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self-confidence

For an entrepreneur, it can be hard to accept you may not be the first at something.

I am still shooting myself in the foot for not having started Froyo To Go when I thought of it years before it became an actual business…BY SOMEONE ELSE!

It wasn’t my dream to have a frozen yogurt truck, but if it had been I can tell you that seeing that FroYo To Go truck would have killed my spirit and I probably wouldn’t have started.

If you have an idea for a business and you see something similar in the world it can be easy to think, “Oh someone is already doing it, nevermind.”

It is easy to let fear take hold and make you think there is a limited space for your idea and if someone got to that space first then there won’t be any space left for you.

But take a look at this Philadelphia google street view snapshot:

LuluLemon and Athleta sit right next to each other on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Athleta was actually there first and then LuluLemon opened up next door.

Granted, both were already established brands before opening their doors on Walnut Street. Time will tell which one holds out or if there is enough market space for both to endure being neighbors; however, most of us would be filled with dread if we were thinking about opening up a luxury athleisure clothing brand and saw a similar store open up on the same block.

The world of ideas isn’t built on the same concept as train seats. A venue can be sold out, but can the universe? Can the space where ideas are born be maxed out?

Not at all. Otherwise there would only be one Italian restaurant, one clothing store, one car, and so on.

There is an illusion of limited resources that stops many in their tracks from pursuing their idea.

On Shark Tank, Mark Cuban often tells entrepreneurs that they should be working as if there is a competitor working 24/7 to beat them at their own game, and this is not bad advice for a small business owner.

If you compete against an invisible, but threatening force that is working to beat you, you will most likely rise much faster than you would have if you leisurely set up shop.

As someone considering opening up their own business, this can be daunting to hear. You might be thinking, “Well, someone probably already started in this race and is trying very hard. I’m already behind, why bother?”

Many have the dream of starting their own company, project, hobby, or life direction but don’t put it into practice because of fear.

Sometimes these ideas about how the world works and our individual capabilities aren’t explicit definitions we have decided on, but these thoughts still have a very real impact on our behavior.

Imagine you are looking down into the Grand Canyon. You don’t explicitly identify that you’re a human being who can’t fly, so you therefore can’t jump off the ledge and soar across to the other side.

No one ever says to you, “Hey, remember you can’t fly!”

You don’t try to fly – and you probably don’t even think about flying across as a real possibility – because you have so deeply internalized the idea that you don’t have the ability to fly.

In a similar way, we deeply internalize the idea that there are limited resources and opportunities for us to be successful. Though we don’t explicitly define this belief, it affects our behaviors and decisions every day.

The belief that there are limited resources and/or opportunities for each of us to be successful is the very belief that will keep success at bay.

Relax!

When anxiety creeps into your system it burns up the cognitive energy necessary to complete the work you’ll need to do. Your brain is working overtime to deal with the anxiety when you need it to be focused on the task at hand.

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel showed that our belief in ourselves affects our energy level.

The study is particularly relevant for those with weak self-efficacy. As you tire yourself out with anxious thoughts and self doubt, that fatigue then chips away at your self-efficacy. So you end up exhausted and feeling hopeless.

Take a moment to close your eyes and breathe.

Stay aware of the thoughts that pervade your mind.

If you are you talking yourself out of succeeding, stop that train and replace it with a vision of whatever success means to you. You have control over what you think. You can fill your head with thoughts of failure or thoughts of success. Choose wisely and give yourself a chance!

Your success may not come in the package you expected

Take the FroYo To Go example. Had it been my dream to have a frozen yogurt food truck, I might have had to modify it once I saw the FroYo To Go truck.

Maybe I change the frozen yogurt to some other delicacy. Maybe my trucks open up at night, after the FroYo’s are closed for the day. Maybe it’s not a food truck, but rather a brick and mortar cafe.

Don’t be stuck on your success manifesting in one specific way. It limits your potential.

Social Comparison is not your friend

Your only social comparison should be with yourself, i.e. how is your progress matching up to your goals?

The minute you start comparing your success to that of another is when things start going downhill.

That’s when anxiety creeps in, that’s when the illusion of limited resources kicks in, that’s when your self-efficacy wanes, that’s when you take your first step onto the road of quitting.

You can, however, use social comparison positively if you start believing that there’s a space for your idea in the world. When someone else’s success doesn’t detract from your own, collaboration and creativity reign.

Meaning, if you see another business thriving with something similar then you can say, “OK the world likes this idea, I just have to let them know I exist as well.”

It’s not your idea that’s original, it’s you

There are rarely revolutionary, brand new ideas. Typically modifications or combinations of already existing ideas keep the world moving steadily forward.

Entrepreneurs thrive on new ideas, new concepts, innovations, disrupting the old ways to pave the way for some better process, but more importantly: they begin.

They take action. And action begets action, until you’ve eventually carved out a niche for yourself.

Rather than stopping before you’ve even started, use the existing competition to differentiate yourself from what’s already out there. See the obstacle as an opportunity and remember that there is no finite amount of success to go around.

