When I arrived at Ryerson University in 2008, I went from being a soccer coach to director of athletics at an institution with over 40,000 students and a reputation as one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial in Canada. I became overnight in charge of a department of 40 staff and a budget of $3 million. In the first year alone, I faced enormous challenges: learning the ropes of a senior administrative role, restructuring the department, raising the profile of athletics on campus and leading a student referendum to buy and renovate the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens into an industry-leading athletic facility. A special letter that I read over and over again that year helped me stay self-confident about my new role.
I call it my "self-confidence letter." I wrote that letter at a high point in my career, soon after I coached the men's soccer team at Graceland University in Iowa to its first national championship. One part of the letter reads as follows: "Congratulations, Ivan, on completing your PhD before turning 40," while another reads: "The national championship is an incredible achievement. Well done!"
Seven years later, with student engagement at Ryerson at an all-time high and a nationally-ranked athletic program, I look back at the self-doubt I felt in my first year and am reminded of that letter -- a symbol of the importance of believing in myself. Why? Because self-confidence lies at the heart of success.
Photo: Steph Grant
Self-Confidence Is a Skill
Self-confidence is the belief in your ability to accomplish the task at hand. Extensive evidence, including findings by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, shows this belief in oneself has positive impact on performance. Research shows that self-confidence is a universal skill that anyone can learn with little effort, not an innate ability reserved for the elite among us.
Here are four ways to help you develop the skill of self-confidence and boost your performance.
1. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
As Malcolm Gladwell's famous 10,000-hour rule tells us, skills develop through focused and repeated practice. Self-confidence is no different. You need to continually face and overcome reasonable challenges that reinforce your belief in yourself. Self-confidence doesn't come from staying in your comfort zone, rather from pushing yourself to achieve at an appropriate next level. When you face increasingly difficult challenges, you build small amounts of self-confidence. You can then transfer that belief from one context to another.
You need to practice over and over and over again until the task is no longer novel. It's like learning to drive a stick shift. At first, it's all you can do to keep from stalling. Then, you begin to shift fluidly. Eventually, you can start up at a red light on a hill with a dump truck on your tail without sweat streaming down your face. Over time, with thousands of hours of practice, driving standard becomes second nature -- and so is your belief in yourself.
2. Have Three Self-Affirmations
Before I speak to a large audience or lead an important meeting, I use three affirmations: 1) "I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate," 2) "Nobody outworks me," and 3) "I got this." I use these phrases to create a positive mindset. This technique is so effective that I once had my soccer players write their own affirmations on a wristband they wore during games.
Research shows that a positive mindset alters performance. Athletes are stronger and more effective when they use positive self-talk. If you see them clap their hands after an error or miss, they are actively reclaiming a positive mindset. In business and industry, positive affirmations lead to a 37 per cent increase in sales and 19 per cent more efficient and accurate diagnosis for doctors.
Create three affirmations that put you in a positive frame of mind and repeat them regularly. Tape them to your bathroom mirror or keep them in your briefcase or desk -- whatever works for you.
3. Write Your Own Self-Confidence Letter
Just as I did before starting at Ryerson, write to yourself in a time of success for inspiration when times get tough. There will always be new skills to learn, challenges to face and projects or roles that push you to your limit. Everyone has times when their performance is not what they've hoped. When that happens, pull out your letter and remind yourself of what you have achieved and why you believe in yourself.
4. Surround Yourself with Positive People
Everyone needs people who believe in them. Ray Kroc, the famous American business icon who transformed McDonald's from a local restaurant chain to a worldwide conglomerate, found one such person when he was an underaged ambulance driver in World War I -- a young man named Walt Disney. One of my greatest supporters is my partner Polly, who has believed in me from the start and who always reminds me not to let anyone -- including a soccer coach who didn't think I was any good -- determine how I feel about myself.
We are highly influenced by the people around us. Lack of support and encouragement can infect us with self-doubt. Surround yourself with colleagues, family members, friends and teammates who reinforce your belief in yourself.
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I grew up on the rules of Emily Post in a family where niceties -- like holding the door open for someone -- were more expected than a pleasant surprise. Good manners have multiple, positive benefits. I try to practice them on a regular basis -- even if it's just saying "please" and "thank you."
I strive to tell others when they've made a difference in my life on a daily basis. If I'm being completely honest, accepting myself also means knowing I wouldn't be who I am without the amazing people around me. A genuine compliment can go a long way. Did someone inspire you today? Were they a great friend during a time you needed it most? Tell them. They'll appreciate it more than you know.
I try to make forgiveness a habit, mostly because the alternative of holding onto a grudge can be exhausting. Everyone makes mistakes. Research shows holding onto anger can harm your well-being; it's much healthier to let it go. Practicing forgiveness can lead to less stress and anxiety, boost your heart health and help your self-esteem, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The health perks of gratitude are hard to ignore. Thankfulness can make you more optimistic, help you feel less lonely and even lower your blood pressure. I try to make expressing gratitude a daily exercise, whether it's reflecting on the positives of my day as I go to sleep or writing them down in a journal. Think of it as a workout for your brain.
Follow Dr. Ivan Joseph on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrIvanJoseph