This article was last updated on January 26, 2022
Confidence matters. More than you can even imagine. Hewlett Packard discovered that years ago.
They were researching why there was such a discrepancy between men and women in positions of management. Sexism was still an issue. But they found something else.
Men would apply for promotions when they met only 60% of the criteria. Women waited until they had 100%.
As a result, men got more promotions. Not because they earned it. But because they raised their hands and said, “me.”
The point is, it’s not just your raw talent.
Your confidence, your willingness to extend yourself, your belief that you’ll succeed in spite of evidence to the contrary—which is always available—all these things have a tremendous influence on how far you’ll rise.
It’s not just in taking chances. A high level of confidence can also make you more likely to succeed. We’ve all known that supremely self-assured person. Even when they made mistakes, they breeze over them in a way that makes everyone else breeze over them too. Confidence is to live as misdirection is to magic. It tells people where to look so that they only see your strengths.
Now confidence isn’t a cure-all. The crappy performance will bite you eventually, no matter how confident you may be. Confidence must be paired with SOME level of competence for long-term results. Talent matters. But that’s a subject for another post.
This post is about confidence. How to cultivate it. How to exude it. How to gain confidence in life’s biggest moments so that you can squelch self-doubt and catch more of the breaks that confidence brings.
These confidence tips are great for interviews, speeches, a big date, or even just a social situation that makes you feel a little uncomfortable.
Here are the top 6 things you need to know:
1) First, mentally run through the outcome of the worst-case scenario
We freak out when our lives are on the line. They almost never are.
Our overactive amygdalas didn’t get the memo. They are happy to spike our cortisol levels. Happy to leave us sweaty and panicked at the first sign that we might not get something we really want. The stress reaction you get before a job interview is the same reaction you’d get if a lion were chasing you. That experience of that primal anxiety is called “amygdala hijacking” and it is no fun at all.
You see, a racing heart, singular focus, and rapid breathing are great if you need to outrun a predator. They’re not so great for making a first impression on a prospective employer.
So we need to calm our amygdalas. We need to uncouple the fight, flight, or freeze response from the task at hand (unless of course, the task at hand is running from a lion.)
This is where worst-case scenario prep comes in. It makes you realize that your life is not actually on the line. Then your amygdala can stop hijacking your brain, freeing up bandwidth for you to shine.
Here’s the key: focus only on the aftermath. If you’re interviewing, you don’t dwell on answering the questions incorrectly. You simply imagine how you would cope if the interview went badly. Maybe you don’t get the job. Maybe you’re bummed for a while. Maybe you have to apply for more jobs. Maybe it’s a pain in the butt.
But 6 months, 6 years, 60 years down the line…is this one interview really going to determine the quality of your life?
Of course not. No one ever looked back on their deathbed and regretted that one interview they flubbed. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a wash.
And that’s great. Because now you don’t have to treat it like your life depends on it.
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2) Rehearse success at least 3 times
If you just want to be more confident in social interactions, check this out. But if you are performing (yes, interviews and speeches count) you best come correct.
I’ve read the studies touting the effectiveness of visualization. That’s all good and well. But I’ll be honest: I’ve not found visualization super impactful. It attaches me more to the outcome (getting the job) than to the process (answering the questions well). I want my mind on the process.
Do you know what I have found works for that? What is absolutely great for building confidence?
Being really freaking prepared.
Rehearse. If you’re giving a speech and you haven’t delivered it top to bottom before the big day, what makes you think that nerves will make it easier? If you don’t know how to answer, “Tell me about yourself,” in the comfort of your home, you are not going to be particularly articulate in front of your dream employer.
Let me make the distinction between this and the previous tip clear. First, you imagine the outcome going poorly. This puts everything in perspective. It frees your mind from the do or die-ness.
Then you visualize the process going well. So instead of focusing on how nice it would be to get the raise–which attaches you to the outcome and ramps up nerves–you focus on presenting the best case for a raise. You focus on hitting all the important points. You go through it in vivid detail, presenting it in the comfort of your home. You say the punchline out loud a dozen times, “I think my contribution merits a raise in the range of five to ten thousand dollars.” You train yourself to execute like a pro.
3) An hour before prep work slows; Fifteen minutes before, all prep stops
Up to an hour before showtime, you can go over your main beats. Fifteen minutes before showtime, the notecards are done. Practice ends. Don’t cram. Don’t rehearse. Don’t sit in the waiting room reviewing common interview questions or pace backstage perfecting your speech.
At this point, any more preparation will only distract you from what you really need: unbridled confidence. This period of downtime is critical because it allows space for you to get confident before you step into the limelight. You don’t want to work into a confident swing. You want it there from the first.
Give yourself 15 minutes.
4) Discover how to gain confidence with your body
Every emotion has a corresponding physical manifestation. When we shift our bodies, we shift our emotions. Cliche as it sounds, “motion creates emotion.” If you need proof. Do 15 spinning jumping jacks the next time you feel upset.
So before the big moment, get your power pose on. If you can stand, do the wonder woman and breathe deep. If you have to sit, open, asymmetrical poses tend to inspire the most confidence.
Find what feels best for you and give yourself 30 seconds to two minutes. I like to yawn as well. It gets me breathing deeper and vocalizing. That way, the first sound I make isn’t a pubescent voice crack.
5) Create Patterns That Build Confidence
Maybe when you’re nervous you mutter. Maybe you avoid eye contact. Maybe you tell yourself, “Don’t screw it up like last time,” over and over and over…
You need to become aware of these patterns. We all have them. And the difference between confident people and everyone else is that confident people have patterns that make them feel confident.
So reverse engineer the process. Reflect back on how you behave and how you speak to yourself when you are feeling confident. Act that out. It may feel odd at first. You may not feel like enunciating clearly or holding solid eye contact. But that’s the whole point – change the subtle behaviors and you can control your emotions.
If you’re wondering how to gain confidence from this, you need to experiment. For me, a feeling of confidence means I smile huge, speak loudly, and gesticulate more. For some of my clients, standing up straight is most important. For others, it’s deep breaths. Everyone is different, so play around and notice what creates the biggest shift.
6) Take it to them
Confidence and taking the initiative form a virtuous cycle. Decisive action breeds confidence as quickly as indecisiveness saps confidence.
So take charge of the situation from the start.
In a speech, stride onto the stage and address the crowd with your full voice. In an interview, beam a smile and extend your hand for the shake. In an important meeting, personally introduce yourself (or say hello) to everyone there.
When you make the first move, you signal both to the audience and to yourself that you have conviction in your actions. Not only will your brain pick up on the cues, so will the people around you. They will gloss over small mistakes. They will expect and root for you to do well. That initial positive feedback can carry you through the scariest of situations. Just ride the wave.
Photo source: Royal New Zealand Navy