Written by: Jeff Davidson and John O’Connor
Acquire the Confidence to Succeed
What is it about self-confident people that is so attractive? Self-confident people radiate power and health. Hence, others want to be around them, be like them. Self-confidence, fortunately, is a skill you can practice! The concept gets little notice sometimes because people who don’t have self-confidence confuse it with egotism. On the contrary, it’s most attractive because self-confident people make other people feel confident.
A self-confident person walks into a job interview knowing that they have the skills and knowledge to handle the position being offered. A self-confident person asks to be promoted based on an assurance that the promotion is deserved because of past work and can site clear examples. Their path to success involved others in most cases but their clear value proposition to ask for the promotion is there. Self-confidence comes from feeling that you deserve to have and be what you want.
Self-Confidence – Vital to Career Progression
Self-confidence is a prerequisite to success and happiness since performance is often based on attitude as much as aptitude. Success or failure can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is particularly true in the area of self-marketing. If you want a promotion or a raise but aren’t confident that you deserve it, you’re likely to let your doubts get in your way. Doubts affect outlook and can negatively impact decisions as well as the relationships you need to succeed in almost any company or organization. You may be reluctant to directly approach those in charge of promotions. Or, you might couch your request in a vague manner, using such terms as “maybe,” “if,” and “sometime.” Managing your job and career with wobbly “maybe” language won’t help advance your career causes.
A confident person applying for a new job writes a cover letter that at least thematically if not literally states, “I will do x, y, and z for your company,” and its tone and expectation is “I look forward to hearing from you.” Such statements immediately imply that the applicant expects to be interviewed and hired. The less confident applicant couches the correspondence in terms of, “I could do x, y, and z for your company” and “I hope to hear from you.” These statements imply doubt. In the mind of whoever reads the letter, that doubt easily extends to the applicant’s appropriateness for the job. Confidence means taking a positive approach – an approach that has a way of influencing and persuading other people to your cause and your commitment. They know if they hire you then their cause may become yours. That’s career power.
If you expect to do well at any particular endeavor – from performing a task on the job to gaining social acceptance outside the job – you’re likely to do far better than you would if you expect mediocrity or failure. Self-confident career advancers want to know maximums and not minimums. They become interested in the price it takes to differentiate themselves from average. They send a message that average performers will be caught up in their pursuit of goals. Teachers have known for years that students who are told they are progressing well in spelling, math, or whatever tend to achieve more than students who are told they are having problems. Doubts compromise your effectiveness, and self-doubt makes it unlikely that you can effectively market yourself. It’s like trying to sell a product you don’t believe in. You can’t commit yourself to it wholeheartedly.
Look Better in a Hurry
Self-confidence increases your attractiveness to other people, and that, in turn, also can increase your effectiveness. So much of what we do – at work and outside work – is done with or through other people. When they sense that you’re confident and involve them positively and not as pawns, they want to be around you, support you, and even be like you. They “go to bat” for you and generally assist you in being as effective as you can be. It makes them feel good to be around someone who has a positive, enthusiastic, “can do” attitude. On the other hand, people tend to avoid someone who’s continually worried, self-doubting, and skeptical.
Peace of mind and contentment with life follow on the heels of acceptance of yourself, which then leads to acceptance of others. Conversely, many forms of destructive behavior are due to low self-confidence. For instance, a mid-level manager at a high technology firm constantly befriended new employees, only to spread rumors about them later. This man, unsure about his own place in the company, felt it necessary to sabotage the reputation of new employees. Such behavior only destroyed his own position in the long run.
Are you immune from failure or setbacks as a self-confident person? No. However, confidence seems to create a resiliency response, allowing you to bounce back from failures. Positive self-esteem provides a reservoir of inner strength – a constant that is not dependent upon others and the situations in which you find yourself. Conversely, lack of self-esteem saps your energy with worries about acceptance and accomplishments, creating a downward spiral when those worries do begin to hamper your effectiveness.
Here’s more good news. You’re not stuck with your present degree of confidence. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking, “I’m not a confident person,” you’re wrong. Confidence doesn’t come with a genetic code. It’s not inscribed on your birth certificate; it can be developed. Of course, developing it is hard work, even lonely work and especially when you haven’t necessarily exuded it in years. When you begin to work on becoming more self-confident, you may not get a lot of support from others. They expect you to be Charlie Brown, to expect failure and rejection. Pursue self-confident new habits anyway. Once others see your serious they’ll criticize you but if you do not relent they will follow you. For those who don’t, were they ever really your friends?
Take a good look at the root of your lack of self-confidence. Where does it come from? What do you say and what do you do during pressure situations or in a setback? What situations are most problematic? In what situations do things seem a little better? Finding the answers to such questions can help you dispel personal myths, point out positive occurrences, and begin a realistic program to build your confidence.
