People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves they have the first secret of success.
~Norman Vincent Peale,
American minister and author
The way you walk into a room, the look on your face, the twinkle in your eye, the manner in which you stand up tall, and how you engage with others—these are all subtle cues about your confidence level. Your projection of confidence is often what lands you the assignment or gets the job done or opens doors that would have stayed slammed shut. I learned all of this the hard way. I was not a particularly confident child. Never mind the reasons. I was shy and not very sure of myself, which is always a particularly difficult combo. I might have stayed that way had life not conspired to push me into finding my voice. It started when my son was so sick, and I had to become a Mama Bear for his sake as well as mine. Then I was challenged to build my confidence because of Annemarie Colbin’s insistence that I teach at her school.
Though I have shared those stories, there’s more to share because when the going gets tough, it can be tough to access that strong, resilient, and positive aspect of ourselves. That’s when we need to somehow dig deep and find the inner resources to regain our composure and conviction or, at least, act as if we have it all together…until we do.
But sometimes real courage is the ability to step into the fray or onto the playing fields of life not only with grit and gusto but also with a bit of bravado.
Consider the expression “fake it till you make it.” On the one hand, the idea of faking it sounds phony and disingenuous. Most people, to the best of their ability, want to be authentic and real. They don’t appreciate it when others put on airs, and so it’s not something they aspire to do themselves. But sometimes real courage is the ability to step into the fray or onto the playing fields of life not only with grit and gusto but also with a bit of bravado. For me the AHA! happened when I finally understood that it’s more about accessing the courageous part that lives deep within me than about just pretending. If you believe that what you stand up for is worth it, and that being confident, clear, and fervent about your choice and message make a difference, then your motivation to meet obstacles head-on (no matter the hidden tremor in your limbs or your voice) is what matters most. Even if the storm or disaster never materializes, you will emerge the better for having arrived with dignity and well-prepared.
Research demonstrates that striking a pose of assurance will actually help you access that part of yourself. So next time you need to show confidence, experiment by tapping into your inner Wonder Woman, or channeling your superhero.
Take a stand with your hands on your hips and your feet planted firmly on the ground so as to convey to your body and brain a clear message about your willpower and resolve. One research experiment concluded that sitting like a boss with your feet up on your desk will access that powerful feeling of being in control and capable of making important decisions. Ever since learning about all this posing and posturing, I have been playing around with it, exaggerating it, hamming it up (if only for myself). IT WORKS. I promise.
Here’s another important strategy—walk before you fly. Any pilot taking off on their first solo flight can testify to the racing heart, sweaty palms, hyper-focused attention, and endless badgering by their inner scaredy-cat. It takes grit and grace to pull it off safely and countless months of practice to gain the skills and expertise necessary. Pilots rack up many hours of training before they take the controls. Like a pilot, you’re going to have to first earn your wings if you ever want to soar. But unlike learning to fly, learning to be confident is an ongoing process—one that begins again and again with each new possibility.
While well-meaning friends may tell you to “just do it,” in truth, developing confidence takes a while.
Each time you reach higher, each time you fall short, each time it becomes apparent that you must hone your skills to some sharper level, you need to be willing to take that step. But first, you need to get your head on straight, get in touch with what your heart has to teach you and set some sensible ground rules. The last thing you want to do is set yourself up for a fall. It’s not that you have to do everything perfectly or you’ll crash, it’s that you need to have some well-thought-out procedures in place in order to progress at an intelligent and sustainable pace and avoid disaster.
I completed that first run in under five hours and the next one, a year later, in under four and a half, which, considering I was in my forties by then, felt like quite an accomplishment.
When I was in my thirties, I went through some tough times in my life and needed an outlet, not just for the sake of my well-being, but also for the sake of my sanity. Someone suggested jogging. I was, however, not a particularly natural or strong athlete. So, I started small…walking, then running a mile or two a few days a week. Progress was erratic at first, and I never even dreamed that one day I would develop the strength and stamina to be able to run a marathon. But, slowly and surely, step by step, I got better. Year after year, I kept at it. Then someone asked me to join them in a 5K race…and then a 10K. Next came a half marathon and finally, a full-blown New York City marathon, as part of the Central Park team no less. With sweaty palms and some trepidations about whether I would let the team down, I said “yes.” It was glorious! What I remember best about that magical time was when I knew in my gut that I had found my stride and the improbable had become possible. I completed that first run in under five hours and the next one, a year later, in under four and a half, which, considering I was in my forties by then, felt like quite an accomplishment. I still have the certificates hanging on my office wall to keep encouraging my can-do attitude.
A final strategy worth trying—re-vision yourself. We each hold a gallery of pictures in our mind’s eye that is a reflection of what we think and feel about ourselves. These images are not accurate representations, but rather a complex portrayal of how we see ourselves through the filter of our experiences, beliefs, and estimations. They include an accumulation of both our past impressions and our future projections. Unfortunately, instead of choosing to see ourselves in our best light, all too often we examine ourselves through a magnifying glass that exaggerates our perceived faults and shortcomings. All too often we default to our supposed failures and forget to acknowledge and celebrate our best selves. We may also suffer from comparisonitis and, rather than focus on our magnificent uniqueness, we pay attention instead to all the ways we believe we don’t measure up to someone else or to some elusive and imaginary yardstick.
The best remedy for all this negativity is to first focus, with both kindness, and clarity, on who and how you choose to be. Then do everything possible to move toward and step into, embody, or emulate that envisioned persona. It’s about both re-visioning and revising, about seeing yourself whole and authentic, and appreciating the one-of-a-kind gift that you are in the world. It’s also about making the important changes that allow your best self to shine through.
Public speaking had always been a big challenge for me until my dear friend and fabulous speaker/presentation coach Temple Hayes gave me this tip which became the AHA! I needed to seriously own my voice. Before stepping onto the stage and up to the microphone, pay attention to your limiting beliefs about the small you with your small worries sitting in the wings or in the chair waiting to be announced. Realize that you, and what you have to share, are bigger than that. Recognize that what you have to say, and your unique way of saying it, are important. Imagine yourself shedding or leaving behind that smallness as you stand up. Then imagine wrapping yourself in a luminous cloak of your own brilliance, passion, and authenticity. With that image in mind, step up to the podium with poise and presence and begin. Sounds a bit way out there, but I have to say, it works every time.
Part of any re-visioning process, of course, requires that you actually do what it takes to polish up your appearance until you beam. At the same time, no amount of outward attention will matter if you don’t simultaneously practice showing up in your own mind the way you want to be seen in the world—strong and sassy, calm and confident, poised and prepared, graceful and gracious, and kind and collaborative. This is not an exercise in self-deception. Rather, it is the process of creating and developing your true Self from the inside out. It requires seeing within you what you are striving to bring forth and then embracing and living up to and into that image. To quote Wayne Dyer, “You’ll see it when you believe it.”
What do you want to see now? Visualization is a terrific tool for strengthening this ability. It is not about just playing around with impossibilities; it is a practice for calling forth possibilities from the ethers of your imagination. Try this for starters: Every morning, take just a few minutes to imagine your best self, glowing with health and vitality, stepping out into the world to meet the day. Hold that charismatic person with great care and tenderness on the inner screen of your mind for a while, and then release that person the same way you would a wish or a prayer into the limitlessness of the universe. Pay attention to what happens.