Book Chapter - Building Your Unshakeable Confidence (Issue #12)
Don't forget who you are and who you used to be
This is a draft of chapter 12 from the book I’m writing this year, Building the Invincible You. I’ve published previous chapters in my other newsletter, Invincible Career.
In my book, I share a framework and strategies for:
Reclaiming your power in your work and life.
Regaining your freedom to spend more of your time the way you wish you could.
Building the future you want for yourself and your loved ones.
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"I'm not the person I used to be."
He was feeling dejected after being fired. This last job had seemed so promising, but it went sideways after the first year.
"I don't believe in myself anymore. Maybe they're right… Maybe I am a failure. Maybe I'm not meant for this kind of job."
Confidence is a complex beast composed of many layers of reality, self-perception, and the perception of others. If we’re raised in a loving home, we begin our young lives with the confidence of someone who has never encountered harsh criticism, punishment for failure, or the torment of bullies.
We believe in ourselves! And we believe we can do anything and become anything.
However, some people are not raised in a supportive environment. Childhood trauma takes its toll. Many of us have unpleasant encounters during childhood that make us question ourselves, our appearance, and our abilities. That initial confidence is suddenly challenged.
Unfortunately, the experience of losing your self-confidence is pretty common. Most of us experience self-doubt from time to time. But it becomes a more serious problem when you lose confidence, and it seems like it will never return.
I've been there.
I experienced bruising back-to-back failures several years ago. A corporate job went south after years of flying high in my career. Then, my startup failed and left me wondering what to do with my future.
It was a very dark time. I slipped into a depression for almost six months. I remember many hours spent in a dark room, staring at the wall, and reflecting on past decisions.
The journey back to regaining my confidence was long and painful. It required deep self-discovery, a plan for recovery and moving forward, and a new mindset to protect my emotional well-being forever.
If you’ve suffered a serious setback, there are steps you can take to rebuild your confidence. But you don’t have to wait for a traumatic event to knock you down. You can create unshakeable confidence now to become more invincible and shrug off any future risk.
Why confidence matters
I don’t remember what my friend did, but suddenly a drill sergeant was in his face, screaming at him. He called him every name in the book and told him how stupid he was.
At the end of his tirade, the sergeant stopped talking and kept staring into my friend’s face. He was expecting some sort of reaction or response.
But my friend maintained his composure. He stared straight ahead, looking past him, his face expressionless.
That seemed to irritate the drill sergeant, so he tried to provoke him further. "You want to hit me, don't you, boy?"
My friend slowly turned his head. He smiled calmly and made direct eye contact. In a low voice, he deliberately and clearly said, "Ohhhh yes, drill sergeant."
His confident response — coupled with his imposing physical stature — made an impact. I was astounded to watch the sergeant mumble something, turn, and walk away.
That, my friends, is the power of confidence. Of course, it isn’t only useful in the military or physical confrontations. We need it in our everyday lives, in both personal and professional situations.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
— Henry Ford
Confidence often carries the day. Like it or not, confident people enjoy several benefits. Here are just a few.
The more confident you feel, the better you perform.
Your confidence enables you to take bigger risks and enjoy greater success.
Confident people perform better under pressure (my affiliate link).
When you feel confident, you’re more resilient and bounce back from failure more quickly.
Confident people are better able to attract romantic partners.
Unshakeable confidence comes from investing in your capabilities, your belief in yourself, and your history of past performance. In other words, you know you’ve done it before, and you can do it again. This can include developing your fitness, work skills, professional experience, knowledge, and other types of performance capabilities.
When you invest in yourself, your confidence naturally grows. The more confident you are, the more you can accomplish. And, the more you accomplish, the more confident you become. It’s a pretty sweet virtuous cycle.
The psychology of confidence
Confidence is a complex phenomenon. It’s not a simple matter of having it or not. Your sense of confidence is not a black-and-white personality trait.
I see confidence as constructed from many layers that begin with your core identity and continue to be formed during childhood. How we are raised and treated during our early years of life often sets the stage for foundational confidence.
