When my brother and I were little, we went grocery shopping with our mother on Thursday afternoons. As the five-year-old, I was in charge of making sure my mother had her grocery list and checkbook. As the two-year-old, my brother’s task was simply not to have a screaming fit when told that, no, he could not buy another ball out of the big pen at the front of the store. In every aisle my mother assigned both of us the task of choosing what products to purchase. She positioned us in front of shelves of Wonder Bread, for example, and encouraged us to examine and then choose the best loaf. Doubtless, this doubled our shopping time. To my mother, however, it offered opportunities for us to develop our capacity to think, consider, and choose. “Your opinion mattered,” she explains today. “It built confidence in who you were.”
Forty years later, my mother still makes sure to boost my confidence whenever she can. Recently, she read Lean In, by Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg. About women learning to stop holding themselves back, the book became a clarion call for my mother. “Lean in,” she advises when I seem reluctant to put forth my full self. “Be bold!”
For all the confidence cheerleading I’ve received, I still find myself, like many people, sometimes flying below the confidence radar. How do we access, build, and act from a sense of true and unflappable self-assurance?
An article on Oprah’s website offers 10 ways to boost self-esteem in under an hour. Techniques include sitting up straight, wearing a nice perfume, nodding your head while listening to someone speak, flirting, and having a cup of coffee. While these simple activities might help in the minute, their effects wouldn’t even last an hour. In discovering how to build a philosophy of confidence that endures for a lifetime, clearly it takes more than Chanel No. 5.
G. Richard Shell’s new book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success, offers an approach to confidence that eschews the 10-minute miracle and instead suggests ways to develop “the right kind of confidence.” According to Shell, this type of self-possession generates from two sources:
Level One: This area is “your basic and deepest sense of self-belief” regarding autonomy, moral character, and ability to take action. Centered in the experience of your true, inner self, it’s your faith and commitment in the belief that you already possess skills to do a certain thing.
Level Two: This area focuses on “specific skills and activities you undertake.” Based on the belief in your ability to learn, this growth mindset develops confidence from a sense of resilience, a willingness to engage in trial and error, a desire to learn, and a focus on effort rather than results.
Tying confidence to your inner core on two levels of belief, Shell knits a sense of both self-esteem and self-assurance into the essence of personal identity—which is exactly where it belongs.For Shell, “self-confidence, like motivation, is a renewable source” to be applied in situations that engender any type of risk. In fact, Shell concludes that the only way to master the art of failure (the possibility of which is why you need confidence in the first place) is through amping up confidence. While it may seem silly to let a two-year-old choose just the right loaf of bread for the family, the experience my mom created for my brother ingrained in him, at an early age, both types of Shell’s definition of confidence.
Beliefs drive 100% of your behavior every day. Finding reasons to believe you can do something (Level One) or learn to do it (Level Two) places in your control a power for achievement that originates in something much more high-voltage that a cup of joe: your own immutable self and the energy with which it bursts forth in the world.