You have this picture of who you could be in your mind — your ideal self.
You’re irrationally self-confident, powerful, and productive.
You crush any goal in your path. You’re entirely comfortable in your skin no matter where you go. Everyone else recognizes your genius and you get the credit you deserve from the world.
But then reality smacks you in the face. You realize that you’re not that person. You find yourself in situations that force you to face that — mainly, you don’t go after the things you know you want in your life because you’re scared.
The incongruence between you believe you could be and who you actually are is enough to drive you insane. Everything always seems too damn easy in your daydreams. It feels so real and palpable, yet you fall short when it comes to being this person in the real world.
The question is — can you build true confidence? Not just confidence that ebbs and flows, but a core level of confidence that becomes a part of who you are and operates at a second nature level?
Can you do these even if you suffer from debilitating self-doubt, have a poor self-image, and have nothing but negative reference experiences of how much you suck?
I mean, sure, but that’s much easier said than done, right? It’s so hard that most people never do it. Hell, I used a bit of a clickbait headline to get you to read this post. Can you develop permanent and constant confidence in every area of your life? I don’t know. But you can develop a belief in yourself that’s very, very, very strong — a belief based on proof, not just theory.
Let’s talk about it.
Some people will tell you that it’s society’s fault that you don’t feel so awesome about yourself. That’s only partially true. The whole truth? No amount of pretending to love yourself is going to help you actually love yourself.
Affirmations, self-care routines, positive thinking and the like have their place in the world, but they’re ancillary to the only true path to confidence.
You have to give yourself a reason to love yourself.
Well, you don’t have to, but in my experience conjuring up these feelings from thin air is really hard. Why? Because when you try to conjure up these feelings from thin air your subconscious mind digs into your memory and whispers:
Nah, you’re full of s***. Look at all these times you tried and failed
You don’t have enough “reference experiences” of you being successful to truly feel like a success. That’s the hard part — bridging that gap between not having the experience and mustering up that tiny amount of courage to get the flywheel going.
But that’s how you do it. By building habits and behaviors that increase your competence over a long period of time.
Super sexy, right?
In a sense, the idea of “think it and you achieve it” is true. There is power in positive thinking, especially in the beginning, because you’re just going to have to lie to yourself a bit and pretend like you have the confidence to get any momentum going. But to make the confidence stick, you’ll need to develop evidence to back it up.
When you build more evidence, you create an upward spiral. If I could burn one sentence in your brain it’s this — you never remain at stasis, either you’re building momentum or further succumbing to inertia.
We’ve all had those moments where we’ve hit a streak of good luck or demonstrated skill in some area for a long enough period of time. You get momentum.
Notice how your confidence is context dependant — the nerd who can’t socialize feels no fear over his ability to play video games. In fact, he’s quite the macho man with the headset on.
Why? Because when you’re in your zone and element built on competence, confidence comes naturally.
The trick is getting this to occur in the areas that don’t come easy to you, but you’re desperate to get good at.
Think of an area you want to increase your confidence in. Let’s say you’re socially awkward and lack confidence talking in front of or to other people.
Find the teeniest tiniest little step you can take that sends a signal to your brain saying “you’re good at talking to people!” This could be finding the most non-threatening person possible in public — like a 106-year-old woman — and asking them something simple like “What’s the time?”
Your next step could be trying to have 1 minute of small talk with someone in line at the gas station. Next, you could attend a local speech club and just watch. Then, next time you introduce yourself, the next time you speak, etc.
I’m in three different toastmasters clubs and it’s amazing watching people gradually get unstifled themselves gain confidence by simple exposure therapy. You just can’t be as afraid of giving a speech after you do it 27 times. Impossible. And I’ve seen people go from visibly shaking on stage to delivering a speech with confidence.
You’re always trying to invest in your “credibility bank account.” You operate on a feedback loop — both positive and negative — each action you take tells you you’re either moving forward or backward. Make more deposits into the credibility account and you’ll start to feel better about yourself.
None of this is easy, or fair, or right. It just is. I can’t convince you to love yourself. No one can. Only you can. And changing your behavior is the best route.
The Key to Getting Started With All of This
You know why it’s so hard to change? Why it’s so hard to develop confidence in certain areas? Why we find ourselves getting swallowed by our own insecurities?
The answer is simple — we find it hard to admit we have a problem in the first place.
You build up a self-image to cope with the reality of your life. Those daydreams of being your ideal self are enough to shield and protect you from the reality that you’re not. The key to breaking the cycle is to put yourself in situations that crash with and even destroy your ego. It can be as tough and painful as it sounds. You have to decide whether or not it’s worth going through.
Who wants to admit to themselves that they have irrationally low confidence?
Who wants to own up to being lazy?
Who genuinely wants to take a look at their actions and see that they’re responsible for their fuckups?
This doesn’t feel good.
