How to Become More Confident at Everything You Do

Haris Mohammad

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My friend and I were standing inside an amusement park staring at a huge and scary-looking roller coaster. There was a part of me that wanted to get on it and enjoy the ride but there was another that was scared and hesitant. Even though my friend was all pumped up, I just couldn’t muster up the courage to join the queue for the next ride.

But as I stood there, I could see all kinds of people riding it. There were five-year-old boys and sixty-year-old women. And while they were not all equally comfortable, most were having a great time. When it was over, nobody was dead or injured or even too traumatized.

And that was all I needed. I thought if they could all do it, why couldn’t I? I could still feel the fear but I was convinced it was misplaced. We joined the queue.

The ride was amazing and gave me a great memory I cherish even today. All because I could find the courage to try it.

This was over 15 years ago. But any talk of confidence reminds me of the story because it taught me something fundamental about what confidence is and how it can be developed.

Understanding the Factors Behind Confidence

At its core, confidence is about three things.

  1. Your perception of some form of challenge, threat, or risk.
  2. Your perception of your ability to face that challenge.
  3. Your go-to response.

Let me explain using my experience at the roller-coaster as an example. Why was I afraid and hesitant initially?

  • There was a clear threat (at least in my head) — something could go wrong and I could get injured or even die. Maybe a heart attack, if nothing else.
  • I had never been on such a roller-coaster, so I had no prior experience to tell me what it would be like. Whether or not I would feel okay and be able to handle it.
  • There is a natural tendency to pick flight over fight when we don’t feel equipped to deal with a threat. So, instead of trying the new experience and enjoying the adventure, I wanted to walk away.

Something similar happens with everything you don’t feel confident about. And understanding these factors will help you become more confident at anything you want using the steps I share with you below.

But something important before that.

Can You Fake Confidence?

Confidence is so critical because it shows. Because it affects what you do and how you do it. It’s not about how others see you. Instead, it’s about how you see yourself. And you can’t fake that.

Fake it till you make it. Okay, here’s the one to avoid. Attempt this bit of pop psychology at your peril. …not only does faking it not work as a confidence booster, but it almost certainly makes us feel less secure because knowingly masquerading as something we’re not, makes us anxious.” — Katty Kay, The Confidence Code

So no, you can’t fake confidence.

Now if you can’t fake it, how can you develop true confidence?

Question Your Narrative

Look, a lack of confidence is not always a bad thing. It’s an important tool shaped by evolution that your brain uses to protect you from doing something stupid and putting yourself in harm’s way. The only problem is it doesn’t realize what was stupid thousands of years ago, may not be stupid anymore.

The first step in growing your confidence in doing something is convincing your brain what you are trying to do is not stupid or dangerous.

Say you want to become a writer. You look at a great piece of writing and say, “this is amazing. I can never write like this. I am not good enough to be a writer. If I try, I will fail and humiliate myself.” And so you give up before you could get started.

See what’s happening there?

You are imagining a danger where there is none. What if your first essay sucks? Heavens wouldn’t fall. You won’t be fined or punished for that. You can go on and write another essay. And then some more until you have mastered the craft.

At the same time, you are overestimating the difficulty of the task and hence underestimating your ability to face it. Nobody expects your first essay to be a masterpiece. You don’t need to be great to get started. If you can talk, you can write. With time and effort, you will improve. You will become good, then very good, and someday, maybe even great.

The result? A paralyzing fear grips you.

It’s the same with everything — public speaking, facing interviews, taking tests, or whatever it is. You suffer from a lack of confidence because you overplay the consequences of failure, overestimate the difficulty of the task, and underestimate your ability.

So if you want to become more confident, begin by questioning your beliefs and assumptions. You will see how you have woven yourself into a web of misconceptions and lies. Reframe your narrative to be more in sync with reality. It will help you relax and get into the right mindset and set you up for the next steps.

Learn And Improve

Both research and our experiences tell us competence breeds confidence. If you are good at something, it’s easier and more natural to feel confident about it. So to become more confident at something, it’s important to learn and get better at it. To bridge the gap between where you stand and where you want or need to be.

But it cannot be all theory. You need to get into action mode and do things. You must give yourself the necessary practice.

The greatest boost to confidence comes from having seen yourself do something successfully. And your confidence can suffer a great hit if you fail and have to pay a heavy price for it.

So if you are getting started, make sure you have a good learning environment. The two most critical aspects to keep in mind are — low cost of failure and quick feedback. That’s what makes blogs so great for writers to start with. There’s no cost associated with writing a bad blog and you quickly get important feedback from your early readers.

Compare it with starting with a 500-page novel and hoping you would find a publisher later!

If you want to learn public speaking, start with a small group of people you are familiar with. If you want to learn how to invest, start with a very small sum and test out your knowledge and strategies. If you want to become more confident at dating, start by being around people similar to those you would want to date.

But whether you are a beginner or not, you must be willing to put in the required effort into honing your craft and eventually mastering it. There is no other way of developing true and lasting confidence.

Tame Your Fear

Fear and nervousness won’t necessarily disappear just because you have become very good at something or because you know they are irrational. You can’t undo the results of a bazillion years of evolution in a few months or years. And as I said earlier, that may not be a great idea anyway.

One purpose behind questioning your assumptions is to ascertain your fear is indeed irrational. And when you have done that, act despite the fear. Like I did with the roller coaster.

As you do this more and more, the grip that fear has on you will start to weaken. From a paralyzing monster, it will turn into a minor annoyance.

“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson.

So even if the thought of speaking in public intimidates you, go ahead and do it anyway. Feeling anxious about applying for your dream job? That’s fine. You must still apply for it. The idea of publishing your draft scares you? That’s okay too. Just grab your mouse and hit publish.

Come to Your Rescue

All through my school life, I was terrified of giving speeches. I would forget sentences and paragraphs from the script, stutter, and would sometimes leave without getting to the end. By the time I got to college, I was tired of embarrassing myself this way.

So I asked myself why those speeches were so difficult for me when I was comfortable (and loved) talking to people, even when there were several of them together.

After some thinking, I realized I never put much effort into memorizing my scripts. So, when I got to the stage I was so anxious about not being able to recall every word in the perfect order that I couldn’t focus on anything. Also, what made things worse was I wasn’t used to my voice coming out of a speaker.

So I came up with a couple of solutions.

I decided I would never again go with a script. I would plan my talk but instead of relying on a rigid script, I would use some key points written on my hand to guide me. That way I could treat my speeches like conversations, something I was good at.

And I found myself a public address system and kept talking into it until it stopped sounding strange.

That was the end of that problem.

The point is don’t wait for problems to solve themselves. Talk to yourself. Try to understand the problems and see if you can come up with solutions. Seek help if you need to. Do whatever it takes. But be your hero and help yourself.

Watch Your Self-Talk

I have already talked about how important having the right narrative is to your confidence. There are a couple of things I want to add.

It’s very easy to let a few failures affect your mood and perceptions and hence confidence. But you must guard yourself against this. Remember, you are not only as good as your last performance. So learn from your failures, remind yourself of the past successes, and look forward.

Also, constructive feedback is great, but don’t let criticism get to your head. You can’t control what others say about you but you can control what you say about yourself.

In a Nutshell

Confidence is an essential ingredient for a happy and successful life. So it’s great that it can be developed.

  1. Question your assumptions. The task is often not as difficult or threatening as it appears to be.
  2. Learn, practice, and improve.
  3. Act despite the fear.
  4. Be proactive and help yourself.
  5. Tell yourself a good story.

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Coach, Engineer, Writer.

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