Every since I was a young boy I’ve been confident. I always thought I’d be able to do whatever it is I sought to get good at. If it was a sport, I had no doubt that I could be just as good if not better than all the other kids with enough time to practice. If it was an instrument, I knew I just needed to play a lot. If it were academics, it was a matter of studying enough so that I’d do well on the test. I always knew deep down that I was capable of anything. It simply required the hours and the will to do it. As I look back I wonder where I got that from. The answer? I think it came down to two things: genetics and encouragement. I’d be lying if I told you that confidence was “groomed” in me. There’s definitely a genetic component that I picked up from my parents. Both of them are highly competitive and confident people so it stands to reason that would rub off on me. But then you’ve got encouragement. Both my parents always instilled in my the belief I could be good at anything. Plus I have an older brother and sister who always encouraged me as a kid. Because of these two things, I’ll always have the believe that I’m capable of nearly anything if I simply put in the time and effort. But what about those that don’t feel this way? What about the people who aren’t naturally confident? What about the people who weren’t fortunate enough to have the encouragement that I did? Can confidence be cultivated? I believe that it absolutely can. Here’s how:
The smallest of small things
I’m going to use a common example of the fear of public speaking as something a person could eventually become confident in. If someone had this fear and I were to coach them on becoming not only good at speaking but confident in it, here’s what I’d do. First I’d find out exactly what settings a person is in where they are in fact comfortable speaking. Let’s say the person has no issue speaking to their friends in a kitchen but would never dare get up on stage. OK, good. Let’s start there. Use the kitchen. Use the friends you’re already talking to as a starting point. Do you usually talk at the kitchen table? OK. Instead of you sitting at the kitchen table, talk to your friends from a distance and plan something for say 2 minutes. You’re literally going to give a 2 minute speech to your friends in your kitchen. See how it feels. Does it feel comfortable? Good. Do it again. Don’t like it? Fine, try it in front of one person. Let’s say you get to a point where it’s OK. Do that thing another 5 times. Do it until it feels OK. Then upgrade.
Building the muscle and breaking it down again
If you’re trying to build confidence it’s very similar to building muscle. The only way to get to the next level is by increasing the stress thereby breaking the muscle down so it can build back up again. So if you were trying to build muscle let’s say you could bench press 145 lbs 10 times for 3 sets. The only way you’d build muscle is by upping the weight. So then you’d do 150 lbs for 3 sets. Once you hit 10 reps on all three sets, what comes next? You try 155 lbs, and so on and so forth. The same would apply to speaking. You feel comfortable speaking in front of 5 people in a kitchen. But then maybe you move it to a restaurant and increase the people to 10. You get that down to the point where it doesn’t phase you at all. What comes next? Perhaps you up the people to 15. What if that doesn’t make a dent? Maybe you up the venue to an auditorium where you can speak in front of 50 people. You keep leveling up until you are comfortable at each level.
Confidence is achieved when you reach mastery at each level. You don’t have to speak in front of a packed stadium of 50,000 people to be a confident speaker. You can be a confident speaker at each level once you’ve mastered it. If you’re used to speaking in front of 20 people in a room and have done so repeatedly for years, you’re likely a very confident speaker in that venue. If asked to then speak in front of 1000 people you might not be so confident. But like the weight lifting, if you move to that level and eventually “master” that level, then you very well might become confident speaking in front of 1000 people. It’s all about the “reps” at each level. Michael Jordan may not have always felt comfortable taking the last shot of the game, but you can be sure that after taking the last shot 100 times, that his 101st time came without hesitation whether he thought he would make it or miss it.
Rinse and repeat
Whether it takes days, weeks, months, or years to master something, once you’ve mastered it, the confidence is there. It’s been built and you’ll know you can build it again. At that point you try something else. Do the exact same process over and over again. That’s called living a life.
Setbacks and the reality of confidence
Here’s something extremely important to remember. Along your journey to get confident in something there will 100% be setbacks. In the example of public speaking. There might be a time when in the middle of a speech you mess up, get embarrassed and walk off the stage. Guess what? That’s totally OK. What’s not OK is completely stopping after that. One of the biggest challenges to gaining confidence is to “keep going.” Remember, confidence isn’t about not being nervous. It’s not about being cocky. It’s about knowing that you will get up there and do it, and know that whether it’s good or bad that you’ll get up there again. Confidence isn’t about winning. It’s about knowing damned well you’re going to lose but that you have full faith in trying again and understanding that losses are part of the process. I cannot stress enough the important of “keep going” as it pertains to confidence.