To Succeed, Undress the Part

Last Updated Sep 7, 2011 9:18 AM EDT

"Dress for success," sounds good, but sometimes you need to take the opposite approach.

We all have things that hold us back: Apprehension, uncertainty, lack of confidence, or simply a fear of looking stupid. The older and more "successful" we get, the more of those fears we tend to have. (When you were 25, karaoke was oddly exhilarating; as a 40-year-old CEO, there's no way you'll sing "Don't Stop Believing" to a crowd of strangers.)

How do you move past the fear? Get naked -- kind of. Here's how.

When I first started riding a bicycle to get in better shape I felt like a poser. The last thing I ever want to be is that guy: The guy who, say, decides to start playing tennis and buys expensive shoes and rackets and bags before he's even stepped on a court.

So I did wear a helmet -- multiple motorcycle wrecks have hammered home, literally, the value of a good helmet -- but I stuck to regular shorts, shoes, and pedal clips. The last thing I wanted to appear was "serious," especially since I could barely ride three or four hilly miles.

Over time I got fitter and started wearing bike shorts and using clipless pedals. But I still stayed away from full-on cycling gear and a nice bike because I still felt like a poser. (We all have our hangups, and poserphobia is definitely one of mine.) And I avoided a certain long, steep hill near our house because the road cuts through a massive student housing complex and I didn't want lots of people to see me huffing and puffing and struggling my way up.

With shirt (fortunately for all concerned)
(Stupid, I know. But how I often am.)

So one day my wife said, "You just need to get over yourself. You're fitter than most people now, and besides what does it matter if you aren't? Who cares what people think?"

"Well, for one me," I thought but didn't say. What I did say was, "You're right... but I'm not sure what to do about it."

"Try this," she said. "Go ride the hill 15 times..." which sounded reasonable until she added, "...without a shirt."

She knew I was worried about how I would look... so why not go all the way and look really, um, awful? While it wouldn't be fun, if I could manage to ride without a shirt, any riding situation from then on would be gravy.

Turns out it works, even if scores of coeds suffered significant mental scars from collateral self-improvement damage.

"Undressing" can work for you, too:

  • If you hate to sell, cold call 20 potential customers. Once you have, trying to close a customer who comes to you will be a lot easier -- and in the process you might actually sell a few of the people you call.
  • If you hesitate to speak in public, join Toastmasters. Or ask to make a presentation at a meeting. Once you have, speaking up in impromptu or informal settings will be a lot easier.
  • If you hate confrontation, talk to a peer or colleague about an issue that bothers or frustrates you. Or call a habitually late-paying customer. Or complain about a service issue. Don't wait until you're so frustrated you blow your top; be proactive and initiate the conversation. Once you have, you'll realize few confrontations are as scary as they seem ahead of time, and with practice you'll develop the skills needed to keep the conversation as professional as possible.
  • If you hesitate to give feedback, forget scheduled reviews and bring every employee in for an informal session. Talk about what they do well and where they could improve. When you're done, making minor corrections and off-the-cuff suggestions to improvement come more naturally -- both because you'll be better at it and because employees will no longer be surprised by the fact you're more involved.
Think of it this way: When the water feels really cold and you slowly ease in, every subsequent inch you go under is a fresh and horrible jolt of cold. Jump in and the water is really cold... but you quickly get used to it.

Take a look at the situations or tasks that make you apprehensive or anxious. Then undress for success.

In a manner of speaking, of course.

Related:

Thumbnail courtesy flickr user ontwerpplus, CC 2.0
  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

    >> View all articles

    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.