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.
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. BennettDale Carnegie
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. Simple. But not always easy to do. To make it a bit easier, here are a three of my favourite ways to make it easer to take action:
Be present. This will help you snap out of over thinking 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.
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 enthusiastic 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 practise may be to not take your thoughts too seriously. A lot of the time they and your memory are pretty inaccurate.
Understand in what order things happen
One of my favourite 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.