The Root of Self-Confidence


by on January 18th, 2017

Happy New Year and welcome to 2017. It’s a new year and a new name for this column. Welcome to the first edition of Success Coach.

As we begin the year, I’d like to address an important career success issue: Self-confidence. Tweet 56 in my book Success Tweets says, “Self-confidence must come from within. Outside reinforcement and strokes can help, but you have to build your own confidence.”

This means that self-confidence is an inside job, and it starts with optimism. I’ve heard optimism described as “the fuel of heroes, the enemy of despair, the creator of the future.” Optimism is the opposite of pessimism, which can be a black hole that swallows one good day after another until there are no good days left. I did about 10 talks on self-confidence last year. In those talks, I stressed that optimism and pessimism are individual choices; that it’s important to choose optimism and avoid the black hole of pessimism.

For some people, pessimism is the default state. The problem with that kind of thinking is that you’re taking the easy way out. It’s easy to tell yourself that there is nothing you can do because life sucks and Murphy’s Law rules.

Optimists Do Their Part

Optimism, on the other hand, takes effort. Optimists do the work necessary to prove their optimism to be right. No matter what the pessimists say, optimists believe everything will turn out fine and set out to make it so. They do their part to make sure tomorrow will be better than today. When you choose optimism, you are taking responsibility for shaping your own future.

Why is this important? Because it’s how stuff gets done. You simply can’t succeed with a set of pessimistic assumptions. All progress is fueled by optimism.

I’m an optimist. I admit that in these days of political polarization and mudslinging from both sides, it can be difficult to be optimistic. But I choose to be relentlessly optimistic. I believe every day is going to be a good day—and set about making it so. I believe I will succeed in every project I undertake. I believe that I will help my consulting and coaching clients succeed. This optimism fuels my self-confidence, and my self-confidence drives my performance and the success of my clients.

Tal Ben-Shahar created a course in Positive Psychology at Harvard. It was the most popular course in Harvard history. He now runs Potentialife, a company that provides leadership programs based on the science of behavioral change. He offers the following three tips for becoming more optimistic:

  • Give yourself permission to be human—don’t beat up yourself about mistakes.
  • Express gratitude often.
  • Engage in activities that give your life pleasure as well as meaning.

Good advice. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t let them drag you down into the black hole of pessimism. Be grateful for what you have. If you’re reading this column, you have a lot for which to be grateful. And take the time to do the things you enjoy. Doing these things will help you develop an optimistic attitude that will build your self-confidence and drive your success.

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