Start Before You Feel Ready: How to Build the Confidence You Wish You Had
Ever wished you felt more confident? Many do. In fact a recent study of 2,500 respondents found that that 79 percent of women and 62 percent of men regularly lack confidence. It helps to explain the observation by psychologist William James that most people live in a “restricted circle of their true potential.”
The biggest hurdle any of us ever have to face is the limiting beliefs we have about our capabilities. Mired in misgivings, many people live their entire lives safely inside the lines, going to their grave with a large gap between the life they did live and the life they could have lived…if only they’d had more self-confidence and less self-doubt. Of course, we’re all wired with “negativity bias” that drives us to focus more on what we don't want than on what we do, more on what could go wrong than on what we could make more right.
Which begs the question—is it confidence we really need to forge meaningful careers and thrive in our lives, or is it courage to take action amid our doubts?
Bill Marriott, the legendary hotelier who took the business his father had started as a nine-seat root-beer stand and turned it into the world’s largest hotel empire, believes it’s the latter. During a “fireside chat” for Marriott’s head office employees, I asked him what he’d learned about building confidence. He threw his head back and laughed. “I’ve learned that I don’t have as much as people think I have,” he chuckled. “You get confidence by doing and learning and making mistakes and fixing your mistakes.”
It’s true. Confidence isn’t built through knowing you can’t fail; it’s built through risking failure—daring to act with the very confidence we wished we had and trusting ourselves that even if we fall short, we’ll figure it out and be okay.
Martin Seligman, a leader in the field of positive psychology, said that positive self-image by itself doesn’t produce anything and cannot be sustained without action. In other words, you can’t think yourself confident. Rather, as Seligman wrote, “a sustainable sense of security in oneself arises from positive and productive behavior.”
Ask anyone who’s ever done anything worthwhile and they’ll tell you it wasn’t confidence in their invincibility that fueled their endeavors. Rather, it was their belief in the importance of what they were doing and willingness to risk the emotional discomfort of not landing the ideal outcome, first time, every time. Their mission exceeded their fear of failing; their “why” sat in the driver’s seat and compelled them to break ranks with their comfort. And so they did. Time and time again. Sometimes it was semi-confident action; sometimes it was knot-in-the-gut, knee-shaking, nervous action. But always action. As Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern said, “If you sit and wait to feel like you are the most confident person in the room, you are probably going to be left by yourself.”
Growing up in rural Australia, I learned early that courage trumps confidence as I mustered up my courage learning to ride my first horse as he stood like a mountain over me (or at least it felt that way). Then a couple years later I had to “train the brave” all over again as I learned to ride my second horse, a wild brumby we won in a raffle who went zero to 100 mph in 10 seconds. My life-long lesson: “Growth and comfort can’t ride the same horse.”
And so, too, it is for all of us. We cannot build the confidence by hanging out in our comfort zone waiting for a thunderbolt of unstoppable self-belief to strike us from the heavens. It’s why confidence is often overrated and courage to act amid our fears helps us advance further, faster. That’s not to say confidence doesn’t have its merits. However, with the exception of serial narcissists, confidence often waxes and wanes. Waiting until you feel confident you cannot fail before you take the actions to move forward in your career, jump-start a new one, engage in the crucial conversations, or step up to lead the change you’d like to see can mean a long, long, wait.
Far more useful is to focus your energy on cultivating courage—or “training the brave” as I did each time I’d saddle up after a fall. After all, courage is not dependent on being completely self-assured that you will succeed at a particular task. Rather, it is about daring to do something despite your misgivings or mastery. As research has repeatedly found, people build confidence by doing the very things a confident person would do.
So if you have been waiting until you’re 100 percent confident you know exactly what you are doing, consider the hidden tax of letting your doubts call the shots. On your career. On your relationships. On the value you are adding (or failing to add) for others. Changing behaviors precedes changing self-perception.
Rather than dwelling on all the reasons not to take action, shift your focus onto your future desired outcome and then take some action, any action, toward it. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant your action is. It just matters that you reclaim the power you’ve previously given your doubts and fears. Then notice how you feel. Nervous? Perhaps. But definitely more empowered because you realize that the ground beneath you didn’t open up, and actually, it wasn’t so bad after all.
And then tomorrow, repeat. And continue every day thereafter until whatever once scared you no longer does. At which point, it will be time raise your sights again.
Deliberating refocusing your attention onto what it is you do want creates a subtle shift in your psychological state. Then by taking action toward it, you subconsciously affirm for yourself your commitment to achieving it.
Courage begets confidence. Life rewards action. Only by daring to defy your doubts and act with the confidence you wished you had can you ever realize how little reason you ever had to doubt yourself.
Go on, be brave.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from “You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself” by Margie Warrell (Copyright 2020, John Wiley & Sons Australia, LTD. All rights reserved). This book is available wherever books and ebooks are sold.
Margie Warrell is an international speaker on brave leadership and bestselling author; her latest book is “You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself.” For more information, visit: www.margiewarrell.com/YGT