Celebrating our successes is a much neglected way to boost our confidence. Doing so gives us a sense of making progress. Instead, we beat ourselves for mistakes and unachieved goals.
We can celebrate our successes on our own but it works much better in a team context. It is a simple matter of beginning each meeting with team members taking a few minutes to review what went well for them since the last meeting. This creates a sense of forward momentum to counteract the negative tone of a one-sided focus on problems.
To motivate ourselves to celebrate our own successes more often, we need to understand its connection to confidence and why we focus on our failings.
Feeling confident means believing that we have what it takes to achieve our goals. There is social and task confidence. Socially confident people aren't shy when meeting new people. They see themselves as having the necessary social skills to build new relationships as well as anyone else.
Task confidence refers to our belief that we can achieve our task goals, that we can meet expectations at work and achieve our career goals. Confident people feel competent to meet the everyday challenges they face at work. Some people have both social and task confidence, others only one or neither. Here, our focus is on task confidence, job related self-belief.
Our Negative Focus
We each have unique reasons for overlooking the positive, but here are some of the more common ones:
Impatience to achieve: A feeling that life is short creates a need to hurry up, to move faster to get anywhere. Frustration with slow progress is the natural outcome of a hurry-up mentality. But beating ourselves for failing is self-defeating if it destroys the confidence we need to succeed.
Visibility of failure: Mistakes are more readily noticed than successes. At work, people are expected to meet their targets. Success is taken for granted simply because it is expected while failure upsets those who were counting on us to deliver. Failure generates a negative emotional reaction. Only very great successes create a similar level of positive emotion.
Discounting success: We celebrate our successes when we achieve something quite momentous, especially when we have to overcome significant odds. But we overlook our everyday successes because they are relatively easy for us to achieve. If we are good at something and enjoy doing it, we don't see getting it done as anything special.
Negative comparisons: We love role models but comparing ourselves to those whose abilities far exceed our own kills our confidence. Resenting the success of others, we discount their achievements, attributing them to luck or circumstances rather than ability.
Conversely, to boost our confidence, we credit our successes to our competence and our failures to bad luck or circumstances beyond our control, which is why everyone plays the blame game to some extent. It's a natural defense mechanism.
Comparisons are so important to us that we are hyper-aware of differences. We magnify such differences and, as is well known, most of us overrate ourselves in comparison to others. But, underlying this biased self-perception is a nagging worry that we are not as great as we want to believe.
Being hyper-aware of differences is surprising. If we share 98% of our genes with chimpanzees, how different can we be from each other? Clearly, our perception of great differences is all in our minds, but our confidence can rest on seeing others as inferior.
Just as we neglect to celebrate our successes, we also compare ourselves with high achievers rather than those who have achieved less than us. This can be inspiring but, taken too far, we feel like failures. A useful counterbalance is to remind ourselves occasionally that many others are worse off then we are.
Ways to Improve Confidence
Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness in addition to the ability to relate well to the emotions of others. Thus a good first step is to be aware of how we undermine our own confidence. In this light, here are some steps we can take:
- Set realistic goals and timeframes to avoid constant frustration.
- Follow inspirational but realistic role models.
- Base our confidence on real strengths.
- Notice how much we share with others and give them credit for their achievements.
- Celebrate our own successes in a regular, disciplined fashion.
- Monitor our tendency to artificially inflate our confidence by putting others down.
- Recognize that the higher profile of failures or mistakes needn't cast our achievements in the shade.
Basing Confidence on Real Strengths
Unfortunately, we are often just as unaware of our strengths as we are of our achievements. We discount them for the same reason: because they are based on what we enjoy doing and find relatively easy to do. Accurately identifying our strengths and regularly reminding ourselves of them is essential to maintain confidence.
Another problem is our tendency to base our confidence on knowledge and competence alone, our ability to generate solutions and come up with answers. This is a function of being overly self-focused. Instead of seeing achievement as getting things done through others, we overly emphasize our own input.
An alternative is to base at least part of our confidence on facilitative skills, asking others what they think, thus drawing solutions out of them. The beauty of this approach is that the same questions can be asked regardless of the content. In such a complex, fast-changing world it is futile to base our confidence solely on our knowledge, which is so limited and so quickly outdated.
Celebrating our Successes
First, it is essential to note that a success doesn't have to be a major achievement. Even small progress towards a distant goal counts as a success. Too many everyday successes are overlooked or forgotten and never properly celebrated.
Second, celebrating a small success doesn't require a party or other reward. Merely recognizing that we are making progress and not just failing should be enough.
Why bother? Well, confidence is essential for success in anything. It is especially obvious in professional sports people, partly because their successes and failures are so visible and high profile.
A good first step is to add "success review" to the agenda for all meetings where progress is reviewed. Allow everyone to spend a few minutes listing achievements or successes since the last meeting. This will be hard at first because we are so programmed to take successes for granted and it may be hard to justify taking the time.
If you stick to this new agenda, you should see the following benefits in due course:
A more positive atmosphere will develop, a greater sense of making progress, replacing the failure, blame-oriented mentality.People will be more energized by a feeling of success instead of being in a state of dread that mistakes or failures are going to be highlighted.More successes will be discussed as the new agenda becomes accepted.People may do more in order to have more to talk about.Everyone's confidence should grow.
Everyone should keep a success diary, where small everyday successes are recorded as a reminder to discuss them at the next meeting. However, some may prefer to keep their success stories to themselves rather than mention them at meetings. Teaming up with a learning partner is a good alternative.
Because we don't like to brag about our successes, we can't just start telling someone about them. This is the advantage of regularly asking the all-important-question in meetings: "What went well since our last meeting?"
In conclusion, we can of course learn from our failures so it is not about denying them. The point is to give equal attention to our strengths and achievements rather than just focusing on our mistakes and setbacks.
The discipline of regularly recording our successes is essential, however, to get beyond good intentions if we genuinely want to develop a sustainable level of reasonable confidence.