I face it every time – a confidence crisis. When I have to speak in public, delivering a workshop session, talking to a group of people, network during an event, or even writing an article.
That tiny negative voice inside me starts questioning my ability. I can sense myself shrinking, with statements such as, “they are not going to accept you”, “who do you think you are?”, “why did you sign up for this, its so uncomfortable” and so on. I can feel my chest constricting, and butterflies in my belly.
What’s up? Those ANTs (automatic negative thoughts, as Dr. Daniel Amen calls them) start creeping all over my system and eat away my confidence. But I don’t give up. I start crushing them. One by one. And then I launch into the activity.
So what is confidence after all?
Read this wise counsel from Norman Fischer about confidence:
“Self-confidence isn’t egotism…. When you are truly self-confident, you are flexible with regard to ego: you can pick up ego when necessary, but you can also put it down when necessary in order to learn something completely new through listening. And if you find that you can’t put ego down, at least you know that this is so. You can admit it to yourself. If takes profound self-confidence to be humble enough to recognize your own limitations without self-blame”.
Here are some things I remind myself while battling with confidence issues:
#1. Embrace less than 100% confidence.
Be prepared to feel imperfect in your confidence. Because perfect confidence is a foolish thing to possess. It can blind you to pitfalls, cause you to ignore critique, develop an illusion that folly is impossible. None of these are helpful in your quest for high performance.
#2. Confidence is depicted in how you utter and occur.
In your speech and actions. But sometimes confident words and deeds are hard to find when you are shaky. In such moments, it helps to conjure up an illusion of confidence and act your way into walking and talking confidently. When you want to act confidently, act as if you have the confidence to act confidently.
#3. Fear is a necessary ingredient in the confidence recipe.
If you want the keenest, sharpest corners of your brain to be engaged in the moment, nothing does the job like a good dose of fear. In the right measure, when applied intelligently, fear fuels confidence. Make it a habit to channel fear.
#4. The highest way to get something of significance is to give something of significance.
If you want confidence, give confidence. If you want to recharge your reserves of “confidere”, build it up in someone you know who needs it. Teach it and get it.
#5. Launch into it with a learner’s attitude.
Often, I find myself getting into stuff that I don’t feel fully confident about…something I don’t have much experience in. In such cases, adopt the learner’s attitude. I tell myself that my only goal from it is to learn and polish my skills. With that mindset, even failure is useful. I don’t have to be perfect and succeed all the time. I can learn some valuable points and do better next time.
The only exceptions I can think of are activities that either kill you or bankrupt you completely (but then, we should have apply common sense when required, isn’t it?)
Some words of caution
#1. You can only ‘act confident’ so much.
There is science to the concept of illusory optimism and how it can be put to good use. Simply put, having a bias for optimism and ‘acting as if’ does help.
But only up to a point.
Beyond that, if you want to grow your confidence, you have to grow. Becoming a learner. Build a solid foundation for your confidence to stand on. Develop expertise, and chisel that expertise into something specific – a shape that holds your unique signature. That’s what creates ‘resilient confidence’- the kind that weathers any storm.
#2. Know the limits of your confidence.
Confidence is only as good as the work to which it can be employed, to the results it can produce. What can your confidence do for you? What can it not do? Know well the point at which confidence can silently, unknowingly become irrational behavior.
In the end, every single time, I walk away happy that I did not give in to those ANTs. That I did not shy away from action because of confidence issues. Because the satisfaction of an action accomplished is infinitely more than the discomfort you experience before beginning it.
If you can always remind yourself the joy you feel on a completed task, you will not let anything stop you from launching into it.
Go ahead. Do it anyway.