BUILDING CONFIDENCE – LESSONS FROM THE ARMY!

It all began…..

Many years ago, I sort of stumbled into the National Defence Academy, little realizing then, that my journey on the path of leadership, confidence and team dynamics was starting here! Now, looking back over a journey of 30 years plus, I feel that the lessons I learnt must be shared for the benefit of all those who wish to follow.

Confidence is key to success!

In this post, I share 4 essential secrets of leadership and confidence that I have distilled from over 30 years of diverse experiences with the Army, as part of corporates, in my avatar as a pilot and finally as a Marshall Goldsmith certified executive and leadership coach. The learnings are simple to state, easy to follow and will yield exponential dividends. All you need to make this work is to TRUST yourself!

SECRET # 1 – CONQUER YOUR FEAR!

Keep doing what you are afraid of – soon it will become routine!

Yes, I know it is easier said than done – confidence is not available in any marketplace or online yet. You have to work on it – the key word here is YOU. In the final analysis – you and only you matter. Yet, you will need to do it. How? It’s simple really. Start with anything – any small thing that you have either procrastinated over or have avoided doing for one reason or the other. As Nike says – just do it! As you succeed with small victories, keep upping your game and soon you will be in the big league! It’s not too difficult – it just seems so at the beginning.

Confidence Hack #1 – This is a wonderful hack – think of yourself as having achieved the success that you desire. Picture yourself with the prize, the result that you wish for. All fears need to be first sorted out in the mind. After all, the fear was created in the mind first, isn’t it?

Confidence Hack #2  – Read up on others who had similar challenges and surged ahead, by just focusing on small victories. Small battles won will lead to a successful war.

Confidence Hack #3 – Maintain a journal. Keep adding up the daily victories.  You will find your mindset evolving positively. Believe me, a journal is a wonderful tool for growth.

Confidence Hack #4 – Don’t be harsh on yourself. After all, if you don’t think good about yourself, how can you expect others to do so? In your own mind, be a winner, a success seeker and a person who doesn’t quit.

SECRET # 2 – USE YOUR FEAR!

When I get scared– I start planning like crazy. (and this is the way we soldiers are taught to work – when the stakes are high and success critical – we plan, we plan in detail and execute to the minutest detail) So here’s the thing! Make a list of all the ‘what if’s’ that are swirling in your mind. Then start planning as to how you are going to solve each particular ‘what if’.

Planning reduces fear to manageable levels! (Image courtesy www.distel.com)

An example:

Challenge: I have to wake up at 4 AM, to catch my flight.

Fear: WHAT IF – I don’t wake up in time?

Action: SET ALARM

Fear: WHAT IF – the alarm doesn’t work?

Action: Use multiple alarms.

Fear: WHAT IF – The alarm sound is not loud?

Action: Test the sounds.

Fear: WHAT IF – I don’t wake up from the alarms?

Action: Have your friend give you a call.

Fear: WHAT IF – my friend doesn’t call?

Action: Plan to Have 2 or 3 friends call.

Conclusion: Hmm…..seems we have a plan. You can apply this process to almost anything. When you do so, you will find that your fears gradually reduce to manageable levels. That’s the key to success.

SECRET # 3 – CREATE CLARITY!

Seek clarity at each step. Clarity leads to simplicity which reduces fears!

Being clear about what is required to be done to achieve what you desire is one of the stepping stones for success. Break down the requirement into small parts that are easily do – able. The entire analogy of apprehension towards catching an early morning flight can easily be managed if broken down into smaller easily executable components. Instead of “Oh God – I have an early morning flight – need to pack, store stuff, set alarms, Oh shoot, I’m confused, I don’t know what to do, how will I get a cab, is ola running, I think I am having a nervous breakdown” the process can be iterated in the form of a to do list with timings:

Get clothes from the laundry –By 5 PM

Make an early dinner – By 7 PM

Email my boss, tie up for the meeting I am flying out to attend – By 7:30 PM

Pack (refer separate list of items to be packed) – By 8 PM

Book cab – By 9 PM

Unplug all appliances – By 11 PM

Set alarms – By 1115 PM

Lock all rooms except the drawing room – By 1130 PM

And so on…….

(Initially this list could be in a random sequence. Once you attach time and/or priority, the list becomes clearer, easier to understand and even more easy to implement). Phew! The list surely worked wonders. Its easy to prioritise when you have a list. When the list is prioritised, it becomes very easy to execute it – one step at a time!

SECRET # 4 – MAKE DECISIONS!

