During a mock trial, I was selected to be a witness and cross-examined by a criminal lawyer. The purpose of the mock trial was to give FBI agents an idea of how defense attorneys would try to distort our words and use them against us, especially in front of a jury.
We were in a real federal courtroom with real lawyers and judges. I had never testified in a court of law before—I felt inadequate, uncertain, and afraid that I would blow the case by saying the wrong thing.
Sure enough, I answered the defense attorney’s question and she immediately twisted the meaning of my words. I wanted to say, “That’s not what I meant,” but she had already moved on to another topic. I was flustered and my lack of confidence plummeted ever further.
When she asked another question, I kept my answer very short. I knew that I risked sounding defensive but I simply did not have enough confidence in myself to engage with her at any length. Realizing that my lack of conviction about her client’s activities would not present a real threat, I was quickly dismissed as a witness.
All I remember about that entire exchange is how crappy it felt to be both humiliated and impotent as a government witness in a mock trial.
Lack of confidence can rear its ugly head at any time. No one is immune because we are most vulnerable any time we’re out of our comfort zone or experience change in our life.
Confidence is closely linked to mental toughness because it takes a strong mind to conquer fear, anxiety, and worry.
Our brain is naturally wired to pay more attention to negative thinking because bad news has alerted us to danger for centuries. Our cave dweller ancestors went out each day to “get lunch” not “be lunch.”
But not everything that is new or different is a threat to our survival these days. The good news is that we can train ourselves to be more confident. Here are 9 ways:
1. Isolate Your Fear
In my case, I was afraid of making a fool of myself in front of my colleagues during the mock trial. I was afraid of what they might say and think if I screwed up.
Other common fears are: fear of how others perceive us, fear of being physically hurt, fear of commitment, or fear of failure.
It is important to dump the ego and get right down to the origin of your fear.
2. Take Action
If you hesitate and wring your hands, your fear will only grow.
I should have prepared better, worked harder to anticipate the way the defense attorney would parse my words, and trusted my own judgment.
3. Deposit Positive Memories in Your Memory Bank
We are bombarded with so much information that our brain stores information in a way that makes sense to it.
So, if you lack confidence, all your brain will remember about a specific event are those things that confirm you messed up.
If you hold a memory freighted with lack of confidence, go back and revisit it to make sure you are remembering correctly. Often, you will find out that others did not perceive or remember an event the same way.
At the end of each day, examine it. Remember all the positive and good things that you said, did, or accomplished that day. Reflect on all the positive victories and go to sleep with those memories on your mind.
4. Withdraw Only Positive Memories
It is easy for any negative thought, with enough encouragement and recall, to turn into a mental monster. The best way to defeat it is to ruthlessly nip it in the bud.
Find at least 3 things every day for which to be grateful. Write them down. Smile when you think of them.
Successful leaders move forward with confidence because they learn from their fears and failures, and then let them go.
5. Respect Yourself
If you don’t respect yourself, why should anyone else? I can’t think of any situation where a doormat is someone who is respected.
If you are not in a situation where you do not feel respect from others, change your situation; do not walk—run. The devil you don’t know is NOT worse than the devil you know.
Perhaps this means changing friends, jobs, or relationships—whatever it takes, place yourself in a position where you respect yourself and others reciprocate these positive feelings.
6. Sit In The Front Row
I always sat in the front row of every class I ever took. It takes confidence to sit in the front row and be noticed, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Start today and sit in the front row of every meeting, conference, or class you attend. Start getting comfortable with being noticed.
7. Make Eye Contact
Body language is important in building confidence. I immediately categorize people who do not look me in the eye as losers, whether they are or not. This means they have to work extra hard to convince me they are not.
Failure to make eye contact indicates either 1) they feel inferior to you and lack confidence, or 2) they are guilty of something.
This may be a great clue when interviewing suspects, but it’s not the message you want to be sending to your team members.
8. Walk Faster
I’ve had people come up to me out of a crowd and say they knew I was an FBI agent because of the way I walked—fast!
You know what, my time is important, and where I’m going is important—or I wouldn’t be going. Don’t be an average walker, or an average thinker. Moving with intention says, “I’m going to be successful.”
9. Speak Up
A sign of a true milquetoast is someone who doesn’t speak up. Instead, they feel their opinions don’t matter and that no wants to hear them.
Each time you clam up you are injecting more confidence-poison into your system. Your feeling of inferiority and inadequacy will just keep growing.
Bite the bullet and speak up! Practice what you are going to say ahead of time so it sounds good. Keep it short and pithy.
You will be amazed at how good it feels!
How do you build your confidence?