“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the face.”
“Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Confidence is courage at ease.”
I believe that one of the most common wishes is simply to feel more confident in various situations in life.
Confident friends may say: “Well, just be confident, man!”. However, to a person that doesn't feel that confident this piece of advice may not be very helpful. At all.
There are however some time-tested and timeless advice. And in this article I'll explore some of those tips. You can learn much more about becoming more sure of yourself and building your inner strength and assertiveness in my 12-week Self-Esteem Course.
Now, I hope you will find something useful in this article to help you improve and maintain your own levels of confidence.
1. Take action. Get it done.
“Having once decided to achieve a certain task, achieve it at all costs of tedium and distaste. The gain in self-confidence of having accomplished a tiresome labor is immense.”
Thomas A. Bennett
“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.”
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
The most important step in building self confidence is simply to take action. Working on something and getting it done. Sitting at home and thinking about it will just make you feel worse (and lazy).
Simple. But not always easy to do. To make it a bit easier, here are a three of my favorite ways to make it easier to take action:
- Be present. This will help you to stop overthinking and just go and do whatever you want to get done. This is probably the best tip I have found so far for taking more action since it puts you in a state where you feel little emotional resistance to the work you'll do. And it puts you in state where the right actions often just seem to flow out of you in a focused but relaxed way and without much effort. One of the simplest ways to connect with the present moment is just to keep your focus on your breathing for a minute or two.
- Lighten up. One way to dissuade yourself from taking action is to take whatever you are about to do too seriously. That makes it feel too big, too difficult and too scary. If you on the other hand relax a bit and lighten up you often realize that those problems and negative feelings are just something you are creating in your own mind. With a lighter state of mind your tasks seems lighter and become easier to get started with. Have a look at Lighten Up! for more on this.
- Really, really want it. Then taking action isn't something you have to force. Taking action becomes a very natural thing. It's something you can't wait to do.
2. Face your fear.
“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear.”
William Jennings Bryan
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Look, I could tell you to do affirmations or other exercises for months in front of your mirror. It may have a positive effect. Just like preparing yourself it may help you to take action with more confidence.
But to be frank, if you don't listen to the quotes above and face your fears you won't experience any better self confidence on a deeper and more fundamental level. Having experiences where you face your fear is what really builds self confidence. There is no way around it.
However, there are ways to face your fears that do not include that much shaking of the knees. There are ways to make it easier for yourself.
- Be curious. When you are stuck in fear you are closed up. You tend to create division in your world and mind. You create barriers between you and other things/people. When you shift to being curious your perceptions go SWOOSH! and the world just opens up. Curiosity is filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. It opens you up. And when you are open and positive then you have more fun things to think about than focusing on your fear. How do you become more curious? One way is to remember how life has become more fun in the past thanks to your curiosity and to remember all the cool things it helped you to discover and experience.
- Realize that fear is often based on unhelpful interpretation. As humans we like to look for patterns. The problem is just that we often find negative and not so helpful patterns in our lives based on just one or two experiences. Or by misjudging situations. Or through some silly miscommunication. When you get too identified with your thoughts you'll believe anything they tell you. A more helpful practice may be to not take your thoughts too seriously. A lot of the time they and your memory are pretty inaccurate.
3. Understand in what order things happen.
One of my favorite snippets of movie-dialogue is this one from the 1999 film “Three Kings”.
In this scene Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) wants the small team to save a fellow soldier and steal Saddam's gold just after the first Gulf War has ended.
The young soldier Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze) has his doubts about the plan:
Archie Gates: You're scared, right?
Conrad Vig: Maybe.
Archie Gates: The way it works is, you do the thing you're scared shitless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it.
Conrad Vig: That's a dumbass way to work. It should be the other way around.
Archie Gates: I know. That's the way it works.
Great movie. Great little piece of dialogue. Even though it may not be what people want to hear.
The thing is, when you do things you don't just build confidence in your ability to handle different situations. You also experience progressive desensitization.
