I learned quickly in the FBI that success would not make me confident; instead, confidence would make me successful.

Easier said than done, and I should know because I’d never shot a gun when I showed up at the FBI Academy. Guess what? FBI agents are required to become expert shooters.

I’d never wrestled a person to the ground and slapped handcuffs on them, either. Guess what? FBI agents make arrests and slap handcuffs on people every day.

Bottom line: I’d never done a lot of things that would be required of me before the FBI Director handed over a badge and weapon. Of course, I had choices. The door was open for me to show up as a big-time loser and drag my sorry ass back to my old life. Even worse, I could have wimped out and blamed everyone else for what was left of my delicate and bruised ego.

Or, I could lead with my chin and suck it up.

It is hard to be confident if you’re surrounded by neanderthals who criticize you because you do things differently. Or if you’re dumped into a new situation and you don’t even know where the bathroom is. Worse, asking for help and the person across from you stares back, tries to smile, but only manages something that indicates they need the bathroom.

Yep, lack of confidence and self-esteem can hit anyone, at any time. It’s like a dog that chases its tail—in order to be successful we need to be confident; but first, we need to be confident so we can be successful.

Which comes first?

Wimps take the easy way and sleepwalk through life. They don’t make hard decisions and avoid anything too difficult. And please, no confrontations!

Then there are the self-help gurus who fill bookshelves and their pocketbooks with expert help. God knows where these people come from but it’s a market-driven profession so buyer beware. The problem (and there are many) with self-help approaches to building confidence is the basic premise that the trouble is with the reader. It’s the reader who needs to be fixed or finds ways to overcome their inferiority.

No one is born with limitless self-confidence. Most people who are truly confident in themselves have spent years building it up. This is where I feel sorry for young people; most of their confidence comes from the number of friends they have, how good their hair looks, or how much money they’ve made in their first job.

Let’s establish this first thing: confidence doesn’t come from loads of money, a hot body, great teeth, or loads of talent. We all know rich people, famous models, and celebrities who have meltdowns and lack confidence in their popularity.

Confidence is a feeling that comes from inside. It’s not something linked to external circumstances. If you’ve lived more than a couple of decades, you probably already know this. Did you get a promotion? That’s great but it’s going to pluck you out of a position in which you know everything and dump you into one where you don’t know shit. Good luck with that toothy smile to give you the confidence you’ll need to make it to the next promotion. And the next level of discomfort.

Want to move in with that hunk you just met? Great, but that’s not going to make you any more confident in your ability to maintain your relationship.

Confidence is something we learn to build up over time because the challenging world of business and life is always changing. Our confidence can be deflated at any time but it will be easier to rebuild if our foundation is rooted in a deep understanding of ourselves and not on this week’s best selfie.   

“People need courage to descend into the abyss of themselves”—Yeats

Here are 3 smart ways you can gain confidence in yourself:

1. Get Comfortable With Who You Are

It’s not helpful for you to believe you’re beautiful if you’re a frumpy slob, or that you’re brilliant because you can solve the crossword puzzle in People magazine. This thinking can lead to narcissism which is like putting a bag over ugly—it doesn’t fool anyone because we all know the ugly is still underneath.

Do you want to build your confidence foundation on bricks? Then it’s time to be realistic about who you are as the person God created and placed on this earth. You will not be loved because you’re better looking or smarter or funnier. Love is something you are; it’s nothing you can buy or grab.

Be on your own side.

Don’t delude yourself into believing that you can work hard enough to possess all your dreams. Instead, be comfortable with who you are, including what you don’t possess.

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens”—Louise L. Hay

How To Make It Work For You: Mental toughness is believing that you will prevail in your circumstances rather than believing your circumstances will change. Stop the harsh comments that come from your inner critic. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, be grateful for what you do. Let that be your North Star.

Are you mentally tough? Take this evidence-based, FREE Mental Toughness Assessment

2. Let Your Failures Show You The Way

It’ll take more than tedious “you can do it” affirmations stuck to your computer screen to build real confidence. Come to think of it, it’ll probably take more than walking on hot coals over the weekend as well.

It’s counterintuitive, and it sucks, but we build confidence through our failures.

The book, “The Confidence Code,” dives into the psychology and science behind confidence and failure. It’s possible to cultivate confidence only once we understand how to develop a healthy relationship with failure.

Comfort in our failures allows us to move into action without fear, to engage without judgment, and to love without conditions (even ourselves).

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”—Samuel Beckett

How To Make It Work For You: Don’t wait for an idea or plan to turn out perfect. Instead, move quickly and identify what works and what doesn’t. Fast failure allows us to learn and improve the next time with more speed and efficiency. Another benefit is that you don’t allow yourself time for self-pity, regrets, or second guesses.

3. Step Into Your Discomfort Zone

Comfort zones can make us dumb. They shut down our brain’s learning center. We don’t like uncertainty because it means that we can’t predict what will happen so we opt for boring, safe places where we can read self-help books on how to build our confidence.

Comfort zones sap away our confidence. They produce a familiarity that can be a quiet death, an arrangement that allows the routine to continue without either challenge or desire. Before we know it, we’re in a rut.

The only difference between a rut and a coffin is the dimensions.

New research from Yale University has found that we only learn when there’s uncertainty. Stability is a shut-off valve for the brain. We don’t like discomfort zones but they are essential if we want to make the most of our brain.

We’re not stupid if we fail; we’re only stupid when we don’t learn from the failure.

It’s also important to give our brain a rest, so what is optimal? According to serial entrepreneur Auran Hoffman, if you want to maximize learning you need to make sure you’re doing hard things 70% of the time.

When we move out of our core competency, we often feel vulnerable and weak. We’ve been successful, and we’re accustomed to having the right answers. They give us confidence in our choices.

It’s all the more reason to spend time in a discomfort zone so you know what it feels like and won’t be sabotaged by negative emotions when the stakes are higher. You will already know how it feels and can predict your response to it.

This is exactly the mindset we need when confronted with obstacles and adversity! We may not be able to rely upon our developed skills when facing a new barrier or challenge, but if we’ve continually and deliberately placed ourselves in situations that are beyond our core competency, we are more prepared to deal with them.

With experience and practice, we can predict our response to the unknown with greater accuracy. This is another important component of mental toughness — the ability to choose our response when confronted with the unknown rather than simply react to our circumstances.

How to make it work for you: Cultivate a beginner’s mind because this is the mindset that opens up possibilities of what might be. It is a non-grasping, patient and confident understanding of what it means to live our fullest potential. This is what truly gives us confidence in ourselves and our ability.

How you do anything is how you do everything.

© 2019 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” 

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