Start with belief, not talent:
Let’s start with the definition of self-confidence, so everybody's playing and starting at the same place. And so, the definition is this genuine belief in your ability to accomplish the task at hand, self-confidence, right? And I want everybody to know, it's not this magic pill that you just take, and you can swallow, and you can just, "Oh! I'm all of a sudden self-confident." But the research that started looking at this goes way back to some foundational work that talked about optimism and happiness.
Angela Duckworth and "Grit”:
Grit: which is the belief in your ability to accomplish tasks, despite setbacks. And she was looking at what people they told themselves, how they believed in themselves, how that really influenced their belief to move forward.
And then there was further research that went into how affirmations played a role in that- which is another word for self-talk, how focus played a role in that, how repetition played a role in that. The research is out there and it's all saying the same thing: that you can't start with talent. You have to start with this belief in your ability, and only then will the talent get a moment to shine.
Build confidence through repetition:
In terms of self-confidence, you may very well have self-confidence in one domain and not at all in another, because those are very different tasks and some you think you've got totally covered and others you feel woefully unprepared for.
I want you to think about the first time you have your first job, right? You've got it, you've mastered that skill and all of a sudden, your boss comes in and says, "Here's your promotion," and you're ready to roll. And imagine the doubt and the fear. We all hear about it, imposter syndrome that now starts to creep in. You are a master of your domain, you had it taken care of, and all of a sudden now you've got to manage people, or you've got to lead this presentation. And because these tasks are typically novel to you and you haven't had the affirmations and the feedback that says, "You've got this," then that whole self-spiralling doubt and negativity starts to spiral into you, which affects your performance.
When I talk about confidence, the task can't be novel to you. So, there's a series of steps to really move towards confidence. And the first one is repetition, repetition, repetition. Gladwell talks about it as a 10,000-hour rule. Whatever it is for you to have confidence and genuine belief in your ability. And so, number one thing is like find a way to get to your practice, to your repetition.
Use physical cues to refocus:
The next thing to do is to really control that negative tape that plays in your head. You know that tape. I wish I was this. I hate myself in this look. Oh, I can't do this job.
We have to learn to do a lot of what we call centering or thought stopping. Next time you're watching a professional athlete, watch the different physical cues that they'll use: pointing, clapping, finger snapping. Whenever they make a mistake, they don't dwell on the mistake. The phrase we use is live in the moment or be in the presence, right? And what that is about is about being in the moment, meaning forget about the mistake. Stop that negative talk, whatever that negative doubt is. Use a physical cue to bring you to the present and replace it with a positive talk, whatever that might be. "You got this, I got the next one, I'm ready."
The power of affirmations is really critical. You don't get to be excellent by focusing on all the mistakes and all the inadequacies that you have. I like that notion of the physical gesture to kind of just make it really clear. You know, hey, we're stopping that now and we are transitioning to something else. So, snaps, claps, taking a deep breath in, jingle coins or keys, etc.
Physically remind yourself that you are good at what you do.
Keep affirmations grounded:
The affirmations must be really simple and bite-sized, right? Mine is “I got this, nobody outworks me, and I can learn anything.” A
study from Harvard that talked about how three affirmations a day, if you are in the problem-solving world increased your efficiency to solve that problem, something like 26%.
What you tell yourself you start to believe, and it’s translated directly to the output of your work. Your production, your ability to solve complex problems. And so, that affirmation and that self-talk moves right into that next thing, which is reminding yourself of how good you are.
Pro tips on making those affirmations effective?
I think it's a great question and one of the things I recognized early on is in order to have an affirmation be meaningful and have genuine belief, you have to have genuine control over it. And so that locus of control for an affirmation is really important and critical. Nobody outworks me, so I can control that. I can learn anything, I can control that too, right? And so, when you listen to those things, are they within your circle of influence? So, it has to be something that you can master, and you can own.
Beat imposter syndrome with a brag sheet:
Write a letter to yourself - this is really important piece. We all will feel self-doubt, or it will creep into us when we get a promotion, when we get a new opportunity, or when somebody will criticize us or be really hard on us. And you have to be able to pull out a letter that you've written to yourself at good times.