In many cases, we spent parts of early years in high school thinking we weren’t as smart as a lot of other people. Even though many of our records in high school academics or athletics could be viewed as way above average, we felt that we could never compete with our “brilliant” friends.
John: As I entered college and encountered groups of people I never met before and did not grow up with in my town in Ohio I didn’t really start defining myself in objective ways. It certainly took some time in the military and at early career positions to start to see qualities I possessed positively impact others. Making leadership decisions that succeeded and failed in my many jobs in construction, teaching and in sales roles led me to seek ways to serve others and to influence others I didn’t really know were valuable. They were.
Jeff: Until I was about 30 years old, I was certain that truly brilliant people, like some of those I had known in high school, were not at all uncommon, and, of course, I would never quite achieve that lofty status. I finally realized that my brightest school friends were not actually representative of the entire population as a whole. Simply understanding the roots of my lack of confidence – and dispelling some myths about it – bolstered my own confidence enormously.
It helps to determine the exact situations in which you feel more or less confident. Don’t worry about them, write them down; and continue by writing a plan of action for improving the situation and even avoiding situations or reactions on your part that bring you down, that are counter-productive. For example, your action plan might look like this:
* I feel most confident when…
* I feel least confident when…
* Some things I can do to improve a situation of least confidence are…
* When I respond to pressure…(this way)…I feel confident.
Here’s how one person completed the above: “I feel most confident when I know I am wearing clothes appropriate to the situation, when I am physically fit, and when I am among people I know well. I feel least confident when I am among strangers and when I feel I have taken on more than I can achieve in a given time frame. To improve a situation that instills low confidence, I need to look and feel my best, to be highly organized in my work, and to operate under the assumption that everybody suffers a certain amount of discomfort in a room full of strangers.”
You also learn about your personal level of confidence by examining how you act and react at home, at work, alone, and in the company of others. The questions below, used by author Sam Horn, are designed to help you pinpoint situations that may be precursors to feelings of low self-confidence. Indicate true or false after each statement. (Add a little explanation if you like.)
* I tend to complete tasks successfully that I wholeheartedly attack.
* I check and recheck to make sure I have done things even though I know they were done.
* I feel uncomfortable about the amount of formal education I’ve had.
* I have frequently wished that I could act more spontaneously more of the time.
* I have no qualms about meeting new males or females.
* Sometimes it seems that everyone is seeking my opinion on something.
* The word that best describes me in my childhood and to somewhat today is inadequate.
* I have always regretted that I could not live up to my parents’ expectations for me.
* I get enough feedback at work to know that I am performing satisfactorily.
* I have often found myself thinking self-condemning thoughts.
* I don’t feel that I have the right to criticize anyone because I have my own failings.
* I feel a sense of accomplishment from my work.
* Basically, I accept and respect myself for the person I am.
* I often find myself worrying about what others are thinking about me.
It isn’t difficult to review your answers and see where some problems might lie. For example, if you answered false to “I get enough feedback at work…”, you may sense a lack of confidence at work that stems from ambiguity about your performance. In this case, the remedy may be in taking the initiative to ask for feedback. This is particularly likely to boost your confidence, because people performing badly generally get plenty of feedback.
Another example: If you answered true to “I feel uncomfortable about the amount of formal education…”, your lack of confidence in this area may mean that you expect to achieve less than your educated colleagues, and, therefore, do achieve less. But remember — many great achievers throughout history had little education.
The Art of Confidence-Building
Beyond analyzing the sources and situations concerning your level of confidence, there are some specific strategies you can adopt and steps you can take to learn and practice confidence-building:
Stay Focused On Good Habits. Practicing self-confidence won’t change you into wonder-woman or superman overnight — or ever. Self-confidence will allow you to make the best of what you can do. Also many non-self confident people quit new, positive habits way too early. Often follow through on good habits is all it takes to succeed and increase self-esteem.
Know Your Goods. Your confidence may be so low that it seems you do nothing well. But stop and think about even the small things that you do each day–from organizing your mail to meeting self-imposed deadlines for routine chores. You may be surprised to find some abilities and positive features that you haven’t given ample credit to in the past. Making a list works well. You’ll find that by emphasizing the positive, you’ll gain confidence to work on the less positive.
Make Yourself Happy. Extending yourself to impress others runs counter to the idea of confidence. You may need to spend more time doing things simply because you want to do them and they make you feel good. These are the activities in which you’re most likely to succeed and that are most likely to bolster your confidence when they go well.
Small Wins Matter. Maybe you didn’t get that promotion, but pat yourself on the back for getting asked your opinion in a meeting or for completing that report ahead of schedule. Don’t figure all is lost if the big accomplishments elude you for now. If everything seems to be falling apart in one area of your life, look for achievements in another.