Decision making is important. Right or wrong – make a decision ASAP. Consider this, lets say you have 4 hours to do something and there are say 2 different ways of doing it. If you spend 2 hours trying to make up your mind about which method to use, you will be forced to rush up and complete the work in just 2 hours.  Instead, take 30-45 minutes to decide on a method and start. IF by chance you meet with obstacles, you will have time to quickly retrace your steps and use the other method. You will also have sufficient time to do so.

On the lighter side, allow me to share a few incidents from my military career, which highlight these methodologies.

CONQUER YOUR FEAR!

This is the easy one. Whatever we were scared of, the Army got us to do exactly that. Scared of swimming? No problems – you just got pushed off into the deep end of the pool and you lashed out desperately, with arms and legs flailing and half drowned as you paddled like a desperate puppy to the other end (yes – they did not let us take the short path, you merely got an assistive push away from the nearest wall). See, easy peasy – you now know how to swim and also jump off into the unknown!

Okay – you are scared of heights – not an issue at all – start with the 10 metre board and jump off (or get violently pushed off). Scared? Okay, stand there till you jump off, either out of desperation or fear or anything – as long as you follow Newton’s Law for the National Defence Academy (What goes up a 10 metre board must come down directly into the pool). Scared of running cross country – no worries, start with 4 km, then 7 km then 12 km, we can add some hills and mountains too (to make it interesting)……..believe me, the Army has things sorted.

USE YOUR FEAR!

Yes, I was scared of heights. But I was even more scared of being taken to the 10 metre board and getting pushed off into the thin air till I slammed into the tiny pool below. So what did I do? I started with the 1 metre board, then the 3 metre and then the 5 and the 7, till I felt okay to tackle the 10 metre jump. I used my fear (the bigger fear to help me overcome the smaller fears (the 1,3,5,7 metres). LEVERAGE YOUR FEARS TO MAKE PROGRESS!

MAKE DECISIONS!

Make decisions – communicate these and clarity will emerge!

I knew I had to pass the 10 metre jump within 3 months or lose 6 months. So I started overcoming my fears immediately in a graduated manner. When the rewards (or consequences) are given a context, the process of decision making becomes coherent and easy to structure. FIND PURPOSE – OR ELSE IT WILL FIND YOU!

CONCLUSION

It’s okay to be scared. We all are scared at various times. That’s how life is. Just use the 4 simple secrets that I have shared. All my life and especially in the Army, I have always had to tread unknown waters. From laying ambushes in the dense jungles of our country, to leading patrols through minefields, hunting down terrorists, flying helicopters into battle in the icy peaks of Kargil and then to laying minefields in Operation Parakaram (and subsequently recovering these minefields after over a year), these 4 secrets have been instrumental in not only keeping me alive but in ensuring that I was able to execute tasks systematically, overcome my fears and most importantly , LEAD my men into battle and stand out as a LEADER! I did it – SO CAN YOU!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Sharabh Pachory

    Important and simple lessons. Well brought out Ajay!
    Should benefit a lot of people, particularly youngsters.

    1. Thank you so much Sir. Your words are inspirational and encouraging. Will keep looking forward to your guidance and would also request you to share interesting anecdotes that may be of value to the youth of today.

  2. Anupam

    The lessons learnt in the army are universal on concept and application which gaa e been very succinctly brought out here.

  3. Kaypius

    Well said, Ajay. Amazing what an exercise like 10m jump can teach you, isn’t it? When standing at a scary precipice, don’t look down; look ahead 🙂
    Keep ’em coming. Corporate corner offices & boardrooms can be killing fields too. One must learn to face fears & hold the nerve.
    Best wishes, Kaypius

    1. Thank you Kaypius. Coming from you, its inspiring. Your yeoman services to the field of Aviation and your wonderful blog is something that I deeply admire. Your encouraging words here are treasured. For all aviators, I strongly recommend visiting https://kaypius.com

  4. Anand Balraj

    Nicely written, can be applied by anyone in any situation. Keep them coming Ajay. Well done

  5. Ram Ithikkat

    While there is no substitute for serving in the military and learning these lessons, you will do well to follow a life coach like Colonel Ajay. The secrets to confront and contain fear, and decide towards “Building Confidence” are illustrated vividly, while the real examples from his rich and varied life make them easy to understand and follow.
    I am sure there are so many others like me who eagerly await what more he has to reveal.

    1. Thank you so much Ram. I look forward to tapping your amazing experiences in aviation, during your Air Force days. I am sure you can share volumes of edge of the seat experiences that would keep us all riveted. Would love to take you up on my podcast. Thank you for your truly encouraging comments and endorsement. I hope that I continue to live up to your expectations.

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