When I was 21, I arrived in Bangkok at midnight for the first time, with no hotel booked and nobody waiting for me.
Of the eight million-odd souls of Bangkok, I knew no-one. I got a taxi to the tourist area, found a tiny hotel down a narrow alleyway, and secured myself a dinky little room with a shared outside bathroom. Then I lay on that narrow bed and felt unbelievably proud of myself.
It had been a long year to arrive there.
My first overseas trip following university had ended like your parents’ worst nightmare. I’d spent a full year recuperating. But after feeling totally awful for some nine months, I decided I didn’t want to feel like that any more.
Over the following few months, I made a big effort, taking lots of little actions that culminated in that hotel room. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing, but I knew I didn’t want to keep feeling as bad as I’d felt. I also knew I wanted to be traveling again.
Holding the faith
The Latin origin of ‘confidence’ is ‘confidere’ meaning “to trust, to have faith in.” Faith means believing that something is true. So confidence is about belief, or in the context we are talking about, belief in the value of oneself.
To value ourselves, we need to demonstrate this. We don’t believe a partner who is all sweet words and no actions, so why would we believe positive self-talk if it’s not followed through with actions?
It’s not enough to read books about confidence, listen to podcasts, or talk to yourself and others about it. Confidence is a muscle that needs to be exercised—it’s in the doing that confidence grows.
Easier said than done
It’s easy to say that confidence is about actions and far harder to do things you think require confidence. We believe we need to ‘feel’ confident before we can act confident. That is simply not true.
We must act with confidence for the mind to catch up. Confidence is not just a belief, it is first and foremost a behavior.
The best kept secret
We know that the rich and famous are often lacking confidence before a big speech, important meeting or performance. Performers don’t reason their nerves away; they learn how to transform these into an essential part of an electrifying performance.
The show must go on. ‘Feeling’ confident doesn’t come into it.
The reality of oscillating confidence
The feeling of confidence vacillates wildly. We are 100 percent sure of ourselves on Monday and on Tuesday, we start from the beginning again. This is totally normal. All human beings live with oscillating confidence.
I argue that not only is oscillating confidence typical, it’s actually the sign of an inquiring, open mind. A closed mind is totally committed to something whereas most of us continue to question and to find new information which affects what we know, or thought we knew, about the world and ourselves.
Most people are open to fluctuating emotions resulting from myriad internal and external circumstances. Emotions affect confidence. Some believe that confidence is an emotion—and emotions most definitely fluctuate.
The point is, we act with confidence, regardless of what we feel. We continue to show up, to do our best, and to not judge ourselves harshly if we know we could have done better. Unless it’s brain surgery, it’s probably not that important. We will show up tomorrow; we will do better.
Banking your confidence
Confidence grows as a result of a thousand small actions. We can talk yourself into confidence just as quickly as you can talk yourself out of it. We gather limiting ideas and craft stories about ourselves throughout life and it’s our duty to continually challenge these through actions.
Learning to accept a compliment banks a bit more confidence. Standing up to a bully banks a bit more confidence. Any action will do so long as you surprise yourself and challenge your self-limited beliefs in the process.
I’ve done many things that I’m proud of including starting my own business when I was 28, having two beautiful girls, attracting (and keeping) a lovely guy who is far too good for me (and to me), and having fantastic friends.
But funnily enough, it’s a hundred small things I think of when I want to feel more confident. Little occurrences and conversations that have no significance to anyone else and possibly not even to the other people involved.
I’ve thought about lying on the bed in that dinky Bangkok room countless times. I recall how good I felt about myself and how proud I was—and still am—for taking that one action that was hugely significant, if only to me.
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Ed: Dana Gornall