When you feel imposter syndrome kicking in, read this letter to yourself and the letter could go something like this, "Dear (your name), and list all the things that you have accomplished and that you are proud of yourself for, things that make you happy that are in your life, and things that want yourself to remember that is positive about you.” All these things you wanted to brag to yourself, it was your own personal brag sheet to remind yourself when you are going in the dumps and going this way; let's remember all these things and all these challenges that you've had and pull it out and read that day in, day out, day in, day out. And recognize that this is not a letter to others, that is arrogance, right? This is a letter that you're writing to yourself.
Self-confident people interpret feedback differently. And what you are able to do by saying to yourself a list of reasons why you believe in yourself for this specific thing or why you think you’re capable of this, is “I guess I had a bad streak.” After using some skills, instead of like, "My God, I'm a loser. I'll never do any good," and then you start to dig yourself what we call lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut, right? You interpreted those failures differently. That is so key, how we interpret setbacks really sets us apart.
So, it's important to take this letter, looking yourself in the mirror, take your quiet spot and engage in this personal reminder of all of the amazing things you've done.
Draw energy from positive people:
One of the things you recognize is that we know that thoughts influence our beliefs, which influence our actions. And so, when you're in a funky space, you know that you're thinking, and then it's influencing your beliefs and then how you get to the action part.
We should be engaging with the people that are important to us who add value to us. A lot of times when I talk about building self-confidence, we talk about getting away from the people who will tear you down, which is the negative people, the people who are giving you negative feedback versus critical feedback. But I think the opposite is also true, which means get close to the people who will build you up. And so, you know who you are and who those people are. And you can know, and you can see what are the tells that are telling you you're going off and you're going into a place. And you need to pay attention to your physical tells that say you're getting to a point of stress, and then you need to put yourself in a place where you can connect with those people.
Sometimes we're so proud and we're so afraid to share our vulnerabilities. That's not what confidence or high-performance life is all about, it's about recognizing that we are in this together.
There are two types of stress. There's distress and there's you stress. You stress is the positive pieces that raise our levels, that help us perform better. And distress is the one that overwhelms us. How we react to that stress overwhelms us.
I think it's really important about how we connect with those around us, and not just the energy we give, but the energy we draw from those people.
Catch the good, not just the bad:
According to the Pygmalion effect, people will rise to your minimum level of expectations. This is really important for leaders that are out in the field and is about how do you lead people to be excellent and confident and how can you influence them? And one of the ways is about catching them when they're good because they'll raise to your minimum levels of expectations.
We know that if you are critical, if you give negative feedback, “hey, I need this presentation to look like this, hey, this chart didn't have what I needed on it, hey, I need you to do this, this, and this.” We know that we'll get the behaviour we want, but typically it erodes the relationship, it creates conflict. If we can, instead, forget about the negative things that people are doing and instead focus on the team member that might be doing it right, meaning you're in a meeting, “hey folks, thanks for coming on time to this meeting, it helps us get started.” Or somebody presented a report, “hey, I love how this report was, notice the font size is the way I want it, I love that the logo is here in the bottom left.” Instead, what happens is you catch people when they're good. And what we've known and what we've seen in the research is that improvement exponentially improves over when we catch them when they're bad. In the world of psych, this is called the social learning theory that people learn through observation. If we can focus on the excellence, instead of us tearing down a player over here who is really sour or bitter or angry because of our feedback, we've built up somebody else and they feel great and aligned to you and really increase their loyalty and their willingness to follow you. And the whole organization rises.
Can you catch them when they're good?
Persist in building your self-confidence:
The last piece is just to remind us that this is a skill. The skill of self-confidence isn't about just sitting here and saying “okay, I've tried it, I wrote this letter. I read it once. It didn't work. Oh, I said my affirmation today and it didn't happen. Well, I tried praise, and it still hasn't happened.” We have to be willing to persist just like the mastery of any task in the workplace and give it an opportunity to grab hold. And so, for anyone reading this, be patient with yourselves and be patient with the people that you're leading, because good things will happen if you give it an opportunity to shine, and you will see a cultural shift in the people, and most importantly, or just as importantly, a cultural shift in yourself and how you approach leading.