When I was fifteen, my parents split up. My mother moved 2,000 miles away and my father plunged into an intense affair with his new girlfriend.
For the first nine months after the divorce, I did not cry. In fact, I did not think about the divorce at all until my sister said, “Dad thinks you hate him.”
Her words shocked me. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t upset at all. I even prided myself on my stoic nature.
I only broke down once, when my mother called and said in her most gentle voice, “Dear, why won’t you call me?”
Three years later, I found myself flipping through a book on confidence and self-esteem.
I let in the thought I had been avoiding since the divorce: “I’m not feeling good about myself right now.”
To others, my low confidence was obvious. I wasn’t making new friends. I wasn’t dating. Even my unshakable athletic confidence had plummeted to an all-time low.
I made an appointment for counseling, where I finally touched the loss of our family.
When the tears finally came, my sadness was so great I feared my chest would split open.
I felt better for a while. But, the glimmer of hope didn’t last. Within a few months I was feeling low again.
That’s why I got serious about solving the mystery of how to build confidence and self-esteem.
I was a nice girl; I was a hard-working University student; I was a good athlete. There was no reason for me to lack confidence.
Or was there?
What the heck was going on?!
It took a lot longer than I expected to find the answer, but I stuck with it…and in this article I’ll share my discoveries on the power of confidence with you. I hope you like them, and I hope you share your comments below.
Helen Keller said, “Nothing can be done without hope or confidence.”
Yet most people lack confidence. Studies show that as much as 85% of people have low confidence and self-esteem.1
To solve this problem, let’s answer the question, “What is the meaning of confidence?”
Sometimes we lack confidence because we’ve forgotten what confidence really is.
If you ask your friends and family what the word confidence means, they’ll usually describe confidence as a quality, a trait, or an emotion. Something you either have or you don’t.
I also noticed that most people lump confidence and success together. They assume that to be confident, you need to have a list of accomplishments as long as your arm.
This was one of my first discoveries: Lasting, genuine confidence is not a quality, trait, or an emotion.
Confidence and success do not always go hand in hand either. Case in point: Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and John Belushi were all very successful, but known for their lack of confidence.
Here is the true definition of confidence:
It’s a mental prediction about an outcome.
The outcome can be anything – making a sale, creating a loving marriage, building a successful business, or investing your money, delivering a presentation, serving an ace in tennis, or getting a date with a hottie.
When you have confidence, you are certain you will succeed.
Your mindset is, “I’ve got this.” You believe in yourself. You have utter certainty about a positive outcome. You just know in your bones you will win.
I love the story of Philippe Petite, the guy whose story was told in the movie The Walk. Petite was the epitome of self-confidence when it came to walking on a high wire.
He walked across a wire between the two World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974. (Actually he crossed between the towers eight times).
The most common question Petite got was, “Were you afraid of death?”
“Never, because how could I start walking on a wire if I felt, ‘Oh my God, what if I lose my life?’ said Petite.
“The only way I can put another foot on the wire is by knowing that I will safely arrive on the other side.'”2
Petite had utter certainty in his mind about the outcome. He had total confidence he would walk the wire.
The root of confidence is self-trust. In fact, confidence comes from a Latin word ‘fidere’ which means “to trust.”
This is the essence of self-confidence: you trust yourself.
Basically, when you trust yourself, you expect success. Even if you have no experience, skills, or track record, you believe you will figure it out. You are confident.
When you do not trust yourself, you expect pain and suffering. Even if you have a great track record, you still doubt yourself. You lack confidence.
I remember when I first truly got the true meaning of confidence. Before that, it never dawned on me that confidence was the expectation of success. And it certainly never occurred to me that confidence came from self-trust.
Back then, I would find ‘easy confidence tricks’ in books and programs. I tried them all. They were things like:
Problem was, these methods for gaining confidence didn’t really work to give me lasting confidence. They would only pump me up temporarily.
Eventually I realized that while all these techniques are valuable, they lacked the secret sauce. As a result, they were really tips on how to act confident or appear confident. They were not genuine training on how to be more confident using self-trust.
Self-trust is faith in your ability to make good decisions.
I discovered self-trust as an athlete years ago. I started doing mental toughness training out of desperation, because my confidence was going up and down like a yo-yo.
One day I was invincible and the next I would come crashing down. I never knew why, and it hurt me all the time.
My achilles’ heel was that if I didn’t score a goal in the first few shifts, I would lose my confidence. My game would go into the toilet.
