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Creating Confidence

#71 - 04/01/2005

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." -- Sir Winston Leonard Spenser Churchill (1874-1965)

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope or confidence."
--Helen Keller, 1880-1968,
American Blind/Deaf Author, Lecturer, Amorist.

Confidence is the crucial ingredient in success. It is freedom from the self-doubt that so often undermines our efforts; it is the assurance that comes from a positive, optimistic view of our own abilities; it can spread to others and encourage whole populations toward a common goal. It sits on the prow of our lives, the emotional figurehead of leadership. Confidence must be supported by action. Unless we earn it by our deeds, our self confidence can quickly ebb and drain away leaving an empty hollow feeling in its wake.

Winston Churchill is probably history's greatest example of the power of confidence to prevail over circumstance. In the early days of World War II he rallied the hearts of his countrymen by his radio addresses as Hitler's military threatened to overwhelm them all. He could not encourage them with facts, the facts were not in his favor. He could not promise them rescue from allies, none were on the way. Even the United States could not move, stymied as it was by isolationism and fear. The best Roosevelt could offer to England were supplies and emotional support.

It fell to Churchill to summon courage for Britain from the only source available to him - his own heart. He did not flinch from telling his people the true nature of the task - there would be "blood, toil, sweat, and tears" and yet he professed himself to be an optimist. "It does not seem to be too much use being anything else," he said. "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

So he could not paint them a rosy picture of the years ahead or promise them a happy outcome. But he could tell them in solid, confident tones what they and he would do. The operative word was "We" as leaders have always known. "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender."

There was nothing uncertain, nothing imploring, no hint of "if" or "doubt" or "need." He spoke only of the one thing still under their complete control – their own actions. "We shall fight." And just as important as the words was the tone of his voice - implacable, sure, determined. His confidence encouraged the nation and strengthened the resolve of the military - particularly the Royal Air Force which managed to defeat the more powerful Luftwafte in the Battle of Britain.

Of course, he fulfilled the task of every leader by visualizing the desired outcome - which he expressed in his first speech as prime minister: "What is our aim? I answer with one word. Victory – victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival." But it was the action that he stressed in his speeches - the determination, "We shall never give up!" that kept the confidence of his people high through the worst of the war. The outcome, victory, was reduced to a pair of raised fingers which everyone understood - "Churchill has not given up, and neither shall we."

The central ingredient in self confidence is an optimistic imagination. If you can visualize, even in the darkest circumstances, a positive outcome, you can persist with confidence. The world is full of competitive circumstances: in school, relationships, business, art and sports there are opportunities to experience "coming from behind," persisting until you win at last. Once you realize that it can be done, your confidence will be reinforced.

Cherish those experiences in your heart and refer to them when you need encouragement. We all need a store of positive, optimistic deeds which we can visualize in times of stress and doubt. Here are some ideas that will help you gather these vital resources:

• Interview friends, family and colleagues to find your strengths. It what areas are you powerful? Collect evidence and document your successes. Be as specific as possible. Write it down, tell the stories of your strengths. Display your trophies.

• Make a list of your ten greatest victories - the personal stories of times in your life when you overcame obstacles and emerged triumphant through an effort or an insight. When did you risk and win? When did you fail and try again? What failures are you in the process of overcoming now? How do you imagine redeeming yourself?

• Make a list of the areas of expertise you own that others may not know about. Again, be specific and write out the story of what you feel, think or know you are capable of accomplishing.

• Make a list of 25 "BHAGs - Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals" – things you would like to be, do or have in your life and the obstacles that are preventing you from attaining them. Then imagine the tactics and strategies that would allow you to surpass those obstacles. Be specific. Decide which of these desires you would like to achieve first. Create a plan to reach that goal and write down the first step that would take you toward it. You may find that you can pursue several goals at once by simply breaking the plans down to steps and approaching them one at a time.

• Make a list that reflects your wisdom. What you have learned? What do you have to share with others? What do you know that would serve the world well if more people knew it? How would you like to help other people learn, grow and be happier? What would make human life better, easier, more meaningful?

• Define these seven terms for yourself - remembering that all definitions are mutable and can change as our experience changes: Courage. Success. Happiness. Commitment. Power. Fulfillment. Love.

• As a performer, nurture your confidence by always moving toward your fear.


A Thought to Ponder

I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden. I will push you onward or drag you down to failure. I am completely at your command. Half the things you do you might just as well turn over to me, and I will be able to do them quickly, correctly. I am easily managed – you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons I will do it automatically. I am the servant of all great people; and alas, of all failures as well. Those who are failures, I have made failures. I am not a machine, thought I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a human being. You may run me for a profit, or turn me for ruin – it makes no difference to me. Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I? I am habit.

- Anonymous
Taken from "The 8th Habit"
by Stephen R. Covey