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Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.
Vol. 11, No. 2
www.stuffofheroes.com
(626) 791-8973
©1998, 2014 William A. Cohen, PhD


How to Develop Your Self-Confidence

“No one starts right out in life accomplishing what we think of as big things. We start as an infant and accomplish small things like learning to walk, talk, read, write, and reason. But are these really small things? Think back. At the time you first learned to do any of these things you probably didn’t think it was so small. The truth is, even with these “small things” we started out by doing still smaller things first and slowly increasing the difficulty of the subtasks until we could accomplish the overall task.

Today, there is no longer any doubt that when you stand, put forth one leg and then another, you are going to walk. As you read these sentences, unless you are just learning English, there is little doubt but that you will understand what you have read. You automatically expect positive results.

With the more complex and challenging tasks and projects of adults, leaders fail to expect to succeed for only one of two reasons. Either they have been unsuccessful at similar tasks or projects in the past, or they have never tried to accomplish them in the first place. And by the way, those who have never tried usually haven’t tried because they feel they will fail if they did.”

A Baby Must Learn to Crawl Before It Can Walk
“How many infants have you heard of that simply took their bottles out of their mouths, placed them on a nearby table, hopped out of their cribs and begin to walk? I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard of any. The correct sequence is that the baby begins to crawl, gains self-confidence enough to stand up, gains a little more self-confidence and takes a step. Usually the first step ends in disaster and the baby falls. But, the baby knows that at least it made a start, and so it eagerly tries again not long afterwards. Usually the parents are so elated about the attempt that they are fully of praise and cheer the attempt, even though the baby “did a terrible job” and didn’t even manage to take even a single step successfully.

This points out an interesting fact about why people in general, and many leaders, lack self-confidence later on in life. A baby usually has someone cheering him on. But even if he didn’t, who’s to say that that first step when he fell was a terrible attempt or a good one? The problem is, as we get older, there are others that discourage us either with or without malice. Moreover, many of these observers are judgmental and are certain to let us know when we do a poor job, less so when we do an acceptable one.

A child wants to help mother and drops a plate. Maybe mother is nervous and irritable. So, she yells at the child who was only trying to help. Is the child as ready to attempt to help with the dishes, or other tasks, in the future? Maybe, and maybe not. Worse, what if the mother was nervous and so in addition to yelling she, berates the child as being clumsy. If the child accepts that as the truth, it may have serious consequences later.

As the child gets older and out of the house, things can become worse for his or her self-confidence. Children are very critical of failure. Some teachers can be even worse. Olympic Decathlon Champion Bruce Jenner says that as a child he was deathly afraid of being called on in school to read. His teachers criticized him, and the more he was criticized, the lower his self-confidence in reading. And of course, the worse he did. He was attracted to sports because one day a teacher told him and others to run between two points in the school yard. He was the fastest. For the first time, others were complimenting him. “I didn’t know you could run that fast.” “Boy are you good at running!” “I bet you could outrun anyone.” Jenner’s self-confidence soared, and of course it spilled into other areas. In his opinion, this was his first step toward winning an Olympic Gold Medal in the 1976 Olympics.”

Start with Small Successes and Work Up
Bruce Jenner was fortunate. What if no teacher had ever asked him to run? Would he have ever developed the self-confidence to compete in sports and go on to win a gold medal in the Olympics. Perhaps so, perhaps, not. We’ll never know. But we can use the same concept to build self-confidence in anything we choose. All we need to do is select a relatively easy goal to accomplish and then go ahead and accomplish it. Every time you complete a task or goal successfully, celebrate and congratulate yourself. Then set a higher goal or a more difficult task. It’s just like working out with weights or running. You build up the amount of weight slowly or run more swiftly as you develop your strength. Before long, you’ll be doing things that you never thought you could. You will have acquired that self-confidence you need to expect positive results as a leader.

Leaders Must Develop Their Overall Self-Confidence
Several years ago I was surprised to read research which showed that a majority of senior executives were more worried about speaking in public than they were of dying! Can you imagine that? Why was it true? I guess it is because dying is something all of us have reasonable confidence we can accomplish successfully, but not speaking in public. What this means for many of us, even those having the ability to be extremely successful in some areas, is that we still lack overall self-confidence. In many areas, we are afraid to expect positive results, because we have failed in these areas one or more times in the past. Now the question is, what can we do about this?

Build Up Self-Confidence in One Area and It Can Carry Over Into Others
“The military uses something called a confidence course to build self-confidence. It consists of man-made obstacles or events that each participant must traverse successfully. All are designed to be from moderately to severely difficult and challenging, but doable if done right. One might require climbing down a 100-foot rope suspended from a cliff. Another might force the participant to jump out to catch a swinging rope suspended over a pool of water. Do it right, and you catch the rope and safely reach the other side by dropping off before the rope starts swinging back. Do it incorrectly and you end up in the water. Another is called a “slide for life.” It consists of a rope drawn across a lake from a 90-foot tower on one side of the lake, to the bank of the lake on the other. The participant jumps off the tower holding on to a pulley attached to the rope. As he slides across the lake to the other side, he keeps his eyes on a man signaling with a set of flags. On one signal, you raise your legs so that they are parallel with the water and you appear to be in a sitting position. At the next signal, you drop off about twenty feet above the water. Like a stone, you go skipping across the lake to the other side. If you don’t let go and drop off the pulley, you impact the bank of the lake with some force, and can get injured.

