What are the four powerful steps to build your confidence?
On paper, even the most successful and high achieving among us can lack in confidence. Oftentimes, a lack of confidence is the sole reason why we don’t take certain risks or seize opportunities. It is a key component in success and in life, and yet it escapes us at a different point throughout our journey. What if we knew how to get it back?
Angie Morgan is a retired US Marine and founding partner of LeadStar. She is also the author of Spark: How To Lead Yourself And Others To Greater Success. I recently interviewed Angie to talk about where confidence comes from and more importantly, how to get it. (This interview has been lightly edited for space and clarity)
Kevin Kruse: Why is your book titled Spark?
Angie Morgan: Well, with the work that my colleagues and I have been doing, what we do is go into organizations and train and develop leaders. What we always find is that the people who stand out in our workshops and our consulting work aren't necessarily the titleholders. They're just the people who get things done. With a little bit of leadership training and development, they're able just to capitalize and expedite on their success.
Those are sparks. Those are people who've got a lot of really raw, good material, insight, training, development, whatever you want to call it. They just take off. The leadership guidance that my coauthors and I promote, we're all military veterans, it's not rocket science. It's actually behavior-based leadership practices, and it shouldn't be mysterious. We write about behaviors that anyone can develop to really take charge of their career, take charge of their life, and seek out the success that they want to experience.
Kruse: Why do you think confidence is so important?
Morgan: Well, if I think about for myself― and certainly for other people, as well ―but if I think about every single success I experienced, or every single failure I experience, or risk I took, a lot of it had to do with my confidence level. I think confidence is one of those “take it for granted” traits, or that people think you're born with it or you're not.
But what was enlightening for me when I was researching confidence was that it was an emotion. Like any other emotion then, it can be managed, and it can be managed so it's there for you. I love the great Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right.” So much about success is just really in our beliefs about our abilities, and that's confidence. It is your belief in the moment about your abilities to either succeed or to fail. So we really wanted people, with “Spark,” in all the chapters but this one specifically, was just really to get into their head and think about what they believe about themselves.
Kruse: What is the first step in building confidence?
Morgan: It's called ‘Experiencing Your Success.’ Note that it's not achieving success; it's experiencing success. I think we all know someone in our lives who―on paper, or at a glance―are very successful. They've got the fast car, they've got the beautiful house, they've got the many degrees, they've got money, they've just got all those things. That person had no problem achieving in their life, but because you know this person well, you know that deep down they're insecure. Well, that person again, they've achieved a lot, but through the path on their journey they haven't really stopped for a moment to recognize and experience that their success was due to them. They blow past milestones where they do great things onto the next thing without recognizing that they were in control of the results that they experienced.
Why this matters is that later in life when we're faced with new challenges, when we're faced with new opportunities, we need to have a ready reference of the last successes that we experienced so we can build off of those. You've likely heard of the phrase that's been popular in the business world about ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ that people rise to a certain level of success. And they don't feel like it's theirs. Well, when you experience your success, you do feel like it's yours. I think for all of us who want to feel confident, not insecure, this is just a really great practice to develop.
Kruse: The second step is to develop positive self-appraisals. What do you mean by that?
Morgan: It's self-talk. It's pure, natural self-talk. It's those Stuart Smalley moments if you remember that beloved Saturday Night Live. It's about really paying attention to your internal dialog and recognizing that sometimes you're not on your side when you need to be.
It's like going into a job interview going, “Jeez, ah, I don't really belong here. I hope I get it,” versus, “You know what? I do belong here. I really think I'm going to nail this.” What we say to ourselves really poises us for the moment and that's really critical. I think a lot of times professionals who I meet, they don't pay attention to whether or not they're on their side, and going back to that Henry Ford quote, our beliefs and our capabilities have a tremendous influence over the outcome.
