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Building Confidence

Sunday, March 5th, 2006 by Steve Pavlina

Download MP3: confidence.mp3

Building confidence. Is it actually possible to become more confident than you are now? Yes, absolutely. In this podcast, I'm going to explain four different methods for how you can boost your confidence whenever you need it.

Obviously there are some situations in life where confidence is a very important factor. Public speaking is a great example. If I get up to give a speech, and I'm feeling nervous or anxious, my performance will tend to suffer; especially at the beginning of the speech, that's a very common problem. But if I get up to give a speech, and I'm feeling confident and I'm excited to be there, chances are my performance will be much better, and the speech will have a much greater impact on the audience; plus I'll have enjoyed myself a lot more.

But is confidence merely a matter of practice and experience? Is it a matter of knowing your material so well that you're an expert, or being so prepared for a situation that you're confident because you know nothing's going to go wrong, that you know you'll be able to handle anything that comes up? No. While having a lot more experience can obviously boost your confidence, it's actually not necessary. Let me share with you a simple story from my childhood, about confidence.

When I was in the second grade, my school had a spelling contest. It was a contest a contest my school had every year, and for some reason; and I don't know why, I told my mom that I was going to win first place; and she just laughed at me. To be honest she had no real reason to believe me; because I wasn't a particularly great speller, and I hadn't even placed in the previous years contest. But for some reason I was so sure of myself, that I said "ok mom, I'll bet you double a weeks allowance that I'll win." If I lose I'll do all my chores for no allowance for a month. Now my mom thought that was a sucker bet, so she took it. Then she said, what if you come in second or third?" I said, "nope, has to be first place." So, we shook hands to seal the deal; and my mom was sure that she was going to win, and I was sure that I was going to win. Now from an objective standpoint, her bet was the most logical. There was no real reason to believe that I was going to win the contest, especially first place; and I didn't do that well in it in the previous year. I just became certain I was going to win, even though I had no real external reason to belive that. Sure enough when the contest ended, I won first place. The funny thing was, is that after school that day, and my mom came to pick me up from school, from secoond grade, and I ran up to her and told her that I had won the contest; she laughed at me. She didn't belive me, and I said, "no, no really I did win." So, she actually had to grab a student from my class, who was passing by, to ask them who had won the contest. When they said that I did, she was surprised; but I got double allowance for a month, which turned out to be 4 extra dollars. Wow, but I'll tell you, the look on my mom's face was priceless.

I won that spelling contest, because I convinced myself that I would win; and all my actions, the practice I did, and eventually the result of winning the contest; flowed from that belief. So, the funny thing was that I had the confidence first before I had the competence. My high degree of confidence that I would win, caused me to take all the actions, that led me to victory. I do not think I necessarily would have won if I was confident, but without following it up with action. It was the confidence that created the drive to take those actions. Had I not been so confident, I would not have practiced as hard as I did, and I probably would have been defeated before the contest began. But, I had no previous results to justify feeling confident. I mean, doesn't confidence have to be earned after all? Don't you need a reason to believe that you can excel at something?, especially something new. Maybe something you've never performed well at before? You know what? The answer is no. You don't need to justify the feeling of confidence.

Confidence is a feeling of certainty; and a history of success can enhance that feeling of certainty, obviously. But, you don't actually need that history to feel confident. Confidence is really an inner natural resource, that you can tap into whenever you want. So, if you're going to commit to doing something, then why not go into it feelingcertain of success? You don't need to earn that feeling, and have some external means of justifying it; it's just simply something you can claim whenever you want it.

Now it's one thing to say that you can do this, let's move on to discussing how you can do this. So, I'm going to give you four ways that you can actually boost your confidence. So you can sort of put yourself in the state, and gain the benefits of being confident; regarless of your external circumstances. REgardless if you think you have some way of justfying that feeling.

So, the first method is basically visualization. In your mind's eye see yourself acting with confidence. Albert Einstein said that, "imagination is more powerful than knowledge." That's really the key to feeling confident. Because you don't need to justify of feeling confidence, when you can use your imagination to create the feeling of confidence.

