It’s the Holy Grail, the Elixir, the Magic Potion. If we could just find the secret ingredient to developing our confidence, we would be unstoppable. We would never fail, and would be successful beyond our wildest dreams…
Then the movie ends, the lights come on and the credits start to roll on the screen, and we blink ourselves back to reality.
What are we hoping for?
There is a real myth around the concept of confidence. What are we hoping more confidence will give us? I think many people believe that if they were more confident they would never feel nervous, never feel fear, never feel doubt. They would always have a sense of certainty about the outcome of anything they undertake. Realistically, this type of ‘confidence’ taken to an extreme would be verging on a disorder of one sort or other.
“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.” – Voltaire
Getting real about confidence
Don’t worry. Just because you have doubts, fears and worries, it doesn’t mean you don’t have confidence. And better yet, you can improve your confidence.
Real confidence is quite different from cockiness, drive, arrogance, ego or narcissism. A truly confident person doesn’t have to prove anything. That’s not what they are about.
What confidence gives you
Confidence enables you to take action on calculated risks and recover from setbacks, push through doubts and fears, believe in yourself when things aren’t going well, be in the moment under pressure.
The kind of confidence that comes from never having had a big failure is false. It’s after the cocky fighter pilot or race car driver has their first big scare or accident that tells the true tale.
A person I know, who is working on her confidence, recently commented that she had an ‘aha’ moment. She has always perceived her husband to be confident, good at everything he did, and never afraid of anything. Parachuting is among his many successful pursuits.
When she made a comment to him about his confidence in everything and her lack of it, he surprised her with his response. He said, “Do you really think I was confident when I jumped out of a plane? That I wasn’t scared? I was terrified every time. Every fibre of my being was screaming at me not to jump.”
This was a revelation to her. She had perceived him with almost superhuman confidence.
Confidence does not guarantee certainty
Particularly if you are the sort who craves security, safety or certainty, confidence might feel like a real stretch for you.
As a matter of fact, many very successful people are successful because they LACK confidence or fear to end up in a particular situation. They are terrified of not being good enough, so that is what drives them…insecurity, not confidence. They may appear confident, but are actually scared of ending up back where they were.
Many wealthy people have started out dirt poor, and swore they would never end up poor again, or kids become great at sports or school because they are determined to get out of bad situations…not because they were confident — because they were driven. There IS a difference.
Confidence from a new perspective
But understand, there are different types of confidence, or ways it can manifest itself. A certain amount of confidence can be trained, and confidence is not the only quality required to be successful.
There are two main types of confidence. One is specific confidence, the kind you develop when you’ve done a skill over and over again. Examples might be driving a car, the tasks of your job, or cooking (that’s definitely not one of mine). This kind of confidence gets built from successful repetition after repetition.
Facing the unknown is a skill
Then there is a general confidence where you feel you can cope with new situations and the unknown, you feel good about yourself, and the world doesn’t puff you around too much. So when you aren’t sure of an outcome, or you are in a new environment, you still believe in your ability to get the job done (eventually), that you can cope. This includes things like meeting new clients, your first presentation in front of a big crowd, or your first time at a big competition.
Certainly the stronger your specific skills are, the more prepared you feel, but we have all known situations where we felt we had the skills but didn’t feel confident for some ‘unknown’ reason. It’s because we were out of our comfort zone.
The pros train for dealing with the unknown
Fortunately, you can train to increase your confidence in new situations. That’s why simulations are used for training pilots, astronauts, military and police officers… to teach them to deal with new situations under pressure. But it means facing fears and novel situations often enough that we get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
That’s where the concept “face something that scares you everyday” comes from. To stretch ourselves. When we stretch our definition of comfortable, we learn to perform under stress, we overcomes fears and take risks. We are literally training the skill of dealing with new situations, dealing with being uncomfortable.
The building blocks of confidence
This type of confidence comes from courage, perseverance and determination, knowing you won’t give up and that you can keep focused on the job, even under extreme circumstances.
Uncomfortable is the new normal
So don’t expect to always feel certain about an outcome. Don’t expect to never feel fear. You can still be confident and feel those things. Develop your skills, add novelty to your training, be brave, be persistent, and know you will find a way to get the job done.
And remember, even when you are confident in your abilities, if you are human you will probably feel nervous jumping out of a plane!
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