I’ve become a much more confident person over these last few years. Partly that’s come from recognising that there’s no difference between fake confidence and real confidence, and partly from becoming content to be thought foolish. But another major strategy in my confidence-building system has been to practice speaking up.
In The Magic of Thinking Big, David Schwartz calls this one of the most important strategies to build confidence and overcome fear.
The conference clam thinks to himself, “My opinion is probably worthless. If I say something, I’ll probably look foolish. I’ll just say nothing. Besides, the others in the group probably know more than I. I don’t want the others to know how ignorant I am.”
Each time the conference clam fails to speak, he feels even more inadequate, more inferior. Often he makes a faint promise to himself (that down deep he knows he won’t keep) to speak “next time.”
Each time our clam fails to speak, he takes one more dose of confidence poison. He becomes less and less confident of himself. But on the positive side, the more you speak up, the more you add to your confidence, and the easier it is to speak up the next time. Speak up. It’s a confidence-building vitamin.
Put this confidence builder to use. Make it a rule to speak up at every open meeting you attend. Speak up, say something voluntarily at every business conference, committee meeting, community forum you attend. Make no exception. Comment, make a suggestion, ask a question. And don’t be the last to speak. Try to be the icebreaker, the first one in with a comment.
I started doing this from around age 16. After GCSE results day, I had a conversation with my school headmaster in which he pointed out that my overall vibe was rather ‘robotic’ and unconfident. From then on, I made it a point to speak up in every talk, lecture, class, event that I went to. And over time, the more I did this, the more confident I became, to the point that now I have absolutely zero qualms about sticking my hand up in a lecture in front of 300 people and asking a question that may seem silly.
It might sound big-headed, but I realised how far I’d come when a few weeks ago we had a teaching session in which the instructor asked for a volunteer on which to demonstrate a lumbar puncture procedure. Everyone’s eyes turned towards me expectantly, and obviously I put my hand up and volunteered. That certainly wouldn’t have been me in high school. But now, I’ve become that guy, the one who always tries to contribute and will volunteer for things and suggest answers to things, even if they’re completely wrong.
This ‘speak up’ muscle that I’ve trained over the past decade has played a part in every interesting thing that’s happened in my life since. Had it not been for the practice I’d put in asking questions and contributing to class discussions, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start blogging, and I certainly wouldn’t have had the confidence to start the YouTube channel that’s added such immense value to my life (and hopefully a smidge to some others too).
So I suppose the moral of this week’s post is that if you find yourself struggling with the confidence to put yourself out there, start with baby steps, by making it a point to always contribute something when the opportunity comes.
And never worry about looking foolish. You won’t. For each person who doesn’t agree with you, odds are another person will. Quit asking yourself, “I wonder if I dare speak?” Instead, concentrate on getting the discussion leader’s attention so you can speak.
PS: If this resonates with you, you should definitely read The Magic of Thinking Big.