I think that it's important when we talk about experiencing success to be humble externally, but when we're talking about experiencing success and self-appraisals, these are all things that are internal to you. I would never say, “Walk around proud as a peacock, you know, displaying all your successes everywhere.” I think modesty is a great thing, but when it comes to thinking about what you're capable of doing, really just pay attention to what's going on inside your mind.
I think that I'm a fairly confident person, yet I find myself, and there's a story in the book about that, I find myself sometimes beating myself up or berating myself versus being on my side in moments that matter most. I really do think that again, no matter where you are on your professional journey, it's really important to check in with yourself.
Kruse: The third step is surrounding yourself with positive role models. Can you expand on that?
Morgan: Well, we're surrounded by ourselves a lot of times with people we had no hand in selecting, right? The people we work with, the people we exchange communications with on a daily basis. If you let anyone and everyone, and their demeanor and their words, influence how you feel about yourself, you're going to be on an emotional roller coaster.
It's really important to have positive role models in our lives whose thoughts can help build us up versus break us down. When we say “surround yourself with positive role models,” it's really about having a filter for whose opinion influences your powerful impression of yourself, because if it's anyone and everyone― you're going to, again ―be on a confidence roller coaster. But if it is a core group of people whose opinions you value, who will tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear, you're going to be in good shape.
Kruse: What’s the last step to gaining confidence?
Morgan: That would be just managing those confidence-killing emotions, which we call fear, insecurity, and worry. I am sure somebody who's listening to this, they probably could qualify for the Olympic Worrying Team, or are paralyzed by fears. I've got a great friend who is a Navy SEAL and he's led at the highest, most elite levels within the SEAL teams. I love that he always talks about fear openly, and he's like, “Do I feel fear?” He's like, “Absolutely. I feel fear often, but normally it's a red flag for me to take action.”
That's the message that we want to share with people developing their leadership skills, specifically their confidence. When they do things for the first time, or when they really feel like they're pushing themselves, it is very natural to feel fear. It is just one of those natural human emotions, but what you do with that is key.
Do you become paralyzed for it, or do you use some of the anecdotes to fear, to worry, to insecurity? The anecdotes are often action and just challenging ourselves. “What can I do in the moment?” Or acknowledge your fears. “I do feel fear, but what do I need to do to get over this?” To me that’s really important, and if you feel insecurity, and whenever you try to compare yourself to somebody else, yeah, you're going to feel insecurity, but go back to step number one. Remind yourself of your successes that you've had, and build yourself up. Yeah, those are the four steps to building confidence. At a glance when you're reading them, they seem simple, and you seem to understand, but in the moment they are really hard to do, which is why it's really important to have strategies that you can continuously implement.
Kruse: Are there things physiologically we should be doing to try to increase our confidence?
Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. I love Amy Cuddy's work, and I feel like there are some tactics, right, that are there to implement to help you manage those moments where you need confidence the most. From the military perspective, the way that we addressed some of those short-term tactical confidence-building emotions is rehearsals, right? We rehearsed so much before we ever did anything.
For example, you're nervous about a presentation and you need confidence next week to get you through it. Rehearse, prepare, before you go in doing your power poses and whatnot that Amy Cuddy promotes. What we promote though are lifelong strategies, which I think really complement some of those short-term tactics, so you can have your tactics in your back pocket. Again, have your dialog, your positive self-appraisal dialog ready, get your poses, prepare, and those will certainly help you in the moment. But we like to think too about those longer-term strategies, so you rely less on the short-term tactics to get you through.
Kruse: Finally, do you have a challenge for our listeners that they could do today to help better themselves?
Morgan: One of the things I find with professionals is that they undersell themselves when they look into the future. They underestimate the great things they have yet to do. If people have 10 seconds today, or a minute today, what I'd like them to do is to stop, get 10 years down the road about where they are, what they're doing, who they are, and even if the picture is a little fuzzy, just try as best as you can to get it a little bit clear and raise your expectations with that picture. I think again, we often sell ourselves short for what we can do in our lives. If we just raise the bar on our expectations, we can go pretty far.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.