"If you have no confidence in self you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence you have won even before you have started."
- Marcus Garvey
'Mr. Duncan, I was so nervous! My heart was racing and I was sweating. I couldn't think straight.'
I was just finishing up a lecture on effective networking when Tiffany, a junior economics major at Yale, began telling me a horror story about her experience at a career fair.
"I don't know what was wrong with me", she continued. "I knew I was qualified but when I was walking toward the Executive Director [of a company she wanted to work for] I just kept thinking about all the ways that I could mess things up. It was like my self-confidence just disappeared."
Tiffany's story is not unique. In fact, many people are feeling overwhelmed by the need to achieve, the complexity of competition, and a fear of failure or rejection. As a result their self-confidence is like the mystical unicorn elusive and seldom, if ever, seen. You will probably never catch a unicorn, but here are the five steps I gave to Tiffany that will help you capture your self-confidence.
1. Focus on what's right, not what's wrong.
Most human beings are infatuated with negativity.
When people talk about work, school, life, and other people they are usually talking about what's wrong. When someone has a strange look on his face what do people usually ask? What's wrong? And when something important is about to happen what do people think about? Everything that could go wrong.
This is not a lecture about positive mental attitude. It takes more than just positive thinking to build self-confidence. It takes effective thinking.
It's good to know your shortcomings and weaknesses, but it's ineffective to constantly focus on them. That type of thinking can nullify your strengths and kill your self-confidence.
Once you know what your weaknesses are and what problems could arise it's, time to decide how you are going to keep your weaknesses from coming into play and what to do about the potential problems. Once you know, put all of that to the side and with laser-like-focus hone in on what's right your strengths and what can go well.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
If you come across an alligator while walking, all of your attention will be focused on the gator because it's a threat. It's time to rumble or run so your body enters into what's known as Fight or Flight Response Mode. (Unless your name is Crocodile Dundee, I suggest you run.)
It works in similar fashion when it comes to failure, rejection, or maybe even stiff competition. Unconsciously your mind perceives disappointment as a threat to your mental and emotional well-being. So when something important is on the horizon and you are not sure how it's going to turn out you automatically begin to focus on the perceived threat- what's wrong or what could go wrong.
But failure, rejection, and disappointment aren't alligators; you can fight them.
Whatever of the situation, to help you focus on what's right, on paper list your strengths and everything that could right. (If you are finding more things wrong than right about a situation then you probably need to move on to a new situation.)
Also, completing and constantly saying the following phrases or 'something similar' to yourself will build confidence:
* I have a good chance of succeeding because?
* Everything will work out because?
* I'm great for this position, internship, or opportunity because?
* Today is going to be an extraordinary day because?
These declarations won't magically make things perfect but they will help to bring back your self-confidence. Once you begin to regularly use these and similar phrases you will create vivid images in your mind that will help you to...
2. Visualize Your Victory.
'I would close my eyes and I would start envisioning. And this is a very powerful tool. I can definitely say that I would never be standing in front of you all today if I never envisioned.'
Those are the words of Dominique Dawes, the first African-American gymnast to win an individual Olympic medal and a member of the 1996 gold medal winning Olympic U.S. Women's Gymnastics team.
Dawes and a plethora of successful people from all walks of life will tell you that they had to see it before they could be it.
Your unconscious mind makes no distinction between imagination and reality. Think about that. If you imagine having confidence then you will actually experience being confident.
Whether it's a career fair or a networking event, an interview or internship, a review board or a meeting with venture capitalists, or even a date, take some time to visualize your victory.
Find a quiet place and for a few moments imagine what you will see, hear, feel, taste, and smell during your victory. Envision yourself successfully achieving your desired outcome. The more detailed your visualization, the more powerful it will be.
By doing this daily you will also have more confidence in unexpected situations.
It's easier to visualize your victory when you commit to proper prior preparation. (Try saying that three times in row as fast as you can!)
3. Thoroughly prepare and be authentic.
One of my mentors told me a story about a guy who talked his way into a high level position for which he was unprepared. On the first day of work the guy was sitting in his corner office feeling unconfident and trying to figure out how he was going to pull off this caper when he heard a knock at his door.
'Just a minute,' he hollered. While jumping behind his desk he told the person knocking to come in. He picked up the phone started and pretending that he was having a conversation with the CEO of the company.
"Yes sir, Mr. Johnson. I'll take care of it", he told the imaginary CEO on the phone while using his index finger to give a "wait a minute" sign to the gentleman who had just walked into his office.
"I know the company's future is riding on this, Mr. Johnson. You can count on me. Good bye."
He hung up the phone and turned his attention to the gentleman in his office. "How can I help you?"
With a big grin on his face the gentleman responded, "I'm here to connect your phone service."
Long before anyone else does, you know if you've properly prepared for the task at hand. It's difficult to be confident when you're not prepared and pretending to be something that you're not. Thoroughly prepare and keep it real. Be authentic.
As you prepare, focus on what's right, visualize your victory, and...
4. Avoid Disaster Dan and the Taverns of Turmoil
Have you ever known or heard of someone that never has anything good to say? No matter how much you focus on what's right, visualize your victory, and thoroughly prepare, along comes Disaster Dan to mess with your mind.
You talk about how things will be great and they tell you how everything is going to fall apart and how they would be worried if they were you. Do you know what you should tell people like that?
Don't tell them about your dreams, aspirations, or goals. Don't even tell them your name, email address, or where you live. And if they know where you live it's time to move!
These kinds of people dwell in Taverns of Turmoil negative environments which should be avoided at all costs. Instead use your time to...
5. Set bite-sized goals and celebrate success.
When a task, goal, or obstacle appears to be insurmountable your self-confidence can begin to wane. The good news, however, is that small, successful experiences can produce more confidence.
For instance, if you have difficulty meeting people at networking events follow the other four steps in this article and set a small, attainable goal of meeting just one new person. Accomplish this and at the next event you'll feel more confident as you remember successfully meeting one person previously.
As your confidence grows, celebrate by giving yourself a treat or doing something you enjoy. Then set another small goal of meeting two new people next time and celebrate again. This technique works for anything and is a tremendous confidence booster.
The Million-Dollar Question: Do confident people still get nervous?
YES. Performance anxiety is a normal thing but the more self-confidence you have the sooner it goes away.
Self-confidence is a priceless asset that will frequently tip the odds in your favor. The five steps you just walked though will keep your self-confidence from being like the unicorn - elusive and seldom, if ever, seen.
By the way, if you're trying to catch a unicorn you need more than self-confidence - you need a therapist.
Many of the world's most talented and gifted people were once like Tiffany--insecure and unsure. But Tiffany and countless others overcame their insecurities, and so will you. Harness the power of self-confidence because with it you've already won.
"Proceed with [con] faith [fidence] in yourself."
Al "The Inspiration" Duncan
Al "The Inspiration" Duncan is America's Leading Youth Empowerment Advocate, a self-development expert, and a World-Class Youth Motivational Speaker. Visit him online at Youth Motivational Speaker