Success Begins in the Mind

Since I wrote about impostor syndrome, I have received a number of emails with people sharing their own personal stories; it even became a topic of conversation at a party that I went to last weekend. I therefore thought it might be worthwhile to unpack this further because impostor syndrome is only one of the many symptoms that result from a lack of self-confidence.

What often stands between us and success isn’t about circumstances or opportunities, but rather what lies within our minds. A lack of confidence can cause self-sabotaging behaviors that interfere with our capabilities while self-doubt creates hesitation that prevents us from taking action. Everyone has self-doubt from time to time but confidence isn’t about the absence of fear, confidence is about taking action, despite the presence of fear.

Here is what I’ve learned about confidence, as I seek to understand the behaviors that attribute to career success.

  • Confidence is a skill and not a personality trait; therefore it can be learned. You can develop confidence by practicing small acts of bravery every single day. Keep in mind; it is less about big wins and more about small and consistent actions that build confidence.    
  • Confidence is an expression of our self-regard and reflect our views of our own abilities. Therefore experience, expertise and comprehensive knowledge of relevant subject matter will increase our levels of confidence. 
  • Confidence is not a constant and it fluctuates based on our ratio of successes to failures. Thus it is important to celebrate our wins, no matter how small they may seem. Consider a celebration of each win as a deposit into your confidence bank account.   
  • Self-doubt is a habit which is based on our default narrative. If the voice in your head sounds anything like the following “You’re an idiot,” “You’re a looser,” “You have no talent.” “You suck” then your default narrative is negatively wired, perpetuating feelings of self-doubt. You can change the narrative in your head by shifting to a positive mindset that is both complimentary and forgiving. The stories of your default narrative should be ones that empower not dis-empower.

Although confidence transcends gender, studies have confirmed that confidence is a bigger issue for women than for men. Part of this may be physiological, but it is more likely that it is social with strong influences based on upbringing. Our role within our families, both as an individual and as a gender also plays a part. How we were treated and the family dynamic between mother and father can become a projection of our own self-worth.

Confidence actually matters more than competence and this is where men have an advantage over women. Research from Hewlett Packard found that men applied for a promotion when they met 60% of the job qualifications, while women waited until they met 100% of the requirements. Men also tend to negotiate more aggressively than women whether or not they feel they are deserving or not. The same applies to promotions. Women also tend to overthink and over-analyze, which can become paralyzing.

Managing fear and building confidence is necessary in order to clear our pathway to success. But another way to consider fear is as a gauge that guides us towards succeeding and let me explain why? We are fearful whenever we are unsure of ourselves and that is usually the case when we are trying something new and putting ourselves out there. If we aren’t being stretched then we aren’t learning and if we aren’t learning then we aren’t growing. So learn to manage your fear so that it doesn't hold you back but don’t be afraid of it either. Instead embrace your feelings of fear and use it as an instrument to check yourself and make sure that you are striving. Keep in mind that fear is not only the emotion that keeps us alive,  fear is also the emotion that makes us feel alive.