Suppose you're about to give a speech. Now there's a visualization recipe for feeling confident, and there's a visualization recipe for feeling self-doubt. The visualization recipe for feeling self-doubt is basically to, imagine yourself doing well, but also to imagine yourself doing poorly. So, you sort of oscillate between these two different images. Sometimes you see yourself succeding, and say I'm going to do a great job with this speech; and other times you see yourself failing. So, you kind of feed your brain mixed messages, and when you feed your brain mixed messages, you will lack confidence; it's the natural side effect of that.

The recipe for feeling self-assured and self-confident however, is to permit yourself to only see one image. The one of you performing at your best. This requires something of a mental diet, in the sense that you need to discipline yourself to keep your mind focused on what you want; and not on what you don't want. So, if you want to feel confident and you catch yourself creating images in your mind with imagination, where you're feeling uncertain, or stressed or nervous, or making a fool of yourself;stop running that pattern and replace those images with ones that will make you feel confident. Stop giving your brain mixed messages and take control of the visualizations you're creating. Take control of your imagintaion. Set aside some time and just consciously visualize what you want, how you want to feel; and you'll tend to find that when that event actually occurs, you're far more like to feel confident. To feel the way you imagined yourself feeling in advance.

You see, most of the time our imagination's run on autopilot; without even being aware of what is going on. Sometimes we run the recipe for confidence, other times we're running the recipe for self-doubt. But, we always have that option of consciously taking control of our imaginations to create the feelings we want. The feeling that will leave us feeling resourceful instead of overwhelmed. So, visualization is the first method for getting yourself to feel confident.

The second method is to speak confidently. This is sort of a form of fake it, until you make it. See, when you feel confident you'll tend to speak confidently. You can pick out a person who feels confident, because they speak in such a way, that they just project confidence. You can say, "wow, that guy seems really confident, really sure of himself." But how do you know? You could pick that up over the telephone, just by hearing a person's voice. You can hear that they sound confident. Right?

Well, you can hear self-doubt; in the way people talk. Partly it's word choice, but it's also partly how peole deliver their words. So, for example if I were to say, " I don't know, I hope this works out, or, I hope you know what you're doing. That's the language of doubt, obviously. But, if I say something like, "no problem, I'll get it done." I'm choosing to use more confiddent words, but also to express myself more confidently. The interesting thing is that while you will speak confidently where you're feeling confident, the process also works in reverse. So, when you simply speak confidently, even though you may not initally not feel confident; you will tend to create the feeling of confidence as well. If you say to yourself I hope this works out, you'll feel doubtful; but say to yourself, no problem I'll do it. You'll feel more confident and certain; especially if you do it for a few minutes. Just start talking yourself into a state of confidence.

See, the specific words you use are going to heavily influence how you feel. So, when you catch yourself talking about your goals, and your plans with really wimpy and uncertain words like, hopefully, probably, maybe. Stop doing that, replace that language with stronger more certain words like, abolutely, definitely, yes, no problem; and you'll be more likely to put yourself in a state of confidence. Again, confidence is an emotional state, it's an inner state of being; and in this case we're using our language to put ourselves in that state. So, again, by simply using the language of confidence, by speaking as if you already were confident; you'll tend to induce the feeling of confidence in you.

Now, the third method is very similliar to the second method. Instead of speaking confidently, we're going to use our whole bodies, and we're going to move confidently. See if you're feling self-doubt, you're probably breathing shallowly, you're probably slumping your shoulders. You may even be slowly rocking from side to side; while oscillating between two outcomes. For example, if you somebody who's going to give a speech, and they're nervous before they go on; you'll often see them shifting their weight from side to side, from one foot to the other. That physical oscillation of their body is typically indicative of an oscillation in their mental state. They're trying to cinvince themselves that their going to do well, and at the same time, thay are feeling some degree of self-doubt. So they're not totally certain they're going to fail, but they're not certain they're going to succeed either; they're in a state of uncertainty.

