A young woman wrote to me recently, telling me that her whole life had taken a different turn since she heard me ask the question, "What one great thing would you dare to dream if you knew you could not fail?" She wrote that, up to that time, this was a question she had never even dared to consider, but now, she thought of nothing else. She had realized, in a great, blinding flash of clarity, that the main thing separating her from her hopes and dreams was the belief in her ability to achieve them.
Most of us are like this for most of our lives. There are many things that we want to be, and have and do, but we hold back. We are unsure because we lack the confidence necessary to step out in faith in the direction of our dreams.
Abraham Maslow said that the story of the human race is the story of men and women "selling themselves short." Alfred Adler, the great psychotherapist, said that men and women have a natural tendency toward feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. Because we lack confidence, we don't think we have the ability to do the kind of things that others have done, and in many cases, we don't even try.
Just think: What difference would it make in your life if you had an absolutely unshakable confidence in your ability to achieve anything you really put your mind to? What would you want and wish and hope for? What would you dare to dream if you believed in yourself with such deep conviction that you had no fears of failure whatsoever? Most people start off with little or no self-confidence, but as a result of their own efforts, they become bold and brave and outgoing. And we've discovered that if you do the same things that other self-confident men and women do, you, too, will experience the same feelings and get the same results.
The key is to be true to yourself, to be true to the very best that is in you, and to live your life consistent with your highest values and aspirations.
Take some time to think about who you are and what you believe in and what is important to you. Decide that you will never compromise your integrity by trying to be or say or feel something that is not true for you. Have the courage to accept yourself as you really are-not as you might be, or as someone else thinks you should be-and know that, taking everything into consideration, you are a pretty good person. After all, we all have our own talents, skills and abilities that make us extraordinary. No one, including yourself, has any idea of your capabilities or of what you might ultimately do or become. Perhaps the hardest thing to do in life is to accept how extraordinary you really can be, and then to incorporate this awareness into your attitude and personality.
In developing unshakable levels of self-confidence, your self-esteem and self-regard are important starting points, but they are not enough. People have tried positive thinking and wishing and hoping for years, with only mixed results. To develop the deep-down kind of self-confidence that leads to victory, you need positive knowing, not just positive thinking.
Lasting self-confidence really comes from a sense of control. When you feel very much in control of yourself and your life, you feel confident enough to do and say the things that are consistent with your highest values. Psychologists today agree that a feeling of being "out of control" is the primary reason for stress and negativity and for feelings of inferiority and low self-confidence. And the way for you to get a solid sense of control over every part of your life is to set clear goals or objectives, to establish a sense of direction based on purposeful behavior aimed at predetermined ends.
Being true to yourself means knowing exactly what you want and having a plan to achieve it. Lasting self-confidence comes when you absolutely know that you have the capacity to get from where you are to wherever you want to go. You are behind the wheel of your life. You are the architect of your destiny and the master of your fate. Instead of being preoccupied with the fear of failure and loss, as most people are, you focus on the opportunity and the possible gains of achievement. With a clearly defined track to run on, you become success-oriented, and you gradually build your confidence up to the stage where there is very little you will not take on.
Another essential way to build your self-confidence, through positive knowing rather than just positive thinking, is to become very good at what you do. The flip side of self-confidence is "self-efficacy," or the ability to perform effectively in your chosen area.
You can raise your self-confidence instantly by the simple act of committing yourself to becoming excellent in your chosen field. You immediately separate yourself from the average individual who drifts from job to job and accepts mediocrity as the adequate standard. Some years ago, a young man named Tim came to one of my personal-development seminars. He was shy and introverted. His handshake was weak and he had tremendous difficulty making eye contact. He sat in the back of the seminar room with his head down, taking notes. He seemed to have few friends, and he didn't socialize very much during the breaks. At the end of the seminar, he told me that he was in sales and hadn't been doing very well up to that time. But he had resolved to change, to go to work on himself, to overcome his shyness and to become very good at selling for his company. He then said good-bye, and I wished him the best of luck as he went on his way.
A year later, he came back to take the seminar again. But this time, he was distinctly different. He was calmer and more self-assured. He was still a little shy, but when he shook hands, his grip was firmer, and his eye contact was better. He sat toward the middle of the seminar room, and he interacted quietly with people around him. At the end of the seminar, he told me that he was starting to move up in his sales force and had had his best year ever. He was determined to do even better in the year to come.
