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‘Fortes fortuna adiuvat’
As you look back on your career and life to date, where do you wished you’d been a little braver, trusted in yourself more, and been less cautious in the chances you took?
Anything come to mind? When speaking to people in their forties and beyond, many tell me that if they could do their career over again, they’d have taken more risks, settled less and spoken up more often. In short, they wished they’d been more courageous in the risks they’d taken. Perhaps you relate.
Often we know what it is we want to do, but we still don’t do it. Why?
Because we are innately risk averse and afraid of putting our vulnerability on the line. The status quo, while not particularly fulfilling, can seem like an easier, softer, less scary, option. Indeed, advances in brain imaging technology can now verify that we human beings are wired to be risk averse. In other words, we find it much easier to settle with the status quo, keep our mouths closed and our heads down rather than make a change, take a chance, or speak up and engage in what I call a “courageous conversation.”
When weighing up whether to take an action that could leave us vulnerable to failing or some other form or loss (of reputation, money, social standing, pride etc), we have an innate tendency to misjudge four core elements in assessing risk.
1. We over-estimate the probability of something going wrong. As Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow, when assessing risk, potential losses tend to loom larger than potential gains. That is, we tend to focus more on what might go wrong – what we might lose or sacrifice – than what might go right. Because what we focus on tends to magnify in our imaginations, it causes us to misjudge (and over-estimate) the likelihood of it occurring. Yet, as I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, the reality is that the risks of something not working out are often not near as high as we estimate them to be.
2. We exaggerate the consequences of what might happen if it does go wrong. This is what I refer to as ‘catastrophizing.’ We come up with dire and dramatic worst-case scenario images in our minds-eye. Rather than assume that we would act quickly to head off or mitigate a situation if things started going off track, we imagine everything spiralling shockingly out of control while we passively stand by, conjuring up images of ourselves destitute, shunned by our family, ostracized by our peers and forever shamed by our failure. Okay, maybe I go too far. Maybe you don’t catastrophize quite so dramatically. But the point is, we are neurologically wired to exaggerate how bad things could be if our plans didn’t work out, and we fail to appreciate our ability to intervene to ward off further impact.
3. We under estimate our ability to handle the consequences of risk. This goes hand in hand with the above, but is more focused on our capability over all. And while I hate to say it, women are the biggest culprits when it comes to underestimating their abilities and buying into self-doubt. Too often we let our misgivings about whether we have what it takes to succeed get the better of us. The result is that we often avoid taking on new challenges (or proactively pursuing new opportunities) because we don’t trust sufficiently in our ability to rise to the challenges they involve.
While speaking at a women’s leadership event at a lead global consulting firm last week, the managing partner shared with me how she had declined an offer to take on the senior leadership role several times before finally accepting. Each time she had turned it down, it was because she didn’t think she had the ability to succeed in the position. Looking back now, with the benefit of having been in the role for several years, she realized that she’d been gravely underestimating herself. She was fortunate that those who saw her potential didn’t give up on her easily. Still, how often do we fail to judge our own capacity for risks – like taking on a bigger role or pursuing a lofty goal – accurately? In my experience, it’s far too often.
4. We discount or deny the cost of inaction, and sticking with the status quo. I wrote about this in a previous column titled The Parmenides Fallacy: Are You Ignoring the Cost of Inaction?
We tell ourselves “It’s not so bad” and delude ourselves with the hope that our circumstances will somehow just get better over time and things will just ‘sort themselves out.’ We come up with excuses for why sticking with the status quo is a feasible option; why playing safe and not putting ourselves at risk of failing or looking foolish is ‘sensible.” In reality, things that aren’t working out well for us now only tend to get worse over time, not better, and issues remain unaddressed in our relationships and lives tend to grow larger, not smaller.
These four different human tendencies working together help to explain why so many supposedly smart people find themselves living in such a restricted circle of their potential, feeling dissatisfied in their careers, stuck in their relationships, and living lives they would never have chosen, much less have aspired to.
So how do we know which risks are worth taking? Start by asking yourself these three questions:
– What would I do if I were being more courageous?
– How will inaction cost me one year from now if I do nothing?
– Where is my fear of failure causing me to over-estimate the size of risk, under-estimate myself and holding me back from taking risks that would serve me (my business etc)?
