Building Self-Confidence in Five Steps

“Mr. Duncan, I was so nervous! My heart was racing and I was sweating. I couldn’t think straight.”

I was just finishing up a lecture on effective networking when Tiffany, a junior economics major at Yale, began telling me a horror story about her experience at a career fair.

“I don’t know what was wrong with me”, she continued. “I knew I was qualified but when I was walking toward the Executive Director [of a company she wanted to work for] I just kept thinking about all the ways that I could mess things up. It was like my self-confidence just disappeared.”

Tiffany’s story is not unique. In fact, many people are feeling overwhelmed by the need to achieve, the complexity of competition, and a fear of failure or rejection. As a result their self-confidence is like the mystical unicorn — elusive and seldom, if ever, seen. You will probably never catch a unicorn, but here are the five steps I gave to Tiffany that will help you capture your self-confidence.

1. Focus on what’s right, not what’s wrong.

Most human beings are infatuated with negativity.

When people talk about work, school, life, and other people they are usually talking about what’s wrong. When someone has a strange look on his face what do people usually ask? What’s wrong? And when something important is about to happen what do people think about? Everything that could go wrong.

This is not a lecture about positive mental attitude. It takes more than just positive thinking to build self-confidence. It takes effective thinking.

It’s good to know your shortcomings and weaknesses, but it’s ineffective to constantly focus on them. That type of thinking can nullify your strengths and kill your self-confidence.

Once you know what your weaknesses are and what problems could arise it’s, time to decide how you are going to keep your weaknesses from coming into play and what to do about the potential problems. Once you know, put all of that to the side and with laser-like-focus hone in on what’s right – your strengths and what can go well.

Of course, this is easier said than done.

If you come across an alligator while walking, all of your attention will be focused on the gator because it’s a threat. It’s time to rumble or run so your body enters into what’s known as Fight or Flight Response Mode. (Unless your name is Crocodile Dundee, I suggest you run.)

It works in similar fashion when it comes to failure, rejection, or maybe even stiff competition. Unconsciously your mind perceives disappointment as a threat to your mental and emotional well-being. So when something important is on the horizon and you are not sure how it’s going to turn out you automatically begin to focus on the perceived threat- what’s wrong or what could go wrong.

But failure, rejection, and disappointment aren’t alligators; you can fight them.
Whatever of the situation, to help you focus on what’s right, on paper list your strengths and everything that could right. (If you are finding more things wrong than right about a situation then you probably need to move on to a new situation.)

Also, completing and constantly saying the following phrases—or something similar—to yourself will build confidence:

  • I have a good chance of succeeding because…
  • Everything will work out because…
  • I’m great for this position, internship, or opportunity because…
  • Today is going to be an extraordinary day because…

These declarations won’t magically make things perfect but they will help to bring back your self-confidence. Once you begin to regularly use these and similar phrases you will create vivid images in your mind that will help you to...

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