About 14 months later, Tim came back to the seminar. This time, he brought five people from his company, all of whom he had convinced to come to the seminar, and he had offered to pay their tuition if they weren't satisfied. He walked right up to me and shook hands firmly, looking me straight in the eye with a strong, self-confident smile. He asked if I remembered him, and I told him that I remembered him very well. He said that he had brought something that he wanted to show me. He took out of his pocket a letter from the president of a national corporation-one of the biggest companies in the country-personally congratulating him for the outstanding job he had done in sales in his territory in the past year.
It turned out that Tim had gone from number 33 to number one out of 42 salespeople. His income had risen from $26,000 a year to $98,000, and he had increased his sales volume at a faster rate than any other salesperson in the country had. He was still quiet, but he had a wonderful air of power and purposefulness about him. He had taken the steps and paid the price to build himself into a fine young man. He had made the decision to do whatever was necessary to overcome his shyness and to develop the kind of personality that he admired in others. He was, and is, in every sense of the word, a self-made man.
Perhaps the most wonderful result of developing high levels of self-confidence is the positive impact that your personality will have on your relationships. There are two mental laws that are always operating and that determine much of what happens to you in your interactions with people. The first is the law of attraction, which says that you will inevitably attract into your life people who are very much like you. The second law is the law of correspondence, which says that your outer world of relationships will correspond perfectly, like a mirror image, to your inner world of personality and temperament.
In combination, these laws simply say that as you change in a positive direction, you will find yourself surrounded by people who are very much like the new person you are becoming. As you get better, the quality and quantity of your relationships will get better. You will meet nicer, more self-confident, more interesting and enjoyable people. You will find yourself getting along better with members of the opposite sex, including your spouse. You will find yourself doing better at your job, or even in a new job, and getting along better with your boss and your coworkers. Your attitude of confidence and calm assurance will make you more attractive to people. They will want to be around you, to open doors for you, to make opportunities available to you that would not have arisen when you didn't feel as terrific about yourself as you do now.
Often, people lack self-confidence in their relationships with others because they judge themselves poorly in comparison. Sometimes you become self-conscious of what you are doing and saying, and sometimes you are afraid that people will not like you or accept you the way you want them to. Well, there is an important mindset that you can adopt to improve your ability to get along well with others in a more relaxed and confident fashion.
It's important to remember that no one can affect your thoughts or feelings unless there is something that you want from him, or something that you want him to refrain from doing. As soon as you begin to practice detachment and decide in your own mind that there is nothing that you want or expect from another person, you will find that his ability to shake your self-confidence is greatly reduced. The people who are the most successful in human relationships are those who practice a calm, healthy detachment from others, and although they are friendly and engaged in the conversation, they don't allow the behaviors of others to determine how they think and feel about themselves.
As you can see, it is our fears and doubts that, more than anything else, undermine our self-esteem and self-confidence and cause us to think in negative terms about ourselves and our possibilities. As Maslow said, we begin to "sell ourselves short" and see all the reasons why something might not be possible for us. We magnify the difficulties and minimize the opportunities. We become preoccupied with the possible losses we might suffer and the possible criticisms we might endure. Our fears and doubts paralyze us, preventing us from acting boldly, lowering our self-confidence and causing us to think and talk in negative terms. In fact, this probably describes the great majority of mankind. Most people are so preoccupied with their fears that they have time for little else, and this preoccupation manifests itself in much of what they say and do.
The only real antidote to doubt and worry and fear and all the other negative emotions that sabotage our self-confidence is action. Your conscious mind can hold only one thought at a time, positive or negative. When you engage in systematic, purposeful action, using and stretching your abilities to the maximum, you cannot help but feel positive and confident about yourself.
Act as though it were impossible to fail. Act as though you already had a high level of self-confidence. And continually ask yourself, "What one great thing would I dare to achieve if I knew I could not fail?" Whatever your answer, you can have it if you can dream it, and if you have the self-confidence to go out and get it.
About Brian Tracy
Brian Tracy is a leading authority on personal and business success. As Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, he is the best-selling author of 17 books and over 300 audio and video learning programs. Join Brian’s Free Email Newsletters www.BrianTracy.com. Copyright © 2001 Brian Tracy International. All Rights Reserved.