Whatever answers come into your mind, take notice! They are pointing you to a brighter future that you can only create when you commit to taking bolder, more decisive and courageous actions. Will there be risks involved? Of course! But remember that you are wired to both overestimate the size of them and to underestimate your ability to handle them. The truth is, as Lao Tsu wrote two thousand years ago, “You are capable of more than you think.”
Fear regret more than failure – history has shown that we fail far more from timidity than we do from over daring. Or to quote a little Latin: Fortes fortuna adiuvat.
“Fortune favors the bold.”
An intrepid Australian who spends a lot of time outside her comfort zone, Margie Warrell draws on her background in business, psychology, and executive coaching to help people live and lead with greater courage. The bestselling author of Stop Playing Safe (Wiley 2013), and Find Your Courage (McGraw-Hill 2009), she is also a keynote speaker and the mother of four noisy children.
Connect with Margie on Twitter, Linked In, You Tube, or join her Courage Community on Facebook, For more ‘courage-building’ resources and information, please visit http://www.margiewarrell.com
by Paul B. Brown
Who said: “You know more than you think you do.” Was it:
A) Einstein, when people would tell him they would never understand his theory of relativity.
B) Steve Jobs, when people would say he was genius.
C) Pediatrician Benjamin Spock in talking to first-time parents.
D) Your Mom before a big test that you were sure you were going to fail.
While I am sure your mother may have said it. The answer really is C. It is the first sentence of Dr. Spock’s classic Baby and Child Care
That quote came to mind on a visit to New Directions, “the life portfolio company” based in Boston. They spend a lot of time working with people, who through no fault of their own, are suddenly out of a job and others—who as the name of the company suggests—want to take their working life down a different path.
New Directions argues that these people need to become the CEOs of their own life. It is analogous to our position about how everyone needs to become an entrepreneur, although there is an important difference. The term CEO congers up the image of a boss directing a staff; others are doing the work. The word “entrepreneur” evokes the image of you doing things yourself.
That said, one of the things New Directions does that we really like is point out that while the idea of taking control of your working life can be initially unsettling, you come to this new phase with far more skills than you initially may have thought. You know how to do everything from write a business plan to create fundamental marketing messages and you can use those skills to market, position and price you.
In other words, Dr. Spock was right, you know more than you think you do.
It’s an important point, given how the business world has changed.
In a world where you can no longer plan or predict your way to success, what is the best way to achieve your goals? It is a daunting question, but today—when saying “change seems to be the only constant” has become a cliché because it is so true—it’s one everyone has to resolve.
Given this uncertainity, people tend to freeze. They say “I don’t know what to do.” But as Dr. Spock would respond, “of course you do.”
In the face of uncertainty act the way you did as a toddler, when you knew very little about the world around you. You took a small action and learned from it. If something was wrong, you cried and Mom made the problem go away. Next time there was a problem you cried.
You had never seen a cat before. You wondered what would happen if you pulled its tail. You did and got scratched…and you never pulled its tail again.
The way you mastered the universe as a toddler is exactly the same way successful serial entrepreneurs–people who are experts at uncertainty (after all, what is more uncertain than starting a business–proceed.
You should approach the unknown as they do:
1. Start with desire. You find/think of something you want. You don’t need a lot of passion, you only need sufficient desire to get started. (“I really want to start a restaurant, but I haven’t a clue if I will ever be able to open one.”)
2. Take a smart step as quickly as you can toward your goal. What’s a smart step? It’s one where you act quickly with the means at hand: What you know, who you know, and anything else that’s available. (“I know a great chef, and if I beg all my family and friends to back me, I might have enough money to open a place.”) You make sure that step is never going to cost more than it would be acceptable to you to lose should things not work out. And you bring others along to acquire more resources, spread the risk and confirm the quality of your idea.
by Dean J
Sometimes, you just can’t bring yourself to do it.
– You want to start writing, but don’t think you’re good enough
– You want to talk to that girl or guy, but feel you won’t know what to say
– You want more success, but believe achievement is only for others, not you
Part of the problem? You probably need more confidence.
– If you were confident in your ability to write, you’d probably start
– If you were confident in your social skills, you’d talk to him or her now
– If you were confident in your ability to accomplish goals, you’d begin that new project
And really, building confidence in any area of life is simple.
Now notice…I said simple, NOT easy.
