When I was in college, we had a guest lecturer who encouraged us to set ourselves up for failure. Since her presentation was intended to be a motivational speech, the whole class assumed she was joking and started laughing; however, we quickly discovered that she wasn’t trying to be funny. She explained that if you set yourself up to succeed in all of your life situations, you’ll never truly achieve your full potential. When you go one step further than you think you can, that’s when you begin to grow. She told us story after story of the greatest achievements of her life, and sure enough, each event was precipitated by the thought that she would absolutely not be able to achieve her goal. By setting herself up for “failure,” she pushed herself farther than she ever thought possible and went on to achieve almost all of her goals.
While I can’t remember many other details about the speaker or even about that class, that speech made a major impact on my life. At the time, I was a junior in college who was paralyzed with fear about the future, and self-confidence was not part of my vocabulary. I had so many goals for the future, but I was too insecure to actually try to achieve them. I made so many excuses for myself. I didn’t have enough training. I didn’t have enough time or money. I just needed a few more years of classes to truly prepare myself for the goal. At the end of the day, the only thing that was truly holding me back from working towards my goals was a severe lack of confidence.
If you feel frozen and insecure like I did, today’s post is for you. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I do know what has worked for me. So without further ado, here’s a quick guide on how to build confidence. I hope it helps to give you the courage to reach a little further each day and go after your dreams.
How to Build Confidence
Dress the Part.
This first tip might seem silly, but I promise that it can be ridiculously effective. I’ve been involved with the performing arts my entire life, and one thing that I learned from my background in acting and dance is the power of a great costume. No matter how invested I was in my rehearsals, there was always something magical about slipping on your character’s costume and makeup for the first time and stepping onto a set. In that moment, you were one step closer to being that character instead of just pretending.
In my everyday life off the stage, I’ve found that dressing the part is still extremely effective. Let me be clear. I do not believe that you should pretend to be someone or something that you are not, but I do think that having the proper clothing, equipment, and attitude will make a potentially nerve-wracking situation a little less frightening. Here’s an example from my own life. When I first started teaching ballet, I had imposter syndrome. I felt like a tiny little girl who was pretending to be a fancy dance teacher, and I was terrified every single second of my classes. Despite my actual qualifications and knowledge about dance, I just knew that someone would eventually stop my class and tell everyone that I was a fraud. Of course I wasn’t, but that’s what my brain was telling me.
Instead of giving up (which is what I wanted to do), I re-thought my strategy and examined my anxiety over the situation. Why was I feeling so insecure? Why couldn’t I be confident in my abilities? I finally realized that my anxiety over the situation wasn’t actually caused by a lack of knowledge or aptitude. I was afraid that people thought I was too young, and I was terrified of finding myself unprepared for a situation. So how did I solve the problem? I dressed the part.
I spent a few days making detailed lesson plans for each and every class I taught, and I spent hours at my dance studio watching the other teachers. I watched how they spoke, how they carried themselves, and how they dressed. Once the technical side was covered, I went home and spent a few hours finding my “serious dance teacher wardrobe.” I stopped wearing the typical uniform of a ballet student, and I created outfits that made me feel like a veteran dance teacher. I wore slightly more makeup, and I’d spend an extra minutes on my hair to make sure it was placed in an impeccable bun. Knowing that I looked the part made it easier to act the part when I walked into my class. When I walked into the studio with my lesson plans, pre-prepared music, and professional wardrobe, it was infinitely easier for me to take command of the class and focus on technique instead of swirling bouts of anxiety in my head.
Did my anxiety over the situation go away? No, not completely, but dressing the part gave me confidence to continue doing something that scared me to death. It made the situation seem slightly less frightening, and guess what? Every time I walked into that studio and faced my fears, my confidence grew a little bit at a time. If you feel like you need a little push to go after your goal, try dressing the part. It won’t magically transform you into a different person, but it could give you just enough courage to take the leap.
Find Ways to Manage Your Anxiety.
So much of my self-doubt and lack of confidence came from my anxiety. My anxiety gave me irrational thoughts about why I shouldn’t attempt my goals and kept me in a safe little bubble of security. Unfortunately, that bubble became smaller and more limiting as my anxiety increased. It eventually became so small that instead of keeping me safe, it was stifling my growth. In addition to making me feel helpless and afraid, my anxiety also prevented me from taking risks. And guess what? Taking small, calculated risks is how you build confidence. You do something you’re not quite sure you can handle, and then after trying it out, you realize you can. Magically, that thing doesn’t seem so scary anymore, and you realize that you’re more capable than you thought you were. I knew that I needed to get my anxiety under control if I wanted to become confident, so I made it a priority to learn different ways to handle my anxiety. In addition to decreasing my stress levels, these techniques improved my physical and mental health.
There are so many ways to combat anxiety, so it’s important for you to try out a variety of things and find what works best for your situation. In my personal experience, cognitive behavioral therapy (also known as CBT) was the most effective way to handle my anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy is not the least bit new-age or weird. It simply teaches you clinically-tested techniques to help you think more rationally and escape the circular reasoning that anxiety produces. Instead of drowning in negative thoughts, I learned how to sort between rational and irrational thoughts. Plus, I learned easy ways to calm myself down from the horrible feeling of fight-or-flight panic. In a nutshell, it helps you re-teach your brain how to think correctly and gives you easy ways (think breathing exercises) to calm yourself down in stressful situations. I still utilize CBT techniques in my everyday life, and it helps me in literally every facet of my life.