Some people like Burger King, while others like McDonald’s or Wendy’s. I happen to shop at Athleta, not LuluLemon. Look at all of the new products that are born within already dominated markets: like crazy chip flavors, organic juice varieties, or this season’s denim trends.

There’s always room for another product, service, or idea, you just have to begin and keep going.

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You have a presentation coming up, you’ve prepped, you know the information inside and out, but as prepared as you are, how do you know if you are conveying an air of confidence?

This is almost more important than whether what you are saying is true or not.

Turns out, our brains have a primal, vested interest in the mental state of who it is listening to. We are neurologically wired to determine whether the information given to us by someone is being given to us with confidence or insecurity.

On a neurochemical level we want to know whether whom we are listening to can be trusted. It’s a carry-over from our primitive days when we were focused primarily on surviving.

No one wants to waste their precious time listening to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And while you might know what you’re talking about the brains in the heads of your audience might be tuning out on a primal level based on certain factors.

1. Work on your tone.

Turns out, confident voices tend to be lower in pitch, have a flatter intonation, and a faster speech rate.

Xiaoming Jiang, a postdoctoral researcher in the Neuropragmatics and Emotion Lab led at McGill University discovered that our brain activity lights up when a listener encounters a “confident” voice, suggesting our brains like and give attention to what it considers a confident voice. Simply put, our brains are attracted to confident tones.

Which begs the question…what is a “confident” voice?

Jiang and his colleagues determined that a confident tone tends to be lower in pitch, with flat intonation, and a faster speech rate. A non-confident tone tends to be higher in pitch, slower speech, and rising in pitch towards the end (think: upspeak).

Confident speech also ends in a period and never a question (when a question isn’t being stated).

Our neurons pick up on these tones and we receive encoded information about whether this voice is a voice to be trusted, based on it sounding like it knows.

And what’s more, this all happens in under a second. “When a speaker is very confident about something, this can be assessed at a very early stage,” Jiang says.

So as soon as you mutter “This might…” or “I feel…” or “I believe…” your listener’s brain has placed you in the non-confident realm.

2. Stop with the disclaimers.

This might sound stupid, but…

Everyone, at some point, has prefaced something they were about to say with a disclaimer that let them off the hook in case it did indeed sound stupid.

Unfortunately, you’re not winning anyone over with your humility and/or lack of arrogance.

I’m not saying it’s fair, but it’s time to stop because you are doing yourself a disservice.

If you are up against a competitor or a colleague with a “confident” tone you put yourself at a disadvantage. And your listener won’t even be cognizant of how their preference is being formed because it’s happening on a neural level in less than a second.

Whether the person behind the voice does actually know what he/she is talking about is another story, but for our own sake it behooves us to try and project a tone of confidence, thereby eliciting the trust of our listener.

3. Make sure your body language matches what you are saying.

Don’t be confusing. You might be saying, “this might sound stupid” physically but not verbally.

What are your shoulders doing? What is your stance? Are your arms crossed or open? How do you stand when listening to someone?

None of it is inherently bad, but your body has to be putting your best self forward too.

Maintain a relational philosophy throughout the day where you are not on automatic pilot but are instead aware and as in the moment as you can be, so that you are relating to people in a self-aware mode.

Sounds obvious but we can easily coast over many interactions and not really be present at the same time.

Remember: you’re sending neural signals to your listener / audience with your tone and physicality. You want them in your reign.

4. Recognize cues that say you aren’t capturing their attention.

Cues such as someone speaking over you, faces and physicality that indicate a lack of interest, your listener looking away, etc.

When you see this, acknowledge it, either internally or externally. “It seems like I may have lost you on that last comment, let me rephrase it” etc, and readjust.

Cameron Anderson, a professor of organizational behavior at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, has studied the effects and motivation of overconfidence. “When people are confident,” says Anderson, “when they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they actually are, they display a lot of confident nonverbal and verbal behavior.”

In Anderson’s study, he concluded that overconfident individuals “…spoke more, used a confident and factual vocal tone…exhibited a calm and relaxed demeanor, and offered answers first.”

We see that mention of “tone” again. And what’s also interesting is that the overconfident individuals in Anderson’s study never made “explicit statements about their own abilities…or their certainty in their answers.”

How convenient! It suggests that tone and confidence is the only support overconfident individual require to put forth their opinions.

If there are those out there who can project confidence without having the skills to back it up – and if our brains are wired to detect confidence in under a second – then it behooves all of us to give ourselves a fighting chance in this competitive world.

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A few years ago, I fell into a bit of a mental slump. My leadership development company, Equilibria Leadership Consulting, had just completed a two-year long project with our biggest client to date and we did not have another gig on the horizon. We did not have another gig on the horizon because I committed huge mistake #1 of owning a company: “forgetting” to do business development because I was too busy delivering.

I hate to admit it but my anticipatory anxiety flew through the roof. I feared the worst: we would not land another client, I wouldn’t be able to pay my employees, I’d have to close up shop, find a new career, divorce my husband, sell my car, move to the country, and raise cats. I was happy about the cat thing but pretty bummed about the rest.

