As the 1990s were coming to an end, a 27-year-old woman had a wild entrepreneurial idea. She believed that women’s undergarments needed a facelift.
At the time, her track record wasn’t great. She had never taken a business class, had no background in design, and didn’t know anyone in the industry. Her resume wasn’t helpful either.
After graduating from Florida state university in 1993, her dream of becoming an attorney ended when she failed to pass the law school admission test twice. As a result, she bounced around the job market for the next seven years—buckling guests into rides at Disneyland, experimenting with standup comedy, and selling fax machines door to door.
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At times she felt so defeated that finding the courage to sell another fax machine felt impossible. But, when the fear of spending the rest of her life selling fax machines grew too strong, she used her life savings of $5,000 to start her business.
She began at the Georgia Tech library, researching every pantyhose patent she could find. When she learned a patent didn’t protect her idea, she began building a prototype.
It wasn’t long before she realized she needed a factory to make her product. But, unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Calls to clothing factories were unreturned or unanswered.
Thankfully, her time selling fax machines taught her that face-to-face meetings were more effective. So, she took a week off of work, drove to North Carolina, and started cold-calling factories in person.
At first, everyone turned her away. No one could understand why she wanted to disrupt a successful industry. The fact that she had no financial backing or affiliation with a large company only made matters worse.
However, she was persistent. And, after countless rejections and multiple trips to North Carolina, one factory decided to give her a shot—and what a shot that was.
After launching her brand Spanx in 2000, Sara Blakely turned her $5,000 investment into a brand worth more than a billion dollars. While doing so, she created an entirely new industry.
I’m telling you this story because it contains an important lesson about self-confidence.
Many believe that self-confident people ask for what they want, take risks, and stand up for themselves because they don’t feel fear—but that’s not true.
Blakely has openly admitted that she was terrified when starting Spanx but refused to let her fears define her.
Ultimately, there’s one fundamental difference between confident and unconfident people. That is, confident people have developed a mindset that allows them to take positive action despite how they feel. Unconfident people have not.
Therefore, self-confidence is not the absence of fear. Rather, self-confidence is feeling fear but doing it anyway.
In this article, I want to explain how you can learn to take positive action despite feeling fear. I’ll start by discussing the benefits of becoming more confident, explain why you might lack self-confidence, and finally, teach you how to develop more of it.
Self-confidence offers five important benefits.
1. Improved focus and performance. A sense of self-doubt often leads to negative thoughts. For instance, “I am not good enough,” “I will fail,” or “I look stupid” often play on repeat in the minds of those who lack self-confidence.
When negative thoughts consume your mind, you lose your ability to focus, and your performance suffers. For example, if you concentrate on failing while taking an exam, you can’t focus on the exam itself.
Thankfully, with greater self-confidence, you can reduce negative thought patterns and allow yourself to focus on what matters.
2. More opportunity. When you have little belief in your abilities, opportunities feel like opportunities to fail.
When this happens, your career suffers because you won’t ask for a promotion, start your own business, or share your ideas. Additionally, your personal life suffers because you won’t ask for a date, join your friends on a spontaneous vacation, or share your opinion when making plans.
But, when you develop more self-confidence, life’s meaningful experiences stop looking like reasons to fail and start looking like the opportunities they are.
3. Better relationships. When you have a negative view of yourself, you feel a need to hide who you really are. As a result, you keep your opinions to yourself, stay away from difficult conversations, and avoid standing up for yourself. Unfortunately, acting this way makes your life worse. Here’s why.
Because you’re not comfortable speaking your mind, people walk all over you. Consequently, you end up living a life dictated by the wants and needs of others. Then, because you feel like you have no control over your life, you end up feeling angry, resentful, and disrespected.
Any relationships built on this foundation are weak at best. That’s because instead of being yourself, you act like the person you think people want you to be. For that reason, no one gets to know the real you, and your relationships lack depth.
However, with a greater sense of self-confidence, you feel free to be yourself, say what needs to be said, and stand up for yourself when needed. When you act this way, you earn people’s respect, live life on your terms, and build stronger, more meaningful relationships.
4. More success. Countless stories throughout history illustrate that failure is often a precursor to success. For example, most know that Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times while inventing the lightbulb.
When you lack self-confidence, failure and constructive criticism reinforce the belief that you’re not good enough. With this belief, it’s nearly impossible to persevere.
However, when you have self-confidence, failure and constructive criticism no longer act as painful reminders that you’re inadequate. Instead, you can use failure and constructive criticism as learning opportunities that help you succeed.
5. Greater influence. It’s hard to get others to believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself. For example, if a company didn’t believe in its product, would you buy it?
Thankfully, when you have self-confidence, you improve your ability to persuade and influence others because you are more believable.
The following three reasons explain why people lack self-confidence.
1. You fear failure, making mistakes, or criticism. It can be painful to fail, make mistakes, or be criticized. As a result, many people avoid anything that could lead to these experiences.
Having a history of failing, making mistakes, or being criticized can lower your self-confidence even more. That’s because bad experiences have a way of affecting your mindset. Let me give you a few examples.
Failures like poor grades, divorce, or the loss of a job have a way of convincing people that they will never succeed. Mistakes such as crime, addiction, or unplanned pregnancy leave people feeling like damaged goods. And critical parents, partners, or bosses make people feel like they aren’t good enough.
2. You have a lack of skill or experience. It’s hard to feel confident when you lack skill. For example, you wouldn’t feel confident playing the piano on stage in front of thousands of people if you didn’t know any songs.
You might also lack self-confidence if you have skills but lack experience. For instance, a cyclist might have excellent fitness and bike-handling skills but have no experience racing. As a result, they feel unconfident when they race.
