Becoming bold, fast and fearless

How to hack self-confidence at Facebook, or really anywhere

I published this article internally within Facebook and was encouraged to share it more broadly as the lessons apply to just about anywhere.

Large red type on the propaganda posters on Facebook’s walls demand Be Bold and Move Fast, and What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

This is so not me, I think. I like to be quiet and move slowly. I am afraid of failing nearly every day.

Working at Facebook is a privilege in many ways ‒ great people, meaningful work, and abundant learning opportunities. I boarded its rocket ship almost two years ago and I have found 5 self-confidence hacks which have helped me. While I find myself slipping into self-doubt occasionally, I’m seeing success with these mindset-shifting experiments:

1. Confidence comes from action.

I have learned that I can’t wait until I have all the answers. If I did that, I’d never get anything done because there will always be some unknowns. What if I make the wrong choice?, my inner-perfectionist asks. Instead of letting fear control me, I remind myself that I will be able to adapt my strategy when I get new information. Then I begin to feel more comfortable with the idea that I may make some mistakes. In fact, mistakes are learning moments. It’s impossible to get every decision right 100% of the time, anyway. Fortunately the consequences are never fatal and I believe that every task is honing my decision-making skills with practice.

  1. Time-box research and resolve to move forward. I collect information ‒ research, data, people’s opinions ‒ and then form my own point of view. I can rely on my logic and intuition which has been formed throughout my career and based on general usability heuristics and design principles.
  2. Lean on the design process to generate, test, and iterate ideas.
  3. Share work early, with assumptions, dependencies and risks. This builds trust and credibility with my team, and helps me get feedback and move faster.

2. Confidence comes from within.

I received some difficult feedback about my performance which shattered my self-confidence. I felt like I wasn’t being accepted as I am and wasn’t doing work that enabled me to build on my strengths. I had to make some changes and see it as an opportunity to grow into a more well-rounded person.

During my review three months later, I learned that no one actually cares about the insecurities I was battling in my own head. I needed to step up and lead. “Fake it till you make it” was the advice. I wanted to be authentic, yet also project the image that I am reliable, and a leader capable of making my team successful.

While it can be disheartening when others do not praise me or my work, it doesn’t mean that I am not doing a good job. Confidence must come from within.

How do I know if I am actually succeeding in my work?

  1. What do my customers say about my work? What does the data show? I like to use customer feedback as a benchmark. Are my designs helping task completion rates? What is my product’s net promoter score ‒ is it improving? Recalling positive quotes from research and/or looking at success metrics and sharing with my team can be encouraging and may help guide a new direction.
  2. Compare myself… To myself. It’s important to reflect on where I was a year ago. What skills have I learned? What are some accomplishments that I’ve made lately that I was unable to do earlier? Look at how much I’ve grown!

3. I can control the narrative.

Throughout my career, even when my situation seemed unfair, no one wanted to hear excuses. It’s natural to feel upset when leaders and management don’t seem to care about my important but unsexy projects. I don’t have control of others, however, so I’ve begun to realize that it’s a lot more effective if when I “shift frustration and under-utilization into advocacy” as my former skip-level at Intuit, Leslie Witt, said. I can’t wait for an invitation. I need to remind myself that these people may not know me and what I am capable of. I try to think about how can I help others understand the value of my team, my projects, and myself. I may not be able to control others, but I can control the narrative.

4. Emulating is empowering.

Who are leaders I admire? What do they have in common? At Facebook I am surrounded by plenty of successful people, and while this can sometimes make me feel envious of their talent, I try to reframe that unhelpful feeling as inspiration. What techniques can I learn from them? I try to stay close to these people and ask for their advice. I emulate whatever is applicable to me and make it my own.

5. Mindfulness enables.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, I learned about Martin Seligman’s research around avoiding the three Ps: Personalisation, Pervasiveness, and Permanence. Here are some tactical tips in the book:

  1. Take one small decision at a time. It’s like riding a bike ‒ I need to start moving before I can think about shifting gears.
  2. Journal the wins: What are things I did well? I try to celebrate these victories to build my confidence.
  3. When things aren’t going well, zoom out to see it’s not all bad: What are some things that I am grateful for? Writing these down help me maintain perspective.

In addition, I have added meditation to my routine. I use the Headspace app when commuting to help me develop the skill of focusing on the present. Even when I’m not meditating, I find that this practice helps me avoid ruminating too much about the past or catastrophizing the future. I accept that I will always have unpleasant thoughts and feelings. When I unhook myself from them, however, I’m free to take actions that help me live my values.

As I practice self-confidence, I see improvement. Know that you’re not alone if you, too, battle with your inner-critic on a daily basis. What are some of your self-confidence hacks? I look forward to learning from you.

Thanks to Cameron Moll and Catherine Lush for feedback and editing help!