Winston Churchill once said “courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all the others.” It’s true, but courage has a twin sister: confidence.
When it comes to confidence, most of us are sporadic, being more confident in some life areas than others. I’ve been no exception to that, although nowadays I enjoy relatively boundless confidence in the life areas that matter to me. And that didn’t just happen, I worked for it a lot. (Like, a lot a lot.)Real confidence is knowing you can handle something Click To Tweet
True confidence – unlike the shortcut sort you get for, say, being pretty – does not come from a subjective evaluation of yourself. It is a feeling of trust in your inner resources, or that “I’ll handle it” feeling. And this is a skill that can be learned, practiced and mastered.
This post aims to get you acting like confidence is cultivable, which it is. And we are going for Walt Disney’s definition of the word: “When you believe in a thing (thing being yourself) – believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably”.
How we get confident
In my observations, a person is confident either because of:
- A proven track record to themselves of their effectiveness.
- Being at a high standard naturally at something.
These two routes aren’t equal I’ve found: the first route produces a more solid and stable kind of confidence. The second is the equivalent of having a Mario feather – it’s great when it’s there, but it leaves you vulnerable to future obstacles.
As with the rest of life, when it comes to improving confidence there is value in going through a process (the brain has a proven track record of improving). I just don’t think confidence runs as deep when we are psychologically rewarded without putting the work in of overcoming ourselves.
How confidence looks
Our confidence levels are obvious from how we interact and the state of our lives. Again I have found the route to confidence to be relevant in how it appears.
Some people have a self-assured quality that you imagine they have always had. My younger brother has that quality. I don’t have that at all. Instead, I have much more of a bouncy, carefree confidence, probably because I wasn’t naturally confident like him.True confidence tends to be quiet Click To Tweet
A few signs of real confidence in a person and from their life: they smile a lot, there is a high personal effectiveness, they’re proactive, they tend to be relaxed in social settings, they speak clearly and assertively without being aggressive.
A few tells of a person that isn’t feeling confident at something or generally: protective (hunched over) body language, either too aggressive (over-compensating) or too meek, they avoid taking certain necessary actions, don’t meet goals, worry excessively.
What are you confident at?
I am sure you already know how and in which areas improving confidence would make a difference to your quality of life. Here is a short exercise you can do to assess your confidence.
Assess your confidence:
Listed below are ten things that I have found to be important to be confident in and at. You may not have exactly the same priorities, but you are likely to share some of them.
As you read it, and as well as mentally ranking your confidence for the area, think about whether your current confidence came about via the first or second route.
- Appearance and presentation.
- Competence at job/work.
- Accepting challenges – work/personal/creative/health.
- Communication and self-expression (including the dreaded public speaking).
- Boundaries and saying no when you need to.
- Judgment and decision-making.
- Personal finances handling.
- Handling change.
- Coping with rejection and failure.
The golden rule to improve confidence in any life area
The key to improving confidence is almost too simple:
You must regularly confront your fears in the area you want to build confidence in, taking concrete actions. That’s it. There are no hacks (or Mario feathers).There aren't any shortcuts to developing lasting confidence Click To Tweet
Aristotle said: “Excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become brave by doing brave acts.” It’s spot on.
You have to do particularly what you procrastinate on, as those things represent our agreements to ourselves.
It isn’t necessary to throw yourself into the deep end, although baptisms of fire tend to accelerate results. You just need to be consistent.
Woody Allen’s judgment isn’t flawlessly sound, but he once said that showing up is 80% of life. I have found this to be true.
Let’s say you want to improve confidence in social settings. You have to schedule in social activities, such as meet ups, community events, work socials and dates and consistently attend. This is how you’ll get confident in social settings.
If you want to improve confidence at giving presentations at work, seek out mentors and relevant information and then give presentations a lot. If you want to improve confidence in writing, then write. The same applies if you want to improve confidence at saying no. I’m sorry that this advice isn’t more original than ‘grow a pair’, but our problem tends not to be lack of information, but lack of implementation.
There are certain common obstacles preventing us taking action in life:
I wrote about how to overcome limiting beliefs here.
Low self-confidence is often caused by the negative thoughts running through our minds on an endless track. Practicing mindfulness should help you here, because it makes us realise that we are not our thoughts. Gratitude can also help rewire the brain away from negativity.
With regard to negative self talk, the best thing you can do is develop self-compassion. Strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy may also assist by having you question your negative interpretations.
Improving confidence in particular life areas
In addition to taking action, here are some specific practices and emotional habits for improving confidence in each of the areas listed. This isn’t a comprehensive list.
Having a high value on self-care, and especially exercise and nutrition.
Learning to delay gratification.
Rigorous self-honesty and quantification.
Developing better posture and body language (although I think that faking it only takes you so far. Focus on feeling confident before your start power posturing you way through meetings).
Competence and effectiveness:
Deepening your knowledge (which is always going to be one of the surest ways to empower yourself).
Commitment and showing up consistently.
Acting upon feedback on shortcomings.
Meeting challenges head on:
Setting goals and achieving them.
Confronting minor issues in your relationships before they escalate instead of sweeping things under the carpet.
Communication and self-expression:
Learning better communication habits.
Slowing down speaking (feels a bit contrived at first but does seem to have a tangible effect on confidence).
Saying no when needed:
Priority and practice.
Judgment and decision-making:
Working on understanding your psychology better (for example).
Knowing your values.
Opening up all aspects of life to decision.
Travelling and doing personal development courses.
Personal finances handling:
Better personal accounting.
Deliberately changing things when you don’t need to.
Practicing mindfulness with fear/anxiety.
Coping with rejection and failure:
Placing yourself up for rejection to begin with (takes vulnerability and courage).
Maintaining a growth mindset.
Deepening your knowledge and understanding of your ego.
Getting through the growing pains
Improving confidence takes time. I suggest that you practice acceptance of all the uncomfortable emotions associated with it, such as fear, frustration and embarrassment.
Try make the process fun too though! The author Jia Jiang became famous for recording his experience of busting fear by purposefully making ridiculous requests of people in order to be rejected. I did a similar exercise once, as part of a self-development seminar. When you make enough crazy requests of people, you desensitize yourself (at least a little) to rejection.
Being too confident
If we are talking about genuine confidence (as opposed to over-compensatory arrogance), there is no such thing as too much. It isn’t the same as with self-esteem and valuing yourself, where too much might work against you.
True confidence isn’t entitled, and it doesn’t assume anything about others. It just quietly gets on with whatever is important.
Improving confidence isn’t rocket science, we just need to be willing to put the work in.
The more frequently you take on the challenges in the life areas that matter to you, then the more you will grow that “I got this” feeling. There is no replacement for exposure.If I had to isolate one thing, it is being ruthlessly honest with yourself about where a lack of confidence is compromising your quality of life Click To Tweet
Perhaps the ultimate in confidence is feeling like you can handle anything that life throws at you. To get that empowered takes time, but I think it is available for every single one of us.
If I had to isolate one key thing to do in improving confidence, it is being in the habit of ruthless self-honesty. That’s what’ll eventually lead you to commit and recommit to putting the work in to deepening your confidence in your areas of concern.