Life experiences in your formative environment reinforce or erode your core confidence. Did the people around you nurture your talents and help you believe in yourself and your capabilities? Or, did they cause you to doubt yourself and question your talent, intelligence, etc.?
You form an additional layer of “earned confidence” from what you learn and how you perform in school, work, and other activities. Hopefully, your life experiences bolstered your confidence. You gained more useful knowledge, developed valuable skills, and learned how to navigate the world successfully.
The outermost layers of your confidence are impacted by your pursuit of goals, comparing yourself to other people, expectations of your culture, the perceptions of others, and the gap between who you are and what you and others think you should aspire to be. You either control much of this, or you let it control you.
For example, you may catch yourself thinking, "I'm not good enough to be where I am. I don't really know what I'm doing. Eventually, everyone is going to find out that I'm a fraud."
If you’ve ever lacked confidence and felt like an impostor, please know you’re not alone. Most of us feel that way at some point in our lives. Even famously successful folks have admitted there are times they felt like a fraud.
America Ferrera felt like no one believed she deserved to win an Emmy in the lead actress category in 2007 for Ugly Betty.
Tom Hanks said that no matter what you’ve done, you always wonder when everyone will figure out you’re a fraud and take it all away from you.
Maya Angelou experienced self-doubt and once said that although she has published more than ten books, every time she thinks, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now.”
Howard Schultz was the CEO of Starbucks for more than 30 years but said that almost no one feels qualified for the job of CEO.
Emma Watson feels that she’s “fooled” people about her acting abilities.
In fact, up to 82% of people have experienced impostor syndrome (depending on the screening tool used). The condition was first identified in 1978 by the psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. It’s common among both men and women and across various age groups.
Those who experience impostor syndrome struggle with self-efficacy, perfectionism, and neuroticism. Competitive environments in school and at work — and pressure from parents — don’t help the situation.
However, more seriously, it often co-occurs with depression, anxiety, and chronic procrastination. People suffering from it experience impaired job performance, poor job satisfaction, and sometimes burnout.
Luckily, you can eliminate impostor syndrome, and confidence is not a fixed trait. It’s an ability you can develop and build. There are three interrelated concepts that play into your sense of confidence, how you view yourself, and how you approach the world.
Let’s explore each of these core components of your confidence and what you can do about them. How can you enhance and protect them to create your unshakeable confidence?
Self-esteem is your perception of your worth. It is affected by your belief in your skills and talents, but it’s also influenced by your sense of self-respect and the belief that you are deserving of happiness, love, and success in life.
Unlike self-efficacy, psychologists view self-esteem as a stable trait. That means it’s difficult to influence, change, or enhance. But, I believe we can recover the self-esteem we once had before someone or something damaged it.
First, it’s useful to take a moment and assess how you are feeling about your confidence right now.
How confident do you feel in your personal life?
How confident do you feel in your professional life?
Has your self-confidence changed recently, and why?
Does your level of confidence feel stronger or weaker than you remember from your childhood?
Remember your childhood confidence
"Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?"
— Charles Bukowski
Given that self-esteem is a trait, it’s essential to return to your earliest years and remember who you once were. When did you still believe in yourself, your talents, and your capabilities? Go back as far as necessary to reach that wonderful age of childhood confidence before you began doubting yourself.
Impostor syndrome is the mother of all doubt, and it does a number on your confidence. You feel like an impostor when you’re behaving and operating in a way that feels like a stretch beyond your competence. But you’ll never feel like a “fake” or an impostor when you focus on the “core truths” about you that have always been a part of your life since childhood.
First, it requires a mindset shift away from thinking you must always feel confident in what you know — and what you can do — and instead feeling confident in your drive, ambition, and willingness to explore and learn new things. Be confident that you'll work hard and get better, instead of feeling like you must be perfect all the time.
Next, you can eliminate your impostor syndrome and recover your lost childhood confidence if you focus on the core truths that are central to who you are. They are fully under your control, and no one can take them away from you.
Years ago, this strategy helped me considerably. I took a step back from who I thought I should be and a step away from letting others judge me and determine my value. I spent time identifying and remembering my core truths.
No one gave them to me. No one can measure them or tell me if they are good, bad, strong, or weak. They are mine, have always been a part of me, and will always belong to me.
