Years ago as I made my way through a rapid succession of jobs I didn’t enjoy, it never occurred to me that working on my confidence could help my situation.

Back then I thought you were either a confident person or you weren’t, and I assumed I fell into the latter category.

I had no idea I could do something to change that.

Research has shown that while many people think of confidence as a trait like I once did, it’s actually more like a muscle that you can develop and strengthen over time.

That’s all very well but how do you actually do that?

I’ve worked on building my confidence for years and like anything, it’s a process, but I did discover some strategies that made a really big difference. Not surprisingly this has had a knock-on effect on my career and business, bringing many more opportunities my way.

1) Be willing to take imperfect action

Perfectionism will kill your confidence and I should know. There was a time when my perfectionist behaviour was so bad it could take me an hour to write an email let alone an article. I wish that my anxious procrastinating had at least created better results, but the opposite was usually true.

When I made a decision to start a new career, I realised I’d have to get over it or I would stay stuck in a holding pattern. So I started following through on my goals even if the end result was not perfect. I practiced acting quickly instead of taking forever to think things through. I figured that even if it wasn’t perfect, I would learn from the experience. Now if I get an idea that I want to run with, I don’t wait until it’s perfect, I just do it. I’m not pretending it’s easy to let go of old habits, but the more you do this, the more your confidence will grow. Taking action is empowering in itself, shifting you out of the procrastinating behaviour that keeps you stuck.

If you struggle with this make it into a challenge. Give yourself two minutes to write an email instead of fussing over it for 10, or make a commitment to start and finish a project within the next one to two weeks. It will feel uncomfortable at first but you’ll soon get into the swing of it.

2) Keep your promises

We all have stories playing on a loop in our heads about who we are and what we are capable of. Your inner mean girl can be one tough mother. A really effective way to silence that critic is to keep the commitments you make to yourself. Whether you want to make a change with your career or your health, you need to follow through on those promises. I know that when I don’t show up for myself it makes me feel pretty crappy. What can you do (and do quickly) to make sure you follow through on your promises? And remember a big part of goal-setting is being realistic and honest with yourself about what you can achieve.

3) Get happy

I used to think I would be happy when I finally had the career, the family, the house and the money that I wanted. Little did I know that it actually works the other way around! I wish I had understood this at a soul level years ago, but it’s true that you need to find a way to be happy now, even if you’re not exactly living the dream yet. When you feel happy with who you are and what you do, your confidence levels rise.

The things that make us happy are not always what we think (more money? not so much according to the research). Thanks to all the positive psychology research in recent years, we know that using your skills and knowledge to make a contribution to society has a big impact on your happiness levels not to mention your job satisfaction. So ask yourself: How can you best serve? What contribution do you want to make?

And in the short-term ask: What makes you happy now?

Do more of that.

4) Face your fears

I used to be terrified of public speaking. I still get nervous but at one point it was so bad I would struggle to introduce myself even to a small group. My heart would literally pound in my chest and I would rush through my speech or introduction as quickly as possible.

I knew I had to tackle this old fear head-on if I was going to start a business.  When I made the decision to face my fear something shifted. Shortly afterwards I was offered an opportunity to present workshops. It was scary at the start but the more I did it, the more opportunities to present came my way. I don’t think this was a coincidence!

Again, I had to let go of the need to do this ‘perfectly’ because the only way to improve my skills was to actually do it. Make a commitment to face your fears and watch out for the opportunities that come your way.

You don’t have to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ as the advice goes, that can actually be counterproductive. I recommend taking baby steps. If you have a fear of public speaking like me, start with small events and work your way up.

5) Remember it’s all just feedback

I really care what people think. It used to stop me in my tracks, because I worried that people would judge me if I took certain actions in my life or business. But of course worrying about what people think is paralysing and definitely not good for your confidence.

The answer I found is to unhook from both praise and criticism as much as you can (an idea Tara Mohr talks about in Playing Big). Remember that it’s all just feedback. You can choose to give it weight or disregard it. The trouble with relying on praise to feel good about your work is that it’s not always forthcoming, and you can’t let your work be guided by the whims of others. So train yourself to be selective about the feedback you take on board. When you learn to trust your own guidance regardless of what others say or think, your confidence will soar.

What do you do to build your confidence? Please share in the comments.