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Developing Self-Confidence

"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.”  

Henry Ford  

Self-confidence is the state or condition of having trust or belief in one’s capabilities. People who display self-confidence know they have what it takes to do something well and are ready and willing to take on challenges because they know they can master difficult situations.  Self-confidence is a critical factor for achieving success in a particular field, situation or area of endeavor because it shapes our expectations.  We live either up or down to our expectations.  High self-confidence leads to high expectations.  Low self-confidence leads to low expectations, and what we expect goes a long way in actually determining what we can do.

Confident people expect success; they consider themselves winners. 

Confident people have goals and organize their lives so as to achieve their goals. 

Confident people are not discouraged by obstacles; in fact, they are motivated by them because confident people consider obstacles to be challenges, and because they have positive expectation, they see them in terms of accomplishment and success. 

Confident people are not discouraged by failure.  They always see failures as being temporary. 

Confident people know that they will win some and lose some.  They understand that setbacks are a part of life and do not become negative over failure. 

Confident people develop persistence because they expect to succeed and keep plugging until they do.  Mistakes and failure are just experiences successful people must face on their journey toward success and happiness.

How We Communicate Confidence 
Our level of self-confidence is readily communicated to others through the words we choose, our vocal quality and our body language, and others draw conclusions about us accordingly.  Positive, assertive, authoritative statements convey self-confidence.  Vague, ambivalent, evasive statements connote a lack of confidence.  A voice that is forceful, clear and steady transmits high self-confidence.  One that is weak, hesitant and anxious does not.  Body language characterized by strong eye contact, erect posture and animated hand and facial gestures epitomizes self-assurance while poor eye contact, slumping posture and subdued body language communicates the opposite.  Most important however, is that a perception of low self-confidence is most often perceived by others as indicating a low level of competence.

People with low self-confidence generally tend to be less assertive because they don’t possess that inner belief that they can deal effectively with ambiguous or difficult situations.  Similarly, because they don’t intrinsically like having to deal with rejection and failure, they are often prone to task avoidance or to focusing primarily on non-threatening tasks which are usually also non-productive. 

In addition, people with low confidence don’t like change.  In fact they frequently fear change because of their low expectations of their ability to deal with it.  In mergers for example, people with low self-confidence are continually afraid they may be found out.  No matter how hard such individuals may try to conceal it, because they transmit their lack of confidence in what they say and how they say it, those observing them can see through their facades and as a result, such people don’t generally survive very long. 

Self-confident people on the other hand, exude power and grace. You know it when they walk into the room. Their strides are self-assured. They hold their heads high and they look people in the eye.  They have presence and they command attention through their words and actions. You will never see a self-confident person slumping over, avoiding the glance of others or dragging his or her feet.

Where Does Self-Confidence Come From? 

We have all heard that the greatest fear most people have is the fear of public speaking.  Why is that?  What is it that makes even the thought of having to get up before a crowd to speak send tremors of fear shooting thought many a person’s body?  It’s doesn’t seem logical that it is because people who are not regular speakers or presenters have no idea of what they would say or how they would say it if they were called on to speak extemporaneously.  People speak with other people every day with comfort and ease about things in which they are well-versed.  What then, causes such panic when many such people are called on to speak before a group? The discomfort and apprehension some people associate with public speaking or other stressful situations spring from either a perception of lack of ability or a lack of belief in themselves. 

Ability and belief are the two sources for personal self-confidence. 


One of the key contributors to self-confidence comes from the knowledge of possessing the ability to execute a given task. In the example dealing with public speaking above, if a person had concerns about how he or she might look, sound or act before an audience, he or she could develop greater confidence in public speaking by studying how to become an effective speaker such as by reading a book, getting training and practicing until he or she becomes proficient.  Practicing something over and over until one becomes good at it instills the knowledge that the person will not fail at the task, and this awareness leads to the confidence for effectively carrying it out.  