They simply exist. They just "are."
I’ll share my core truths to give you an example of what I mean.
I’m an explorer. It’s been a part of who I am, from the youngest age. Exploring gives me joy. No one can take this away from me.
I’m a lifelong learner. I’m not saying that I’m a good learner or a bad learner. I simply enjoy learning and it is what I do. No one can take this away from me.
I’m relentless. I’m persistent to the point of being quite stubborn. I’m relentless with my work, and sometimes I simply can’t stop until I solve a problem. No one can take this away from me.
I’m a “teacher.” I can’t help myself. I explore, learn, go deep, and then I want to tell others what I’ve discovered. I want to teach people what I’ve learned. No one can take this away from me.
I seek justice. No, I’m not Batman. But, I deeply believe that good, decent, and kind people deserve better. And, I work hard to make that happen. No one can take this away from me.
So, what are your core truths? What is central to your being that no one can take away?
What can become a foundation for your confidence if you take the time to remember who you were before the world started measuring you, comparing you, and trying to tell you what you are worth?
Take a moment and document your core truths:
Finally, I believe that therapy can play a role in recovering and maintaining your self-esteem. Every human being has value and worth. But we sometimes experience negative events and destructive relationships that make us question our worth and damage our confidence.
No amount of skill development, positive thinking, or morning mantras can enable you to overcome trauma completely. But a great therapist can work with you to help you believe in your self-worth and value again. Recovering and protecting your self-esteem is essential to rebuilding your overall confidence.
Do you believe a therapist could help you with self-esteem issues? Why or why not?
In what ways do you believe a trained therapist could help?
Professor Albert Bandura is a well-known psychologist and the originator of social cognitive theory. He was the first to demonstrate that self-efficacy — the second component of confidence — affects what people choose to do, the amount of effort they’ll put into it, and the way they feel as they perform a task and succeed or fail. Let’s start with his definition:
"Self-efficacy is the belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the sources of action required to manage prospective situations."
I’ll put this into simpler words. Self-efficacy is believing in your ability to achieve your goals. You know you’ve got what it takes to get what you want out of life.
His research suggests four ways to develop self-efficacy:
Mastery experiences. This requires multiple experiences of setting meaningful goals, persisting and pushing through challenges, and achieving positive results.
Social modeling. This requires witnessing successful accomplishments by people similar to you.
Social persuasion. This requires being told by others — or even persuading yourself — that you have what it takes to succeed.
States of physiology. This requires turning around negative emotions, moods, and your physical state to enhance your feelings of competence and your belief in your ability to achieve a goal.
Do you know why I love the impact of self-efficacy on your confidence? I love it because it’s the lever you control the most. There are so many things you can do to boost it.
You can intentionally select the goals you want to pursue (remember chapter 7?). You create plans to achieve those goals. And you can control how you go about acquiring the skills, knowledge, and experience required to execute your plans.
When you manage this process well, your investment in yourself builds your sense of mastery and confidence. Using your determination and drive to push through challenges to reach successful outcomes levels up your self-confidence even more.
You must actively manage your goals, plans, and execution to maximize your odds of success. Yes, failures will occur. They are inevitable, and they are useful learning moments. But you want to tip the scales in your favor, so success happens more often than failure.
Here’s how you can accelerate your mastery experiences:
Redefine your professional life to maximize your confidence. Set yourself up for success by playing to your strengths. Find ways to minimize, manage, and accept your weaknesses (or your “nontalents,” as Marcus Buckingham refers to them).
Intentionally plan a career that puts you on a winning path. This will strengthen and defend your aspirational layer of confidence.
Invest in yourself to continuously develop the skills and acquire the knowledge you need to execute your plan successfully.
Deliberately seek experiences that will bring you closer to achieving your goals.
Celebrate your wins, no matter how small they are. Use them to expand and strengthen your earned layer of confidence.
Accept that failures will occur, but always take time to understand them and learn from mistakes.
Always have a plan and a backup plan. We often feel anxious about the unknown, which reduces confidence. Research and planning will always help you feel more confident going into new situations.