Quite by accident I stumbled upon self-trust. Here’s what happened.
All the books I read were telling me to focus on the things I could control. So I decided to stop worrying about scoring goals. Instead, I gave myself a simple assignment: to “do good things all over the ice.”
Everywhere I went, I tried to do something good to help the team.
I was shocked to discover this simple exercise really skyrocked my confidence.
At first I thought it was because I wasn’t focused on stuff outside my control.
Later, I figured out that what was really going on was that I was learning to make good decisions.
Rather than take stupid shots from really bad angles that had no hope of going in, I made better decisions. I’d set up a teammate to score. Or I’d cover my check so she could not score.
Before long, I was making good decisions most of the time. My self-trust soared, and so did my confidence.
Please permit me a small brag. This tiny shift led to the biggest compliment of my life.
Paul, one of my favourite coaches of all time, said to me, “Lisa, out of a thousand decisions in a game, you make the right one almost every time.”
It still gives me goosebumps.
Most people find it difficult to trust themselves. I believe this is because they have never been taught the one simple secret to self-trust.
What is that ONE secret?
It’s very simple. It’s courage.
Courage is the strength to face what scares you and conquer it. It is the one thing that gives us self-trust – even when we have no experience, skill, or a successful track record.
Let’s say you have a task. You’ve got to design a website, write a proposal, or analyse a geological report.
When you are confident, you know you will deliver. You expect to ‘crush it’ and get incredible praise from your boss or client. But perhaps more importantly, you feel valued, appreciated, and listened to by management and customers alike.
Or let’s say you’re a leader, consultant, or a salesperson. Basically, your job is to persuade. When you are confident, you expect to influence people. You believe they will hang off your every word, green light your projects, do things the way you want, and buy your products and services.
And here’s the key point: The reason you feel confident at work is because you trust yourself to make good decisions.
And you trust yourself because you make decisions using courage.
When I was starting out, I was lucky to have a mentor. Her name was Margaret. She was a tiny, 4’9” senior business strategist from Queens, New York.
Margaret just exuded confidence. She would walk into a meeting of top executives and say, “Stop saying the stuff you think you should be saying and let’s have an honest conversation about the kind of company you want to create.”
I was so impressed. I thought, “Wow. I want to be you!”
Margaret had the courage to face the problem, which was that her clients did not understand business strategy. She accepted her clients for who they were, not who she wanted them to be. She risked rejection by being honest. She took responsibility for the company getting to where it needed to go.
It was the first time I had ever seen anyone carry herself with so much confidence at work.
Business Confidence Legend – McDonalds
McDonalds was founded by Richard and Maurice McDonald in 1940 as a drive-in. But by 1948, the brothers were disillusioned. The carhops who delivered the food were slow, hard to hire, and attracted a leather-jacket crowd that turned off families.
By studying their sales receipts for the previous three years, “Dick and Mac” figured out that 80% of their business was coming from hamburger sales. Even though they were pushing barbeque dinners, what was actually selling was hamburgers.
The brothers decided to make their business all about hamburgers and speed. In the words of Dick McDonald: “Customers weren’t demanding it, but our intuition told us that they would like speed.”
It was then that they did something very few business owners have the confidence to do.
They decided to shut down and give their business a complete make-over. Despite the fact they already had a money-making machine on their hands, the brothers closed their business for three months and changed their entire operation.
Success did not come overnight. But the brothers hung in there and after a few months, families finally came calling.3
The McDonalds brothers had the courage to listen. They took a risk and followed their instincts, risking a very profitable livelihood in the process.
In 2020, McDonalds recorded a revenue of 19.21 billion worldwide.4
Standing Up to The Boss
Recently I worked with Ryan, a management consultant whose company had come through the COVID-19 pandemic with flying colours. At first, he was relieved to have a job in uncertain times.
But before long, Ryan felt the walls closing in. He was working more hours and taking fewer breaks. He felt alone and disconnected – he never saw his peeps except on a computer screen.
The worst part was that his bosses kept piling on the work. They expected him to ‘power through’ no matter what, including weekends and evenings. Each day stretched before him like a grueling marathon. He felt bleak: “Is this my life now?”
Many of Ryan’s co-workers had quit. He started to fantasize about doing the same.
Instead, Ryan decided to take a step back mentally. This let him see the real issue. It wasn’t that Ryan didn’t count. It was simply that his company’s system for delegating was broken.
