What is Confidence?

One of the most emotional moments I have ever had, was a spoken presentation by an 18 year old who had a very bad stutter, in front of a large audience of fellow students, parents, teachers and other members of the community.

All the members of the class of this young man (whom I shall call Sam) had been studying a subject of their choosing for 6 months as part of their final year at school and were now presenting the results of their research.

Public Speaking is scary - now try it with a stutter!

Public Speaking is scary – now try it with a stutter!
- Thanks to JJ for the use of the photo

Despite Sam having a very bad stutter even when not under pressure, there he stood, alone, in front of a room full of people, some of whom knew what an amazing feat it was just for him to be standing there and some of whom had yet to learn. He took a deep breath and started speaking. At least he tried. For what seemed like an hour (but was probably closer to 30-45 secs), he stood there, trying to speak the first word of his prepared speech, without managing. Even after the audience had begun to wonder how he was going to get through the page of writing he was holding in the time he had, he continued to try and do it alone. Finally he accepted that he had would not be able to get a word out, so looked at one of his classmates (I shall call him Jack) sitting in the front row. As obviously prepared, Jack stood up and went to stand next to Sam. Jack then started slowly reading the script that Sam had prepared and as he did, Sam started joining in, bit by bit, word by word, until eventually Jack was able to stop reading and Sam was able to finish his speech alone. I shall leave you to imagine the response of the audience when he finished.

As I hope you can imagine, speaking in front of that audience was way outside of Sam’s comfort zone. But he accepted to seek the help he needed and did it anyway. That is one form of confidence. In this case, confidence is not about how competent you are and how willing you are to do something you are competent at. That is easy. Confidence is doing something you are not good at (with help if necessary – be that in the form of someone supporting you, getting education or practicing it), something outside your comfort zone, being successful at your goal (sometimes it is not all about winning, but just making it across the finishing line) and thereby increasing your ability to try out other new things.

Some people don’t have that confidence. They don’t ask for help and remain in their bubble, their comfort zone, their world of known fears, not ever daring to face the unknown fears that create the boundaries of their world.

But let’s imagine for a minute that a magic fairy could eliminate that fear. What would the world look like?

Think about how your world would look if you were able to step outside your comfort zone and try something you would really like to do, but have never had the courage to do. How would you feel? How much less stress, anxiety and pain would you feel?

If what you imagine is more attractive than what you are living today, if that world seems incredible and if you would like to be there, but you still let fear dictate what you do and do not do, take heart – there is a solution. Taking action despite fear is possible and not as hard as it seems.


Is Confidence Important?

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote a book called Confidence about the fact confidence is “at best just a mask for our insecurities; at worst it’s a dangerous self-delusion.”

I disagree. I think confidence is vital. So do the many people I have asked.

Photo by Lee (on Flickr)

Photo by Lee (on Flickr)

But what do you think? Here are 3 questions I am currently using to ascertain the role of confidence in people’s lives and how they gained that confidence (or what they would do if they had it).

Remember that everyone is confident in certain areas and everyone has fear. Moving outside your comfort zone and doing something you are not comfortable doing is what takes confidence. With that in mind, I am interested in reading your answers to the following questions:

1) Which role does confidence play in your life (why is it important)?

2a) In the areas you are confident, how did you develop it, what were the main factors involved in developing it?

2b) In the areas you are not confident, what would you do differently if you had it?

3) How do you notice that someone (else) is confident?

N.B. The information in the answers I receive will only be used as an anonymous statistic. It will not be published, posted or otherwise made public in a form which could be traced back to you apart from the fact it appears on the comments below.

Making the road a place of freedom

Have you ever been driving on the motorway when you caught up to someone in front of you who stays on the inside lane, although the outside lane is empty? They could move over and you see no reason why they don’t, but they just sit there, on the inside lane, driving just below the speed limit. You can’t really get angry because they are within the speed limit and you would not be able to overtake very quickly anyway without breaking the law, but you sit there, boiling inside, wishing (and sometimes telling them in no uncertain terms, though they can’t hear) to just “move over!”

