The confidence formula

Confidence is not formed in the mind. You cannot think your way to it. You cannot believe your way to it. Get rid of the self help books because they’re by-and-large unscientific and in the area of confidence, I have found them not much help.

Confidence is acquired by a successfully completing a challenging task, with something instinctually valuable on the line, where you indisputably prove to your self what you’re capable of. And done again and again and again.

Let’s put this into an equation, that I call:

The Confidence Formula

This is the confidence formula that I teach all of my students. I've used it to change my own life, and I hope you can use it to change yours:

Doing The Difficult Thing + Personal Stakes + Win = 1 Unit of Confidence

You must practice The Difficult Thing, with personal stakes, and each time you win, you’ve built another brick in the confidence wall.

What is The Difficult Thing?

It is the actual difficult thing. Not miming a version of it in private (e.g. singing alone).

It’s the actual thing.

Here's an example:

Goal = to sing in public confidently

Singing in your practice sessions = 0 units of confidence

Singing in front of strangers successfully = 1 unit of confidence

Or another example:

Goal = to get good at job interviews

Practicing in the mirror = 0 units of confidence

Portraying yourself well in a job interview = 1 unit of confidence

(The critical nuance is the difference between building skill and confidence. Practicing something privately will help you build the skills necessary to do The Difficult Thing. But it won’t actually build confidence. Skill and confidence are different.)

What are personal stakes?

Personal stakes means this is real. If you don’t win, you will suffer: embarrassment, people will think less of you, lost money, you will think of yourself less, or something else you viscerally value will be lost.

Personal stakes are not at the table when you are alone. Stakes require another party. Confidence building requires interface and interaction with others. If you are alone (in a practice room, in a library, in your house) then you may be doing many wonderful, valuable things, but confidence building isn’t one of them.

Think about this another way: you’re not dumb. You’re actually really smart. And your bull sh$# detector is well-honed. You are NOT going to get away with bull shitting yourself.

You must give yourself indisputable reasons to trust your abilities when there are chips on the table.

Why do you trust someone else? The number one reason is their track record. Their patterns. What they have shown to you in the past.

And the number one reason you will ever trust yourself (trust yourself = confidence) is because you have done The Difficult Thing many times before successfully.

But that leaves you in a spot: how do you go from there? How do you get from 0 units of confidence to at least 1?

You need volume

Want to build lots of confidence? To feel invincible?

Then you need a lot of volume of those challenging situations where you can earn units of confidence.

Now you’ve got to be smart about it. There is no point in going out there and layering up unsuccessful attempts.

You need to start small. Very small.

Be truly humble, and start at a vanishingly small level.

And once you start: you need to not stop.

How I became confident in singing

I wanted to be confident singing in front of people. But when I did, my skin got clammy, my voice jammed up, my throat seized tight, and I became incapable of singing. This was not the relaxed and confident Edward I knew I needed to be!

So I started to volunteer for public speaking wherever I could. In my church director job, I volunteered to give public lectures on music. I volunteered for committees where I had to give a presentation. I volunteered to present in my classes, whenever possible.

I started to speak up in uncomfortable situations. I chose to send wrong drink orders back, or introduced myself to strangers and started up a conversation (which, at the time, seemed like a huge challenge!). I actively sought out any situation where I would use my voice in uncomfortable situations.

This led to singing in open mic nights at bars. A great low barrier way to get comfortable with public singing.

And then to solos in choirs.

Then guest solos in pop and rock bands.

And eventually, lead operatic roles for thousands of paying patrons!

The most effective thing was to start so small, it felt like barely starting: and then not stopping

Start low barrier. Do The Difficult Thing a lot. And don’t stop doing it.

How to acquire confidence isn’t taught

It’s a mysterious force for almost every student I teach. Which is a crime, and something I love to change through teaching! It has had such an impact on my student's lives.

I’d love to continue this discussion further, and if you have an area of development where you’re struggling to grow your confidence, drop me a note and we can brainstorm a low barrier, high volume path to get that confidence growing.

April 24, 2023