How to be successful without confidence.

People say you need confidence to be successful. I disagree unless we distinguish confidence form self-importance.

[Posted at, my other blog.]

What comes to mind when you think about confidence in yourself and others?

Is it positive? Do you view confidence as a good character trait? Do you wish you had more of it?

Or do you associate confidence negatively? Do you equate confidence with Ego? Do you shy away from it, believing that confidence is unbecoming?

Most people say that you need confidence to be successful. I agree…but only if we are very careful in how we view confidence. I don’t think that confidence is synonymous with self-importance nor thinking that you are good at what you set out to accomplish. You don’t need to think you are great at or will excel at what you aim to accomplish in order to succeed.

Defining confidence and success.  

“Confidence” can be defined as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.”

“Success” can be defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

We not only can accomplish an aim without self-assurance, at many points in our lives we must do exactly that. We cannot be sure of our own ability until we have tried a few times. Yet, I think people often look at confidence as just this first part of the definition. Let’s look at the second part – to appreciate “one’s own abilities or qualities.” That doesn’t mean you have to think you are great. It simply means that to have confidence is to feel self-assured in your ability to try to achieve something. To feel that you are worthy and brave enough to try to get better.

So how does confidence relate then to success when viewed this way? First, I think it is helpful to view success as requiring different elements, which all must be present, for you to feel a sense of success.

Do you have what it takes to be successful?

What do you need to accomplish an aim or purpose that you set for yourself? One way to look at it is that you need these following three things to be successful. They are cumulative; none of them is sufficient alone.

  • Skill. To achieve, you actually need some skill in an area. But, guess what, we aren’t generally born with the skills necessary to lead our best lives. It takes time to build skill. This is where the next to pieces come in.
  • Emotional management. In order to get the skill set that will allow achievement that will build confidence, you need to be able to manage the emotions that will arise from putting yourself out there as you learn. Since learning is a lifelong process, the importance of emotional management does not dissipate. You may face criticism from others, and particularly from yourself during the skill-building process.
  • Self-talk and internal belief system. It’s kind of a catch-22 situation, but you need a basic level of belief about yourself to be able to be successful. You can be amazing at something, but if you don’t believe it then you will never feel successful.

If confidence is assurance from appreciating your abilities, then maybe confidence doesn’t actually mean that you think you are good at something. Maybe confidence is the backbone behind all of these three aspects of success. If you know you are still learning the skill necessary to accomplish your aim, then you are aware that you are not perfect but that practice is necessary. This underlying awareness will then give you the emotional tools to deal with failures that will come on your way to success at least most of the time.

What’s more, if you begin to think about confidence as an honest assessment of your ability, you can separate it from self-importance and work to incorporate the honest view into your life.

Here are some other tips to strengthen each block towards success.

Strengthening the building blocks of success.

Are you lacking in some of these areas? What can you do to improve? Here are some ideas.

  • Skill. You have a natural ability in some areas to do better than other people with very minimal effort. If you also enjoy these things, focusing energy on them will allow you to be skillful in a short amount of time with added advantage. This can be helpful to build skill, though it isn’t necessary. If you want to do something that you are not naturally good at, practice and conscious effort to improve can allow you to exceed your expectations (of course with some practical limitations – not all of us can do everything). Adam Grant decided in high school that he wanted to be a diver. After tryouts, his coach was honest with him: he lacked some of the most important qualities of successful divers. However, his coach followed up – he would match Adam’s effort in diving, putting as much into him as a coach as Adam put into training. Adam went on to win the state championships because of the practice he put in to building his skill set.
  • Emotional management. While we all respond differently to the emotions that come with trying to achieve, here are some ideas to strengthen your ability.
    • Start looking at fear as excitement and learn to love the exhilaration. This gets easier the more you put yourself out there, and can be practiced to build the muscle of not caring so much. I recently wanted to reach out to local medical practitioners to let them know about my health coaching practice. To start the conversation, I merely brought a letter and some brochures into different offices in town. Seems simple enough, but I was terrified when I started doing it. I was worried about what I would say and what they would think of me. However, on my second day it was no big deal at all. That initial fear was gone.
    • Here is just one example of an activity to help build your ‘getting out there’ muscle (courtesy of Phil Zimbardo): take a marker that will erase fairly easily and draw a small square on your forehead. Go about your day. People will question what it is and may want you to remove it. Just tell them it’s nothing, that you are just trying something out, and resist the temptation to clean it off.
    • Just do it. Don’t hesitate and let yourself create negative images. Fake it till you make it.
    • On the opposite spectrum from just doing it, do the written exercise of fear setting.
    • Use your body to convey a ‘can do’ attitude to your mind. Stand with hands on hips and your chest out for a few moments before facing something. Or, when in a conversation, maintain an open powerful posture with shoulders back.
  • Self-talk and internal belief system.
    • Affirmations have been shown to help. You can actually convince yourself of something if you keep repeating it to yourself. Think of a negative belief that you want to change and choose what you want to believe. Say it to yourself each morning and at other relevant times. Start with just one at a time.
    • Manifesting – imagine that you are already excellent at the skill. Close your eyes and picture yourself having achieved the result that you are working towards. How do you feel? Who is there? What do they say?
    • Remember that your intrinsic worth is separate form your abilities in your career, relationships, etc. You can try and fail without effecting your intrinsic worth.


Building confidence is an important part of achieving your goals, but that doesn’t mean you have to think of yourself as overly-important. Rather, you must believe that you are intrinsically valuable no matter what your current ability or quality, and you must be able to handle emotions that come with getting from here to there. The more you do it, the higher you will set those aims, and your life will get better and better as you realize what you can accomplish on the other side of your fear.

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