Road rage

You politely tell them they could perhaps consider moving over…

Why do they do that? I have noticed it is usually older people or women who tend to do this, with young men hardly ever doing it. My theory is that young men think they own the road. Speed limits are for others and the inside lane is their domain, overtaking their passion. But then again, they usually think they can drive better than they actually can and certainly better than anyone else.

Older people (and often women) are not absolutely comfortable on the road. They are afraid of being stuck behind a truck in the outside lane. They need more time to react and are afraid of change (of lanes). Often they get stressed by having someone behind them, especially if they drive close behind them (as is the norm in New Zealand) and slow down a bit to give themselves more room in front.

I can understand that the lack of confidence in their ability to react influences them to do things that confident drivers wouldn’t necessarily do (or not do things confident drivers would). And of course, they get annoyed at confident drivers who take more risks than they would and therefore put everyone at danger. Indeed, 82% of drivers in Tauranga think they drive really well – it’s the others who drive badly… (Hmmm…. That sounds like a case of 18% know they drive badly, the others are disillusional).

I think that increasing confidence on the road would help everyone. I think that if everyone felt comfortable about moving over and letting the people behind them pass, there would be less congestion, less frustration and everyone would get to wherever they are going quicker and with less stress.

I advocate we start giving everyone free ‘confidence on the road’ lessons to ensure everyone learns how to drive confidently. Let’s start with all those other drivers out there – the ones who obviously aren’t confident, judging by their poor driving skills…


How “good” is technological advancement?

Technology is no longer a choice. But what is the effect on who we are as humans? What is the effect on how we communicate with others? What are the moral implications?

Here is a quote from, of all places, a video game. It points out some interested things about humanity and progress (think Singularity and Ray Kurzweil):

Albert Einstein said: “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of pathological criminal.” Took me awhile, but I finally see his point. How often have we chased the dream of progress, only to see that dream perverted? More often than not, haven’t the machines we built to improve life shattered the lives of millions? And now we want to turn that dream on ourselves, to fundamentally improve who we are. Experience has shown me how dangerous that can be. How many times, in the call of duty, did I almost fall into the trap of taking shortcuts, abusing my abilities or the resources at hand? I resisted – barely at times – because I valued human lives and considerations. But can I truly despise others who fall? Technology offers us strength, strength enables dominance, and dominance paves the way for abuse. Darrow understood this. He knew that using technology to become something more than we are risks losing our ability to love, aspire, or make moral choices – the very things that make us Human. It also risks giving some men the power to make others what they choose – regardless of the cost to human dignity. The suffering Darrow inflicted is not the end of the world. It is merely the seed for change. And change never comes without pain.

Deciding not to blindly follow technological advances would take more than confidence in our day and age. With Nuclear Power coming back into the crossfires (Thorium is now the fuel of choice), the internet being used for amazingly wonderful things as well as phenomenally evil things, Electricity being our greatest achievement and our worst destroyer and technological communication becoming the greatest part of our lives, technology is no longer a choice. The choice is how we use it. And it takes a great deal of confidence to use it wisely.

A wise man once said that we live in the age of Michael (think George and the dragon). The age of the sword. A sword can be used to protect and to kill. Like a knife, which can be used to prepare food or to do harm, internet, telephones, GPS, electricity and just about everything is our lives can be used for good as well as for bad. It is our choice. It is not the knife which kills, it is the person holding it. In the same way, any of the tools we have at our disposal are merely tools. What is important is how we chose to use them. Internet is not the problem, people who choose to use it to do harm are. Technology is not the problem, people who choose to use it to do harm are. And choosing to do good with technology has never been harder. Doing harm is so easy – especially nowadays where it is so removed from my lounge.

The key to not losing touch with who we are as humans is to be aware of the choices we make every day and strive to make those choices consciously for the betterment of ourselves.

Investing in one’s knowledge

I went to listen to one of the best speakers I have heard last night and the best part is that I got in free, as it was in a school! If you have never heard of Allison Mooney (allisonmooney.co.nz), you need to get your head out of your oven.