Ryan wanted to speak up. But this scared him. I mean, what if management didn’t listen? What if they labeled him ungrateful or entitled?
Ultimately Ryan realized that speaking up was the real win. To speak up meant that he trusted himself to suggest a good solution to the company’s crisis. It also meant that he mattered. This was the most important message of all.
When you are confident in relationships, you expect people to like you. There’s no doubt in your mind you’ll win them over
In romance, you don’t just expect your mate to love you – you expect them to obsess about you! You are deeply in touch with your personal attractiveness. You know you can make your mate happy.
You don’t worry about them falling out of love with you or rejecting you.
When you are confident in relationships, it’s because you trust yourself to make good decisions – decisions stemming from courage.
My ten year-old daughter, Sophia, has always oozed confidence in her relationships. She believes she can make virtually anyone her friend.
When she was four years old and in a swimming lesson, the instructor told her to dive for rings at the bottom of the pool.
Well, she didn’t want to do that.
Instead she turned to the boy standing next to her and flashed him a beautiful, angelic smile. He instantly dove down to the bottom of the pool, got six rings, and presented them to her.
In one gesture, she got those rings while giving him what he wanted – to feel powerful and helpful.
Sophia has the courage to trust people. She believes everyone she meets is good – until they prove her wrong. She also risks rejection every day by asking for what she wants in a charming, low key way.
Another example. Years ago I played my sport with a really likable girl named Shannon. The first time I met Shannon was at a team fitness session. We were the only two athletes who showed up early.
I thought I’d break the ice, so I said, “Do you like to exercise?”
She looked at me in horror. “No! I’m not a self-starter. I never exercise on my own. I’m only here because it’s a team thing.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked, “What would your Dad say if he heard you say you’re not a self-starter?”
“He’d agree!” she deadpanned.
Shannon keeps it real. She has the courage to accept herself, warts and all. She’s not too cool for school. She doesn’t put on a mask for the world to try to win friends and influence people. Her vulnerability is refreshing and irresistible to her friends.
Another fun example. In the film Ocean’s 11, George Clooney is trying to get his ex back (Julia Roberts).
She constantly tells him that he’s a scoundrel. Yet, Clooney sticks with it. Check out this clip:
Okay, so Ocean’s 11 isn’t real life. It’s a movie. But you get the idea. Clooney has the courage to admit his past mistakes and make amends. He is listening and trying to give his ex what she wants, which is honesty and personal responsibility. This gives him the confidence he needs to see it through.
At the beginning of this article, I told you about my struggle after my parents’ divorce. When I got up the courage to finally admit how devastated I was, this was the first step in getting my confidence back.
But there was more. Much more!
For starters, I did not see my relationship with my parents as it really was. I was still in denial. I was still seeing these relationships as I wanted them to be.
When we don’t see a relationship the way it really is, we blame ourselves for every rejection and conflict. We carry a shame that never goes away.
One night I remember well was my first Christmas with Dad after the divorce. My sister and I travelled over 2,000 miles to see him. Though we were just teenagers, we threw together a turkey dinner and waited for Dad to come down from his room.
Two days later, we were still waiting. Dad was on a drinking binge, and no matter how many times we knocked on the door, he refused to come out.
When I got back to Calgary, I hit the library. I found out what it meant to be the child of an alcoholic. I went to Al-Anon meetings. I showed up to counselling again and again.
Eventually I found strength to admit that Dad and I were not as connected as I thought we were. And while I love my Dad to the moon and the stars, it occurred to me that we didn’t have the perfect relationship after all.
As I faced the reality of our relationship, something dawned on me. Maybe, just maybe, when Dad criticized or rejected me, it was not all my fault.
Maybe I didn’t have to make everybody happy before I could be happy. Maybe I could feel sad or angry and actually express it. Maybe I could make mistakes and still win.
I started trusting my own mind and making better decisions. I also started to develop genuine confidence, perhaps for the very first time.
When you are confident in sport, you believe you will shine and win.
This confidence comes from your self-trust – your ability to make decisions powered by courage. In the epic 1972 Summit Series ice hockey final between Canada and Russia, Paul Henderson remembers the game being tied 5-5. He recalls:
“Time ticked down. There was less than a minute to play…Esposito, Cournoyer and Peter Mahovlich were on the ice in that final minute as I watched from the bench.
I then did something I had never done before.
