Find the Confidence To Succeed

Relax and put these 7 strategies to work when you’re feeling uncertain about your abilities.

Many traits will help you succeed professionally — things like emotional intelligence, leadership ability, and great communication and decision-making skills. Yet none of these assets matter much without one key ingredient: confidence. 

Confidence is the foundation upon which the rest of these abilities stand. And lack of it can undermine even the smartest and most talented people. In fact, rare indeed is the person who never experiences uncertainty about their abilities. Even famous athletes and actors suffer at least occasionally from performance-hindering anxiety and its obnoxious cousin, self-doubt. 

The workplace is also rife with opportunities for confidence calamities. Think about the last time you interviewed with a higher-up for a promotion, gave an important presentation at a high-profile meeting or made your first solo run on a sewer vac truck or a powerful water jetter. Feeling jittery and insecure at just the thought of these scenarios? You’re in good company. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Like many other obstacles we face, a crisis in confidence can be managed and overcome. Sometimes the mere act of doing is enough. As famous lecturer, writer and self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie once noted, “Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” 

But before you swing into action, here are seven confidence-boosting techniques that just might quiet those voices in your head that undermine your desire to succeed. 

1. Practice makes perfect. In his ground-breaking book, Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown and Co., 2008), author Malcolm Gladwell posits that becoming a master of anything requires following what he calls the “10,000-hour rule.” In other words, to truly master a skill, you must practice it for 10,000 hours. In explaining his theory, he cites famous examples, ranging from The Beatles to gazillionaire Bill Gates. 

Now, 10,000 hours is, without question, a boatload of time to spend jetting mainlines or practicing a speech or presentation. But the general principle remains sound: The more you do something, the more comfortable you’re likely to feel doing it and the more likely you are to get better at it, which in turn breeds confidence. Practice, indeed, does make perfect (or nearly so, anyway). So go ahead and run through that presentation a few more times and keep in mind the theory of the six Ps: Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. 

2. Seek others’ opinions. Experts say that validation from qualified colleagues about your abilities is a great way to build confidence. Be sure to seek out people who will provide an unflinchingly honest critique of your presentation or waterjetting skills, as opposed to someone who just gushes and raves about everything. 

3. Do some soul searching. Bravado and bluster might work for a while, but in the long run gaining confidence requires a little self-evaluation — honestly assessing what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at, then building on the former and shoring up the latter. In other words, there’s one thing we all can feel confident about: We’re not good at everything. If this self-critique proves to be more difficult than expected, find colleagues who can help. 

4. Perfect your posture. As always, mom was right with her constant admonitions to sit up straight. As it turns out, doing so — or standing tall, for that matter — yields more benefits than just fewer chiropractic appointments. In fact, scientific studies show that we’re more likely to think positively when we sit erect as opposed to slumping (or assuming a fetal position). And standing tall not only makes us feel more powerful, but more likely to take risks, according to one study. 

Another study showed that people who assume a powerful pose for even a few minutes — sitting upright in a chair, for instance — produce more testosterone, which makes us feel more focused and attentive, and less cortisol, a hormone that makes us feel more helpless and overwhelmed. People who sat slumped in a chair for a few minutes produced the exact opposite: less testosterone and more cortisol. So sit up straight — and send mom some flowers when you get promoted. 

5. Visualize success. Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus once said that seeing in his mind’s eye what’s required to make a golf shot was critical to his extraordinary success. “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head,” he once noted. The same technique works for numerous other athletes, from Olympians to professionals — and it can work in the workplace arena, too. 

In fact, studies have shown that thoughts can actually train our brains in the same way as actual physical action. Think of it as a cranial form of muscle memory, where our thoughts can strongly influence our behavior. 

6. Anticipate problems. While you’re visualizing success, it can’t hurt to also think about things that could go wrong — and develop a Plan B to handle them. What kind of questions might people pose after you give your presentation or speech? What’s your action plan if a jetter malfunctions in between manholes while cleaning sewer lines? What kinds of questions might that executive throw your way during that promotion interview? Training yourself to expect the unexpected will boost your confidence even more. If you can find someone to do some role playing to simulate various situations, all the better. 

In addition, make a mental list of all the reasons why you’ll succeed at a certain task. Review all the skills you’ve compiled and any relevant prior experiences that can help you assert with utmost confidence, “I got this.” If you’re having trouble with this, ask colleagues or a mentor for help. 

7. Set incremental goals. Achieving a goal is a great confidence booster. But often times in this regard, we’re like a novice jogger who decides to run a marathon before reaching age 30 — with the birthday just three weeks away. Sure, aiming high is great. But never reaching goals creates a culture of failure. After all, nothing begets success like success, as the saying goes. So set small, achievable and manageable goals — and watch your confidence grow every time you reach one. And if you don’t reach every goal the first time, remember that even the incomparable Michael Jordan missed more than 9,000 shots in his Hall of Fame career. Yet he stands as one of the most confident players in NBA history.

You’ve got game, too. Even if you find yourself occasionally racked with anxiety and overwhelmed by pesky thoughts of self-doubt, just remember to put these strategies into play — with utmost confidence. 


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