Don’t Wait for Confidence: Begin before you feel ready
Every moment of your life up to now has prepared you for the choices you now must make. You cannot, must not, keep waiting until you know what you’re doing, until you’re sure you can’t fail, or until you have the confidence you think you need to have, before you get started.
No. No. No.
Here’s the problem with that: if you are waiting until you know exactly what you are doing, or until you feel the confidence that you often admire, sometimes envy, in others, then you may be waiting your whole, entire, precious life.
And that will just not do. Not for you. Not for me. Not for anyone. The key is as simple as it is scary: begin before you’re ready.
THE FASTEST WAY TO BUILD CONFIDENCE IS TO ACT EXACTLY AS YOU WOULD IF YOU HAD IT.
Ask anyone who’s ever done anything worthwhile and they’ll tell you that it wasn’t confidence in their invincibility that fuelled their endeavours. Rather, it was their passionate belief in the importance of what they were doing and their embracing of the risk of not landing the perfect outcome, first time, every time. Their mission exceeded their fear of failing; their ‘why’ sat in the driver’s seat and compelled them to break ranks with their comfort. And so they did. Sometimes it was semi-confident action, sometimes it was knot-in-the-gut nervous action. But always action. As Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern said, ‘If you sit and wait to feel like you are the most confident person in the room, you are probably going to be left by yourself.’
Doubt Your Doubts: Stop letting fear call the shots
An intrinsic part of the human experience is to live with our own internal radio channel spurting out all array of fear-laden falsehoods into our mental airways, day and night. Our very own Radio DoubtFM. Left uncensored, its fearmongering propaganda can subdue us into compliant submission so we never dare to speak up or step out for fear of what might happen if we do. Over time, we can grow so accustomed to the noise and negativity that we lose our ability to critically evaluate its dire predictions of the perils that might befall us if we don’t play life super safe. It’s why so many do.
LEFT ON FULL VOLUME, OUR DOUBTS CAN BECOME SO NORMALISED THEY KEEP US FROM TAKING THE VERY ACTIONS THAT WOULD PROVE THEM FALSE.
Self-doubt can safeguard us from the lowest inclinations of our nature. In fact, people who don’t doubt themselves enough can be downright dangerous. Perhaps a few come to mind: people in positions of power who are so sure of their brilliance and infallibility that they don’t pause long enough to question their judgements. Sadly, many leave a wake of destruction and human suffering.
So self-doubt can serve a positive purpose in your life. Many times. Just not at all times. The challenge is discerning the doubts that are serving you (the doubts that motivate you to try harder, keep learning or keep you from swimming with crocs) from those that are stifling you — keeping you from taking the very actions that would expand your horizons.
Which is why you must learn to create your own version of a psychological ‘shield’ — paying close attention to your thoughts so that, when the voice of your small self starts taking over your mental airways, you can quickly intervene. This takes the form of disputing your doubts (via some questions on the pages that follow) and calling them out for what they are — a bunch of words in your head intent on keeping you planted firmly on the couch, scrolling the social media feeds of everyone else’s lives rather than blazing a bold trail in your own.
When you don’t own your doubts, those doubts will ultimately own you. So when those doubts start to pipe up — whether in a quiet unsettling whisper or on full blast, it pays to ‘interrogate’ your doubts with the following six questions. Several of these questions are inspired by the work of Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, as well as the latest research findings that have proven the efficacy of disputing our doubts. For instance, a joint study led by Professor Derek Rucker at Northwestern University found that we can reduce self-doubt ‘by instilling doubt in one’s doubt’.
- Can I prove this doubt is true?
- What evidence contradicts this doubt?
- Does this doubt make me feel more powerful and positive?
- How is this doubt costing me?
Dial Up Your Daring: Be bold in the vision for your life
US President Teddy Roosevelt once said that ‘by far and away one of life’s greatest pleasures is to work hard at work worth doing.’ So if you feel a little uneasy using the word ‘ambition’ in the context of whatever meaningful goals you’re working towards, call it your ‘work worth doing’.
The most powerful way to view ambition is not through the lens of what we can get from the world (feeding the egocentric needs of our small self) but through the lens of what we can give (aligning with the highest aspirations of our true self). Now, just to be clear, ‘work worth doing’ does not exclude being paid well for your efforts, earning a little kudos from your peers or enjoying the various perks of ‘success’ — however you define it.
‘I’ve never underestimated myself,’ said Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. ‘There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious.’ Whether you agree with all her decisions, there’s no disputing the indelible mark she has made on the world by daring to step into her power with the intention to serve not just the citizens of Germany, but the citizens of the world, particularly those who found themselves without a home and in need of refuge.
The truth is that playing small and settling for less than the life you are capable of doesn’t just do a disservice to you; it does a disservice to everyone who spins in your orbit. And if you zoom up high enough, we are all spinning in your orbit!
But surely,’ you say, ‘can’t you be too ambitious for your own good?’ After all, if you take on too bold a goal, you set yourself up for overwhelm and failure. Would it not be smarter to set your sights on what’s doable and doesn’t exhaust you?
Ultimately, no ambition is ever too big. How would humanity have ever advanced if we didn’t sometimes set our sights on ambitions that seemed outlandish, fanciful and even harebrained at the time? Think man on the moon. Think electric light bulb. Think four-minute mile. Think heavier-than-air flying machine (a.k.a. aeroplane). Likewise, it wasn’t all that long ago people scoffed at the idea of driverless cars, much less space tourism.
Just be mindful that the higher you set your sights, the more purposeful you must be because no worthwhile endeavour comes with a guarantee of success. The more audacious your goal, the higher the hurdles and the greater the risk of falling short when jumping them. Does that mean you should just drop anchor and settle for the security of where you are now?
You know the answer to that. The risks of playing safe are less obvious and immediate, but they are no less real. As Helen Keller once said, ‘Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.’
Therefore the real question is: Is it work worth doing … or not?
If it is, then to get there you’ll need to get a move on. But do so knowing that not everything is going to go just as you’d like it. There will be hurdles. It will require hustle. At times it will be hard going. Lonely even. There may be some people you grow apart from and others who’ll criticise your efforts or let you down. You might even let yourself down — not intentionally, of course. But you may get distracted or do something to get in your own way. Maybe you’ll focus on the wrong thing, miss an important detail or make the wrong call.
Such is life. The bigger your goals, the more challenges you’re inviting into your life. This is not negative thinking; it’s just basic math. Let’s face it, if it were easy to live a big life and accomplish extraordinary things, more people would! An extra-ordinary life requires extra from you. Extra work, extra courage, extra commitment, extra trust in yourself.