I also felt extraordinarily guilty and stupid for committing “huge mistake #1” of owning a company. I felt like a complete failure.

It also didn’t help that I had just returned from my honeymoon and was probably dealing with a wine withdrawal, having spent the previous two weeks drinking in Italy and France.

Suffice it to say my anxiety over the business was affecting my ability to think clearly and objectively move forward. The fear and anxiety directly impacted my self-efficacy. I remember feeling mentally sluggish, lacking vigor.

Turns out this isn’t rocket science. Our self-efficacy directly impacts our motivation and ability to forge ahead. In short, our belief in ourselves (or lack thereof) influences how much energy you have to move through life and accomplish your goals.

The way you think about yourself makes or breaks your bottom line.

A 2011 study performed by Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister, and Brandon J. Schmeichel found that if you are mildly exhausted and you have a strong sense of self-efficacy (one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task) then the mild exhaustion won’t affect your ability to forge ahead.

But if you don’t have a strong sense of self-efficacy then even a slight mental drain will join forces with your insecurity to ensure you drag yourself down and make you even more exhausted.

I’ve always been extremely driven and ambitious, waking up early and working steadfastly throughout the day, so this was an unusual state for me to be in; that further compounded matters as I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?”

There was an unhealthy cycle at play: fear I wouldn’t land another gig created anxiety, which created mental exhaustion, which affected my self-efficacy, which created fear I wouldn’t land another gig, and so on and so forth.

My husband, who normally needs career pep talks from me, was now the pep talker. We pepped and talked daily for a couple weeks until the fog lifted (and maybe the wine, cheese, and bread started to leave my system).

I can tell you from first-hand experience that when you are not feeling up to par professionally, you will need to bolster your lifestyle with every other possible gain to ensure you don’t drag yourself down a rabbit hole of exhaustion and self-defeat.

Since we can all feel less than at times, we need to either remember to eat, sleep, exercise, and laugh on a daily basis, or remind ourselves that our insecurities and exhaustion are joining forces to keep our productivity at bay.

So, in short:

  • Self-confidence increases your energy level and your immunity to the effects of mental exhaustion
  • Lack of self-confidence decreases your energy level and weakens your immunity to mental exhaustion

We need to think of our belief systems the same way we do our bodies and muscles. If you were going to run a marathon you would train. You’d build up your stamina. You’d run a bit every day. You’d stretch. You’d watch what you ate. You’d try to get the right amount of sleep. All of these factors play important roles to get into the right physical shape for the marathon.

Similarly, you need to prep the mind for the marathon that is your life. You need to get it in shape. So if you lack confidence, self-efficacy, or if you feel lazy, unambitious, and cynical – all of these factors are going to hinder your performance level.

If you’re getting enough sleep and eating well but still lack the energy to accomplish what you want to accomplish in life, take a look at your belief system. What are you telling yourself on a daily basis?

Are you filling your own head with doubt, insecurity, and cynicism? This type of negative self-talk will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as you drain yourself of the energy needed to accomplish the goals you are telling yourself aren’t possible in the first place.

Exhaustion we pretty much know how to deal with: sleep, the food you eat, exercise, etc. But what about self-efficacy? There isn’t a confidence diet, I’ve never seen an “Eat these three foods to believe in yourself” article.I offer the following three suggestions as a starter kit for keeping your self-efficacy intact:

  1. ACT. That’s not an acronym. I mean take action, even if they are small actions. Action begets action and as you accomplish small goals your confidence will rise. It’s amazing how great accomplishing a goal can feel. It removes so much anxiety. When we stagnate our anxiety increases and those two (stagnation and anxiety) will reinforce each other until the end of time. So don’t worry about the BIG goals. Instead focus on the small wins you can accomplish on a daily basis. Maybe it’s something as simple as registering a website domain. If you act in any way, shape or form, you’re way ahead of the majority of the world.
  2. Get a coach. If you lack the motivation to accomplish small goals on your own then you need outside help to motivate you, reveal your mental blocks to you, give you pep talks, and pump you up. Until you can self-motivate I recommend seeking outside motivation. A coach can give you the tools you need to prop yourself up when you’re alone.
  3. Talk to someone who is doing what you want to do. Learn how they got to where they are, what steps they took, what obstacles they faced. You might learn that they went through periods of self-doubt as well. Maybe they’ll share how they overcame them. When you meet another regular human being who has done what you want to do the road to the goal becomes less mysterious.

The two main actions that worked for me were talking to my husband, who served as a coach, and accomplishing small daily goals. Even though it felt like drudgery, the small daily actions kept me moving forward until the habit of moving forward was re-established.

The talking and the acting eventually broke the spell. Once the fog lifted I resumed my normal activity level, got back on track, and soon enough I started doing the work necessary to land some business.

I still recommend devouring as much bread, cheese, and wine if/when you find yourself in the south of France.

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