Confidence is something that millions of professionals crave deeply but feel they are sorely lacking. Many believe that confidence is a “trait” that some have and some don’t. But research reveals that that is not an accurate characterization. Most of us don’t realize that achieving and building confidence requires dedicated commitment, energy, focus and work, like a skill we need to hone to be successful. We often mistake confidence for something else (brashness, ego, aggressiveness, etc.), which makes us resist doing the very work necessary to build true confidence.
Finally, we often mistake the physical feelings and sensations we experience when we’re about to do something very important in our lives with a lack of confidence, when in fact, it’s our body responding just the way it needs to.
To learn more about building a more confident mind and how that helps us achieve what we long to, I caught up this month with Dr. Nate Zinsser. Zinsser is the Director of the Performance Psychology Program at the United States Military Academy at West Point, the most comprehensive mental training program in the country, where, since 1992, he has helped prepare cadets for leadership in the U.S. Army. He also has been the sport-psychology mentor for numerous elite athletes, including two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, as well as many Olympians and NCAA champions. His most recent book is The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance.
In The Confident Mind, Zinsser details the secrets of mental toughness. In this new definitive guide to building and mastering confidence, he shares that confidence is the key to performance in any field, and offers key strategies for understanding, building, and protecting confidence, and applying it when your performance matters.
Here’s what Zinsser share:
Kathy Caprino: I’ve seen in my coaching work that people often confuse confidence with other traits (bravery, boldness, assertiveness, self-acceptance, etc.). From your experience, what is real confidence and what does it look and feel like?
Nate Zinsser: Real confidence is a quiet sense of certainty about oneself and one’s abilities, a sense of certainty that allows you to simply do what you are capable of doing without “thinking” about how you do it. It’s not necessarily loud or brash, as most people think when they hear the word “confidence.” It’s not necessarily flashy or flamboyant, but rather more “businesslike” and methodical. It’s important not to confuse this simple, quiet sense of certainty with outspoken arrogance or bravado, but our media rich culture often does just that.
Caprino: Many people expect confidence to simply “arrive” just when they need it and are afraid or disappointed when they don’t have it. What’s wrong with this way of looking at it?
Zinsser: Expecting confidence to “arrive” is exactly what most people do and exactly why most people are disappointed. I am routinely amused and amazed by the number of people who admit that confidence is very important to personal and professional success, but then admit that they do nothing to build it up or ensure that they have it when they need it.
What they need to do is “work” on their confidence the same way they work on all their other important attributes—putting time and energy into building confidence just as they put time and energy into building their physical fitness or their professional skill sets. Fortunately, the time and effort needed to develop confidence is rather small but pays huge dividends.
Caprino: You share in your book that confidence can be learned, but also needs to be practiced and mastered in a committed way like any other skill. Can you share more on this?
Zinsser: Confidence is indeed a quality that can be developed through practice. One does so by practicing various effective thinking drills, deliberately at first, with the idea that these drills eventually become natural or automatic. Just as you practice various physical drills to develop a reliable tennis forehand, you practice various mental drills to develop a reliable mental response to an upcoming challenge like a job interview, or to a routine deadline, or to an unforeseen setback.
Caprino: You also discuss holding onto constructive personal memories and the positive impact and stress-reducing powers of that act. Why does that help?
Zinsser: Constructive personal memories are those that produce energy, optimism, and enthusiasm. Creating a mental “bank account” of such memories provides a foundation that one can draw upon when it’s time to step into the professional arena and perform. Stepping into the conference room to make a presentation while mentally reviewing a list of previous successes creates a much different emotional state than stepping into that room while recalling one’s last few rejections.
Caprino: People often tell me that they believe their nervousness or anxiety means they’re not confident. What’s your take on nerves before a big moment or experience?
Zinsser: We humans are hard-wired to undergo a biochemical change when we are about to undertake something is important to us—whether it’s something that we want to do or something that we must do. That biochemical change is unfortunately all too often labelled “nervousness” or “anxiety” when it could just as accurately and just as reasonably be labelled “excitement.”
When you have “nerves” before a big event it simply means your body is producing chemicals to speed up your heart, get blood to your muscles and otherwise prepare you to faster, stronger, more perceptive, and more reactive. I urge my clients and students to respect their body’s wisdom and enjoy the fact that it produces a state-of-the-art performance-enhancing chemical pretty much whenever you need one, even if it feels a little abnormal.
