“What you think of yourself is much more important than what people think of you.” ~Seneca
I can still remember it like it happened yesterday.
There I was. Ten years old. It was my first day back at school.
I walked past the enormous church that marked the entrance of the school compound. I passed under this huge tree as it towered over me. I was in a crowd of other screaming school kids. They laughed and cackled loudly.
I just felt overwhelmed.
See, I was always an anxious kid. Scared. Worried that I hadn’t done my homework properly. Terrified I’d be punished. That was the world I lived in.
For many years, my fears tainted my vision like prison bars that impose a life sentence on inmates who have long forgotten the bars even exist.
As I reached adolescence, my fears manifested as a series of failures. My unshakeable belief in my ineptitude stopped me from truly trying to succeed. Unwittingly, I was conforming to a self-fulfilling prophecy I’d set for myself.
Many years later, I married an amazing woman who truly believed in me—often when I didn’t believe in myself. Her confidence in my abilities forced me to re-examine my limiting beliefs.
She’d repeatedly tell me that I could achieve my goals, provided I put in the effort.
Eventually, I did.
That was over ten years ago. Today, I’m a confident man who stands tall and is comfortable in his own skin.
You can develop this confidence too.
Here are the eight secrets to confidence I learned along the way.
1. Let the dancer become the dance.
Do you ever feel disconnected from what you’re doing because of that little voice telling you you’re not good enough?
Does your mental chatter derail your sincere efforts? If so, you’re not alone. We all experience this from time to time.
Make a decision to lose yourself completely in your work. Get so absorbed in it that you enter a state of flow. Let the dancer become the dance.
When the dancer becomes the dance, there is no dancer, and therefore no one to suffer from lack of confidence.
There’s just the dance. The flow.
2. Choose an emotional state of success.
Building self-efficacy is a great way to develop confidence.
Reflect on your past successes. They don’t have to be related to what you’re trying to achieve right now. They just have to be your successes.
The point here is to reconnect with those feelings and emotions. They’ll set you up for success in your current endeavor.
When I face self-doubt as a writer, I quietly reflect on the feeling of success I experienced when my mentor (Jon Morrow) sent me an email saying he was proud of me.
I often go back to that email to reconnect with the feeling of success it evokes. Seeing this evidence of my abilities as a writer drives away the self-doubt every single time.
3. Empower yourself with visualizations.
Visualizing yourself succeeding is another powerful approach.
Have you watched an elite athlete just before a hundred-meter sprint? She looks intensely at the finish line and visualizes herself sprinting down the track faster than anybody else in the field.
In fact, she’s visualized herself winning the race hundreds and thousands of times to prepare. That’s how she prepares to give her very best over those hundred meters.
Repeatedly visualizing success can actually rewire your brain. It creates positive neural pathways that restore the natural confidence you had as a child.
Not only does this stop you from thinking negative thoughts, but it actually replaces negative thinking with (confidence boosting) positive images.
4. Use your past failures to vanquish self-doubt.
A large amount of self-doubt arises from our past failures. Each time we fail at something, we develop self-limiting beliefs, which get embedded in our psyche and our thinking.
Fortunately, we can use these past failures—think the trail of breadcrumbs in the story Hansel and Gretel—to lead us back to these self-limiting beliefs. And once they’re out in the open, we can then challenge them.
Imagine this: You have this belief that you’re no good at athletics. Maybe the seeds were sown when you did poorly in track and field in high school. And since then you’ve always made a halfhearted effort at athletics because you thought, “Why bother? I’m no good at athletics anyway.”
See the (self-defeating) belief here? That (one) poor performance early in life created a belief that you’re not good at athletics. And that belief led to a halfhearted approach, which in turn stopped you from getting good at athletics.
See the vicious cycle?
Challenge that belief that you’re no good at athletics, and you stop making a halfhearted effort. And that’s how you get good and break out of the cycle.
Here’s the thing: The past is not a predictor of your future performance, if you make a conscious effort to improve.
So, examine your past failures and use them to challenge your self-limiting beliefs.
It’ll do wonders for your confidence!
5. Edit those sentences in your head.
Do you think in sentences? Most of us do.
Imagine this. You’re about to give a talk to a roomful of people.
If you lacked confidence, the sentences in your head would sound something like this: “Ummm…. Hopefully this talk will be okay. I think I’ll be fine. But what if I crash and burn? No I’ll be okay. Geez I hope I’ll be okay.”
Do you see the vacillation in that self-talk? One second you’re thinking you’ll be okay and the next second you’re terrified that you’ll crash and burn.
The good news?
All you need to do is edit the sentences in your head.
The sentences you want to hear in your head sound something like this: “This talk is going to go well. Sure, it won’t be perfect. Nothing ever is. But I’m going to absolutely enjoy this and I’ll successfully get my message across.”
Notice the words absolutely and successfully?
See the tone in those sentences? There’s no vacillation.
It’s almost as if you made a decision to be successful. And that’s reflected in your self-talk.
Of course, this isn’t going to happen overnight. Like anything, it takes conscious effort and consistent practice.
Is it worth the effort?
6. Train your body to manipulate your mind.
Think of the times when you felt a bit low. Most likely, you were slouching, your breath was shallow, and you were staring at the ground.
You can use your body language to build your confidence. You get your body to fake it till your mind makes it. The body informs the mind about how to feel, as much as the mind influences the body.
Start with your posture. Stand tall.
Speak purposefully and slowly.
And then watch the magic happen.
Don’t believe me? Try it.
7. Cultivate a positive opinion of yourself and learn to value it over others’.
We all look to authority figures for approval during our developmental years. In fact, this feedback is essential for our social development.
But as you grow older and gather life experiences, you must scale this back.
Now, I’m not suggesting other people’s opinions don’t matter, they do—up to a point.
You’ve got to recognize that we all have unfounded prejudices based on our individual life experiences—this includes those authority figures.
It’s one thing to learn from constructive criticism and use it to better yourself.
But, to get overwhelmed by others’ opinions of you? That’s an unskillful approach.
Instead, work on cultivating a positive opinion of yourself.
Here’s a great way to start. Next time you feel undermined by someone’s opinion of you, make a conscious choice not to get overwhelmed. Take on what’s constructive and discard the rest.
Now here’s the important part.
Bring your attention back to your own opinion of yourself. Understand that your opinion of yourself matters as much as anyone else’s because you know yourself better than anyone.
There’s no reason to be overwhelmed by others’ opinions of you.
8. Use external stimuli to leverage your way to confidence.
What’s your favorite song that truly gets you going?
Several athletes listen to music just before a race to put themselves into a certain state (of confidence) just before a race so they can perform at their best. They get in the zone.
Another great way to get in the zone is to use external stimuli. Hold a trophy or a certificate of achievement that you may have won in the past.
Physically connecting with a tangible memento of past successes is a great way to send a concrete message of success to your mind.
You’ve got this.
It’s never easy to get started on a new path. But once you develop the habit of confidence, you’ll never look back.
See, we all have our own vulnerable inner child that feels overwhelmed like I did on my first day of school.
But over time, I learned to embrace that inner child, acknowledge his fears, and then make a conscious choice not to get overwhelmed. Much like a father reassures his son.
And I can honestly say I’ve never felt stronger.
You, too, can acknowledge your inner child’s fears and comfort him or her with love and acceptance.
And before long, you’ll be the confident person you were always meant to be. Self-doubt will never darken your (mental) doorway again.