Rationalizing doesn’t feel great either, but at least it gives us an out. And this is exactly what the institutions, media, and society as a whole want.
Marketers don’t hate the fact that you blame them for creating unrealistic standards. They want you to think that because their marketing wouldn’t work so well if we all believed that we were the ones responsible for our own lives.
If you make them the disease — by giving your self-esteem away to an outside entity — you also make them the cure because you’re admitting they have control over you.
It’s better for the societal machine if we all go about our days thinking that our self-doubts are a reflection of our circumstances instead of a reflection of the way we see our own behavior. If you think about it deeply, this misguided form of self-doubt keeps the world spinning.
While everyone else spins and spins, get out of the cycle and realize that your self-doubts are, in fact, a signal that you need to change something about your behavior.
When you actually admit to yourself, “Yeah I kinda suck at this and I need to get better,” you’ve taken the first step. That realization that the power is within you to change the way you see yourself gives you the fuel you need to follow through.
To change, don’t feel bad about feeling bad about yourself. It’s normal. Once you accept how normal it is, that burden gets lifted off of you and you can begin anew.
General Recommendations for Self-Confidence
You’re a unique individual with unique circumstances, so the exact recipe for turning your life around is a mystery to me.
Some themes that have been true and consistent over a long enough span of human history for me to make some educated guesses, though.
A) Get healthier
I won’t beat this horse to death. It doesn’t matter how you do it. No specific recommendations here. But if your body doesn’t feel good it’s hard for you to feel good.
And the process of getting healthier is (obviously) no easy feat, but it’s so worthwhile that repeating it 37459684032406 times is okay.
In the picture on the left, I was fresh off of my separation with my ex-wife. 50 pounds heavier.
My confidence was at an all- time low. Not only had I let my relationship devolve, but I let my health spiral downward as well.
So what did I do? Say affirmations? Nope. I got in better shape. Did it help my confidence just a tad? Uhh…yeah.
From the superficial reasons why getting in shape makes you more confident to the true scientific and physiological ones like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, etc— focusing on your health is bound to move the needle. Almost impossible for it not to.
B) Find a hobby or side gig outside of your 9 to 5
I don’t know what it is. There’s just something about working on your “evil plan” that makes you feel really good about yourself. Making things makes you feel better.
When you have this little evil project you’re working on, you embody this quote from one of my favorite authors Robert Greene:
“Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually.”
You begin to create that “I’m going places” vibe. Keep stacking those little habits on top of one another — fitness, business, self-improvement, getting out of the house, and all of a sudden you’re well rounded and confident.
A core, almost permanent confidence, will develop after you have so many well-oiled machines operating at once. Following through on a mission is quite a deep level of core confidence to build, which is why I urge people to do it.
Having some little hobby or business to call your own gives you a sense of agency and purpose that’s hard to build elsewhere. I’ve gone over this process several times, but it’s important nonetheless.
C) Double-Down on Your Strengths and MitigateYour Weaknesses
I used to think doubling-down on your strengths was the only thing you needed to do. But, working on your weaknesses is important too.
Don’t get pigeonholed into identities just because they help you stay in your shell. You’re a natural introvert? That’s no excuse to stay at home and build on social skills. You’re not extremely organized? That doesn’t mean you can’t develop habits and routines to stay organized.
As my colleague Benjamin Hardy, PhD titled his new book — your “personality isn’t permanent.”
I haven’t read the book because it isn’t out yet, but I already agree with the premise. Do you have natural predilections, talents, and strengths, yes? But that doesn’t mean become a fatalist.
Outside of things like becoming a professional athlete, almost all skills and traits can be learned. It’ll just take you longer to learn certain skills and traits than it might for others. Oh well, what are you going to do about it
The Bottom Line
Lately, my work has been focusing on the difference between what’s true and what we want to believe.
I don’t always get it right — and I’m always willing to revise my option — but for now, the path to a permanently confident ‘you’ seems to involve taking responsibility for yourself no matter what.
Even if your lack of confidence isn’t all your fault, you can’t wait on someone or something else to fix it for you because that will never happen.
It’s on you, but fortunately, you’re much more capable than you know.
Like, way more.
The good news? Confidence is all in your mind.
The bad news? Confidence is all in your mind.
The psychological world runs much deeper than the material world. In many ways, it dictates the material world.
Your life is mostly a self-fulfilling prophecy based on your reactions to the experiences you’ve had in your life.
Someone else can have the exact same experience as you but interpret it and react to it in an entirely different way.
That statement alone contradicts any narrative in your head that your life has to be the way it is right now. It doesn’t.
Can you change your life? Yes.
Will you? I don’t know. You tell me.
What I will tell you is this. You can reach a level of confidence so high that it doesn’t go away. You’ll no longer have to worry or think about it anymore.
Keep stacking those infinity stones until you can have whatever you want at the snap of a finger — *symbol and drum noise*
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