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Building Confidence: Putting the odds on your side

Here’s the secret about confidence:

We all struggle with it.

We all have moments when it’s naturally low and moments when it’s naturally high. That kind of fluctuating confidence is based on our emotional state—but what about that unflinching, resilient confidence that endures in the face of rejection, failure and disappointment? Where does that come from?

In a word: action.

Confidence isn’t going to fall into your lap. Affirmations are lovely, but without some move on your part the words ring hollow. I’ve defined three distinct action items that tend to build a positive confidence feedback loop: 

1. The Preparation

2. The Introspection

3. The Doing

The great thing about all three action items? They’re within our power to address.

Confidence isn’t going to fall into your lap. Affirmations are lovely, but without some move on your part the words ring hollow. Click To Tweet

The Preparation

Preparedness has to do with how we prepare for a certain task, obligation or interaction. It’s the time and energy we spend on perfecting our craft; it’s the hours in the gym and the sweat in the weight room.

Similarly, it’s the crafting of your speech, the preparation of the powerpoint, and the coordination of schedules. When everything is taken care of, confidence flows more freely. It’s knowing that you’ve done all you can do to prepare and the rest is out of your hands.

However, you actually have to do the work—not half-ass it. Preparation requires being precise and leaning into the hard work that dedication requires. We often do the minimum and convince ourselves that that’s enough. The difference, however, becomes apparent when we’re either scrambling to address an unforeseen problem.

The Introspection

It’s interesting to observe how we attempt to live life without having deeply examined ourselves. We ensure wasted days, months, and years spent making the same mistakes, falling into the same thought patterns, and struggling with the same problems. 

“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.” ― G.I. Gurdjieff

Without some introspection, we continually stumble on issues we’ve already encountered. Taking time to objectively evaluate and assess our action up to this point liberates us from that destructive cycle. We allow ourselves to genuinely ask what’s working for us—and what’s not. There’s a certain learning curve inherent to life, so an attitude of openness and acceptance is vital while refining our processes.

Introspection also means that we get to intimately know our “soft spots” — those vulnerable parts that we’d rather not expose. It’s those weaknesses that we’re ashamed to work on because it means acknowledging they exist. But our power (and confidence) comes from our knowledge of—and acceptance of—our “flaws.” When we’re okay with our shortcomings, we care less about others noticing them.

By ignoring what’s going on inside of us, we set ourselves up to fail. We ignore behaviours and thought patterns that are unhelpful, and when those unhelpful habits lead to failure we end up confused and discouraged. We become convinced that we’re incapable when we just need to tweak our approach.

Introspection also means that we get to intimately know our “soft spots” — those vulnerable parts that we’d rather not expose. It’s those weaknesses that we’re ashamed to work on because it means acknowledging they exist.

The Doing

Finally, confidence is developed through experience. It’s the literal going and doing of it. Despite the previous paragraphs, you don’t have to have everything figured out. Preparation helps us avoid stupid mistakes and introspection helps us avoid making them again, but both can be done on the fly if necessary. Lasting lessons come from taking on the task. We can prepare and envision out the wazoo, but if we never actually do it we won’t have confidence in our abilities.

We learn who we are in practice not in theory.
— David Epstein

It’s a Catch-22, like finding employment as a young person. You can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. That’s where internships come in handy. So think of your initial attempts as “internships” in what you’re trying to master. Be generous and gracious with yourself as you’re learning; laugh at your mistakes, ask questions, but DO it. That’s where steady confidence comes from: Experience.

Bundle of Nerves

Now, rest assured, confidence doesn’t guarantee lack of nerves or doubt. Nothing can fully erase those human tendencies, and they’re both—counterintuitively—useful things to have.

Nervousness, the sister emotion to excitement, prepares and stimulates our body, prepping us to “go into battle.” We’re mentally and physically stimulated so that we can perform with the level of energy and attentiveness required. It’s when that stimulation level gets out of control that it should be paired with mindfulness techniques so that we’re operating within an optimal arousal level (as outlined in Mindfulness Practices for High Performance). 

And doubt—yes, doubt—is extremely useful. Have you ever ran into someone who is so completely sure of everything they say that they came off as arrogant and cocky? Imagine going on a date with that person. Would they get a second one? Those kinds of people are so sure of their success that they refuse to listen to opposing views or outside advice. That kind of mentality usually results in alienation and short-sightedness.

Wisest is she who knows she does not know.
— Jostein Gaarder

Doubt exposes us to humbleness. It allows us to question ourself and those around us. It’s where critical thinking comes into play. It’s us waiting to be convinced—making time for the necessary legwork. That humility allows us to realize that as much as we know, there’s much more to learn. So while confidence of direction is key, openness is still required to find the best solution.

Winning Feedback Loop

These three elements working together create a positive feedback loop of confidence. Our preparation is affirmed by our doing, and our doing is reinforced by our introspection. We set safeguards from repeating mistakes and getting sucked in the wrong direction. We protect ourself from hubris but bring the spirit of courage and openness that is vital to trying something new. We embrace the adventure of putting ourselves out there, taking the risk of failing, but learning and building our confidence all the while.

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