Try to predict potential outcomes. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. You will never be 100% accurate in predicting what someone might say or do. But you can decide how you will respond.
Be ready to walk away from unpleasant situations and bad people. Knowing that you’re ready, willing, and able to do so makes you feel more confident.
Take a moment to reflect on your past mastery experiences. Note a few that have helped reinforce your sense of self-efficacy.
What are some meaningful goals you’ve accomplished in your lifetime?
When have you persisted and conquered challenges?
When have you achieved positive results that you can attribute to your talents, intelligence, skills, knowledge, etc.?
I often tell my coaching clients to identify their “career hero.” Who is that person you admire, who is living and working the way you wish you could?
For this to work well, it should be someone realistic and approachable. That’s why I don’t recommend identifying with some crazy billionaire who grew up with incredible privilege or experienced tremendous luck.
Your confidence increases when you witness someone similar to you achieving success. You watch what they do, and you learn how to approach a similar situation. You tell yourself, “Well, if they can do it, so can I!” And you start believing that it’s possible.
Who is your professional career hero?
Who is your personal life hero?
Yes, you can persuade yourself. You can tell yourself that you’re smart, talented, and good at what you do. For example, even when I doubt my existing skills, knowledge, or experience, I don’t doubt my grit and determination.
I will say this to myself (and you should try this, too):
“Maybe I don’t know how to do this today, but I will figure it out and learn how to do it tomorrow.”
What statement can you repeat to yourself every morning in the mirror to persuade yourself that you are a talented and ambitious person who will achieve what you want in life?
Of course, other people can provide support and help persuade you that you do indeed have what it takes to succeed. That’s why it is so essential to choose your “inner circle” of peers, advisors, and mentors carefully. It’s also why it’s so critical to choose your life partner even more carefully.
Surround yourself with people who challenge you, encourage you, and lift you up. You need people who will hold you accountable to become as great as they know you can be — people who believe in you until you believe in you.
Who is in your inner circle?
Are there people you’d like to add to your inner circle?
States of physiology
You can leverage this interesting technique to manage stress and anxiety, and transform it into something positive. I’m sure you’ve experienced a feeling of nervousness, increased heart rate, flushing, and even those dreaded sweaty palms before a stress-inducing activity like speaking in front of an audience.
The next time this occurs, note your feelings, identify your body’s physical responses, and relabel them from something negative to something positive.
You’re not nervous; you’re excited.
You’re not experiencing anxiety; you’re enjoying the adrenaline rush that precedes an exciting event.
Those feelings and your physical responses mean that you’re anticipating something good and challenging, and you’re thrilled to have the opportunity to do it.
Many years ago, I used this technique as part of an overall strategy to overcome my fear of public speaking. I relabeled my feelings and responses to something positive instead of negative.
I told myself that I was excited to speak on stage, which was why adrenaline was pumping through my system to get me ready for the activity.
I whispered to myself, “This is exciting! They came to hear my talk. They want to hear what I have to say.”
I was looking forward to seeing all the faces in the audience while I shared my story, which was why my heart was racing.
I told myself, “What a thrill! I get to speak on stage in front of these people. Not everyone gets to experience this.”
Fear turned into a thrill.
Anxiety turned into excitement.
When you use this technique, don’t be afraid to speak the words out loud. Do it in front of a mirror, if you must. Or, be brave and whisper it to yourself before you undertake the activity.
Flipping those negative emotions around to redefine your physical state will make you feel more competent, enhance your belief in your ability to achieve your goal, and boost your confidence.
What feelings do you typically experience when you’re stressed, nervous, or doubting yourself?
Now, transform those feelings into something positive. What do you want to believe you are feeling instead?
I'm going to propose some fairly aggressive and radical approaches to maintaining and strengthening your confidence. Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because it can take several months or even years to recover from a loss of confidence.
Many years ago, I felt like I was knocked off my feet after leaving a negative corporate culture and shutting down my failed startup. I didn't feel like myself for over six months. I've worked with clients who required years of hard work to recover their self-confidence after a crushing work experience.
Life is too short for that! You can't lose months or years of your best life when someone or something destroys your confidence. You must fiercely protect it and carefully nurture it.
