It was New Year’s 2009: I was sitting on the bedroom floor of my New York City apartment and wondering why, despite everything I’d accomplished, I wasn’t happy. I knew that I needed to build confidence.
The problem? I’d been taught that in order to be confident, I needed to keep achieving, and to keep setting and blasting through goals. That’s what every successful person seemed to do.
But when I saw myself, I was a success on paper, but inside, I felt like a fraud.
Shouldn’t confidence just come from achieving bigger and better things? Shouldn’t we all turn into Batman each time we cross the finish line?
The truth is, that’s not how confidence works. Confidence isn’t some magical pill.
It’s not some inborn trait that is bestowed upon certain people and not others. And it’s not something you get once you start a business, achieve a large goal, or finally find the person you’re supposed to be with.
This is exactly why the typical “fake it till you make it” advice is BS.
We’re putting a band-aid over our problems and trying to ignore them instead of looking at confidence for what it is: a skill that can be learned.
Typical advice for learning how to be more confident go like this:
“Just be more confident!”
“Relax and be YOU.”
Feeling like you want to throw up? That’s totally appropriate.
Are supposed to just jump into your Batmobile and hope for the best?
What’s worse is that the images we have of confident men skew towards alpha males, jerks, and aggressive men who are loud and obnoxious.
For women, we think confidence means being an icy, bitch; a Miranda Priestly-type who everyone fears, no one likes, and who you secretly think is so frigid because she never gets laid. And if these are the only examples of confidence that we have to try to mirror, we’re never going to do it.
Confidence is self-belief. It’s the hardcore belief that you can do anything you set your mind to: to overcome every obstacle, to rise to every challenge. It doesn’t mean you won’t be scared. It’s the belief that you know you can get through it, even when–and especially when–the shit hits the fan.
Think about an athlete like Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Know how many shots he’s missed? A million? 10 million?
You can bet that every time he missed a shot, and every time that shot cost his team a win, that he felt awful. Confidence isn’t about winning all the time. It’s about showing up despite how many times you fail. I think it’s helpful to know that even a guy like Michael Jordan has had his McStruggles; we can’t get caught up in the idea that successful people don’t fail. The reality is that they fail more often than we think. We just don’t see it.
So how do we start building more confidence?
I have a client who would constantly freeze up in conversations and think, “I don’t know what to say!”
Then he’d find a way to either:
Imagine what that communicates to everyone else. His behavior screamed: “I don’t believe I’m interesting or good enough. Who would want to talk to me?” And all the advice in the world wouldn’t help him. We’d script out exactly what to say and he’d still might freeze up.
Because he had a deep-seated belief that he wouldn’t be liked and wouldn’t be able to impress the other people in the room.
Everyone has these thoughts: worries about being judged, what people will think about them, or if they just said the wrong thing. Without consciously practicing, it’s hard to feel confident and not be paralyzed by your thoughts when you’re talking to someone.
Here’s the secret: instead of trying to fight those negative thoughts, let them in. Let yourself think them and don’t try to fight them or push them down. The key is to focus on changing your behavior in the moment.
Here’s how I accomplished this with my client:
We flipped the situation so that he focussed on practicing confident behavior, as opposed to focussing on the negative behaviors that he was trying to fix. When he began to feel like he didn’t know what to say, he let himself feel that while continuing to stay in the conversation. He wasn’t allowed to hide in the corner or check his phone; he had to stay in the conversation for at least 5 more minutes before he excused himself.
Instead of doing what you’ve alway done, you’re creating new behavior patterns, and when repeated, your mindset changes.
You can still feel like you don’t know how to navigate a conversation with someone you don’t know, but when your brain sees that you’re acting differently, that you’re staying in a conversation even when you’re nervous, it pays attention to that and remembers for the next time. It forces your brain to work past its nerves and to learn the skills it needs to perform better.
When you repeat the Flip Strategy over and over, your brain begins to take the baby steps it needs to move forward.
Baby steps are important. Be it making eye contact for a second longer than your normally comfortable with or taking on an additional responsibility at work, these small wins start to build momentum and soon enough, you’re blasting into the stratosphere.
The most important part: get started, and don’t worry about taking it slowly.
Think about the one area of your life that you feel you’d like build confidence.
Let us know in the comments how it goes! When you do, I’ll give you feedback and a way for you to keep improving. For more tips on how to build confidence that’s real not faked, and a free gift for RFS readers, click here.