Self-confidence is a skill. It’s the belief in your ability to accomplish the task at hand. There’s extensive evidence that shows that believing in yourself has a positive impact on your performance. And the best part? Self-confidence is a universal skill that anyone can learn with little effort, not an innate ability reserved for the elite among us.
Developing my self-confidence has helped me overcome my self-doubt and progress to where I am today. When I arrived at Ryerson University in 2008, I went from being a soccer coach to director of athletics at an institution with over 40,000 students and a reputation as one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial in Canada. A special letter that I read over and over again that year helped me stay self-confident about my new role.
I call it my “self-confidence letter.” I wrote that letter at a high point in my career, soon after I coached the men’s soccer team at Graceland University in Iowa to its first national championship. One part of the letter reads as follows: “Congratulations, Ivan, on completing your PhD before turning 40,” while another part reads: “The national championship is an incredible achievement. Well done!”
A decade later, in a new province with a new job as vice-provost of Student Affairs at Dalhousie, sometimes I can feel that self-doubt start to slip back in and get a hold of me. Can I do this job? Is this the right decision? I’m not sure I’m good enough. Now is the time to bring out my letter—a symbol of the importance of believing in myself. Why? Because self-confidence lies at the heart of success.
Now, at the start of a new year, is the perfect time for you to work on your self-confidence. Here are four ways to help you develop the skill and get you closer to achieving your goals in 2019.
1. Repetition, repetition, repetition
As Malcolm Gladwell’s famous 10,000-hour rule tells us, skills develop through focused and repeated practice. Self-confidence is no different. You need to continually face and overcome reasonable challenges that reinforce your belief in yourself. Self-confidence doesn’t come from staying in your comfort zone, rather from pushing yourself to achieve at an appropriate next level. When you face increasingly difficult challenges, you build small amounts of self-confidence. You can then transfer that belief from one context to another.
2. Have three self-affirmations
Before I speak to a large audience or lead an important meeting, I use three affirmations: 1) “I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate,” 2) “Nobody outworks me,” and 3) “I got this.” I use these phrases to create a positive mindset. This technique is so effective that I once had my soccer players write their own affirmations on a wristband they wore during games.
Research shows that a positive mindset alters performance. Athletes are stronger and more effective when they use positive self-talk. If you see them clap their hands after an error or miss, they are actively reclaiming a positive mindset.
Create three affirmations that put you in a positive frame of mind and repeat them regularly. Tape them to your bathroom mirror or keep them on your phone or desk—whatever works for you.
3. Write your own self-confidence letter
Just as I did before starting at Dalhousie this past August, write to yourself in a time of success for inspiration when times get tough. There will always be new skills to learn, challenges to face and projects or roles that push you to your limit. Everyone has times when their performance is not what they’ve hoped. When that happens, pull out your letter and remind yourself of what you have achieved and why you believe in yourself.
4. Surround yourself with positive people
Everyone needs people who believe in them. One of my greatest supporters is my partner Polly, who has believed in me from the start and who always reminds me not to let anyone determine how I feel about myself.
We are highly influenced by the people around us. Lack of support and encouragement can infect us with self-doubt. Surround yourself with family members, friends and teammates who reinforce your belief in yourself.
A new year with new challenges? You got this!
Ivan is the vice-provost, Student Affairs at Dalhousie and knows a thing or two about self-confidence. Check out his TEDx talk.