Joe Namath quote about confidence

Here’s a thought experiment: on a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you?

It may help you to think about the least confident person you know, then the most confident person, and figure out where the 10-sided Dungeons & Dragons die landed for you. No matter where you find yourself on the confidence scale, the good news is that like D&D, you can build your confidence. (Orc-slaying is optional.)

In my experience, confidence is one of the most critical skills for business success. It’s also one of the rarest. Confidence is the one of the skills I work on most with our leadership team at Media Shower.

We all recognize confidence when we see it. We respond to it. We don’t see it often, which is why it’s so inspiring. Please note I’m not talking about Cocky McCockerson, but a person who is calm, confident, comfortable in his own skin. The kind of person who’s a joy to watch.

Confidence takes many forms. There’s a woman at my church who at 80 years old is engaging, hilarious, and opinionated. I know a wildly talented developer who hardly says a word, but has almost a Zen-like confidence in his thinking. I know a school headmaster who has grown into a serene self-confidence over the period of several years; it has been like watching the construction of an elegant skyscraper.

No matter what you do in business, confidence helps. As content marketers, for example, we have to have confidence that what we’re doing works, and project that confidence to our clients. Whether you’re a C-level executive, an entrepreneur, a middle manager, or just starting out your career, consciously work on your confidence. It is an investment that will pay off in every area of your life.

How to Be Consciously Confident

Confidence is one of the “missing skills” that we do not teach in schools, but which should be taught in every classroom. Confidence can be learned. Here are a few mental tricks, or “mind hacks,” that can help you practice confidence in everyday life.

1) Fake It ‘Til You Make It. In 12-step groups, they have a saying: “Act as if.” If you’re trying to change your life, you pretend that the life change has already been made. When you “fake it ’til you make it,” you are literally pretending that you are the person you want to be, until one day you wake up and find that you have become that person.

Author Josh Shipp came up with a great phrase for this trick: he calls it “pulling a mayor.” Imagine you’re elected mayor, and you walk around your first day in office. Suddenly everyone’s giving you attention and respect, expecting you to be the mayor. But it feels utterly unfamiliar: you’re still the same non-mayoral person you were the day before. How you grow into leadership roles is to act like a leader. Even if you are the mayor, you have to pretend you’re the mayor until it feels natural.

It logically follows that you’ll have a much better chance becoming mayor if you act like a mayor from the beginning. Similarly, if you want a promotion, or incredible sales figures, or a successful business, you “fake it ’til you make it.” You literally ask yourself, “Is this what a VP / top-selling rep / successful entrepreneur would do?” Stick with this thought, repeating it day after day, and you will see results. “Act as if.” It really works.

2) Replace Second Guessing with First Guessing. If you often make yourself sick with overanalyzing your decisions, I can relate: this was once my biggest hangup. “But how do I know I made the right decision?” my mind would ask me, replaying every bad decision I’d ever made in graphic slow motion, like an Olympic gymnastics replay where I’d land the dismount on my head.

You can cultivate the habit of “short-circuiting” this stream of thoughts, of becoming aware of the second-guessing, and redirecting the thought pattern. It frees up tremendous amounts of mental energy, and is profoundly satisfying. You tell your mind, like a child, “This is the decision we’ve made. We’re going to play it out and see what happens.” You repeat as necessary, until your mind finally gets the message.

It helps to maintain an attitude of scientific experimentation: “I made a decision. Let’s measure the results. If it doesn’t work, I have data to guide me in making a better decision next time. If it does work, then we’ll build on that experiment.”

No matter how bad the decision, you can always bounce back. Practice trusting your instincts. Make the decision, then move on.

3) Get Things Done. When my wife and I brought our first child home from the hospital, there was what I’ll call an “Our Lady of the Holy Crap” moment. There must be some mistake! We’re not licensed as parents! Who brought this creature into our home? Fortunately, one of the crafty methods of evolution is to just make you do it.

Once you do it, you gain skill and proficiency — and with that, a certain degree of confidence. When our second child came along, we were slinging diapers like fry cooks at Arby’s. I had a similar experience the first time I managed a large team: how in blazes do I do this? In these situations, if you just do it (while “Acting As If” and “First Guessing Yourself”), then before you know it, it’s second nature.

You don’t need to give birth to practice this. Psychiatrist Neel Burton, M.D., recommends setting realistic challenges, then achieving them. For example:

  • Keep a to-do list, and pat yourself on the back as you check things off.
  • Start something new: write a book, learn a skill, join a group.
  • Tackle something you’ve been procrastinating (ask yourself “What’s the tiny next step to get this moving?”).

With each small thing you get done, you can picture your D&D “confidence experience” points increasing.

Confidence is not fixed at birth. The psych research shows that you can develop it, just like developing a muscle or learning a skill. Patiently practice the mind hacks above. Keep working them until it comes natural. I’m confident they’ll help you.

Sir John Hargrave is the CEO of Media Shower and author of Mind Hacking, available in 2016 from Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books. This post is free to distribute under Creative Commons 4.0: if you like it, share it.