Not long ago, I had the privilege to sit in a senior executive meeting for an important discussion. While everyone was in the middle of arguing away their points of view, I stood there observing the best and the brightest at my company. What made them so different and special? What qualities did they possess that helped them rise to the top?
Some of them were even quite young too. What is it that makes someone a “CEO material” while another stays, let’s say—a mid-level employee, all their lives? Is it an exceptional ambition and motivation, secret connections, going the extra mile, or putting in the long hours? What makes companies pick them to lead others? I looked around the room. All of the people were well-dressed, well-spoken, and well-educated in their respective fields. But what truly made them stand out in the crowd was…confidence. That assertive belief that they were exactly where they deserved to be in life, that they possessed the skills and the talents to leave their mark on world and to help shape the future.
Building self-confidence—if you are not one of the lucky people born with it—is one of the most important things that we can set our minds on and probably the greatest achievement that we can ever realize. Why? Because it is the starting point for everything we do and will do in life—the way we think, talk, act, and present ourselves, the way others view us and react to us. No matter how smart/ beautiful/ intelligent we may be, it is not enough to achieve and maintain success if we don’t possess the small trait called “self-esteem.” Research consistently reveals that there is a direct link between confidence and our personal and professional life outcomes.
We often view our accomplishments and progress as a succession of goal completions. In fact, all these things only come secondary to building the right confidence first. Without the proper mind-set that we can actually make our dreams a reality, we will be set to fail, no matter how many aspirations we may have. Lack of self-esteem is one of those “silent deceases” that work in the background of our minds. It erodes the quality of our lives slowly and persistently. It is also the origin and the cause of many of our misfortunes.
So what can we do to get there—on the other side—where the grass is greener and the sun is warmer? The first thing to understand is that building confidence is a process, not a point in time. It is a journey of personal development. Multiple studies tell us that there are few quick steps, though, that we all can take in order to improve our self-esteem.
- Walk the Talk—this one is largely intuitive. It is not that surprising that a straight posture, eye contact and a firm handshake can go a long way. In fact, few years ago, a professor of psychology from UCLA came up with a notion that is now widely known as the “Mahrabian formula:” 55/38/7. That is, of all the non-verbal messages we convey to others, 55% relate to body language and facial expressions, 38% is tone of voice and 5% is the actual words that we say. Other research largely supports this statement and estimates the effect of body language to be 4.3 times greater than that of verbal cues. Simply put, people can draw conclusions about our personalities just by looking at us for few seconds. Rather scary, right? So we better ensure then that we can control these first impressions. It is all within our power. What we say and how we say it is of no lesser significance as well. Marketing gurus also tell us that certain words are more influential than others and can indeed serve as a powerful drug when used properly, as the great poet Rudyard Kipling once told us.
- The Hollywood effect—if there is anything that Hollywood can teach us about confidence, it is this—the art of showing off. The reason why some people rise so quickly to stardom and popularity is that they have learned this valuable lesson: emphasize your strengths and talents whenever and wherever possible. A little bragging can help position our personal brand in others’ minds with positive and lasting effects. People who lack confidence usually have one thing in common—they try to avoid attracting attention to themselves. Two words: do not. Nowadays, it is all about out-shining others—knowing what we are worth and letting the world see how unique we are. Because no matter how many special talents and skills we possess, if no one knows about them, what good does it all do? We need to let our talents become like a tattoo on our faces—that is, to make them very visible to everyone. Mention them often. Let them shine. The reason? Quite simple indeed—the law of the jungle. But don’t overdo it. Extremes can have an adverse effect.
- Survival of the fittest—Darwin taught us many years ago that it is not the strongest of the species that survive but the ones that can best adapt to their environments. It is a highly desirable trait to develop, especially if we try to build our self-esteem. How so? Because a large part of developing and maintaining high confidence lies in achieving social acceptance, and in learning how to leave a positive and lasting impression on others. A psychology concept, called Self-Monitoring theory, tells is that we can develop flexibility by becoming high self-monitors. This entails reading the cues in our environment and adjusting our behaviour to become more likeable according to the person or the situation. After all, who wouldn’t look favorably on people who “love” to listen to their stories and laugh at their jokes? And no, it’s not about acting fake. It simply means developing a better understanding of others, and trying to walk in their shoes.
- And finally—the Zen factor. Meditation is quite important not only so we can keep our sanity but can help a great deal with our self-esteem. “Emptying our minds” will alleviate the dangers of overthinking which can often lead to self-doubt, insecurity and the questioning of every step we take. Our self-esteem can benefit from the so-called “mindfulness” meditation which involves focusing our minds on a single object and on our breathing. It is an awareness of one’s thoughts and surroundings. Practicing meditation on a daily basis will help us reflect on our actions during the day, find better solutions to problems, achieve clarity and detach from undesirable thoughts, including negative self-talk. All it takes is 10 minutes a day—on the train, on our lunch break or before we fall asleep. It is not a “fad” nor just a “cool thing” to mention at a dinner party—research evidences that regular meditation can actually change our brains in a positive way.
In the end, do we have a shot at becoming the next CEO at our company, or a famous writer, or an astronaut, if that’s what we want in life? Absolutely. Of course, we would probably need to build some knowledge and experience first. But above all—we need to understand that we do hold the keys to our fate and future, and to building the confidence that we can actually reach our dreams. Without it, we will stumble upon a dead-end fairly quickly. But with it…oh, boy, with the right self-esteem, our childhood visions of what we wanted to become when we grew up, may not turn out to be only dreams after all.