Nobody is born courageous—we become courageous by doing courageous things. The key is not to be foolhardy, but to learn to take action in the face of fear.
That builds confidence.
How are courage and confidence linked?
There’s a myth about courage. Some people believe courage is an absence of fear, but that’s not true. Courage is the acknowledgment of a reality, a situation that frightens you, without letting the fear stop you from doing what must be done. Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure.
Confidence is the same way; it’s the ultimate mastering of a reality that may frighten us because that reality is a new experience. There is nothing more discouraging than wanting to make the most of a situation and being immobilized by a lack of confidence.
However, though we are born uninhibited, few of us are born confident. If we are born confident we tend to lose that confidence when we encounter new situations. To regain or establish confidence we should do things that challenge us.
To do so without surrendering our good judgment, we should start small and build.
Starting at the easiest level of confidence-building
There are two pieces of good news about building confidence. First, there’s a trick that will help you a lot. Second, we live our daily lives in a laboratory that seems almost designed to help us experiment with building confidence.
First, the trick: Start by doing things that have zero chance of failing. Being courteous is about as safe as you can get, and that’s where we start today.
Second, the laboratory. The laboratory that surrounds us is a world filled with people very much like ourselves in every important regard. Once we realize how much we all have in common, it’s much easier to experiment with our communication to build our confidence. Let’s look at three ways to experiment with communication to build confidence.
Our goal is to take harmless social action that causes us to confront our hesitation. If it makes you a little nervous, it’s working. Remember, too, to follow through. It’s a three-step process that goes like this:
- Choose the person and the moment. By choosing, you are being intentional and making a decision. These actions in themselves are powerful and put you in a position of advantage.
- Communicate a compliment. You are planning ahead to brighten someone’s day. Make this a habit by doing it often and you will find your confidence growing quickly.
- Close and depart. This is vital. You are maintaining self-control through the close and demonstrating by departing that you seek nothing from the compliment. This is magnanimity or greatness of heart. Only the confident are generous.
Experimenting with courtesy
Being courteous is a form of exercising power by being generous with something that is free but rare: dignified kindness.
Courtesy is different from being polite. The word courtesy comes from the word courtly and means you are going above and beyond the merely polite to make someone else feel important and valuable. Learning to be courteous is one of the easiest ways to build confidence and bring value.
The good news for those of us who want to be courteous is that courtesy is so rare these days that it has become very valuable, indeed. And, as such, an act of courtesy has an almost zero chance of failure.
And. Is. Very.Powerful.
One of the simplest ways to be courteous is to hold the door for someone. Whether you are a man or a woman, holding the door for someone else can be powerful, but especially if you add a courteous and well-planned comment.
Try this: hold the door for someone who is more than a few steps away. This heightens the drama of your act of courtesy because it slows things down. As they approach, they will most likely make an effort to hurry.
This is when you say, “There is no need to hurry.”
It’s better if you motion with your hand, as well, to say, “Slow down, no rush.” As they slow their pace and walk through the door, say, “You deserve this.” It is vital to close out the experience gracefully and with finality so the other person does not suspect you of intruding, so be swift to go about your business and depart.
You can be confident you have just delivered value. Do this a few times and start to have more and more fun with it. Your confidence will increase.
Experimenting with eye-contact
Eye contact is also very powerful. While it’s true that experimenting with eye-contact could go a little wrong, if you prepare for that outcome and it does happen, your confidence will sky-rocket. Remember, too, that eye contact conveys different meanings in different settings.
Try this daring experiment.
Choose a stranger or perhaps someone you know in passing. Perhaps you see them in the elevator occasionally or on the train during your commute. Make eye contact with them—man or woman, it doesn’t matter—until it becomes just a little uncomfortable. Then, be ready to land it, meaning bring the exchange to a graceful, non-threatening close.
If you are a man, you may see another man who carries himself with confidence in a way you admire. Make eye contact with him and hold the gaze for a fraction of a second longer than you would normally do.
A good way to ensure you are not sending the wrong message is to nod slightly as you look in his direction. This communicates that you are thinking, not admiring him. Another way to de-fuse a misunderstanding between men is to speak quickly upon making eye contact.
For instance, say, “Sir, you look ready for anything,” or, a little more assertive, “Excellent tie.”
Perhaps the most assertive and daring would be, “Sir, you carry yourself like a gun-slinger.”
It is the rare man who would not be complemented by that observation.
Note the use of the word, “Sir.” Some people think saying “Sir” makes them look weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Courtesy protects the weaker party. If you are initiating, you are the weaker party until you close, then you are immeasurably stronger.
If you are a woman complimenting a man, the trick is to compliment without over-connecting. For this reason, it is best to compliment a man formally.
Ladies, try this daring experiment.
Look a man directly in the eye during a commute and say, “Good morning, sir.” Another option is to request permission before you compliment. It’s very simple. Ask, “Excuse me, may I pay you a compliment?” He (or she) will inevitably say, “Yes,” or “Of course.”
Then, if you are a woman you may say, “That is a lovely suit.” If you are a man, you may say one of the above compliments or “Excellent suit.”
It’s important that the compliment be sincere, so be on the lookout for good things to say.
Experimenting with questions
Questions are a lot of fun because they can be used in courtesy and also with eye contact experiments. For example, recently I held the door for another man. He was wearing a suit the pattern of which is called Prince of Wales Plaid. It’s one of my favorite patterns for a suit.
I watched him and held the door as he approached. He thanked me for holding the door. In response, I said, “You bet,” then asked him as he went through the door, “Do you know what the pattern of your suit is called?” He said, “No, I don’t,” and I replied, “That’s a Prince of Wales Plaid and it looks great.”
He was pleased to know the name of the pattern and said, “Oh, thanks a lot,” to which I said, “Yes, sir. Absolutely.”
Action relieves anxiety
In all cases, action relieves anxiety.
Action eradicates fear.
Try this drill.
Today, make eye contact with a stranger and hold that eye contact until it becomes uncomfortable, then break contact while maintaining control. Think it through. How would you break the contact?
There are many ways, but play them out in your mind, first. If you are a woman looking at a man, you can say, “Oh, excuse me, but you remind me of my brother.” This is a solid, reliable way to begin to disengage. If you are a man looking at a woman, you can say, simply, “Thank you.” Pause. “You remind me of a close friend from long ago.”
This is faintly romantic and, if done with a smile, leaves a very good impression. Remember, you never want someone to feel in any way threatened. You want them to remember the interaction fondly.
A happy ending.
A quick, true story. As I was walking out of an office building on a warm spring day, I saw a convertible parked in front of the building. There were three attractive young ladies in the convertible and the top was down. I paused (to increase the drama and slow things down), smiled and said,
“For a moment I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”
The young ladies laughed as I smiled and then we were all laughing together.