Last night I gave a speech called “The Value of Confidence,” which was about how to mentally put yourself into a state of confidence, feeling certain of success even when your knowledge suggests you should expect to fail. Delivering a speech like this puts an extra burden on the speaker, since it must be done with absolute confidence and certainty — otherwise the audience will easily detect the incongruency.
Even if you’re extremely skilled and talented, a lack of self-confidence can prevent you from performing at your best in pressure situations. For example, if you work in sales, it’s one thing to read a book and learn and understand some new sales techniques, but it’s a very different challenge to actually go out and apply those techniques when face-to-face with a prospect. The major limiting factor often isn’t a lack of knowledge or practice but rather the limiting belief that you can’t expect to perform well the first few times — a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Public speaking is a great example. Many people have the knowledge and skill to write a speech that an audience would enjoy, and when practiced in private, they may even do a decent job. But put them in front of an audience — or even just suggest the idea — and they quickly succumb to feelings of self-doubt and worry. However, if you take such people to a stage hypnosis show and they’re hypnotized, they’ll get up on stage and perform wonderfully with no fear at all, even with no rehearsal or prepared material. Being under hypnosis doesn’t magically bestow any new skills, but it can put people into a state where they have full and unrestricted access to their best internal resources. What new endeavors might you be able to take on if you were hypnotized to belief with absolute certainty that you would succeed at them?
You may currently believe that confidence is the result of a history of success. While a history of success can certainly increase your confidence, you don’t actually need that history to feel confident. Confidence is a feeling of certainty, a natural inner resource that can be summoned whenever you want it.
The key to feeling confident lies in a quote from Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.” Even when your knowledge tells you to expect failure, you have the ability to consciously direct your imagination to override that impulse and feel certain of success anyway. Most people let their imaginations run on autopilot, so they sometimes see themselves succeeding but they also worry about failure. This is like trying to drive a car by pushing the accelerator and the brake at the same time. To feel confident you must focus your mind to see only one outcome, the one of you performing at your very best. If you catch yourself worrying (aka mentally rehearsing failure), you need to immediately take your foot off that brake and focus on the accelerator. No matter how many times you catch yourself worrying or contemplating failure, just keep refocusing your mind on the image of success.
In order to avoid the problem of overconfidence, let your decision to condition a state of confidence be subservient to your logic, reason, and common sense. If you feel confident that you will perform well on a big new project and use this as an excuse to under-prepare, that’s a mistaken application of confidence. But there are times when you’ve done all you can intellectually, and now you need to get yourself into the most emotionally resourceful state possible. Whenever you have to perform under pressure is a good time to put yourself into a state of confidence: a speech, a sales call, an audition, an interview, an exam, etc.
So on the one hand, be careful not to over-rely on confidence to save you by using it as an excuse to procrastinate on preparation. But on the other hand, it’s amazing just how far confidence alone can get you. When I was going through college, I often didn’t have as much time to prepare for exams as I would have liked. But I was really good at putting myself into a state of certainty of success right before the exam, regardless of how well-prepared I felt intellectually. And this state of confidence was often enough to allow me to perform well, even when I had barely studied the material. Because I expected to do well (via my imagination, not my knowledge), my subconscious mind found a way to fulfill that vision. Often this came in the form of creative solutions. For example, if I took a math test and didn’t remember the formula that was intended to be used to solve a particular problem, my subconscious mind would find an alternate way to solve the problem using what I did know — because I was in a state of total certainty of success, I had the fullest possible access to all my internal resources, including the ability to solve problems in ways I wasn’t consciously aware of.
Confidence is not a panacea. But being able to make yourself feel certain of success can give you a massive edge in many endeavors. Confidence is often the deciding factor in making a sale, closing a deal, acing a test, nailing an audition, getting a date, being hired or promoted, or making the team. And a lack of confidence can put you into the decrepit state where even though you have the intellectual resources to succeed, you don’t even make the attempt — you fail to ask for the sale, the raise, the date, etc. Sometimes just summoning the confidence to ask is all it takes to achieve a successful result.
What more could you accomplish if you added the tool of confidence to your arsenal of skills, consciously directing your imagination away from visualizing negative outcomes and 100% on creating a feeling of certainty of success?
P.S. My pre-ordered copy of Halo 2 was delivered earlier today. See you in a few days.