Self-confidence is one of the most helpful qualities you can demonstrate in life, in business, and as an applicant to a management consulting firm. Yet by and large, aspiring consultants don’t work on their self-confidence in the same way they work on other dimensions of applicant competitiveness. This is a shame, because there are resources available for improving self-confidence like there are for improving your GMAT score or nailing your case interview. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to give yourself the advantage of self-confidence. Let’s get going.
Before we can go any farther, we need to establish what we refer to when we use the word “confidence.” Related to self-esteem, the definition of self-confidence is to trust in one’s capabilities, judgments, and performance. There are competing ideas about whether & how self-confidence can be taught. We’re on the side that believes it can!
The Effect of Self Confidence On Your Work
While taking classes on self-confidence is not (yet) a required component of an MBA education, more people are emphasizing self-esteem as an important part of human development.
It’s not merely for the sake of warm feelings that so many parents and educators now emphasize self-confidence. The benefits of having self-confidence include improved performance and increased productivity. Self-confidence can help you connect with your deeper intuitions. This keeps you from second-guessing & self-sabotaging yourself, and it also unlocks creativity. Self-confidence can also help you maintain presence even amid stressful circumstances. When you trust yourself to perform well, you don’t crumble under pressure – instead, you maintain awareness and adapt.
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How to Build Confidence
If you have suffered from a lack of self-confidence or self-esteem, then you’re probably wondering how to build confidence. It might seem that self-confidence is innate, like height or eye color. But there are many steps you can take if you’re wondering how to gain confidence. The most effective way to build self-confidence isn’t to change your “self” or your life situation – it’s to practice the habits of a confident person.
One of the most powerful things you can do is to accept that it’s okay for confidence to begin as a performance. We assume the order of operations goes:
- Be perfect
- Know that you’re perfect
- Act perfect and act like you know that you’re perfect.
Really, it’s more effective to focus on #3 and work backward to #1. For example, research has shown that mimicking the posture of confident and assertive people actually improves confidence and performance.
Lots of people swear by other strategies for building confidence. For example, many people focus on setting goals and repeating regular affirmations. This involves visualizing a desired outcome before it happens. Of course, visualizing hypothetical outcomes really involves playing on Expert Level, since most lack of confidence really is a consequence of compulsively visualizing undesirable outcomes.
Really, learning to practice presence is key if you want to learn how to be more confident. Being present is the way to actually adapt skillfully and harmoniously to whatever is happening, instead of reacting to a situation by acting out a script you learned in the past. It also means moving on when the situation changes, instead of getting caught up on past mistakes or anxieties.
Practicing presence means learning that you don’t have to identify with or believe in every thought that passes through your head, especially thoughts about the past and the future. Presence means identifying, instead, with the awareness of the current moment. There are many “portals” you can follow into the present moment. You can focus on your breathing, or on physical sensations, on the electric energy flowing through your body at all times.
Books on Confidence
As with GMAT prep and virtually every other corner of the professional landscape, there is an entire book genre devoted to improving low self-confidence. The most effective book/s for you will have a lot to do with your specific needs, tastes, and more. Here we will recommend two exemplary books that have been helpful for a wide variety of people. The first is the consensus industry standard on the whole psychological inquiry into self, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field, by Nathaniel Branden. This book collects Branden’s lifetime of clinical work and research on the subject.
The other book we will recommend is The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. We understand many people have a knee jerk aversion to anything that smells like “self-help,” but Brown brings deep and inimitable insight into the human condition, and her work has transformed the lives of millions of people. If you’ve struggled with self-(un)acceptance or other limiting beliefs, we strongly recommend checking out Brown’s work.
The Role of Confidence in a Case Interview
Aspiring consultants know there are few specific trials with more nerve-wracking potential than the case interview. Not only does the case interview represent the final trial in a quest to get hired as a management consultant, but it also involves performing difficult tasks in a public situation. If you’re not confident and present, it can be easy to get diverted into an anxious thought loop in the middle of a task and totally lose your line of thinking in the case scenario. Self-confidence will help relieve your mind of the burden of self-evaluation as you are trying to nail the case.
Of course, no major degree-granting institutions officially incorporate self-confidence into their business curricula. But a time may come when such a notion doesn’t seem so ludicrous. The discipline and discourse of self-esteem has pervaded nearly every other part of the academic and public life, and for good reason. A healthy amount of self-confidence helps improve performance and morale. It’s only a matter of time before teaching MBAs to embody self-confidence is as natural a part of any B-school curriculum as elementary stats or the first-mover advantage.
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