Breaking the Confidence Barrier

5 Steps to Building Confidence Even When You’re Terrified

I often wonder why we so easily defer to the negative when we describe ourselves with a statement like, “I’m not a confident person.” It’s simply not true. We might not be self assured in some areas of our lives, but in others we shine.

Lack of confidence is a normal and natural reaction to a new situation or stage of life. It arouses feelings of uncertainty, and fear of not measuring up. Those beliefs are installed in our brains as real, whether they are true or not.

The Wikipedia definition of a belief is this, Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty.

Does it surprise you we’re actually in full control of our beliefs? Beliefs are are born from our thoughts in reaction to something that happened or something we learned. They are like the “stuck tune syndrome,” taunting us, until they wedge in our brain as truth.

Many beliefs come from our parents, teachers, or religious backgrounds. In the teenage years, our peer group has strong influence.

Some negative beliefs are situational, like working for a new job position and not getting it, or writing a book that no one wants to publish. Those situations often stifle you. You can’t seem to find the courage to try again because your mind formed a relationship with the thought that you failed. Now it’s a belief.

The secret to winning the confidence battle is by actively reshaping beliefs and then trying again and again… that’s tenacity.

You can always figure out a better version of you than the one that’s held you back.

Tenacity is persevering even in the face of self-doubt, and it’s a quality we all have the potential to develop.

Photographer, Dorothea Lange, had a lot going against her as a child. At the age of 7, Dorothea suffered from polio and it left her with discernable limp. While walking the streets of Hoboken, her mother often chastised her, “You’re not walking good enough, Dorothea.”

She felt ashamed, and she believed her illness was the cause of her parents’ divorce. What a heavy weight for a child.

She went on to pursue a career in photography and moved to San Francisco. She found her talent. Her confidence grew as she quickly became known as the society photographer, photographing the events and lives of the upper class.

“White Angel Bread Line” Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California, Dorothea Lange

But, when the Great Depression hit, she struggled with her identity and direction as an artist. Dorothea felt a calling to photograph the plight of homeless people. Her fellow artists and friends thought she was crazy. These photos were a sharp contrast to photographing society balls and weddings. And what purpose did they serve?

She questioned her artistic worth but felt a drive to do battle with what people believed about her new passion and what she knew she was called to do.

She went into the volatile streets and photographed the real victims of the Great Depression. It must have been terrifying, but she did it anyway. She photographed angry people, and those in despair who were once shopkeepers, business professionals, and bankers, now standing in line at the soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Dorothea’s photos of these downtrodden people changed the way America saw itself.

Her photos of the migrant workers in the dusty fields of the California Imperial Valley shocked the world and incited the government to send aid to the downtrodden people. Her famous photograph, The Migrant Mother, is one of the most emotionally charged and reproduced photographs in history.

“Migrant Mother” Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California, Dorothea Lange

One way to discover where your own lack of confidence resides is to do a confidence inventory. Look at your timeline of life. Your life events sparked specific beliefs about yourself.

For Dorothea, she said she appreciated the role polio had in her life. “It was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” she said. It was the catalyst in her ability to connect with suffering people of the Great Depression.

That’s exactly how something negative in your life can transform into a positive.

Maybe you got a bad grade on a school art project and you formed the belief, I’m not good at art. Maybe you were the last to get chosen for the volleyball team, and you decided I’m not good at sports. These types of events erode confidence at an early age, but sometimes, things rise up to take their place.

I had an experience in fifth grade that changed the way I saw myself. A playground bully teased me about my red hair and freckles. He declared me “ugly” in front of my classmates. Up to that point, I never thought about the way I looked. My parents always made me feel pretty.

The mean boy waited for me to react. I must not have had the reaction he wanted because he spit in my face. For a second I couldn’t move. I stood firm, but felt tears welling. I didn’t want him to have the satisfaction of seeing me cry.

I ran to the school bathroom. It was empty. I looked in the mirror and it was the oddest thing, I didn’t recognize myself. Somehow, I was now ugly. I scrubbed the spit off my face with the rough brown paper towels until my cheeks were raw. Tears streamed down my face. It changed me, but not in the way you might think. I decided to excel in everything.

The following year, I ran for student counsel. I used my red hair as a campaign slogan, “Use your head and vote for red!” I cringe now, but it seemed clever at the time. I stood center stage at the podium, red hair and all, to give my speech. I was terrified, my hands shook, but I did it anyway. I thought I did pretty good and ended with my slogan. I was certain I had this.