While there is a real need for parachute training for some types of military duties, parachute training is encouraged for all army officers, and given to almost anyone that applies for it for the same reason: confidence building. I knew a sales executive who got most of his sales force to do a parachute jump when sales were lagging for the same reason.

Tony Robbins, who runs around the country leading fire walks does the same thing. Yes, this is no misprint, I mean walking on a bed of white hot coals for a distance of twelve feet or longer. Robbins calls this seminar “Fear into Power,” and makes in quite clear that he isn’t teaching party skills, but rather using the fire walk as a metaphor, “If you could do this which you think is impossible, what else can you do that you also think is impossible.” Before you put this down to pure quackery, I should tell you that Robbins has been to Camp David in the past and helped the serving U.S. President and other senior executives do a fire walk.

What I am saying here is that there are a variety of confident building means available, some commercially, and they will work to raise your overall self-confidence.”

Physical Fitness as a Confidence Builder
“Someone said, “Fear makes cowards of us all.” That’s dead right. When we are fatigued our resistance is down. We make poorer decisions. We are more fearful. We cannot handle stress as well. We don’t feel as well, and are much less like to expect positive results. This is why all of the military services emphasize physical fitness for everyone, whether your job is that of an office clerk, or a Navy Seal or Army Ranger. If you are sitting in a missile silo, responsible for the launch of a nuclear-tipped missile, your most physically demanding task may be pressing a button. Under these circumstances, the physical demands may not justify spending time, energy, and resources on physical fitness. But those who serve in such a capacity know that there is far more to it than that and that physical fitness is crucial to the mental performance and handling the responsibility that goes along with “just pressing a button.”

If you are physically fit, you look better, feel better, and have more self-confidence. Some years ago, I watched a TV show based on a fictional story of young men trying to get through Harvard law school. In one sequence, there was to be a debate between two teams of two students. One team consisted of the two top men in the class. The other team was made up of a self-confident West Point-trained army officer and a brilliant, but fearful and slovenly introvert.

The West Pointer expected to win. He expected positive results. His partner, though brilliant, kept focusing on why they couldn’t win. Finally, the West Pointer realized he had to build up his partner’s self-confidence before he did anything else. So, he put his partner on a regime of physical fitness – push-ups, sit-ups, everything. The brilliant introvert said, “We don’t have time for this. We’ve got to prepare our arguments and legal briefs. What has this got to do with winning the debate?”

“Everything!” his ex-army partner told him. After several weeks, the introvert got fit, got self-confident, and they won the debate. I don’t know who wrote the play, but he was right on the money. When I was in combat, a friend started working out furiously every day. In about a month, he was beginning to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I’m not as afraid anymore,” he told me.

So, if you want to develop your self-confidence, I recommend that you consider working out. Start slowly at first. Jog from one mailbox to the next. Then, every day add another mailbox. Or you can start working with weights. Do the same thing and work up slowly.”

Physical Fitness as a Confidence Builder
“Someone said, “Fear makes cowards of us all.” That’s dead right. When we are fatigued our resistance is down. We make poorer decisions. We are more fearful. We cannot handle stress as well. We don’t feel as well, and are much less like to expect positive results. This is why all of the military services emphasize physical fitness for everyone, whether your job is that of an office clerk, or a Navy Seal or Army Ranger. If you are sitting in a missile silo, responsible for the launch of a nuclear-tipped missile, your most physically demanding task may be pressing a button. Under these circumstances, the physical demands may not justify spending time, energy, and resources on physical fitness. But those who serve in such a capacity know that there is far more to it than that and that physical fitness is crucial to the mental performance and handling the responsibility that goes along with “just pressing a button.”

If you are physically fit, you look better, feel better, and have more self-confidence. Some years ago, I watched a TV show based on a fictional story of young men trying to get through Harvard law school. In one sequence, there was to be a debate between two teams of two students. One team consisted of the two top men in the class. The other team was made up of a self-confident West Point-trained army officer and a brilliant, but fearful and slovenly introvert.

The West Pointer expected to win. He expected positive results. His partner, though brilliant, kept focusing on why they couldn’t win. Finally, the West Pointer realized he had to build up his partner’s self-confidence before he did anything else. So, he put his partner on a regime of physical fitness – push-ups, sit-ups, everything. The brilliant introvert said, “We don’t have time for this. We’ve got to prepare our arguments and legal briefs. What has this got to do with winning the debate?”