If a bad boss or work situation is eroding your self-confidence, you must make a change. Find a way to turn things around in your job. If you can't change the situation, you must leave the situation.
Don't spend years taking damage. You can't afford it. Work with a coach, start interviewing, and find a better job that will play to your strengths and give you the right environment and culture to thrive.
Of course, work isn't the only place that can negatively affect your self-confidence. Personal relationships can take their toll, as well.
Again, life is too short to let friends or family members chip away at your self-confidence. The people closest to us should be the ones supporting us, helping us grow, and believing in us so our confidence becomes even stronger.
I've been incredibly lucky in my life. I have loving parents who always believed in me. They made me believe in myself, even when times got rough.
My amazing wife of over 31 years has always been supportive, played the role of advisor and sounding board, and helped me believe in myself when times were dark. She knows me better than anyone else in my life, and I trust her judgment completely.
So, if someone in your personal life is making you question your value, worth, and potential, you need to make some changes. Do not let a bad situation fester and wound your self-confidence.
Have a hard conversation about your expectations for the relationship.
Be firm and honest, and remind people when their actions are hurting you.
If the relationship does not improve, you need to leave.
I've been fairly ruthless over the past few years. If a friendship or casual relationship is hurting me more than helping me, I end that relationship. There are plenty of people in my life who love and support me. I don't have room in my life for people who seem to carelessly (or intentionally) damage me and my confidence.
Without confidence, everything in life becomes exponentially harder.
It's harder to feel good about stepping up, taking on new challenges, and getting noticed.
It's harder to get ahead at work, get raises, and land promotions.
It's harder to interview and land better jobs that will accelerate your career.
It's harder to be mentally and emotionally healthy.
It's harder to maintain your physical health.
It's harder to have healthy relationships where you can grow and thrive.
Protect your confidence!
Instantly Feeling More Confident
It’s essential to invest in rebuilding and maintaining your confidence. But sometimes you need to boost your confidence right now. You can’t wait weeks, months, or years for it to come back or reach the levels you need to deal with a current situation (e.g., a meeting with your boss). So, here are some strategies that might help you.
Long ago, I started using calming rituals to handle stressful situations (e.g., during Army Basic Training, executive reviews, board meetings). I intentionally force myself to maintain my composure to stay calm and feel more confident. I also do it to help people around me feel more relaxed and less stressed by what’s going on.
To instantly feel and appear calmer, try this right now:
Focus on taking slower, deeper breaths through your nose.
Yawn before that big meeting or event starts.
Relax the muscles in your face.
Unclench your jaw.
Use an engaged but relaxed posture.
Let tension flow out of your back and arms.
Maintain eye contact
You can use your gaze and body language to radiate more confidence. You can also deliberately use eye contact to communicate care, attention, and respect for others.
You will stand out and people will view you as more confident when you make appropriate eye contact with others. Try these techniques:
Make eye contact before you begin talking to someone.
Aim for looking into their eyes about 60-70% of the time during a conversation (less when you’re speaking and more when you’re listening).
Maintain eye contact for 3–7 seconds to show that you’re interested (over 10 secs is too long).
Use a gesture or nod to break eye contact naturally and look away slowly (don’t look down, since that signals low confidence).
Move with intention
Have you noticed that confident people make slower, more intentional movements? They don’t let others rush them. They don’t act frantic, jittery, or nervous.
People who lack confidence and become anxious in stressful situations breathe more quickly and fidget more often. Research has also found that when we are nervous or troubled, our blink rate increases.
Try this the next time you want to look and feel more confident in the moment:
Blink slowly instead of fluttering your eyes.
Breathe slowly through your nose, not your mouth.
Intentionally, let your lungs fill with air as your chest slowly rises and falls.
Languidly move your body to stretch and relax during meetings.
Reach for things more slowly, open your notebook or laptop more deliberately, and don’t be in a rush with your movements.
Many people speed up their speech when they are nervous. They ramble and get tongue-tied. They also sometimes lose their train of thought.
Anxious speakers take shallow breaths and rush their words. Their voices climb a few octaves because their chest and throat feel tight. Not good.
