Every day offers us a new challenge and an opportunity to see what we are made of.
Some days more than others. Think of all the resources you have at your disposal to rise up to these challenges. You have your intellect, style, wit, humor, strength, resilience, patience. You have friends and colleagues, family members, and other special people in your life. You have your possessions, your resources, your health, your savings, your home.
When you get down to the bottom of things, one of your most valuable resources – which allows you to enrich every other aspect of your life, is the way in which you view yourself and what you believe you are capable of. This one thing plays a monumental role in determining your fate, because it drives your actions and responses to everything that happens to you.
This quality is confidence.
You know it when you see it, don’t you? A confident person walks into a room and doesn’t have to say a thing. They wear their faith in themselves and their abilities like comfortable clothing. They do not need to be arrogant or assuming. They are at ease in their own bodies.
What exactly is confidence? And how do you get it?
Some would say confidence is being able to show others that you know what you are doing, that you have what it takes to succeed, that you are in control. Others speak of confidence from the standpoint of having courage to do things that require a high degree of skill, knowledge, strength, coordination, or that may entail some degree of risk. Still others would say confidence is the ability to inspire trust in others. Merriam Webster defines confidence as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances” and “faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper or effective way.”
Confidence is something that must come from the inside out.
What do I mean by that? Every day we face challenges and opportunities that allow us to exercise confidence. We can do things today that we were unable to do last year, or maybe even last week. When we get to a point where we no longer question our abilities and simply execute the task at hand in a manner that is fitting to the situation, one could say we are acting with confidence.
Exercising confidence does not require that anyone else believe we know what we are doing, or even that they witness us doing anything at all. It requires us to do what must be done at any given time, utilizing the resources at our disposal and calling on our own strengths, ingenuity, and discernment to do it.
It is easy, however, to fall into the trap of trying to gain confidence from the outside in.
We often go about our tasks with an eye on the perceptions of others and allow their reactions to determine our confidence level. A positive response increases our confidence, and a negative one decreases it. When we repeatedly engage in behavior like this, we will subjugate our ability to perform and stunt our inherent talent by interrupting its natural flow.
Imagine yourself standing in a room trying to balance on one foot while holding the other in your hand and looking up at the ceiling. Now add about fifteen to twenty people to the room who are trying to do the same thing. If you worry about whether you look good and imagine that everyone is staring at you, you will lose your balance (and your confidence). If, however, you center yourself and focus on the task at hand, you will find your core strength and a sense of calm, and you will achieve your goal. It may take awhile, but you will get there.
“It is very easy in the world to live by the opinion of the world. It is very easy in solitude to be self-centered. But the finished man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This phenomenon becomes more complex when we assign value to others’ perceptions.
The opinion of someone we highly regard may weigh more heavily than someone we don’t. And strangely, getting validation from someone who doesn’t seem to think well of us can have more significance than hearing praise from people who are our biggest fans. Why? I think we tend to focus our attention on that which mirrors our own thinking. Criticism stings the most when it amplifies our own self doubt. And when we find ourselves craving acknowledgement from others, it is likely because we are withholding it from ourselves.
As we go about trying to win approval, we allow others to define our sense of self.
And as a result, we grow ever more unaware of the treasure that sits in our own back yards. We leave our true fortunes to seek things that glitter and fade. The harder we try to win the confidence and validation of others, the further we will get from achieving it and the more deeply buried our inherent riches become.
Rather than acknowledging evidence that is all around us which confirms that we are competent, creative, talented, worthy and capable of achieving great things, we waste our energy focusing on what we believe is lacking. As a result, we pay attention to data that validates our feelings of inadequacy, which leads us to act in ways that sub optimize our potential. This further erodes our confidence and we risk locking ourselves in vicious cycles of deteriorating performance and eroding self assurance.
Confidence is an inside job because we cannot expect others to believe in us if we do not believe in ourselves.
To be truly free, we must become independent of the opinion of others.
This does not mean we stop seeking feedback or valuing input and suggestions. It simply requires that we learn to become unattached to others’ approval and instead draw upon our own inner reserves. When we stop seeking validation, we find our centers again and learn from our own experiences and inner wisdom.
Practice and simple adjustments allow us to find our zone, listen to our intuition and slowly perfect our game. Becoming quietly confident, we lose the need to prove that we are right, defend our honor or value, and impress others. We simply do what is ours to do in any given moment and judge our success on the merits of the work itself.
When we truly go within to discover and unearth our own value, a funny thing happens.
Over time, we will come to be surrounded by people who mirror our own positive assessment of ourselves. Criticism may still come, but it will no longer have the sting it once did. Void of the emotional charge, we can take feedback for what it is – data that helps us to see something we may have missed, so that we can make a course correction if necessary.
No longer basing our value of ourselves on what others think of us, we can refocus the energy we spent seeking validation into helping others recognize their own value. In modeling this behavior, our increased confidence in ourselves engenders confidence both in and from others, and we can truly lead.
When we have confidence in ourselves, we regain a sense of power and faith.
No matter what happens in the uncertain world around us, we know we have what it takes to rise above our challenges and turn them into opportunities. We act in ways that show others they too have the ability to shape the world around them by starting with themselves.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Yoga image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.