The CEO of a marketing agency I met with last week asked me a really good question: “what do you attribute your highest achievements in life to?”
I had to think about the answer for a few seconds, then I said “self-confidence.” I explained to him how when I didn’t believe in myself I couldn’t accomplish much at all, but when I started believing in myself suddenly nothing seemed impossible.

How Self-Confidence Works

But self-confidence is a funny thing: when you believe you can do something, you’re more likely to succeed, which increases your self-confidence even more, which increases your chances of success even more, and so on. Self-confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it also works in reverse: when you don’t believe in yourself, you’re likely to fail, which decreases your self-confidence levels even more, which makes your next endeavor even more difficult.

The Solution

So what’s the solution? How can you start believing in yourself when things just aren’t going well? For one thing, you have to stop making a big deal out of failures. I fail several times every day. So do you and so does everyone else. We all win and lose multiple times every day. Your alarm clock doesn’t go off and you’re late to work; you lose. You do a great presentation for your boss; you win. You lose a sale you thought you were going to get; you lose. You go home and your daughter made you a cute drawing; you win. You need to stop making a big deal out of things that don’t work out the way you expected them to.
What do you do when you screw up, then? Don’t beat yourself up over it. Learn your lesson and you’ll do better next time. The key is to stop focusing on what you did wrong in the past and focus on how you’re going to do it better in the future. For example, if you send an email with the wrong attachment, from now on remember to double-check the attachment before sending important emails.
Beating yourself up over the mistakes you make is not only a waste of your time and energy, but it undermines your self-confidence. And without self-confidence, succeeding is twice as hard. This is easier said than done, I know. But with practice you’ll get really good at flushing negative emotions that are not useful to you. Ask yourself, “is this feeling helping me?” If the answer is “no,” get rid of it. Once again, the first time you try to do this it might be a little hard, but with practice you’ll get really good at it.
You can’t change the past, so spending time putting yourself down for something you’ve already done doesn’t make any sense. Just do a better job next time! Most of us have been trained to feel guilty when we screw up (think about those times when your parents punished you for something that you did), but now it’s your life and you make the calls. Not only do you deserve to live guilt-free, but by living guilt-free you will increase your self-confidence and your chances of kicking ass next time you’re faced with a similar situation.

The Words of a Wise (and Highly-Successful) Man

As Michael Jordan wisely said:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Even the best screw up. Learn your lesson, let it go and move on.