could you direct your attention to that would make you forget the outcome?
- Identify mini-stories. This is the most complicated part. You need to identify the fantasies in your head. What do you daydream about day in, day out?
- Catch and release. Once you’ve spent enough time identifying mini-stories you’ll know when they come up. At this point it’s important to watch them, maybe even laugh at them a little, before letting them go and getting back to work.
Develop an internal locus of control
Locus of control is just a fancy way of saying the degree to which you feel you are in control of your life.
Someone who has an external locus of control believes that their life is controlled by external factors (most notably other people). Someone who has an internal locus of control believes that their life is controlled by internal factors (their own actions and beliefs).
These ideas are not a fixed reality – they’re just a mindset.
Here’s a very important note, our personality traits follow our patterns of attention.
In personality psychology, those with an internal locus of control focus their attention more heavily on things they can control, rather than things they can’t.
Consider for a second there are two people with equal skill; one has an internal locus of control and the other an external locus of control.
If they’re placed in a work situation with ten factors, five they can control and five they can’t control, those with an internal locus of control may pay attention to four they have control over and one they don’t.
On the other side, those with an external locus of control pay attention to one they have control over and four they don’t.
The point is that their belief is independent of the environment; it’s determined by where they place their attention.
Putting it into practice
The first step to developing an internal locus of control is to set goals that are dependent on your own performance and based on your own standards.
When setting a goal, consider these four questions.
Can I achieve this goal independent of the actions of anyone else?
Do I value the skills required to achieve this goal?
Is this goal based on my own expectations (and not those of somebody else)?
Is this a SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goal?
If the answer is yes to all of these questions, then this is a good goal to start with.
Be brutally honest with your self-assessments
Honest self-evaluation is one of the hardest things to do.
Although it’s easy to think that confident people often have unrealistic beliefs about their own abilities, the truth is in many areas they tend to have a more accurate gauge than those who aren’t so confident.
This is simple to understand in theory, but difficult to act on in practice.
To do so is a matter of taking an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses.
Look at your performance over the last month, year, and even the span of your entire career. Most of us have some areas in which we unrealistically evaluate our performance. It may be because we haven’t thought enough about it or because we have an ego-attachment to the idea of ourselves being good in a particular area, say for example when it comes to communication or design.
However, being completely honest with yourself does a couple of important and powerful things to your mindset.
Firstly, it shields you from disappointments because the end result is likely to be in line with reality and not with unrealistic expectations.
Secondly, it gives you valuable feedback about what to work on and thus rapidly speeds up your learning process.
In fact, a big part of why high-performers get to where they are is down to how they don’t let their ego get in the way of their learning.
Putting it into practice
Take the honest self-appraisal survey:
- What is the one thing at work I would HATE to find out I was bad at?
- What is the one thing I often get complimented on by friends and coworkers?
- What are three areas I would consider my strengths?
- What are three areas I would consider my weaknesses?
- Of these areas, how would I rate my performance on a scale of 1-10 over the last week, the last month, the last year, and my entire career?
- Of these areas, how would my co-workers rate my performance?
- Of these areas, how would my boss rate my performance?
If you want to take this a step further, ask your co-workers, boss, family, and friends to rate your performance.
You’ll likely be surprised when their beliefs about your strengths and weaknesses don’t necessarily align with yours.
Practice positive visualization
Question: What do high-level golfers, public speakers, chess players and CEOs all have in common?
Answer: They all practice positive visualization.
In a similar way to how the universe is governed by the laws of physics, the brain and mind are governed by their own intrinsic laws.
One of these mind-governing laws means that whatever you focus on expands.
While imagining your success alone won’t make you confident, it’s an essential ingredient in the journey of getting there.
Confident people make a frequent habit of practicing positive visualization. Some may do it consciously as part of a morning routine, while others just do it naturally.
Visualization has been popular in sports since the 1970’s. Some studies have even found mental practices to be nearly as beneficial as physical practice for improving performance. It may sound a bit flimsy and airy-fairy, but the practice does, over time, completely change the programming of your brain.
This is because cognitively, mental imagery mimics the same process as the actions do. So naturally, over time, our brain strengthens in the area we focus our visualization on.
Putting it into practice
- Identify the scenario you want to be more confident in.
- Sit down somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and imagine you are in a movie theater. Gently slow your breathing.
- Create a movie with your mind, in which that scenario is going perfectly.
- Pay attention to the sights, sounds, and feelings you’re experiencing, making them slightly more intense with every breath.
- Spend a few minutes repeating the scene over and over, at first it might require a lot of focus, but with time you’ll become more and more capable.
Positive visualization is that simple, and that effective.
It’s best to do this practice ritually. In the morning following some sort of physical or meditative practice is a great place to start.
Become comfortable with uncertainty
“Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” – Tim Ferris
Uncertainty is, at its root, poisonous to confidence. When we repeatedly question our efforts and believe we might not succeed, the overwhelming uncertainty can make us too scared to try.
However, uncertainty is an inevitable part of life.
If we can condition ourselves to become comfortable with uncertainty, then the degree to which it impacts our confidence will be significantly reduced.
Putting it into practice
There are a couple of ways you can practice dealing with uncertainty. One is directly, and the other through visualization.
- If you’re a very organized person, start by spending a day where you walk around your city and choose to do things as they come. If you’re ready to take it a step further you can try going for holidays without itineraries or taking risks in your business life that are not guaranteed to pay off.
- Try practicing the stoic art of negative visualization. As opposed to the positive visualization exercise mentioned above, the Stoics used to practice visualizing the worst-case scenario in order to prepare themselves for it. The theory is simply that once you’ve run over the idea in your mind, you’re more conditioned to deal with it, should it happen. I’d suggest a combination of the two.
The most decorated Olympic gold medalist of all time, swimmer Michael Phelps, has said he uses a combination of both positive and negative visualization.
“I would visualize the best and worst case scenarios. Whether I get disqualified or my goggles fill up with water or I lose my goggles or I come in last, I’m ready for anything.” – Michael Phelps
Let’s round this off the way we started, with another refreshing little nugget of honesty.
You don’t need to be the most confident person in the office.
You just need to be confident enough to get what you want. That’s why these techniques I write about are so valuable. Not because they’ll help you become someone you or someone else ‘thinks’ you should be.
It’s not necessary you’re the loudest in the room. What’s important is you’re able to freely express your talents in a way that allows you to engage deeply with your work – and that, in itself, is profoundly rewarding.
It all starts with a little step outside of your comfort zone and a little bit of discomfort.
The question is; are you prepared to take that step?