What is confidence? It’s a feeling. Or perhaps it’s the sense that something is what it says it is. The dictionary says confidence is: 1. Full trust or belief in the powers, trustworthiness or reliability of a person; 2. Belief in oneself and one’s own powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance.

Notice that the first definition is about our confidence in others, while the second is about one’s confidence in one’s own abilities. This column is dedicated to the second — that sometimes elusive, but always attractive quality known as self-confidence. But before we go there consider my headline about “con game.” I’m playing with words today. We’ve all heard of a “con man.” That’s a shortened version of “confidence man,” a derogatory term describing a trickster who gains the confidence of gullible people in order to take advantage of them. So in that sense, a “con game” is a pretty nasty trick perpetrated by the con man.

I invite you to play a different, much more positive “confidence game.” This game relies on a combination of optimism and positive reinforcement. Here’s how it works:

1. Identify a personal skill or attribute that you feel good about. Make sure it’s something that will positively influence your career now and in the future.
2. Notice how you’re using this skill now and build on that. Find more visible ways to apply it, for example, or figure out how to grow the skill to the next level. As you challenge yourself, repeat to yourself “I can DO this!” The brain recognizes and records positive self-talk when optimism turns into action. (Think “The Little Engine that Could.”)
3. Request positive reinforcement from others in your circle that it’s working. Tell a trusted colleague what you’re trying to do and ask them to notice when they see/hear you making progress. Remember, specific feedback in the moment is best. Take the feedback in and keep practicing so you can cement that new behavior.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until your self-confidence becomes the real thing.

In our Confidence Game, we also hope to influence the beliefs of others. But this game is a virtuous circle: As your belief in your own abilities grows, others will notice subtle changes in your behavior and they will begin to believe. For instance, perhaps you stand a bit taller. Perhaps your voice projects a bit more strongly. Perhaps your word choices are more powerful and you skip minimizers and modifiers like maybe, hopefully, sort of, and kind of.
Regardless of how your confidence shows up, it will inform others and drive their full trust in your abilities.

Try it. In our Con Game, everyone is a winner!