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Creating Confidence Leading up to Your Defense

Spring term is traditionally the season of defenses (whether it is a proposal defense or final dissertation defense). So, naturally, it is also the term when doctoral students tend to have the greatest crises of confidence.

But here’s something to think about: Confidence is nothing more than the belief that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. Confidence, then, comes from within – so you can create more at any time.

Being confident doesn’t mean you’re always completely sure of yourself. And creating confidence is not about knowing it all. It’s about trusting that no matter what happens, you’ll be able to handle it and learn from the process.

The good news is that there are a few simple things you can do to shift your confidence level at any point in time, no matter what’s going on around you.

One way to start feeling more confident is to change the way your body moves and the way you present yourself. Move your body with purpose; the way you move your body immediately affects how you feel and think. Stand tall. Square your shoulders and broaden your chest. Breathe deeply. When you walk around, maintain brisk, purposeful strides. Maintaining a posture like this makes you feel stronger and where your body goes, your mind follows.


If you’re defending your work this term, you may already be nervous about presenting. If you keep dwelling on how nervous you are and how you are afraid that you may flub your lines or stumble, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Change what you see when you imagine yourself presenting your research. Instead of agonizing over all the ways it could go wrong, imagine all the ways it could go right. Think about how you’re going to nail your defense and how pleased your committee will be to hear it. Because what you focus on becomes your reality.

If you’re keep imagining how you’re going to stammer your way through your defense or look like a fool, you probably will. Don’t create a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy! Think of yourself succeeding and work toward making that happen instead. You get what you focus on and visualizing success will lead to an increase in confidence. Focus instead on the praise and congratulations you’ll receive at the end of your defense. By changing the focus of your thoughts, you’re effectively changing your state of mind. This will allow you to build the confidence that you need during your defense.


Most people believe that you can only be confident in yourself after you’ve been successful. But being confident doesn’t mean you’ve never failed. Being confident means that if you fail, you can (and will) pick yourself up and try again. It’s the willingness to go on no matter what happens. That’s confidence.

And, by shifting how you present yourself physically and what you focus on mentally, you can create the confidence that will help propel you toward a successful proposal or dissertation defense.

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