Real confidence is more than an emotion. It’s about a way of being. I used to think that some people were just born confident or had a really amazing childhood filled with positive affirmations from those around them, and that’s how they grew into confident adults. I personally couldn’t remember ever feeling confident in my life and I used to believe that I never would because “that’s just who I am”. If you’ve ever lacked confidence in any area of life, whether it’s at work or in your studies, learning a new skill, in asking a person out for date, making conversation, even booking travel or doing things on your own, exercising or health, you’re not alone. Many people, even the ones who appear confident in some of those things, have experienced a lack of confidence before and know the challenges that this can pose.
For me, I knew my fears and lack of confidence were holding me back in my personal life. In my career I was outperforming those around me, but I lacked the confidence to ask for a raise or even a promotion, and so I stayed stuck in the same role with the same paycheck for way too long. I lacked the confidence to ask questions about the things I didn’t know very well, in case I looked silly or someone thought I was stupid. This prevented me from up-skilling even more, adding more value to my boss and the company, and proving my capabilities. I was frustrated. But that’s not all.
In my relationships I didn’t have the confidence to talk to my partner about what I wanted and needed. This usually left me feeling drained and unsupported. I would avoid conflict because I didn’t have the confidence to speak up and be heard. I lacked confidence in my body and looks. I felt clumsy and unfit, and walking into a gym to learn, felt too intimidating to even bother.
Not only that, but I lacked confidence in my own decision-making and ability to make smart choices without double and triple checking with everyone else first. I felt anxiety around making simple decisions, like picking an item from a menu or where to meet someone for coffee.
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Lacking confidence can affect your quality of life in so many ways, and I was sick of it! I knew I needed to learn how to be more confident, or at least fake it ‘til I could make it, because I just couldn’t stand to live in fear all the time. So I set out to learn everything I possibly could about the key to being a confident person.
What Is Confidence?
Confidence is a reflection of your past performance. At least, that’s how my brain understands self-confidence. The famous psychologist Albert Bandura described it in terms of self-efficacy. It was suggested that a person’s beliefs about their ability to succeed and to reach a certain level of performance, is what defines a person’s self-efficacy or self-confidence. The way I look at it, confidence is about your belief in your own ability to succeed in life, and this is reflected in the level of mastery you can develop in any area that you choose. Your confidence is not based on your mindset, your mindset is based on your confidence.
What this means for you, is that if your confidence is based on what you’ve done, then you can literally build your confidence by taking specific, deliberate actions towards your goals in any area. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant these actions may seem to you at the time, because your goal is to build your confidence, not to be perfect. The more conscious action you take towards your goals, the more confident and competent you will become.
How to build confidence
The key to building confidence is all about the action you take. It’s about starting small and staying consistent. You don’t need to be perfect or get it right every time. You just need to start. It really doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you begin with a small enough action that you know with 100% certainty that this action is so easy you will definitely follow through with it. For example, I was pretty shy and I lacked the confidence to make small talk in the office or at social gatherings, which was part of the reason why I wasn’t putting myself out there and making myself known to the decision makers in my company who could have given me the recognition and the raise that I wanted. So I began to start small. I set the tiniest of goals that I knew I would achieve because it was so easy I couldn’t give in to any excuses.
At first, I really wanted to set my goal higher and challenge myself, but I stuck to the system I had learned and set the really tiny goal of saying hello and complimenting one stranger or work colleague a day. This was so small I couldn’t not do it. It was also outside of my comfort zone enough that it was still skill building and I had to push myself to do it. You see, building confidence is sort of like building a habit. The habit of pushing yourself just a little bit to lean up hard against your comfort zone, without smashing right through it. Then doing it again and again and again. The more you do this, the more you will notice that your tiny goals will start to feel more and more comfortable and then you’ll be setting goals that used to seem like big goals, but that are now just stepping stones on your way to the big one.
The more that you’ll notice this working for you, the more that you’ll want to do it in all areas of your life, just like I have. I started setting small goals for my health and exercise. Instead of trying to go for a 30 minute jog every morning, I reminded myself to make it a tiny goal. So I chose to go for a jog to the end of my driveway and back every morning. Once that was a habit, I increased it to a jog to the end of my street and back. Then eventually I worked up to jogging around the block until eventually I was running up to 10kms a day!
But it took some time and lots of patience. The secret is remembering that you’re working on building the habit, not winning the race. If you try to go from 0 to 10 overnight, it might work for a short amount of time, but it’s not a sustainable habit yet and most likely you’ll eventually go back to whatever was easiest. That’s why it’s important to make the habit something easy in the beginning. That way, if you push yourself too hard and go back to whatever is easiest, you’ll still be making progress because running up the driveway is better than not running at all.
Many people wait until they’re perfect or achieve an A+ before celebrating. The thing about building the confidence habit is that celebrating is the glue that holds it all together. Noticing your progress and rewarding yourself along the way towards your bigger goals is super important. Pushing up against your comfort zone, no matter how tiny or not small of a step, is an achievement worth celebrating! You are worth celebrating! The fact that you tried and went for it is worth celebrating.
If you haven’t made the effort to notice and reward yourself for your progress, it can sometimes be discouraging and make it even harder to keep going. So why not make it easy for yourself and celebrate every tiny baby step of progress that you make. Different people like to celebrate differently so just do whatever feels good for you. I like to dance around or listen to music. Some people like to call a friend or take a long bath. Others like to go out with friends, write down their achievements, or throw a party! Whatever it is that works for you, is what you should do. Be proud that you took the initiative to do something.
Just Keep Going
So why not take some action right now and start with the steps above? Every time you take action on a baby step, celebrate and repeat, you are building another block in your Confidence chain. The more you keep going the closer and closer you are to living in your confident being every day. Remember, it can take time and some patience. The point is that you’re building your confidence every day. Self confidence is in your control. You get to bring out the confident you, by taking small, intentional actions, consistently over time and celebrating every time!
That’s all I did and it’s all I do today whenever I want to push up against my comfort zone in any area of life. This is the formula I follow and now you can too.