A lack of ability is usually the cause of situational lack of confidence in which a person isn’t confident in a particular environment or with a specific task simply because he or she has not previously had experience with it and therefore, isn't sure how to proceed. A person who generally displays a high level of self-confidence may feel completely unconfident dancing the tango because he or she has never had any experience whatsoever with it. In some situations a lack of confidence in public speaking or any other activity may be all in a person’s mind.  Regardless of whether a person has or hasn’t the ability, the fact that he or she doesn’t feel confident about the situation will rule the day.  A person might actually possess the ability to do a decent job in some endeavor, but nonetheless, not be confident in performing it.  

In some situations a lack of confidence in public speaking or any other activity may be all in a person’s mind.  Regardless of whether a person has or hasn’t the ability, the fact that he or she doesn’t feel confident about the situation will rule the day.  A person might actually possess the ability to do a decent job in some endeavor, but nonetheless, not be confident in performing it


This brings us to the second and more important driver of self-confidence, belief.  People who really know themselvestheir inner strengths and weaknesses, exude self-confidence in virtually all situations. This stems from a powerful intrinsic belief that they are capable, resourceful and worthy.  They feel very good about themselves and their potential to handle anything that may come along. They  instinctively believe that they can assess any situation and then apply the best response regarding it.  Because such people have such a positive attitude about themselves and their abilities, they are not afraid of meeting and talking with new people, trying new experiences or facing challenging or ambiguous situations. Such people, for example rarely panic in an emergency. Even though they may not have experienced a certain situation before, they know they can function to maximum capability and take charge. They never doubt for a minute that the best possible outcome will happen providing they do their part.  When someone comments on their effective performance in such situations, they are typically surprised that anyone thinks they did anything unusual.  

The confidence to perform effectively in any situation then, requires both the ability to act and a sincere belief in one’s self. Possessing ability but not the belief of successfully being able to demonstrate that ability, generally results in failure.  Similarly if one has a powerful belief in his or her capabilities but not the ability itself, failure will also likely be the result.  One must have both the ability and the belief in being able to display that ability to be consistently self-confidence in a particular undertaking. When people knowingly lack the ability or belief to perform successfully in a circumstance, they become very fearful because they know they are susceptible to failure, and they imagine themselves displaying extreme discomfort and awkwardness when placed in such a position.  This self-consciousness causes them to become overly focused on themselves rather than the task at hand, which further increases the potential for mistakes and failure. 

Causes of Low Self-Confidence 

Most lack of self-confidence comes from negative conditioning, either from the deliberate words and actions of others or from our own life experiences.  A person who is repeatedly told he or she does not exhibit the ability for a certain activity will soon come to believe it and act accordingly.  Similarly, someone who fails at a task over and over will likely come to the conclusion that he or she just can’t do it, and will tend to avoid not only that particular task, but others like it as well. The good news is that the opposite condition is also true.  A person who routinely experiences success at a certain task or is led to believe by others that this is the case, will tend to develop a continually increasing sense of self-confidence in performing the task.  As the adage goes, “success breeds success.”  

The Role of the Subconscious Mind. 

Our subconscious mind caries memories of our past successes and past failures, and these memories directly influence our conscious behavior in the present.  Positive past experiences unconsciously motivate us to repeat the behaviors corresponding to those experiences because we subconsciously desire to once again experience the pleasurable feelings associated with these previous successes. Negative past experiences on the other hand, unconsciously inhibit or undermine future behaviors associated with past negative results because we subconsciously desire to avoid the pain that is linked to them.  It’s really all about mindset. 

Up until 1954, no runner in the recorded history of sports had ever run a mile in less than four minutes, and it was generally accepted that such a feat was out of the realm of possibility for human beings.  That year Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in less than for minutes, and this accomplishment was widely applauded as an incredible achievement.  Within weeks however, another runner broke the four minute barrier and in the following months many others did as well. These were the same runners who had previously run in the same races as Roger Bannister and were unable to break the four minute mark.  Before Roger Banister did it, they all thought it was impossible.  As a result, they didn’t have the self-confidence that they could do it and their bodies responded accordingly.  But after he did it they knew it was possible and developed the confidence that if Roger Banister could do it, so could they.  