In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, I’m a huge believer in the positive effects of exercise. When I’m stressed or anxious, I’ll head to a dance class, practice yoga, or walk around my neighborhood. No matter what type of exercise you like to do, getting your body moving and participating in a positive activity will absolutely lower your stress levels and release lots of serotonin (neurotransmitter that regulates your mood) into your body. A few other things that help reduce my anxiety are limiting my caffeine intake, talking with family and friends, meditation, and sitting in a beautiful and peaceful place. I encourage you to monitor yourself and find the activities/places where you feel happy and calm. Once you find the things that work for you, do them more often!
Invest in Self Care.
How can we expect to perform at our best if we aren’t maintaining our health? It seems like a no-brainer that good health would lead to good performance, but self care is usually the first thing that people cut out of their lives when times get tough. In my experience, the times when I’ve felt most insecure and anxious were also the same times when I wasn’t maintaining my self-care routine. I believe that participating in positive activities to improve your health is a courageous act. In a way, you’re telling yourself that you are important enough to take care of, and that’s a powerful statement.
While there are infinite ways to practices self care, let’s go over the basics. Make sure that you’re sleeping. If you aren’t getting the appropriate amount of sleep at night, your brain and body literally can’t function at their highest levels. And guess what? That means that you won’t be functioning at your highest level, and it will be harder for you to achieve your goals. Get your body moving each day to wake up your muscles, and prioritize your mental health too. Find ways to manage your anxiety, and don’t be afraid to speak to a doctor if you just aren’t feeling like yourself.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you’re fueling your body with the right nutrients. Eat as healthy as you can, drink water every chance you get, and of course, splurge on a giant bowl of ice cream every once in a while. By feeding your body the right foods and maintaining your blood sugar levels, you will notice that you feel better each day. And when you feel better, it’s going to be easier to take on challenges and develop confidence.
I’ve been stocking up on snacks that give me protein and nutrients but are still a treat. I have been obsessed with the Special K Protein Snack Bars in the Caramel Pretzel Cashew for the past month, and they are the perfect snack to keep in my desk drawers and purse. They’re melt-proof and perfect for on-the-go snacking.
Not only do they give me 8g of healthy protein, but they taste absolutely delicious. The Special K Protein Snack Bars in Caramel Pretzel Cashew taste just as scrumptious as a candy bar, but instead of leading to a sugar crash later in the afternoon, the protein snack bars make me feel energized and ready to get on with my day. I am not exaggerating when I say that I literally don’t leave the house without one in my purse, and you’ll also find these snack bars in my car, office, and kitchen. No matter what your snack of choice may be, I encourage you to have a snack that makes you feel good at your convenience throughout the day. It’s one simple way to take care of yourself and prepare yourself for the day’s obstacles.
Set Yourself Up to Fail.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post, it’s important to set yourself up for failure. Does that mean you shouldn’t prepare? No. Does that mean you should assume you’re going to fail? Nope. It’s simply a motivational tool to push yourself to achieve things you didn’t know you were capable of. Even if you don’t actually meet your goal, you’ll still push yourself farther than you previously thought you were capable of. The action of taking small risks and overcoming them leads to confidence. Every time you think you’re going to fail but don’t fail is a chance for your to grow your self-confidence.
For example, when I make my yearly business goals, I write down goals that I think I can realistically achieve in that time frame. And then I double or triple each goal. When I make this list of goals, it seems like absurdly ambitious goals, but at the end of the year, those goals magically get achieved. Instead of wondering why I set such lofty goals, I always wonder why I was so insecure at the beginning of the year. Those little risks have gradually increased my confidence, and they’ve also made risk-taking seem a lot less scary. I’ve slowly but surely learned that if I’m slightly scared of a goal, that means it’s a good one that will help me grow. If there’s an activity that fits into my comfort zone, chances are it will only keep me at the same level.
Now let’s talk about what happens if you set yourself up to fail, and you actually do fail to meet your goal. What happens then? Well, to be honest, you still didn’t fail. You tried something new. You learned what doesn’t work. You pushed yourself out of your safe and cushy comfort zone, and most importantly, you’ll be better prepared when you try next time. There are so many things that I’ve technically “failed” at, but those same things have led me to some of the most amazing opportunities in my entire life. Failures aren’t always a stop sign. Sometimes they’re just a fork in the road to help you get on the path that you were meant for. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid to not try.
Whatever you believe about your abilities, I guarantee that you are capable of more than you might think. If you want to do something, but you’re scared to do it – please just try. You’ll overcome your fears, build confidence, and most importantly, you will learn so much about yourself. By taking this risk, you’re taking ownership of your life and creating the future that you want instead of rolling with the tide. Simply taking the risk to try to achieve a goal is brave, and that quiet courage will slowly but surely turn into confidence.
All photos by by KT Crabb Photography