`Pete! Pete!`I hollered at him. Don`t ask me how or why, but I felt if I could get out there one more time I could score a goal. I just felt it. For the first time in my life I was screaming at a player to get off the ice so I could get on, just more time…
I had never heard another player do it in my eighteen year hockey career – but I did it.”5
Henderson did indeed jump on the ice, scoring the winning goal for Canada. His decision to call Mahovlich off the ice was a huge, courageous risk. Had he failed, he would have certainly been the goat! But he listened to the little voice inside, went for it, and the rest is history.
I know what you’re thinking. “What is the difference between confidence and self-esteem?”
I learned the answer from Dr. Nathaniel Branden, the father of the modern self-esteem movement. Here is his equation for high self-esteem:
Let’s break this down…
Confidence is believing you can get success, love, and happiness.
Self-respect is believing you deserve success, love, and happiness.
In other words, just because you can attain success, love, and happiness doesn’t always mean you feel worthy of them.
Feeling Worthy of Money
A quick example of self-respect. When you believe you are worthy of money, you are in touch with the value you are giving your clients (boss, team, or customers).
Margaret, my mentor I talked about earlier, didn’t just have confidence. She also had self-respect. She believed she deserved every penny of her fees.
At the end of our consulting project, Margaret had to justify getting the bonus in her contract. It was not a small amount of money (upwards of $500,000 for less than a year’s work). In today’s dollars, we’re talking about over $1M.
In front of the client, Margaret sat down and listed – on paper – all the wins the client got from her services. She was relaxed, thorough and full of pride. At the end of the meeting, the client happily signed off on the bonus.
Confidence is expecting success, love, and happiness.
Self-respect is believing you are worthy and deserve success, love, and happiness. You let yourself have the joy of these things. No guilt allowed!
Here’s a common question: Can you be too confident?
No. That’s like saying you can be too healthy or too happy. I think people ask this question because they are confusing confidence with arrogance.
Confidence is not arrogance. The best way to think about arrogance is that it’s a form of “false confidence.”
A person who is arrogant is compensating for feelings of inferiority. The person feels inferior, but cannot admit it to himself or others, so he acts superior.
If you’ve heard the expression, “The best defense is a good offense,” you know what I mean.
If you keep everyone around you feeling inferior and trying to get your approval, no one notices your feelings of inferiority.
In my 20s, I trained with a small firm of performance consultants. A few weeks in, I was asked to give my opinion in a meeting. I was very inexperienced, so I tried to avoid commenting: “I don’t have an opinion.”
My boss told me that she expected me to contribute. I thought for a moment and said, “We should re-think the way we treat our clients. Why are we doing it this way? I find it somewhat negative.”
She turned to me and said, “You sound arrogant. Arrogance is a mood where you think that only you know the truth, and everyone should listen to you.”
I went home and had a good cry.
My boss called me that night. She confessed that telling newbies they are arrogant was part of their ‘boot camp’ training. Oy!
I learned something valuable that day, though.
When we are arrogant, it’s because we are covering up a feeling of inferiority. We are hiding the fact that we feel like an imposter a wee bit.
Some people still wonder, “If I am too confident, I may miss a detail.”
Again, this is not genuine confidence. It is arrogance. When you are confident, you trust yourself. You are motivated to do everything in your power to make success happen.
When you are arrogant, you are secretly fearful of being found out. This fear makes you less likely to get your fingers in the dirt and prepare. You might even skip doing intense preparation because you’re afraid to find out you don’t know something!
If you are struggling with low or yo-yo or low confidence, please take heart. You are not alone, and there is a solution.
You can develop unshakable confidence in work, in your relationships, and in yourself – without better skills or a track record of success. All it takes is a little training from the right place.
This brings up new questions: Why is confidence important, and why do so many people lack confidence? You can find those answers in Part 2 of this article. Go here.
2. On Top of The World, People Magazine, October 12, 2015.
3. Love, John F. McDonald’s Behind the Arches. Bantam Books, 1986.
6. Branden, Nathaniel. The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Bantam Books, 1994.
Lisa Lane Brown is the world’s leading personal success coach using the power of the Courage to Win.® She is famous for helping people create success and unconditional happiness fast, without superficial self-help or never-ending therapy. Entrepreneur Magazine called the Courage to Win®, "A straightforward guide to success, highly recommended." A 3-time World Champion in her sport, Lisa has worked with over 7,652 executives, Olympic athletes, and high achievers in over 34 countries to help them reach their goals.