I had a professor in college who was fond of saying to various students, “I have confidence in you.” Though he repeated it often, I never tired of hearing it, especially when it was directed my way. At the end of the semester, we gave him a card which said on the outside, “I have confidence in…” and on the inside was a mirror and under it was the word “You!”
Though I have no psychological training, I have to believe the level of our self-confidence is greatly affected by what one hears when very young. Having a parent say (either verbally or through action) “I have confidence in you” has to be a big help in growing up to be a confident person.
But I hope you’ll give me literary license to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln to say “Most people are about as self-confident as they make up their mind to be.” We’ve all seen people who might not leap out to us as particularly attractive and yet they enjoy relationships with very nice looking mates. Or I think about a friend who had absolutely dreadful G.R.E. scores but suceeded in graduate school because of hard work and a winning personality.
Self-confidence is largely a leap of faith: Can you pull off wearing an outfit that draws the attention of others? Take the leap! What will happen if you introduce yourself to the company director you’ve wanted to meet? Do it and find out. Should you volunteer to take on the huge migration project which strikes fear in the heart of everyone? What’s really to lose?
I can remember standing on the diving board as a kid, afraid to go off. When I think back to that morning, it’s difficult to believe I was scared of such an easy thing. Nevertheless, I made the the lifeguard wait for what seemed like forever for me to summon the courage.
Which brings me here: The opposite of self-confidence isn’t the lack of such. It’s fear.
I was talking with a friend about a colleague who tends to become seemingly overwrought and then focus her anxiety on others. While my friend was irritated with her, I found myself having sympathy; it seemed clear to me this behavior is a result of fear. If we remember fear is behind many unpleasant behaviors, we’ll be more empathetic and therefore better able to help the frightened (and problematic) person and, in turn, help ourselves.
Here, then, are some ways I fight off fear and build self-confidence when I need it:
- Strike a pose — Research shows pretty clearly we can manipulate ourselves into feeling more confident by assuming a posture consistent with confidence. In fact, just two minutes of such power posing can make a difference!
- Focus on becoming — Resist the temptation to say to yourself, “I’m just not _____” Instead, consider how you might change to be more like you want. Most excellent athletes can tell you of the results they got when they first tried something and how they improved by working at it.
- Embrace the single best part of you — A friend once suggested we can usually find one aspect of ourselves that is as good or better than most. Let that part of yourself boost your self-confidence about the rest of you.
- Mind the company you keep — This is perhaps a no-brainer, but don’t spend time with those who put you down and try to limit you.
- Be realistic — In his bestselling book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell mentioned the “10,000 hour rule”, in which it is stated that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. This should help you put things in perspective: You can become better at anything if you put in the time.
In addition to the above, I’m not above watching an inspirational speech to get me ready for a difficult task. For you, the task may be to quiesce your fear while taking a leap of faith. Don’t doubt yourself — I have confidence in you!