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Most people feel like they need more than the cliched 10,000 hours of practice before they feel confident. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new skill they’re using at work or a new hobby they want to try. They won’t use it confidently unless they’ve got that practice or education behind them.

But when you look at entrepreneurs and elite athletes, they often jump into new things before they feel confident about it. The Tesla car company was founded before they’d perfected their battery technology. Tennis player Roger Federer discovered his SABR return tactic after playing around with it a couple of times in practice. In both situations, people had the foundational skills to try things but had no reason to be confident in their new ventures or tactics. 

From the outside, we think that they can try new things and overcome obstacles because they’re confident. In reality, they develop confidence by overcoming the challenges. They don’t know if they’ll be successful, but know they’ll build self-esteem in the attempt and confidence if they succeed. 

It Starts With One Action

We do this all the time in life and business or work. We think about the “one more thing” that’ll push us over the top. We’ll feel more confident with one more course, one more meeting, one more anything. 

While those things can help us feel more grounded and comfortable, they don’t necessarily lead to feeling more confident. No one’s built self-confidence by sitting around, waiting to be ready. Confident people just dive in and take action. 

Elite athletes do this every day. They learn just enough to perform a skill or handle a situation, then throw themselves into competition and use it. Sure, it might not work at the start, but only by trying it out when it’s still new to them will they develop the confidence to deploy it quickly and succeed

Look at Roger Federer and his SABR tactic. He initially tried it because he was tired and wanted to get off the court after a long practice. He hit a couple of winners with it, so his coach asked him about trying it during a match. So he did and used it consistently on his way to a couple of championships.

Roger Federer using SABR during 2015 US Open
Credit: NY Times

Outside of sports, that could mean trying that new recipe you read about or learning a new hobby that’s completely outside your comfort zone. When you try something hard and challenging and then master it, your brain learns that you’re stronger than you think. Over time, it’ll remember that feeling, and you’re less afraid to try new things.  

Learn From Failure

You won’t succeed every time you try new things, and that’s okay. Your mistakes and failures help you build self-confidence and self-esteem too. It’s only by failing that we practice dealing with uncomfortable emotions like embarrassment, disappointment, frustration, and anger. 

Building confidence means learning to deal with these emotions since not everything will go your way in life or business. As Bill Gates once said, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

The tech industry embraced this idea with the “fail fast” philosophy of development. They built the notion of failing into an iterative development methodology to determine whether an idea has value more rapidly than traditional methodologies. It helped them develop and discard ideas that weren’t delivering value to customers so they could pivot to more successful ideas more rapidly. 

Failing fast took the stigma out of the word “failure” by emphasizing the knowledge gained from the attempt. The failure actually increases the probability of eventual success and decreases the time it takes to get there. 

Flip the Script

Taking a page from the tech world, you can build confidence by pivoting your perspective about it. Instead of thinking about what you’d do if you had more confidence, go out and do those things now. 

It seems counterintuitive to act first to feel confident later, but when you stop to think about it, it’s true. That’s not to say you need to make wholesale changes to enjoy this pivoting perspective. Start small and then grow from there. If you’re scared to launch a new online business, start one as a side hustle first. If you’re scared about speaking in front of large crowds, start by introducing yourself to one new person at every gathering you go to from now on. Flip the way you think about gaining confidence and do something about it today.