Discover Your Inner Confidence Through Skills You Already Love


“I think a lot of people mistake my confidence on stage for cockiness in real life, and that’s actually farthest from the truth. When I’m on stage, I’m that confident and that cocky because I have a microphone in my hand, and there’s a few thousand people staring at me. And I know they’re there to laugh.” ~Russell Peters

When I was ten, I opened the black, roughly textured box with the metal clasps, pulling out my first saxophone.

The alto sax would come to represent my inner confidence. My true self. The person who paints with sound the complex musical phrases that make people smile.

By the time I was in college, no crowd was large enough to intimidate me. Playing music was the ultimate outlet of my creative and emotional expression.

As I write this, I can close my eyes and hear the rhythm section play the laid-back, sultry intro to John Coltrane’s Equinox. It’s a minor twelve-bar blues.

The melody is simple, but it takes you somewhere. My fingers find the keys without thought. When my chance to improvise a solo arrives, it’s freedom.

Okay, I’m passionate about this, as you can tell. Isn’t that the point?

Passion and doing something really well are inseparable lovers. When you’ve crafted something into exquisite refinement, passion effortlessly flows from it.

That’s my experience playing music, at least. But it wasn’t always that way.

When I was a beginner, the saxophone was an intimidating beast of metal keys and rods. Perplexing like those handheld puzzle toys, or your first Rubik’s cube.

Over time:

  • I learned one note, then two. Eventually I had all twelve.
  • I learned one rhythm, then another, which led to playing melodies.
  • I learned basic cords, then complex cords, and then I could improvise.
  • I played in school concerts, then small gigs, then large concert halls.

This didn’t happen overnight. It took me about six years to become “pretty good.” There were eureka moments along the way where I took larger steps.

Eventually, with deliberate effort, I knew enough to feel comfortable teaching others.

Have you ever tried to learn a new skill? Hard work, isn’t it? It takes effort and time. Unless you’re a genius. And I’ve met very few of those.

Start with What You’re Proud Of

Write down ten skills you’re proud of. I know it sounds like a lot, but ten is the magic number. Use language that expresses your pride deeply.

Nunchuck skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills (Okay, that was a lame Napoleon Dynamite reference).

For example, I am proud that I can:

  1. Play sweet sounds on the saxophone
  2. Write well-researched, logically-organized blog posts.
  3. Design rock-solid, bug-free software that helps people
  4. Run a consistent, 23-minute 5K.
  5. Stay fit so I can play with my kids—like a kid
  6. Organize my time to be amazingly productive
    [ugh…this is getting hard…]
  7. Read one book every week
  8. Study academic papers and distill the key points
  9. Build sturdy furniture for our house through woodworking
  10. Cook delicious, healthy meals that nourish my family

Your turn! Do this exercise. It’s an important first step.

After all, how can you work on something new, like building supreme confidence, without knowing what worked for you in the past?

Next, read the list out loud. Mentally reinforce your exceptional skills. When you’re struggling or trying to master a new skill, read it again. These are your reminders that mastery is possible.

You Can Master Anything; the Skinny on Accelerated Learning

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggested that, with 10,000 hours of practice, anybody could become a world-class expert in any skill. He cited an academic article in Psychological Review titled, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.”

In the article, the authors found that:

“The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

Gladwell admitted that this doesn’t apply to skills that require genetic ability, like sports. But it works like a champ for everyday skills.

Also, how you practice makes a huge difference.

Therefore, we can say that repeatedly taking the right actions to improve performance will make you much better at a skill.

Successful author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss created a thirteen-part TV show called The Tim Ferriss Experiment. In the show, Tim acts as a “human guinea pig” by learning challenging skills—where he has no experience—in a ridiculously short period.

For example, he learned how to play the drums, speak another language, and play golf. He sought out the world’s masters to crank up the process. Tim is living proof that you can learn just about anything, with no experience, and become very good at it. You can even do it quickly.

Here’s the formula for mastering a skill:

  1. Identify what to work on—by seeking out experts.
  2. Identify how to work on these—see same experts.
  3. Put in deliberate, consistent effort—by carving out the time and developing habits.

Question: How do I seek out experts (steps 1 and 2)?

It’s the twenty-first century, my friend! Use the Internet—eBooks, blogs, podcasts, webinars. Or go traditional with paper books and conferences. Seek and ye shall find.

Question: How do I put in deliberate, consistent effort (step 3)?

In her book Everybody Writes, Ann Handley says that practicing thirty minutes each day is much more effective than practicing for four straight hours. If you do the math, that’s 210 minutes spread out over a week vs. 240 minutes in one sitting. Less time? I’ll take that any day.

Go ahead and schedule daily time on your calendar and use an automatic reminder. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes every day. Focus on only the one skill during those fifteen minutes. You will progress rapidly from amateur to ace.

When I look back on the list of skills I’m proud of, I realize that I went through this process for every single one. Sometimes it took me awhile to figure out what to practice or how to practice it, but then step 3 would create a feedback loop to steps 1 and 2.

What Are You Waiting For? Discover Your Inner Confidence!

I get wonderfully lost in the moment when I’m on stage. I’m relaxed. I’m having the time of my life. But a few years ago, if you asked me to put down my sax and say a few words to the audience? {Silence} {Heart beating faster} {Sweat, anxiety, palpitations}

I couldn’t do it!

Like almost everybody with a pulse, I was afraid of public speaking.

But one day, I realized I was stuck. In my job, in my ability to move up, in my temporal position in space-time (Okay, that’s a stretch, but still a factual statement).

I realized that, to pursue better opportunities, to network with people who could help me, and to portray myself as a true professional, I needed to be more confident.

First thought: “Nah, I’m an introverted, socially awkward engineer. Not gonna happen.”

…a few minutes go by as I ponder my continued stagnation…

Second thought: “Hmm. How will I know unless I try? Let’s do this!”

At that point, I decided to take up a new skill: the skill of confidence.

I read books and blogs on speaking and influence, joined Toastmasters, attended public speaking conferences, and volunteered for small leadership positions.

As I delved into this world with abandon, I noticed the same names and concepts surfacing repeatedly. I followed the breadcrumbs. They led me to the master craftsmen—people who could accelerate my learning because they had already toiled through the process.

During this adventure (yes, that’s what it is!), I worked on my confidence every day.

My first few speeches were god-awful. My next few were a bit better. I experimented with hacks to accelerate my learning, including self-feedback through video and round-robin evaluations.

This new skill of mine started snowballing. I was a finalist in a humorous speech contest. I started mentoring others, including interns, colleagues, and anyone who was curious.

Fast-forward to today: I finally feel I’m mastering the art of confidence.

See what I did there? I used the A-word.


When you practice a skill, it becomes your passion. You start connecting with others, who respond with deep, meaningful emotion.

You’ve arrived at artistry—the ultimate in human expression.

Okay, enough daydreaming! Go forth use your inner confidence to develop outer confidence:

  • Look at your list of already-mastered skills to get motivated.
  • Identify a new skill to master, like confidence.
  • Seek out experts (online, books, podcasts, webinars, conferences).
  • Develop a fifteen-plus minute daily habit of working on the skill.
  • Conquer the skill.

Did you try the exercises? Are you excited about your journey toward mastery of a new skill? 

Confident boy image via Shutterstock

About Philip Pape

Philip Pape is an author, software engineer, public speaker, and life-hacker who helps smart people demolish their fears and become totally confident at howtoattainsuccess.com. He specializes in effective, counter-intuitive strategies to attain success through public speaking, productivity, brain science, and self-development hacks. Philip is giving away free content at his blog here.

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