“Everything!” his ex-army partner told him. After several weeks, the introvert got fit, got self-confident, and they won the debate. I don’t know who wrote the play, but he was right on the money. When I was in combat, a friend started working out furiously every day. In about a month, he was beginning to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I’m not as afraid anymore,” he told me.

So, if you want to develop your self-confidence, I recommend that you consider working out. Start slowly at first. Jog from one mailbox to the next. Then, every day add another mailbox. Or you can start working with weights. Do the same thing and work up slowly.”

Turn Disadvantages into Advantages
“If you really want to build your self-confidence, start turning disadvantages into advantages. When you know you can do that, you know you can do anything. Back in the early part of this century, the richest man of his day, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie commissioned a young reporter by the name of Napoleon Hill to actually research success. Carnegie offered to provide introductions to some of the richest and most famous men in America if Hill would investigate and could learn the reasons for their success. It took Hill twenty years, but he accomplished his mission. One of his discoveries was that hidden within every problem, drawback, disadvantage, or obstacle, there was an equally powerful opportunity or advantage. Hill found that successful people looked for these opportunities hidden within the problems and used them. As a result, like the combat leaders I surveyed for a research study, they always seemed to expect positive results.

Let me give you some examples so you know what I am talking about. The fellow who invented the ice cream cone did so at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in1904. This man had several hundred galleons of ice cream ready to go the night before the fair opened. However, he had a problem. A big problem. His vendor had run out of paper cups to hold the ice cream. The man had lots of ice cream, but nothing for customers to eat it out of. His wife came up with the idea of using a waffle iron to cook waffle batter and roll the cooked rectangle into a cone before it could cool. The ice cream cone was such a hit at the fair, that the man sold out. He made a fortune with his new invention as its popularity exploded all over the country.

In 1957, former combat engineer Joe Cossman, bought 10,000 pieces of costume jewelry in a close-out. Each piece consisted of a bracelet with seven imitation gemstones. They looked very pretty, but he was still stuck. He couldn’t sell them.

About this time, a young woman under hypnosis was regressed to an early age. Then the hypnotist did a strange thing. He asked the young woman to remember a previous life time. And she did! This American woman remembered a life in Ireland during the previous century as “Bridey Murphy,” a young Irish girl. Interest in hypnotism swept the country.

Always interested in new ideas, Cossman went to a course in hypnosis. He heard the instructor say, “To induce a subject to enter a hypnotic trance, you need a point of fixation. This can be anything on which the subject can focus all of his attention.”

“How about an imitation gemstone?” asked Cossman. “Sure,” answered the instructor,” “Suddenly,” Cossman said, “I realized I had 70,000 points of fixation.” Cossman made a deal with the hypnotist to record a hypnotic induction and other information on a record as they didn’t have audio tapes in those days. Together with some printed instructions, and using a free “hypnotic gem” as inducement to buy, Cossman sold tens of thousands of units and made more than a million dollars by turning a disadvantage into an advantage. As a young teenager, I was one of Joe’s customers.

Mary Kay Ash, who built her billion-dollar company Mary Kay Cosmetics, from a $5000 investment, calls this turning “lemons into lemonade.”

Now, these were accidents, but they needn’t be. Once you realize that no matter how difficult a problem you face, that there is always one or more solutions which can mean even greater benefit to you hidden right within the problem, you can focus on finding them. Moreover, the fact that you know that they are there (and they always are) will greatly increase your self-confidence in any situation.”

Once You Develop Your Self-Confidence, You Can Set Big Goals
“In combat, people don’t put everything on the line for unimportant, insignificant goals . . . at least, not if they can help it. People in other organizations are the same. They do not want to work hard and sacrifice for small things, only for big, important things. The sky is the limit on how big and how important. Successful leaders have powerful visions and goals because their visions are big, usually tough to reach, and always important. Then, there is little their organizations cannot accomplish because you and they expect very positive results.

The Royal Air Force has a motto that goes something like this: “What man can conceive, man can achieve.” Note that this motto doesn’t say “up to a certain amount” or “to a certain point.” If you can conceive of it, you can achieve it. Period.

George Washington is known as “the father of his country” because he had a big vision of that country’s future. He conceived of an entirely new nation with freedom and liberty. He held his vision through the most trying times that this nation ever faced. He was not only General-in-Chief and our first president, he was this country’s number one visionary. In fact, although the Continental Congress appointed him Commander-in-Chief in June of 1775, he was commander only of one soldier . . . himself. There was no Continental army. If Congress changed its mood and decided to accommodate George III, King of England, Washington would be left “holding the bag” . . . the most visible and conspicuous of traitors. But Washington’s vision was so large that it carried him and his army through six years of war against the major power of the day, to victory. Washington’s big vision continues to inspire not only Americans, but also others in the world, today.

If you want to become a heroic leader you developing your self-confidence is a good place to start.”

 


THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT FOR LEADERS:
“Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small army; it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.” – Sun Tzu

 

Recent Linked Articles by Dr. Cohen, not Published in the Journal of Leadership Applications:

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