Caprino: Once we do master our confidence-building, what have you seen are the key outcomes we can achieve? Why should we do this internal and external work to build our confidence?
Zinsser: If we don’t do the inner work that leads us to the conviction that we can do our jobs as well as anyone, we invite uncertainty, hesitation, tension, and thus mediocrity into our work. No matter what game you happen to play, you play it best in that state of certainty where you no longer think about how you will hit the ball, throw the ball, or make the move/speech/proposal or about what the implications of winning and losing might be.
All those thoughts interfere with:
- Your perception of the situation (like the flight of the ball or the movement of an opponent or the understanding of a customer)
- Your automatic recall from your stored experiences of the proper response
- Your unconscious instructions to your muscles and joints about how precisely to contract and relax in sequence to make the right move or the right comment at the right instant.
Whether your game involves instantly reading a hostile defense and delivering a football to the right spot, or returning an opponent’s serve, or delivering a sales pitch to a roomful of skeptical prospects, you perform more consistently at the top of your ability when you are so certain about yourself, so confident in yourself, that your stream of conscious thoughts slows down to the barest minimum.
Caprino: What are your best three tips for people who are ready to expand their confidence and impact, but don’t know where to begin?
Zinsser: I’d offer these:
Construct a top ten list
Start by going back into your memory and construct a list of the Top Ten most memorable and fulfilling moments you’ve had as you’ve pursued your career—the projects you’ve completed, the clients you’ve served well, the contributions you’ve made to your organization’s success. Put this list somewhere visible, so you get in the habit of reminding yourself about how far you’ve come.
Engage in a 3-part reflection
Conduct a simple 3-part reflection at the end of each day:
- Where did you put in some quality EFFORT?
- What small SUCCESS did you achieve?
- Where do you seem to be making PROGRESS?
Record your daily E-S-P reflection in a journal—it’s the “bank book’ of your confidence.
Decide on a job skill that you’d like to develop or improve
Construct a statement about that skill that reads as if you already have it: “I easily resolve big problems whenever they pop up.” Write that statement out at least five times a day, so that you create a functional, self-fulfilling prophecy for yourself.
Caprino: Finally, after we’ve put in the effort to build our confidence over time, and have shown demonstrated commitment to the process, what can we do in the moment, when we’re facing an event or experience and we still feel shaky and insecure? What step can we take in that second—to help us shift to a more confident state?
Zinsser: This is the moment where your previous work is indeed put to the test. In that second,you will either decide that you are up to the challenge of the moment or you will decide to back away from it.
In that second you must take command of your self-talk with a statement like, “This is my chance to take a step forward” even if you are a little shaky still. Remember that no matter how much confidence work you’ve done, your nervous system will always be firing you up, and that means you probably won’t feel perfectly “normal.” But why should you expect to feel normal when you’re about to step into a big moment?
Caprino: Any last words on building our confidence?
Zinsser: It’s an ongoing process—there’s no magic threshold you can reach where you’ll always have all the confidence you’ll need. It’s a daily commitment to yourself that continues for as long as you wish to improve and grow.
Kathy Caprino is a career and leadership coach, author, and executive advisor helping professional women build rewarding careers of significance. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.
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The Points of Light Civic Circle Offers Real Ways You Can Change the World
Sixty-six percent of Americans don’t believe they can make a big impact in the world.
That figure is according to Points of Light’s research on civic engagement. But what if I told you there are actually many ways to drive change?
Today’s political climate can feel divided or even stagnant, but the truth is, you really can make things better, starting with your own community, one act of kindness at a time. And those aren’t just words. I’m here to share real, practical ways for you to make a difference.
The Points of Light Civic Circle helps people connect to opportunities and understand that doing good comes in many forms. It is a framework that represents your power to lead, lend support and take action for causes you care about and live your best civic life.
The Civic Circle provides actionable examples of all the ways you can change your community to reflect the world you want to see around you. In fact, you’re probably doing some of these things already. Are you helping a neighbor by picking up groceries or chaperoning on your child’s class field trip? You’re volunteering. Did you vote in the last election or help others get to the polls so they could vote? Those acts of civic duty illustrate the “vote” element. When you buy a product, do you choose to support companies that reflect your values or advance a social cause? That’s called “purchase power.” There are nine elements of the Civic Circle, and countless ways to bring each one to life.