I lost the election. In fact, I came in dead last. It stung for a few days, but I kept thinking about what it felt like to be on stage. It planted the seed for a way to express my love of music.

I joined a local singing group, Sing Out Monterey. My confidence began to grow as I had a new circle of friends and music to inspire me. My drive continued.

At 16, I went to New York to audition for the national cast of a musical show. I was terrified, but my determination took over. I had this.

And I did. I joined the cast and toured all over the United States, Italy, and Africa for the next year and a half, taking high school classes on the road, and singing and dancing to my heart’s content.

The playground bully and the loss of student counsel was my entrée to an opportunity that led to one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Our negative experiences can sometimes lead to the greatest moments of our lives.

As you look back on your significant life events, you discover they were the foundation for a new chapter. It’s the magic of kuyashii, a Japanese word for feelings of failure that motivate and inspire you to do better.

By dissecting your story, you uncover where the lack of confidence took root. Often you’ll discover it wasn’t one incident, but many. It layered on levels of fear that simply took your tenacity away, but perhaps… it paved the way for another door to open.

Here’s your “Lack of Confidence Antidote”

Rebuilding is a two-step process. First, you identify and label your major life events in the steps below. Then, you reconstruct with the Confidence Building Tools in Step 2.

Step 1: Identify Your Major Life Stories and Events

Write down your significant life events on a piece of paper. Start with the memories of graduating from high school, getting married, births, having a job you liked. Then write down the ones that challenged you in some way, like a loss, a disappointment, a playground bully, a job that got taken away. Then ask yourself…

1. Which of those events were encouraging and confidence builders?

2. Which of those did you perceive as failures or confidence destroyers?

3. Which of those events created a detour for you to start something new?

4. Which of those events made you stronger, more resilient?

5. Which of those events helped you develop new skills and talents?

6. Which of those events changed your life, even if it was a negative?

By doing this exercise, you’re creating new stories about your life. You fortify the ones that made you feel good, and deconstruct those that damaged you. You see them from a new perspective, one that shows you how it was an important stepping stone in your life.

Here’s the deal…Confidence is something you CAN learn.

Do you think you’re put on this planet to have less confidence and success than anyone else? No. You’re on this planet to take center stage in your own life.

Step 2: Put Confidence Building Tools to Work

Once you recognize where your self-esteem was sabotaged and look at it with new eyes, use these tips to rebuild confidence:

1. Act as if. Even though you might feel afraid, do it any way. Did you know your emotions don’t know the difference? That’s what creates great actors. The mind takes over and believes the words and generates emotions. Let your mind believe you are confident. Henry Fonda said he felt terror every time he stepped on stage, even in his 70’s. His stage fright just meant he cared so much about delivering a stellar performance. Doesn’t it feel good to care that much? Let fear hold you accountable and go forward “acting as if.”

2. Find your community. The people you see on a daily basis influence you. Make sure the people you hang out with are a reflection of who you are and who you want to be. Create a dream team of support and “fire” those that aren’t seeing you as a winner. Don’t you feel more powerful with people who believe in you?

3. Stay committed and persistent. Don’t quit. Just keep asking… what’s the very next step? You don’t have to see the whole picture, just the next step. It’s the process that will get you there. When I first started blogging, my dream was get published and promoted in Huffington Post. I wrote several articles, submitted them, and… crickets. No response, no email, just crickets. I felt no confidence at all, and I was ready to give up. I asked myself, what do I have to do to get published? The answer was… I had to get better.

I studied the blogging content, format and style. I realized my rejected blogs played a key role in making me strive to be a better, more consistent writer. My persistence paid off. I’ve now had 4 blogs promoted by Huffington Post.

4. Celebrate the wins, even the little ones. Remember to acknowledge each step. Every time you achieve a step, celebrate. We forget to honor the little steps that make up the big picture. As a writer, I have to fuel my creative drive by acknowledging even things like completing an outline or editing a blog. Celebrate often.

5. Rinse and Repeat. Habits are 40% of our lives… keep making confidence-building practices a habit.

Remember… everything in your life has positive and negative aspects. You get to choose your own beliefs and perception. When you have better beliefs, your belief in yourself gets stronger. Choose “confidence” and let it lead you to your next destination.

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