Learning Confidence

by Nicole Glaros, Managing Director at Techstars

In a previous post, I mentioned that a trend I’ve noticed among successful entrepreneurs is the belief they will be successful, as opposed to the intense desire for success. I talked about how confidence is at the root of that belief, and I hypothesized that people with higher confidence have an increased likelihood of success.

But here’s where it gets fun. I believe we can learn confidence. We can learn to believe in our abilities to be successful, which will increase confidence, which will increase our success.

This isn’t new actually, and nothing I’m about to tell you is revolutionary. In fact, these principles date back thousands of years. While my exposure to eastern philosophies is limited to a handful of Deepak Chopra books, the principles of relaxation and mind setting are fundamental to those practices. While in college getting my master’s degree in sport psych, we used these principles continuously with athletes as a way of training their minds for optimal performance. And study after study showed that the athletes who trained their brain had consistently higher performance than those who didn’t.

Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Learn to hear your self-talk. We all have self-talk, that little voice inside your head that’s constantly chattering at you. Everyone has it, but most have never learned to hear it. Most have never even tried. Simply turn your attention inward and pay attention to what you say to yourself. Is it negative? When I’m nervous, I find myself saying things like, “Should I speak up? What if I sound stupid?” or “I’m the least experienced person in this room — my opinion doesn’t matter” or “This is never going to work.” Learning to hear your inner voice is critical to correcting for confidence.

Step 2: Interrupt yourself with positive self-talk. Interrupt that negative inner voice, and replace the sentences with the desired outcome. As soon as you find yourself engaging in self-talk, just interrupt yourself mid-thought and change the words. But the key for this to work is to say what you want to accomplish instead of what you don’t want to happen. Most people start with what they’re NOT going to do, and this is wrong. Don’t say, “Don’t stumble” or “Don’t forget your lines” or “Don’t get angry.”  Say what you’re GOING to accomplish. For example, say, “Walk tall” or “Remember your lines” or “Be calm.” Always keep it positive, and always direct the self-talk at what you’re going to accomplish, not what you’re trying to avoid.

Step 3: Replace your emotion. Now here’s where a lot of people get stuck. You want to feel the right emotion while doing this. You want to FEEL confident while thinking the right words. Just conjure up a time you’ve felt confident. Remember how you felt? For me, I think about a time I won a huge swim meet, and I remember those feelings of happiness, joy, pride in myself, and confidence like it was yesterday. I simply conjure up that day and relive those feelings. It immediately puts a smile on my face every time I think about it. For you, remember a time you felt confident, powerful, capable, and awesome, and relive those feelings while saying the words from Step 2.

Step 4: Repeat. Repeat steps 2-3 over and over and over again. It’s about repetition. Years and years of doubtful self-talk have created strong synapse connections in your brain. You need to retrain your mind by creating new neural connections, and this takes repetition. Just like an athlete works out every day, you should spend 10-15 minutes a day doing your brain exercises.

ProTip #1: A way to speed this up is to use all of your senses. Let’s take a specific example — I’m going to use Techstars Demo Day because I’m often helping teams prepare for it. Visualize EVERYTHING about the day. Visualize the stage. Visualize the smells. Visualize what you’re going to wear. Visualize yourself standing up on stage. Can you see the people in the audience? Look, they’re smiling at you. Smile back. Feel yourself being confident as you stand up there. Feel yourself getting nervous because you know you will be — but feel the confidence surge through you, and feel the nervousness act as booster to that confidence. Visualize each slide as you say the words that go to them. Imagine all the people in the audience nodding in agreement, enthusiasm, or awe. As soon as you feel yourself getting negative, push the emotion down and replace it with confidence.

ProTip #2: Being in a completely relaxed state while you do this can be more powerful. Being calm and in the present moment is a great way to engage the right hemisphere of your brain — and get more of your senses engaged, conjure up clearer mental pictures of the desired outcome, and have clearer sentences over what you want to happen. I often recommend practicing Ujjayi breathing because it takes some concentration to get it right, and it’s easier to stay focused. If you’re not into yogic breathing, another option is to lay down on your back and focus, in sequence, on relaxing the muscles in your body from your toes up to your head. Relax your toes, then arch, then heel, then calf, then knee, then thighs, then pelvic region, then abs, then back, then chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms, hands, fingers, neck, and face.

Spend 10-15 min a day doing these exercises, and do them right before a meeting, presentation, or situation that requires extra oomph. And by simply applying these same basic principles to your everyday life, I believe you can increase your confidence to increase your success.

Nicole Glaros is a Managing Director at Techstars. Find her at nearlynicole.com and on Twitter: @nglaros.