Reward Yourself Often. Enjoy your successes. Celebrating success helps you take the focus off your mistakes. When you finish a budget or report on deadline, take yourself–and others–out to a movie. When you get some overdue positive feedback, treat yourself to a lunch hour at a museum or buy yourself a book you’ve been wanting. Let other people know you are celebrating and that they’re important enough to you that you want them to share.
Learn From Failure. Guess what mistakes are a part of a confident person’s DNA. Don’t let mistakes drag you down by dwelling on them. Instead regard them as lessons — stepping stones that give you a higher vantage point for better knowledge and wisdom. Be glad that you’ve learned that lesson and won’t make that mistake again. But, give yourself permission to make some mistakes and to be a little less than perfect.
Words Matter. Sounding confident can be heard. Practice using positive terms in conversation. For example, despite some concerns you may have, simply say, “Yes, we will get that done,” or, “I can get it finished on time.” Your confidence will likely lead to a better chance of accomplishing what you’ve set out to do. Practice speaking without saying, “but,” “maybe,” “if,” “I’m not sure,” and other qualifiers.
Look the Part. Don’t overlook this part. It may seem superficial but it is not. No matter how you feel today, dress and groom yourself as you would on a day when you were feeling on top of the world. Remind yourself to stand as if you want to be an inch taller and walk with a firm, purposeful stride. When you keep your head up and maintain good eye contact, those around you act more interested and confident in you. And that, in turn, will build your confidence.
Initiate Positive Conversations. Communication and positive communication matters and it’s a choice. It’s not easy to start talking to people you don’t know, but force yourself to do it. We all start as strangers. What’s the worst that can happen? They are unlikely to turn and run away or to act insulted or angry. Starting a conversation with a stranger at a conference or a party will build your confidence, because they will generally respond with interest and gratitude. People will view you and treat you as a self-confident person.
Prepare Discussions in Advance. Play through any upcoming scheduled meetings, interviews, or conversations ahead of time. This prepares you to handle most obstacles that could arise. Make some notes to yourself about topics, questions, and responses. If you’re at a loss for words in social situations, make some mental notes about all the topics of “small talk” about which you could ask questions or initiate discussions. These could range from the weather to the front page news. What you say may not be as important as the fact that you are able to say something with confidence.
Imitate Self-Confident People. Identify the people around you who have a good degree of self-confidence and observe them. I find this technique to be effective. Is it how they work, what they say, how they carry themselves? Select one small behavior at a time and try to emulate it. Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a radio talk show host and author, says imitation is essential to learning. She notes that if you are attracted to self-confidence in others, it’s likely that you have the capacity for greater personal self-confidence. The qualities we admire and envy in others usually reflect our own undeveloped capacities.
Experiment with Roles. In the privacy of your home, preferably in front of a mirror, act out the self-confident attitudes and manners that a confident person would show the world. A friend of mine once related that he has eight different hats, ranging from a baseball cap to a Texas ten-gallon hat. Every morning, he puts on a different hat depending on what challenges he will face that day. Then he pictures meeting those challenges while he looks at himself in the mirror. Hey, use whatever works for you!
Increasing your self-confidence is primarily a matter of finding out what makes you feel good about yourself and then practicing these behavior patterns. It means assuring yourself and others that you have made and will continue to make some highly worthwhile accomplishments — without shrugging off any accomplishments as too insignificant to count. As you display this attitude more and more, others will soon increase their confidence in you. Involving others in your positive progress helps too. All of this will lead to even greater self-confidence for you. It’s funny how the world of work and life become better places when your confidence increases.
About Jeff Davidson
Jeff Davidson is the internationally recognized expert on work-life balance and holds the registered trademark from the USPTO as the “Work-Life Balance Expert”®. He is the author of several popular books including Breathing Space, Simpler Living, and the 60 Second Organizer. Jeff has offered his cutting edge, hands-on strategies for a balanced career and a balanced life to audiences from Singapore to San Diego, with clients as diverse as Novo Nordisk, Worthington Steel, Lufthansa, National Office Furniture, the IRS, and Swissotel. You can reach Jeff at Jeff@breathingspace.com or via www.breathingspace.com
About John O’Connor
John O’Connor, who has been noted for outplacement excellence, professional career transition, resume writing and career coaching for over 20 years. John O’Connor’s articles has contributed to a number of publications on job search, personal branding and outplacement issues including The Ladders, CNN Money, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Hot Jobs! and AOL Money. As the first private practice Reach Branding Certified Specialist in North Carolina, and the first Certified Federal Job Search Trainer (CFJST), John has been a leader in executive career services issues nationally. You can reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org or via www.careerproinc.com.