"One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation." — Arthur Ashe
For many people a lack of confidence is the primary cause for what’s holding them back from growing into who they might be. And there are logical reasons for this, the chief of which is that it’s all too easy to lose confidence if we’re not intentional about our growth and development.
In the book Body Magic by John Fisher there’s an activity that highlights just how easy it is to lose confidence, while also providing a suggestion for how to build it back up. This activity uses two sets of anagram cards, with three cards in each set.
People are divided into two different groups. Group A gets one set of anagram cards, and Group B gets another set. The idea is to challenge each group to see which group can solve the puzzles the fastest.
If I was working with you in a workshop setting I’d just have us all play the game together, but for the sake of explanation I’ll just tell you the outcome: Group A wins every time.
This outcome has nothing to do with Group B’s ability; rather, it has everything to do with the fact that the cards were stacked against them.
The first two words in Group A’s set were TAB and LEMON—easy to solve anagrams. The first two words in Group B’s set were WHIRL and SLAPSTICK—which are impossible anagrams. Group B could not solve their anagrams because there was nothing to solve! Having failed twice, this group gets stuck in a groove where failure becomes preconditioned, whether they are conscious of this or not.
When the third and final puzzle comes around, what the players don’t realize is that both words are the same. That is, both groups A and B are given the same word: CINERAMA. Because Group B has been preconditioned to failure they presume failure is inevitable and don’t exert as much effort, while Group A is able to solve the puzzle with little effort because they had been preconditioned to succeed.
Even though just seconds before this experiment began the people in Group B would have likely been able to solve the third puzzle with little to no difficulty at all, in only a matter of seconds their confidence was zapped preventing them from succeeding at even a simple task. That’s how easy it is to lose confidence.
This is the same kind of conditioning we find in our everyday lives when we allow difficulties and disappointments to keep us from moving forward with our positive changes, innovations, hopes, and dreams, whatever they may be. Yet all we have to do is get out of the groove that expects failure and instead get into a groove that expects success, by setting ourselves up with quick wins through reachable goals.
A simple strategy for building confidence is to ask the question “How Can I?” instead of asking the question “Can I?”
The questions sound similar but they have a clear difference: “Can I” contains inherent doubt, undermining our efforts before we even begin, while the question “How Can I” assumes that there is a way and we just need to find it.
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.