Laughing loudly (giving my personality type away) while Allison informed us in an entertaining, captivating way about the 4 personality types, I learned that I am a “powerful”. So I am decisive, to the point, quick to decide, good at taking action and a natural born leader. (Better than being a natural born killer, I suppose). I can also be tyrannical, dictatorial and need to say please and thank you more. That makes me “not better, just different” to the other types: Playful, precise and peaceful. And just as Allison predicted, I am married to a Peaceful…

As the talk was aimed at parents, I also learned how to encourage and discipline my playful child and how to deal with a precise teenage daughter. Highlight of the evening was 3 videos, each of someone changing their tyres in a way typical of their personality.

I am so happy I went! It really made me realise how much there is to learn out there! Now I can use the information I received to make not only my relationship with my family more fulfilling, but also to get more success in my business. If you want to keep growing, you need to keep informing yourself, learning. And is there any better investment than listening to a world class (Certified Speaking Professional – there are only 11 in NZ!) speaker for free?

What have you learned recently? Even if it was not from a speaker, it could have been from a book, a film, a conversation – each and every day give us the possibility of learning something really useful.

A cake recipe for delegation

My wife decides to make a cake. All is well. But then comes the dreaded, “Can you do me a favour?” This time, it is cutting the pears into slices and putting them into the cake tin. She knows I like using the slicer we have. What she doesn’t know is that I don’t want to peel and core them. In a normal situation, chances are I would say, “no”. Or I would do it against my will, but be grumpy the rest of the evening. I decided to try a different approach.

Rather than tell her I did not want to do it – to her dissatisfaction, or shut up and do it – to my dissatisfaction, I decided to tell her exactly what it was I would enjoy doing and what I did not really care for. The conversation went something like this:

“Can you do me a favour?”
“What is it?”
“Cut these pears and line this tin.”
Short inner wrestle, then: “I don’t mind cutting the pears, but I don’t want to core them.”
Enthusiastically: “I don’t mind coring them, I just don’t want to cut them.”
Happy to have found someone to do what I don’t want to do: “Great! In that case I will gladly cut them!”
Happy to have found someone to do what she doesn’t want to do: “Great! Then I will core them!”
And we made a delicious cake.

How often are you confronted with a task which needs doing? Are there times you would be willing to do some of it, but there are aspects you would rather not do? Are you able to tell the other person this and start an exchange over your needs and theirs? Try it! You might be as surprised as I was to find they are happy to do the bits you don’t want to do. Or maybe a third person is happy to do it…

The more you do what you want and allow others to do what they want, the more delegation becomes a piece of (pear) cake!


An example of what delegation can achieve.

An example of what delegation can achieve.
Photo by Pix_mh – Thanks!

On Learning

Why are people afraid of getting it wrong when they are learning something new?

My two and a half year old daughter is learning how to speak. As my wife speaks German to her, I speak French to her and her two older brothers speak English to her, that is a task which is slightly more complicated than in most households. So her failure rate is tripled. Not only is that book not blue, but depending on who is saying it, it is actually rot, rouge or red.

If she was an adult, being told, “no, that is not blue, it is red” could be enough to make her give up. It is certainly enough to make me and many people around me give up. When I failed in front of the bureaus recently, I was feeling pretty low, just because someone said to me, “that is not blue, it is red.” How often have you had that feeling? People will laugh at me! I suck at this! That’s too hard! I’ll never be able to do this! So you save face by telling yourself that you are not made to do this. You give up. But at two and a half, what does she do? She says understandingly (in her very cute way), “Ooooooh! – OK” and smiles.

Picture of my daughter looking cute

Maybe the key to being OK to fail is looking cute…

Then points to it again, tilting her head to one side: “Blue?” When, after two or three times of this, she finally says, “rouge?” I beam at her and say, “Yes!” (actually, “oui”, but don’t let that stop the flow…) and she smiles back, happy. Then goes on to another colour, repeating the process again and again.

The next day, she points to another red book and asks, “blue?” and we go through the whole thing again. And so it goes on with every word, until she does get it right first time, then finally joins words together to make sentences.

How often do you allow yourself to get things wrong when you are learning something new? When does your inner critic kick in and start telling you you should know this by now! Are you stupid or something? My God, you’re so SLOW! How quickly do you stop yourself from making the failures which will lead to your success? People often tell me the best time to learn things like new languages is when we are young. Is that only because our brains are more malleable? Or is it because we are much more willing to say, “blue” a few more times than later in life?