Becoming More Self-Confident

To break the spell of negative inertia and frustration associated with negative past experiences (real or imagined), it is necessary to condition our minds to erase negative, subconscious memories of past failures which act as roadblocks to success and replace them with positive images of future accomplishments. In other words, we need to create a state of mind that will drive us to ACT AS IF IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO FAIL. This is the essence of self-confidence, and it can be systematically developed.   But first the root cause of a person’s lack of self-confidence must be identified and raised to the conscious level.  Then one should answer the question; “I would be more confident in this situation if I were better at _________?” The next step is to work to fulfill the identified need.

Creative Visualization

Visualization is the technique of using mental imagery to see yourself as already having what you want to have, be or accomplish.  It involves changing your thoughts by imagining something to be true over and over until you actually change the mental images residing in your sub-conscious mind. Thoughts, if powerful enough, are accepted as truth by our subconscious mind.  This changes our mindset accordingly.  We develop new, positive expectations about our abilities which then influence our habits and actions to actually bring about what our mind believes to be real.


Affirmations are positive statements that describe a desired outcome such as “I will lose 20 pounds during the next year.” They work in the same manner as creative visualization by programming our minds much as commands and scripts program a computer. When repeated over and over, affirmations build mental images in the conscious mind corresponding to the focus of the affirmation, and these mental images eventually become embedded in our subconscious mind which then influences our behavior to automatically strive to attain that which we desire.

Creative visualization and affirmations are effective because their application helps to displace the impact of whatever negative conditioning we have experienced up to the current point in our lives.  It is impossible for the human mind to hold opposing beliefs at the same time.  One cannot believe he or she is an effective leader and an ineffective leader at the same time any more than it is possible for someone to simultaneously like and dislike bananas.  By using positive visualization and affirmation to force the impact of negative conditioning from our subconscious minds, we eliminate much of the source of low self-confidence and replace it with thoughts and feelings that drive success and happiness instead.

Controlling Your Thoughts

In the words of the great author and motivator Earl Nightingale, “We are what we think about.” James Allen said it a little bit differently; “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Both men were essentially saying that to develop overall self-confidence we must continually reflect on out thoughts.  We should consistently examine why we think the way we do and if we don’t like what we see, change it.  We need to overcome negative programming by reflecting on our past positive accomplishments. We should work to develop new positive programming by telling ourselves that we can achieve our desired goal.   

Here are some useful action steps for developing self-confidence: 

Stop withholding credit. Focus on your accomplishments, large and small. 

Rehearse success instead of failure.  Instead of reviewing past setbacks, preview future successes. 

Put mistakes into their proper perspective. Learn from them and then react appropriately. Avoid the curse of perfectionism.  Ask, “What did I do right?” 

Don’t accept inappropriate accountability.  We often take full responsibility for things that are out of our control.  Doing so threatens our self-confidence needlessly.  Take responsibility only for those situations and factors that are clearly and directly part of your responsibility.

Don’t create unrealistic expectations.  Doing so erodes self-confidence by setting up failure and ignoring success.  Setting expectations unrealistically high can turn success into failure.  We should also not set expectations too low.  Doing so significantly limits our potential.  Take pains to set up realistic expectations. 

Do not be overly sensitive to the criticisms of others.  Don’t ignore the criticisms of others, but don’t overemphasize them either. Turn down the volume.  Look at the criticizer critically. 

Accept compliments.  Don’t disagree or qualify the compliment.  Use them to build self-confidence. 

Avoid non-confident behavior.  Such behavior causes a downward spiraling effect.. Such behavior leads to non-confident feelings which then lead to more non-confident behavior which contributes to increased non-confident feelings, etc.  

Whenever you show self-confidence, reflect on how good this feels. With positive reinforcement, self-confidence will begin to emerge in your life.

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