What that means is that situations – like for example public speaking or maybe just showing your latest blogpost to an audience out there – that made you feel all shaky become more and more normal in your life. It is not longer something you psyche yourself up to do. It just becomes normal. Like tying your shoes, hanging out with your friends or taking a shower
It may seem scary now. But after having done whatever you fear a few to a dozen times or so you may think: “Is that it?”. You almost feel disappointed of how anticlimactic it has become. You may even get a bit angry with yourself and wonder why you avoided doing it for so long.
“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self- confidence is preparation.”
When you know nothing of what you are about to do it's very easy to get lost in vague, foggy fear and worries and start building big horror scenarios in your mind of what may happen if you give it a try.
Preparing yourself and educating yourself can be a big help here. By for example rehearsing and rewriting your speech over and over you can pretty much learn it by heart. By doing research you can find breathing techniques that can quickly make your calmer and present. Or simple visualization techniques that make you feel more confident and positive as you step out on the stage.
This is obviously more work than not doing anything about the speech at all before you start giving it. But it can make a huge difference in your confidence levels if you take the time to prepare yourself. And of course, the speech and the delivery of it will most likely be a lot better too.
So prepare and you will feel more comfortable and confident. Just don't make the mistake of getting stuck in the preparation phase and using it as a way to avoid taking action and the possible pain that it may result in.
5. Realize that failure or being wrong will not kill you.
“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.”
Peter T. Mcintyre
“I quit being afraid when my first venture failed and the sky didn't fall down.”
Allen H. Neuharth
Again, you have to face your fear. Because it is only then that you discover the thing that billions of people throughout history have discovered before you. Failure won't kill you. Nor will being wrong. The sky will not fall down. That's just what people that haven't faced their fear yet think.
The thing is to reframe failure from being something that makes your legs shake to something useful and important for the growth of your self confidence and self-esteem and your overall growth as a human being. Here are four ways that failure can help you out:
- You learn. Instead of seeing failure as something horrible you can start to view it more as a learning experience. When standing in the middle of a failure, you can ask yourself questions like: What's awesome about this situation? What can I learn from this situation?
- You gain experiences you could not get any other way. Ideally, you probably want to learn from other people's mistakes and failures. That's not always easy to do though. Sometimes you just have to fail on your own to learn a lesson and to gain an experience no one can relate to you in mere words.
- You become stronger. Every time you fail you become more accustomed to it. You realize more and more that it's not the end of the world. And, again, you get desensitized. You can handle things that would have been very hard to handle a few years back. Failing can also a have an exhilarating component because even though you failed you at least took a chance. You didn't just sit on you hands doing nothing. And that took quite a bit of courage and determination.
- Your chances of succeeding increases. Every time you fail you can learn and increase your inner strength. So every failure can make you more and more likely to succeed.
And remember, the world doesn't revolve around you. You may like to think so. But it doesn't. People really don't care that much about what you do. They have their own life, problems and worries that the world revolves around them to focus on. They don't think that much about you or are constantly monitoring what you do wrong or when you fail.
Maybe a disappointing thought. But a liberating and relieving one too because now you can let go of that worry that everyone is watching you.
6. Get to know who you are and what you want out of life.
“The world has the habit of making room for the man whose words and actions show that he knows where he is going.”
“Don't listen to anyone who tells you that you can't do this or that. That's nonsense. Make up your mind, you'll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”
To build and find more confidence in yourself you have to get to know yourself better. Go exploring. Face some of your fears. Fail over and over and understand that it isn't really that big of a deal. Grow stronger through such experiences and also become more internally relaxed. Figure out what really excites you by simply trying a whole bunch of stuff out.
When you know more about who you are and what you want out of life – not other people say you want – you will have more confidence in yourself and what you can do.
What other people say or think will have less of an impact than it used to because you know who you are better than they do. And since you have had all these experiences, since you have taken time to really get to know yourself and stretch yourself you will trust your own opinion and ability more than anything outside of you. You become stable and centered in yourself.
This will of course take time. It may be something that never really ends. So you might as well get started now.