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How to Gain Confidence

by Ron Kurtus (revised 6 October 2000)

Confidence is the feeling that you are sure you can complete a difficult or even dangerous task. You ask yourself, "Can I do it?" and then answer, "I sure can."

Feeling confident means you are sure of your skills and ability to succeed in a task. It is an internal determination or judgment of how sure you are of your skills. Lack of confidence means you aren't sure that you can complete an activity successfully.

Your confidence in being able to do something is based on your track record of succeeding in various similar tasks. The feeling of self-confidence is learned and can be passed from one task to another.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Why people aren't confident

A person gets confidence by successfully doing something or completing a task and acknowledging that achievement. The internal acknowledgment is recorded in the mind as, "I can do this again."

Don't acknowledge success

One reason people aren't confident after successfully completing a task or achieving difficult goal is because they often don't acknowledge their achievement and may even demean what they have done. They put their achievement down by saying something like, "Oh, I was just lucky" or "It wasn't all that good."

Too large a task

Another reason some people aren't confident is because they look at a task or a goal as a large entity. Success or failure is determined by the outcome, which may come after days or months of toiling.

Too difficult a task

Some people purposely take on tasks that are way over their head, such that they are assured of failure. They do this to re-enforce their perceived lack of self-confidence. There is some strange psychology involved in this situation.

How to gain confidence

The way to gain confidence is to:

  1. Break tasks into smaller units,
  2. Acknowledge your success for each step, and
  3. Learn from your mistakes to re-enforce your confidence.

1. Break task into smaller steps

Before you set out to perform a task or try to achieve a goal, you must realize that the activity is really a series of smaller steps. This is a basic concept in any type of project planning. Thus, instead of waiting until the end to determine if you are successful, you have a series of successes, leading up to the finish.

2. Acknowledge success for each step

For each one of these steps or mini-tasks, you must acknowledge your success. Congratulate yourself each time you succeed. If you don't do well, correct your error. Take care about admonishing yourself, except in extreme cases.

3. Re-enforce overall confidence

This self-talk will re-enforce your acknowledgment of your abilities and increase your confidence as you go along on achieving the greater goal.

Examples of gaining confidence

The better illustrate how to apply the 3 steps in gaining confidence, consider the examples of playing a game of tennis, managing a program at work, and experiments with a mouse.

Playing tennis

For example, your goal may be to win a tennis match. Each time you hit the ball, you are performing a mini-task or small step necessary to complete your final goal of winning the game.

Each time you hit the ball solidly, say to yourself, "Good shot." Each time you miss, note what to correct. Perhaps say, "Follow through next time."

Throughout the game, your confidence will build, such that even if you lose the match to a better player, you will feel sure of your overall ability to play well.

Managing a program

In another example, a project manager can celebrate small milestones in a major program with his workers in order to build their confidence to effectively achieve this greater goal.

The mouse that couldn't lose

In an experiment on animal behavior at the University of Wisconsin about 20 years ago, the scientist would put a mouse with its front feet tied together into the cage of another mouse. The mouse whose area was being trespassed would then easily beat up the poor mouse with the feet tied together.

After a number of victories, the scientist started to put mice in the cage without their feet tied. But our mouse was so confident that he would take on and defeat mice even larger than himself. Normally he would have run away from these larger mice, but he felt he just couldn't lose. And he didn't.


You can build your confidence by acknowledging your successes for each step along the way to trying to achieve a goal. The self-congratulations will build and re-enforce your confidence along the way to feeling like a champion.

Little achievements help build your self-confidence

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