This blog is the first in a five-part series that will help you find real and manageable ways to activate the Civic Circle through apps, documentaries, podcasts and books.
We also offer other resources to help you connect with all the ways you can become empowered to be the change you want to see in the world. Check out our videos that provide an in-depth look at each element of the Civic Circle. And don’t miss Civic Life Today, our digital magazine series. Each issue takes a deep dive and provides materials, ideas and inspiration so that you can become civically engaged. Get started today, and launch your own civic engagement journey with these tools.
Are you an Amateur or a Pro? 30 Differences to Help You Decide…
My client, Sebastian, thinks he’s behind on “life”.
He thinks he missed the memo the rest of us received on how to live a happy life.
I know better.
Sebastian hasn’t fallen behind and there is no such memo.
We’re all just trying to figure it out.
Unless we’re not. And there are a lot of people who simply are not trying to figure it out.
My friend and Professional Coach, Elaine Taylor-Klaus, calls them Status quo-ers — as opposed to Growers.
Anyone who makes a serious commitment to working with a Professional Coach is by definition a “Grower” and Sebastian is no exception.
Growers want to know, feel and live more. They push every boundary and sometimes fall off cliffs. They say “yes” to way too many things and often feel overwhelmed and over committed. They have a congenital distaste of the status quo and will sabotage any situation if it feels like “settling” to them. They’re insatiable and often don’t know what exactly will assuage their hunger.
Growers often appear to the world as troubled, frustrated and critical.
Inside they feel unfulfilled and misunderstood.
The truth is that they can’t help but be driven by Oscar Wilde’s belief that,
Growers will break every piece in the china shop when they find themselves just existing and not living as they see fit. And they suffer for it.
That is… until they turn pro and transform their life!
Steven Pressfield famously states in his book, Turning Pro,
Sebastian thinks he’s falling behind because he’s still living life as an amateur at 34.
To put the above into context, I didn’t turn pro till well into my 40’s!
Best move I ever made!
So what’s the difference between living life as an amateur vs. a pro?
Although there is no one size fits all manifesto on “how to turn pro”, here are thirty distinctions I’ve learned which apply to ANY Grower who is truly committed to living a life of purpose, fulfillment and ease.
- Amateurs look for hacks and shortcuts — Pros do the work.
- Amateurs speed up — Pros slow down.
- Amateurs are busy — Pros are focused.
- Amateurs sell first — Pros serve first.
- Amateurs think it’s about them — Pros know it’s never personal.
- Amateurs think life is short — Pros know life is actually really freakin’ long.
- Amateurs are reactive — Pros are responsive.
- Amateurs live with constant misunderstandings — Pros take the time to get clear.
- Amateurs don’t know what success looks like (to them) — Pros know their definition of success and aren’t afraid to change it.
- Amateurs don’t know their core life values — Pros do.
- Amateurs want to feel happy — Pros want to feel alive!
- Amateurs play to “not lose” — Pros play to win.
- Amateurs are harsh — Pros are fierce.
- Amateurs secretly enjoy being in the “Victim Mindset” — Pros are a “Hell No” to that!
- Amateurs wonder what people say about them when they leave the room — Pros know.
- Amateurs have false and limiting beliefs around money — Pros don’t.
- Amateurs are constantly searching for life balance — Pros are living an integrated life.
- Amateurs think everything matters — Pros know what few things actually do matter (for them).
- Amateurs set boundaries defensively — Pros simply honor their “operating system”.
- Amateurs think help is a four letter word — Pros actively seek opportunities to help and be helped.
- Amateurs don’t have a relationship with their “Future Self” — Pros are best friends with their “Future Self”.
- Amateurs confuse knowing with doing — Pros receive knowledge and apply it (EVERY moment of EVERY day).
- Amateurs love information — Pros love insights.
- Amateurs have intentions — Pros have commitments.
- Amateurs have expectations — Pros have agreements.
- Amateurs compare — Pros create.
- Amateurs live from probability — Pros live from possibility.
- Amateurs are focused only on the “Goal Line” — Pros are focused on both the “Goal Line” and the “Soul Line”.
- Amateurs set goals with contingencies — Pros know contingencies are just excuses and NOW is the time!
- Amateurs create from the past — Pros create from the future.
Now that you are aware of the 30 differences between an amateur and a pro, where do you see yourself?
And I’d love to know why. Get in touch with your answer.
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