To instantly sound more confident:
Take a deep breath and let it out slowly before you speak.
Relax and slow your speech down.
Speak more deliberately and clearly.
Remove hedging phrases from your speech (e.g., I feel, I think, I believe, It would be great if…)
Eliminate verbal tics and vocal fillers (e.g., Ummm, like, so, you know, right?)
Use pauses and silence for emphasis and impact.
Make eye contact with your listeners.
When asked questions, take a moment to think before answering.
Smile more often
Confident people frequently smile because they know they can handle almost any situation. They’re able to relax and enjoy themselves.
Smiling is probably the easiest way to feel more confident instantly. When you smile, it releases endorphins which make you feel better and boosts your self-esteem.
This is another one of those virtuous cycles. When you smile at someone, they are more likely to smile back at you. Both of you feel more positive, and you immediately begin feeling more confident.
To feel more confident when talking with someone:
Genuinely smile when you meet them, as if you’re catching up with an old friend.
Make sure you smile with your eyes, too.
Smile when they smile, or when they say something that is funny or enjoyable for both of you.
A few more tips
Some of my friends and acquaintances shared a few of their confidence tips with me. I use some of these techniques, as well.
Working out and lifting weights makes you feel strong, competent, and more confident.
Nicole Cornett said, “Deadlifts.”
Jennifer Schmidt posted, “A good upper body pump after the gym.”
Music is magical. You can pump yourself up before an important meeting or job interview with a confidence-boosting playlist with just the right songs.
Cheryl Pearl Lewis mentioned, “The best music.”
One of my go-to confidence songs is “Feel Invincible” by Skillet.
Wearing a nice outfit and looking good can instantly enhance your feelings of confidence.
Nicole Spohnholz shared, “High heels.”
Julie Albright said, “A good hair day.”
Being well-prepared always boosts your confidence.
Shonté Jovan Taylor commented, “No seriously… being prepared for my talks/trainings/livestreams.”
Although there have been mixed results from scientific research into the “Power Pose” made famous by Dr. Amy Cuddy (i.e., the Wonder Woman pose), most of the data support it can boost your confidence, positive affect, and performance.
Jon Sweet commented, “My wife always recommends the Superman pose - apparently there’s some real science that it works.”
Own your confidence
The most important advice I can give you is never to leave your sense of confidence in someone else's hands. Don't let other people determine how you feel about yourself, your abilities, and your self-worth.
Removing yourself from bad situations and relationships is only half of the equation. That's a defensive strategy. That's self-preservation.
You must also focus on the other half of the equation of growing and nurturing your self-confidence. You don't just want to survive. You want to thrive!
Take ownership of the care and feeding of your self-confidence. That includes:
Periodically taking the time to reflect and remember who you were and think about who you are. You are worthy, you have value, and you've accomplished so many wonderful things.
Continuously developing your skills, acquiring new knowledge, and seeking confidence-building experiences. Investing in your capabilities and chalking up wins will help you believe in your ability to pursue future goals.
Nurturing and protecting your self-confidence by managing your relationships. Eliminate confidence killers. Seek new relationships that will help you grow and thrive.
Bad things happen, and failures occur. We can't avoid them. But, we can do what's necessary to recover from them quickly.
Be proactive, seek help, and join supportive communities. No one should suffer through the dark times of losing confidence in oneself.
Confident people enjoy more success in life.
Feeling confident isn’t the same as flipping on a light switch.
There are many layers of confidence with your sense of self at the core and the outer layer being the ways you express your confidence to others.
Confidence isn’t a fixed trait, which means you can develop and build it.
Self-esteem is your perception of your worth, which begins in childhood.
Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to achieve your goals, which is the component of confidence you can influence the most.
You can use some simple strategies and techniques to feel more confident in the moment.
Self-confidence is such a valuable asset that you must nurture it and fiercely protect it.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Become a subscriber today to keep reading the draft chapters as I complete them.
Larry Cornett received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Rice University. He spent decades in the Silicon Valley tech industry as a designer, Design leader, Product executive, and startup founder. He eventually left the corporate world to start a coaching practice and now lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others create their own invincible lives. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.