I think where many people mess up building confidence is they get that backwards. I know I did. I once believed building confidence was complicated and mysterious, but that once I learned the “secret” process to get it, self-assurance would come quickly and easily.
That’s not how it works. And there is no secret process for instant confidence, at least not in my experience. Not for the kind of confidence that lasts, anyway.
But I’ve found there is a simple formula for building confidence over time. It’s this:
Confidence = Courage + (Proper Knowledge + Proper Thinking)
Let’s look into each of these in more detail.
Confidence = Knowing You Can Do Something
That’s it; that’s all.
And “knowing” you can do something is NOT about visualizing it or willing it to be so. It’s simply about practicing something until you’ve proven to yourself you can do it.
– Once you’ve written several blog posts or stories, received feedback, adjusted and improved, THEN you’ll trust your writing ability
– Once you’ve talked to more strangers and experienced most people as receptive, THEN you’ll feel confident in your social skills
– Once you’ve begun to reach for your goals and make progress, THEN you’ll believe in your ability to succeed
If you take one thing from these examples, I hope it’s this:
Building confidence takes time.
That’s why you can’t just chant in the moment, “I’m confident, I’m confident” hoping a warm feeling of strength, ability and charm will somehow possess your body like at a cocktail party in Beetlejuice.
You can’t conjure confidence; you have to earn it.
+ Courage to Take Action
To earn confidence you must take action, no matter your current level of ability in the area you lack confidence.
But taking action in an area where you lack confidence is a Catch 22. You fear doing the thing because you need confidence, yet you have to do it to gain confidence.
That’s where courage comes in.
– Courage helps you write that first story and submit it, knowing it might be rejected
– Courage helps you approach that cute girl, knowing she may be put off by your nervousness
– Courage helps you tick off steps to your goal, knowing you’ll makes mistakes along the way
It takes guts to face your weaknesses in anything, because you’re likely to fail and make mistakes.
But by having bravery to slug through, you’ll gain real-life experience and feedback that will allow you to improve. And improvement leads to confidence.
Bonus Tip: Just remember, having courage is easier when you start small and take baby steps.
+ Proper Knowledge to Save Time
Taking action is essential to building confidence, but having an idea what you’re doing helps too.
Think about it:
– If you have horrible grammar, it’ll take longer to get your writing accepted
– If you don’t know basic conversation skills, you’ll fumble for words a lot more
– If you’re clueless about setting goals, you’re more likely to set yourself up to fail
That’s why having a road-map and proven methods can help you avoid a lot of failure and crippling self-doubt. Both of which can quickly sap your confidence and make you want to give up.
So be sure to seek the advice of someone who’s been where you’re headed. It’ll save you valuable time by pointing you in a direction more likely to end in success.
+ Proper Thinking to Stay Positive
Sometimes, even when you begin to see success in the area you lack confidence, your mind plays tricks on you.
– You write a popular blog post but think, “Ah, I just got lucky.”
– You hit it off with someone new but say to yourself, “That was just a fluke.”
– You complete a small task that’s part of a bigger goal but moan, “I’ll never get there.”
So you filter out the good and only see the negative. You discount your progress because a limiting belief inside you says, “you’ll always fail in the end.”
Or maybe you don’t see success as quickly as you’d like, and your inner critic starts chanting, “Everyone else can do it; why can’t I? Something must be wrong with me.”
As human beings, we ALL tend to filter and think in black or white terms like this and it’s almost always damaging to our confidence. It can cause you to give up before you’ve given yourself a chance to gain any momentum.
So try to be aware of the negative and irrational thoughts that tear you down from the inside out. By acknowledging your achievements, no matter how small, and by thinking more rationally, you keep yourself positive and motivated.
Building Confidence is Not Magic, It’s Simple Addition
So remember, it IS possible to feel more confident in any area of your life. But please don’t think of it as a magic or mysterious process.
Think of it as math.
You gain confidence in any area by:
ADDING informative experience through being courageous
ADDING time-saving leverage by gaining more knowledge
ADDING positive perspective by thinking rationally
But one way to build an overall confidence in your life is to become more comfortable around people in general. In fact, Dean J is a once-shy guy who now teaches people simple tips on how to improve conversation skills and self-confidence. Click here to watch his free videos on how to be more confident and have more to say in conversations. You can also find Dean on Google+.