3. You think self-confident behaviors are wrong. Many believe that self-confident behaviors are inappropriate. For example, you might believe that:
Underlying all of these beliefs is often a misguided desire for approval. People who think this way put themselves last because they believe they earn love, acceptance, and respect by keeping others happy. Ironically, this behavior tends to make people love, accept, and respect them less.
Thankfully, it’s possible to become more self-confident. The following five ideas can help.
One of the best ways to overcome fear is to face it head-on. With repeated exposure, most things become less scary. For example, the first time you give a presentation is usually more nerve-wracking than the tenth.
When it comes to facing your fears, remember to start with low-risk behaviors. For example, assume you are afraid to share your opinion. In that case, it’s better to start with something small, like your preference in music, rather than your opinion of your boss’ quarterly plan.
As low-risk behaviors become comfortable, graduate to riskier behaviors.
Every success creates a slight boost in self-confidence. Every failure threatens to lower self-confidence. Knowing this, it’s a good idea to create an environment where it’s hard to fail.
If you’re beginning a new project, don’t start with a large overwhelming task. Instead, set realistic goals. Break the project into small achievable tasks and build your confidence from there.
If you’re having a hard time getting started, take some time to remember past successes. Doing so puts you in a success mindset which helps build self-confidence.
It’s hard to build self-confidence if the people in your life are constantly bringing you down. If those around you are judgmental, critical, or unaccepting of who you are, spend your time with different people. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are and want the best for you.
Here’s a litmus test you can use to determine if the people in your life are helping you build self-confidence.
Ask yourself how you feel after hanging out with a particular person. If you feel positive and uplifted, that’s a sign to keep that person in your life. In contrast, if you feel defeated and discouraged, it’s probably time to let that person go.
If a lack of skill or experience makes you feel unconfident, it’s time to put in your reps.
With enough practice, most behaviors become second nature. This proficiency leads to confidence. For example, most people are confident when brushing their teeth.
Therefore, if a lack of confidence keeps you from speaking in public or trying out for a sports team, practice. You can get experience on your own or under the guidance of a coach.
If you don’t know where to start, it’s often a good idea to emulate the people you admire. For instance, if you hope to be a great public speaker, study the best public speakers and learn from them.
Work by social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows that powerful postures lead to hormonal changes in the body that cause people to feel more confident. 1 In contrast, adopting weak postures has the opposite effect.
To feel more confident, Cuddy suggests making yourself bigger. For instance, while standing, you could widen your stance, put your hands on your hips with your elbows pointing out, and raise your chin.
To keep yourself from feeling less confident, Cuddy says to avoid making yourself smaller. For example, prevent yourself from slouching, lowering your gaze, and crossing your arms and legs.
This advice can make people feel uncomfortable, and I understand why. Few people want to go through life power posing and looking like they are holding watermelons under their arms.
To avoid this awkward look, keep it subtle. Carry yourself like someone who is proud. Keep your chin up, shoulders back, and look people in the eyes. At the same time, avoid slouching, looking defeated, and staring at your feet. Believe it or not, this small change can significantly affect your confidence.
One problem people face when building self-confidence is dealing with confrontational people. When confrontational people don’t get their way, they often lash out and become aggressive. If you’re not comfortable with conflict, these outbursts cause you to back down and prevent you from speaking your mind.
Here’s an example scenario.
Assume that you’ve been writing articles for your company blog. Initially, the goal was to write two new pieces of content per week.
However, after a couple of months of working overtime, you realize that writing two articles per week on top of running the business is too much. So, you decide that writing one article per week is a better fit.
When you tell your business partner about your decision, they fight back and demand that you continue writing two articles per week. They tell you they don’t care if you are working overtime and blame the problem on your ‘poor time-management skills.’
Because you hate confrontation, you agree to keep writing two articles per week. But, unfortunately, this approach does not fix your problem. Your desire to keep the peace ensures that you’ll continue working overtime.
If you find yourself in a situation like this, here are three ideas you can use to build the self-confidence needed to stand up for yourself.
1. Ask yourself if you are reasonable. You should feel free to speak your mind as long as you are reasonable. For example, it’s reasonable to ask someone to treat you with respect. If someone gets upset about a reasonable request, let that be their problem, not yours.
In the example above, it’s understandable that you’d not want to work hours of overtime every week. Therefore, it’s reasonable to insist on writing one article per week.
2. Consider what would happen if roles were reversed. All too often, difficult people have a different set of rules for themselves. In the above example, your business partner has no problem demanding that you work overtime. However, if roles were reversed, they would likely give you a piece of their mind.
If you find yourself in a situation where the rules don’t apply to everyone, take that as a sign that you should stand up for yourself.
3. Don’t let aggression control you. Difficult people use aggression to control anyone who fears confrontation. They know that showing aggression will cause a weaker person to back down, ultimately giving them what they want.
If you find yourself dealing with someone who quickly becomes aggressive, refer to rule number one. As long as you are reasonable, have the courage to stand your ground.
Here are two signs that you’ve taken the ideas in this article too far.
1. You become overconfident. A healthy dose of self-confidence is good, but too much self-confidence can be problematic. For example, consider the entrepreneur who quits their job and buys a new car before making a profit.
Overconfident people tend to forget they can be wrong. As a result, they avoid asking for advice and sanity-checking their ideas. This problem can lead to poor decisions.
To avoid this problem, make sure that facts and logic support your ideas before you bet the farm.
2. You think being confident gives you permission to be a jerk. There’s a big difference between being respectfully assertive and obnoxiously aggressive. The former earns you support and respect. The latter makes people resist and avoid you.
Confidence does not give you permission to be disrespectful. So don’t let your quest to become more confident lead to arrogance.
To prevent this problem, always remember the golden rule. If you treat people the way you’d like to be treated, you’ll go much farther in life.
Here are the key takeaways from this article.
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