The importance of confidence and the four keys to getting it

by Jeff Hilimire on July 7, 2011

Watching LeBron James in this year’s NBA Finals reminded me how important, and precious, confidence can be. LeBron had one of his best statistical years, played great through the playoffs, and then in the most important moments he crumbled. He passed the ball when he had open looks or was on a smaller defender, he missed routine shots, he made silly fouls and he lost his usual energy and passion. Why did this happen to one of the greatest players of all time? He lost his confidence.

We all "witnessed" LeBron losing his confidence in this year's NBA Finals.

Confidence can make the difference between a startup getting off the ground, getting that big promotion, or even meeting someone at a party. It can be the difference in a good leader and a bad one. In fact, confidence is the #6 item on my list of How to be Excellent at Anything.

Ever see an unconfident person try to inspire and lead a group of people? Watch Band of Brothers and pay attention to First Lt. Norman Dike. It doesn’t go well when he’s leading Easy Company into their assault on Foy, Belgium.

Oh and seriously, watch Band of Brothers if you haven’t. Amazing.

Before I go on, I should point out that I’m not writing this because I’ve somehow conquered confidence in every aspect of my life. Nope, there are absolutely things that I do today that I know I’d be better at if I had more confidence. But I do have personal experiences where I saw the results of gaining confidence and how critical it was to my success. What follows is simply my advice on how to gain confidence based on my own personal experiences.

So how do you get confidence? While this list is certainly not a guarantee, I’m certain it will help get you closer to being more confident no matter what you’re trying to do.

Practice. Practice. And then practice some more. Worried about a big presentation you’re going to give? Practice. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Anxious about a networking event coming up? Practice your company’s elevator speech so you can easily describe what you do. The more you practice for something, the more you’ll be confident in the moment.

While not everyone is a fan of practice (see Allen Iverson’s famous “practice” rant below), I’ve found it to be the single best contributor to gaining confidence. It might sound too obvious, but I find many people expect to gain confidence without putting in the practice time.

At UNC-Charlotte, our coach Jim Boykin used to have us practice what he called “patterns” over and over. These were set plays that we could rely on during pressure situations. Serve out wide, hit the next shot deep to the other side of the opponent’s court, come in and hit a short volley to the other side of the court. We did that so many times that it was second nature and we honed our ability to execute that play no matter what the situation. Here’s my favorite story about Coach Boykin.

Put in the hours. Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers that to be truly great at anything you need to put in 10,000 hours of time against that activity.

When I first started speaking at conferences many years ago, I lacked confidence in a major way. I was nervous and unsure of whether or not the conference attendees would get anything out of my talk. But I knew that it was something I needed to keep plugging away at and sure enough after a handful of presentations I found myself getting more and more confident. Now speaking is one of my favorite things to do.

Why is this different than practice? Practice and rehearsing is essential to get you up on that stage, but getting up on that stage over and over again – getting the real world experience – is also key to gaining confidence. You can’t skip either of these steps. Want to do well at the upcoming presentation? Practice and rehearse. Want to be a great speaker? Speak at dozens of events. It’s the combination of practice and real world experience that will get you there.

Think positive thoughts. I talk a lot about positivity on this blog so this might not come as a surprise to anyone, but the power of positivity can dramatically improve how confident you are at something. Early in my tennis career I would beat myself up after bad points and after losing matches. It’s hard to gain any confidence when your mind is thinking of only the negatives.

As I got older and particularly in my first year of college, I shrugged off poor performances and thought about the things I had learned and the things I did well. It was amazing how I improved that first year of college. In my final year of high school I was ranked #20 in the state of Georgia and had I played the #1 guy he would have demolished me. At the end of my first year of college I had the opportunity to play the guy who had been #1 in Georgia when we graduated the year before. I beat him in straight sets.

Surround yourself with people that believe in you. Having people around you that are encouraging and believe you can succeed is incredibly important. That positive energy from people you trust can help you push through when you aren’t feeling confident in yourself. This could be family, friends, co-workers, a boss, anyone that you respect and spend time with.

I’m working on an upcoming post about how my wife supported me and believed in me when I was getting my company off the ground. Looking back, no chance I would have been confident enough to believe in myself if she hadn’t believed in me more than I did.

So those are the four things I believe you need to have in order to gain confidence in yourself. As usual, I’d love to hear what you believe makes a person confident because I’m certain different things work for different people.

  • Drew Hawkins

    For me it’s mainly practice. I know in high school my confidence in races came in knowing I had outworked pretty much everybody on the starting line to be there. That part of confidence helped me go from not making the team in HS to being fairly heavily recruited my senior year of high school to run collegiately.

    I also think surrounding yourself with supporters is also a good confidence booster. Things aren’t always going to go my way as much as I’d like. However, having people believe in you even when the chips are down or things seem stacked against you helps those little things not overwhelm your thoughts. 

  • Jeff Hilimire

    Love it man, outworking people is one of the best ways to gain confidence.  I’m watching a special on Bjorn Borg and he just outworked everyone. 

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  • Dave Williams

    Great post! I have found confidence comes from passion in your expertise and excitement to share experience(s) with others. I think many times entrepreneurs refer to this as a blind confidence as sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it. Many times perception is or becomes reality in business and in life.

  • Jeff Hilimire

    Yep, many have gained confidence by faking it till you make it.  Thanks for the comment DW.

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