There’s a quote often attributed to Henry Ford, “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” Something like this might your mind as you watch as these other people, chin up, assured, relaxed, almost effortlessly do exactly what you wanted to do.
The reason many of them are able to tap into that confidence is because of the parts you didn’t see: they spent countless hours, days, weeks, months, even years, practicing and perfecting it. They don’t broadcast it on Facebook or Instagram, but they know it’s there. As Mindy Kaling says, ”Because confidence is like respect; you have to earn it.”
No matter how bold or confident someone might seem, you can bet they didn’t start off feeling that way. Everybody gets butterflies. It’s what you do during the moment it feels the worst, when you feel sick to the pit of your stomach, your brain scrambles a mile a minute, you can barely breathe, and your knees are shaking. If you decide to stay and wrestle with it, it’ll make it easier for next time if you hang in there. It won’t make it easier this time.
Since action is the only cure for confidence, here are some ways to make action easier:
Move within seven breaths
You know what you need to do — send an email, put your hand up to ask a question, etc. — but you doubt this will turn out well. Your anxiety spikes. Your brain will try to talk you out of it by any means necessary. It will tap into every single fear or value you have and spin it against you.
- “What will everybody think if it goes wrong?”
- “Oh, you’ll end up with nothing, just like almost everybody else who tries.”
- “You think you can win? Who do you think you are?”
- “It’s not appropriate, the timing isn’t right. Wait.” (Okay, this one might be true sometimes, but certainly for only a small portion of the times you use it.)
- “You don’t feel like it. You’re tired. Go home!”
- “You’re not the right person to do this.”
- “You could do this if you wanted to, but you don’t care about this.”
- “The opportunity is too far out of your reach.”
Relax, give yourself some time and space to think a little and breathe. Then do it anyway. The late samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo writes in Hagakure:
In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takanobu said, “If discrimination is long, it will spoil.” Lord Naoshige said, “When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.”
When your mind is going hither and thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an intense, fresh, and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.
Whenever Reddit user Draconax doesn’t want to do something, he counts to five. Then he does it. Much shorter than seven breaths, for those of you who don’t like to wait.
Watch someone else do it
There’s something really fascinating about watching someone else do the thing you wanted to do. Author Robert Greene explores the idea of mirror neurons, and how we learn by watching:
The natural model for learning, largely based on the power of mirror neurons, came from watching and imitating others, then repeating the action over and over. Our brains are suited for this form of learning. In an activity such as riding a bicycle, we all know that it is easier to watch someone and follow their lead than to listen to or read instructions.
Not only watching someone literally go through the motions of it actually educational, but it can be inspirational. You remember, this task isn’t so impossible.
No matter how distant the goal seems from your current place, it’s been accomplished before throughout history, probably by a lot of people, and they’re human beings — just like you. Tsunetomo writes Hagakure:
It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon.
If you feel inertia, just watch someone else do it on YouTube. Visualize yourself doing it. Let those emotional forces propel you.
It’s much easier to change and take action you have support. Surround yourself with people who make it easier for you to do this — some of them might be doing it themselves, but a lot of them might just be cheering from your corner. Consider a story about Nicki Minaj, one of the most popular artists in the past few years:
Enticing big-name rappers to add a couple of bars to your tracks, or securing a guest spot on one of those rappers’ songs, is the way to build fame in hip-hop, and Minaj proved herself to be adept. She garnered guest verses from hip-hop royalty, including Lil Wayne. But her manager at the time, Debra Antney, who was born in Jamaica, Queens, before becoming an Atlanta hip-hop matriarch (and also the rapper Waka Flocka Flame’s mother), says, “Nicki was the timidest little girl you’d ever want to see in your life — she was so broken up, but she was so determined, all in one breath.” Timid? “I used to have to scream at her: ‘You’re not going to sit here and cry, you’re not going to let nobody shut you down, that’s what you’re not going to do,’” she says.
Enlist the help of your family, friends, mentors, and coaches. Meet with them regularly to talk about progress. If you have none of these, use something like Stickk.com where you put your money where your mouth is.
Everybody starts and restarts somewhere
It feels impossible when you’re starting, and there will be points where it still feels impossible. But you can choose to remain inert or to build even just a little bit of momentum.
Don’t let your lack of confidence be an excuse for not doing what you came here to do. Put on some exciting music, and push onwards.
The only way to build confidence, and believe, is to try something, learn from it, and do it again. If it’s important to you, focus and beat it into submission no matter the difficulty or odds.