We are in the midst of a crisis of confidence. Between the relentless successes, luminous good health and life’s-a-party propaganda of social media and the increasing numbers of businesses with websites, it’s easy to see our competitors. We are both closer and more personally revealing than ever before, as well as further away from each other.

It’s not typical to get to know your fellow business owners the way you once would have one hundred years ago. And so we surmise, assume, and furtively stalk our competitors and others online. We compare ourselves and fall short. And so it goes ‘round.

Holding the faith

The Latin origin of confidence is confidere, meaning “to trust, to have faith in”. Confidence is about believing in our inherent value.

And this is where things get skewed, because faith and belief aren’t necessarily rational, but rather emotional. And feelings vacillate, sometimes wildly. We may be 100 per cent sure of ourselves one day and a sobbing mess the next. We are human. We are a living, breathing skin bag of emotions.

Self-worth and cheer squads

When we’re in business for ourselves, things can get even messier because of trend amongst business leaders to link self-worth to how much you earn. I’ve argued before about the dangers of tying self-worth to earning. You are inherently invaluable. To your mother, sister or lover, you are priceless.

Many business owners engage a business coach or join business networks seeking emotional validation and support. Working for yourself is challenging. It pushes our buttons, moves us outside our comfort zones, and can be hugely stressful and angst-ridden. Too many of us have little emotional support and so it’s normal to seek this from a business coach.

Your business coach isn’t just there for cheering – they should also pull you up when necessary, challenge you to go further than you think possible, and be relentless in helping you correct course when things aren’t going well.

Rethinking confidence

A friend confides in us that their husband goes out too often with his mates, makes himself unavailable for important things, and doesn’t pull his weight in the home. “But he says he loves me,” says our friend. In this scenario, we’d likely find it easy to advise our friends that words are cheap and actions are what counts.

As it is with confidence. “To trust, to have faith in” ourselves, we need to demonstrate this to ourselves through action. Confidence is a muscle which needs to be exercised in order to grow rather than waste away.

My theory on confidence comes from Buddhism, specifically, the role of Bodhisattvas, or enlightened beings. The Buddha said (and I paraphrase liberally) that if you want to be enlightened, first you must act like an enlightened person. This highly practical approach has always appealed to me.

The mind is a sneaky companion. With the best of intentions, we may think and feel slothful, vengeful, jealous, angry, depressed, worthless. In business, we don’t have the luxury to take a week off because our confidence isn’t optimum. This doesn’t mean we deny or suppress our emotions, but that we act despite our mood. Our actions will transform our moods, not the other way around.


Growing confidence

So if confidence is not just a belief, but first and foremost a behaviour, how do we increase our confidence?

1: Practice

You don’t practice confidence through thinking, meditating or repeating affirmations. You can talk yourself into confidence just as quickly you can talk yourself out of it. To become confidence, take action on anything that makes you feel uncomfortable and challenges your beliefs in what you think you’re capable of.

2: Know you’re not alone

We all feel anxiety, nervousness and sheer dread from time to time. Every time we push ourselves in business towards something new or larger, resistance rears its ugly head. Some people let resistance stop them (and may even give it fancy names like “intuition”, “a sign” or “the universe”) while others get over it.

Knowing that you’re not alone and that it’s totally normal to feel resistance is the first step to overcome it. Be kind to yourself. You’re not alone in feeling resistance. You can handle this.

3: Metamorphose emotions

When you’re about to do something scary, you’re awash with emotions. Performers don’t reason their nerves away; they learn how to transform these into an essential part of an electrifying performance.

When you’re feeling seriously jittery about something, whether a pitch, event or new gig, pretend you’re a performer. Your nervousness is excitement. Your anxiety is anticipation. The butterflies in your stomach will help you sound enthusiastic, charismatic and sincere.

4: Declare your deadline publicly

Want to run an event, create an e-course or produce a book? Practice confidence by declaring it to all and sundry and your deadline to do so (the deadline is essential, and not one in five years’ time).

5: Create a couple of small victories

Start with the easiest thing you can achieve, right now, and use these little victories to exercise your confidence muscle towards the bigger, scarier stuff. Leap from small challenge to big (there are no logical ‘medium’ steps that someone, somewhere, decrees you must follow). Momentum is a valuable asset for both your business and your confidence. All ‘wins’ should be followed by further actions; the best time to make a sales call is straight after a successful sales call.

6: Have a moan

Contrary to popular opinion, moaning is important in business, so long as it doesn’t become habitual. We all need to have a whinge and complain from time to time – it helps relieve stress and tension and makes us feel less alone. In the process of offloading to someone, you may well come up with a new solution to the issue.

7: Questioning is intelligence

Not only is it totally normal to have oscillating confidence, but it’s also the sign of an inquiring, open mind. Open-minded people continue to seek new information and question things. Questioning may well lead to changes, with a better end result.

8: Banking your confidence

As adults, we no longer have cheer squads of teachers and parents to buoy us. We must do that for ourselves. But instead we craft stories which are really trussed up excuses about why we can’t do this, that, or the other.

Confidence results from a thousand tiny actions. Bank your confidence and earn interest on it by reminding yourself of when you surprised yourself, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Keep a record of compliments and sweet words you’re given. Collect testimonials from clients. Practice accepting compliments with ease and grace.

Act with confidence, regardless of what you feel. Show up, do your best, and don’t judge yourself too harshly if you know you could’ve done better. You’ll show up tomorrow; you’ll do better.