Confidence is key

Tips to build yours

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A paradox of our current times is that as confidence continues to erode in many of our traditional systems and institutions, the interest in learning how to build confidence is on the rise. People everywhere are talking about confidence – what it is, why it matters and how to build it. Confidence is a high-value asset.

What is confidence? Ask 10 people and you will likely get 10 different answers. Often, these answers include an aspect of self-trust. Sometimes, they feature boldness or courage. Generally, people agree that confidence has something to do with feeling good about yourself.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, celebrated Harvard professor and prolific author, defines confidence as “having a positive expectation for a favorable outcome.”

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Notice it doesn’t say by next Tuesday at noon. Nor does it place conditions like, “If this happens, my confidence will grow.” It simply suggests that setting our minds toward learning and having a desired outcome in mind, we can move ahead with purpose.

Confidence is forged through action, feedback and learning. The old missive is true:  Wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from making mistakes. The key is in finding the lessons.

Building confidence requires challenge. If you never confront anything other than what you already know and can do, there is no growth. Conversely, when you start protecting what you know against outside challenge, insecurity sets in. Building confidence also requires support. We all need encouragement and support when times grow difficult and we become fatigued and discouraged.

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Here are some tried-and-true ways to build your confidence.

  1. Step outside your normal routine. Engage with someone new or not yet familiar to you. Take a different route to work. Experiment with a new food. Listen to different music or a program that offers an alternative point of view.
  2. Stop talking for a day in order to listen deeply to those around you. Let down your guard and open your imagination to someone else’s reality. Appreciate how this expands your awareness.
  3. Volunteer to lead a group project. Take responsibility for being the go-to person, especially if the project is not squarely in your wheelhouse.
  4. Introduce yourself first at a networking event. Make a point to approach others with a smile, firm handshake and genuine interest in who they are.
  5. Make time each day to record your experiences. Where did you go? Who did you meet? What did you hear? What did you learn? Did anyone or anything surprise you? This doesn’t have to be a lengthy journaling exercise; jotting notes on your calendar can suffice.
  6. Share what you are learning with a group of trusted friends or colleagues. Their interest and encouragement can be an important counterbalance to the intentional stresses you undertake.

As you begin to try new behaviors and approach new situations, expect to feel uncomfortable. Expect also that some of these experiences will turn out to be more trouble than they are worth. That’s a realistic part of learning. It is how we develop judgment and a basis for confident decision-making. Don’t shy away from things that on the surface look forbidding. Sometimes your curiosity and genuine interest can bring new energy to old challenges. Remember that you are strong enough to experience scary things. In the aftermath, you may find a new reason to be proud of yourself.

As important as it is to challenge yourself to grow beyond what you know, it is also critical to make time to rest and reflect. Distraction is a disease of epidemic proportions today. It wears down the best minds, sows confusion and drains energy. Without proper restoration, you run the risk of becoming a liability, not only to yourself, but also to those with whom you work, play and share life.

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You may have heard that life is a contact sport. Building confidence is about engaging in life, drinking deep of its experiences, noticing what is happening to you and others, and sharing your insights. The best part of building confidence is the powerful peace that comes from having a positive expectation for a favorable outcome, no matter the circumstances.

-Susan A. Marshall is an author, speaker and the founder of Backbone Institute ( She can be reached at (262) 567-5983 or

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