When you become consciously aware that you're doing this, you can take control of that. You can actually stop your body from creating those symptoms of self-doubt, and deliberately use your body in such a way that you creat the symptoms; the physical symptoms of confidence. So, how does a person breathe when they're confident? They take deep breaths, their shoulders are back, they stand up tall.

You have a sense that you're likely to succeed when you know you're going to perfrom well, you put your body in a certain physical state. This works, this process works both ways. If you're feeling doubtful, it's going to put your body in a certain physical state. But, if you actually put your body in this state of feeling confident, it will tend to override those feelings of self-doubt. It's a whole idea of, as within, so without. Whatever you're feeling on the inside, you're broadcasting on the outside. But also, what you project on the outside, and how you use your body; is going to create an emotional effect on the inside.

For example, when I'm going to give a speech, one of the things I do is I just take some deep breaths, I relax. As soon as I take the stage, as soon I get up in front of the audience; the first thing I do is look out over the room and pause for a few seconds, and just smile. I'm putting my body in a state where it's harder to feel self-doubt. Smiling is indicitive of confidence. So, even if I'm not as prepared for a speech as I'd like to be, even if I don't have all the external reasons to feel confident that I would like, I can just create the feeling of confidence; because again, you don't need to have that external justification. This is an internal state that you can simply swith on when you want it.

There are many situations where, once you've done all the preparation you can, and you have, say, some kind of live performance situation; it's better to feel confident even if you're not as prepared as you would like to be.Confidence will allow you to perform much better, it will allow you to access the inner resources that you need; so that you can think of words, so that you can perform well, even when the conditions aren't the best.

Now, the fourth and final method, for getting yourself to feel confident, is to use some sort of external stimuli to putyourself in a state of confidence. So, in the first three methods: visualization, speaking confidently, moving confidently; we are using our mind and body, very consciously to create that inner state of confidence. But, another way to do it, is to use some sort of stimuli to trigger the feeling of confidence. Darren McCroy, is a professional speaker who won the Toastmasters International speech contest, a few years ago. Now this is a very, very competitive contest. I had the chance to meet with him when he came to Los Vegas last year, and one of the things he metioned about what he did to win that contest. He had a little portable audio player with him, and he listened to three songs right before he went up on the stage. I believe one of them was,"Simply the Best", and another one was Eye of the Tiger; from rocky. so, listening to this music before he went up, cused him to feel a certain way. It out him in a state of feeling very confident. So, when he was called up, to go on the stage and give his speech, he was still experiencing that emotional high from listening to music that really pumped him up.

Music I find works really well for me too; but it's not always pratical to use it. You can come up with other environmental triggers too, that are going to put you in a state of confidence. For example, reminding yourself of previous successes. So, one of the simplest ways to use an external stimulus, to get yourself to feel confident; is to remember a time in the past when you felt confident and create some physical object, or some physical stimulus that will allow you to re-trigger those feelings.

So, music is obviously one way to do that, but perhaps you can have a photograph that will remind you of a situation where you felt confident. For example, if you won a speech contest previously; you can take a picture of your trophy, and then when you go perform at another speech contest; you can look at that photograph, right before you go on and remember what it was like and so on. Find some physical token of a previous success experience,or bring a photograph of it with you; and use it as a trigger when you want to feel confident. Just look at it, and use it to trigger the memory, that will bring up, once again, those feelings of confidence. So, you're sort of replaying a previous instance of confidence, you're triggering a memory of a time when you felt confident; and that confidence feeling comes right along with the memory.

So, we have these four techniques for building confidence; we have the visualization technique, we have speaking confidently, we have moving and using your body confidently, and lastly we have using some sort of external stimuli to trigger the feeling of confidence. These techniques work especially well, when you're in some kind of live performance situation. Where you can't do anymore preparation than you've already done, and where it's better to be over-confident, than under-confident. For example, if you're about to go up for a speech, or take an exam, or ask for a raise or promotion, or ask someone out on a date. Of course don't use this method to skimp on preparation when it isn't to your advantage to do so. But do take advantage of it, when you're in one fo those live performance situations and where confidence could boost your performance significantly.

Until next time, live consciously.