There are a million different resources and pieces advice out there from “experts” on how to build confidence, particularly self-confidence. A vulnerable and anxious population consumes this guidance like they are starving for it… probably because they are. The dream of being able to overcome all fear and self-imposed limits by simply reading some advice is a very tempting dish indeed.
After lifetimes of being subject to images and ideals that they cannot possibly live up to, people start to feel like they are “less than”. This fear of being a substandard human being drives some of us to seek guidance, bringing us into contact with the murky, over-crowded world of self-help products and services.
Look, some of the stuff out there is good – I know, I’ve tried most of it. But some of it is very misguided and, frankly, delusional. People who lack self-confidence themselves can take a basic, theoretical knowledge of psychological research and use it to excrete volumes of garbage about how to build self-esteem and confidence. They then charge copious amounts of money for this drivel, which usually makes you feel great temporarily but does absolutely nothing to change your long term situation.
I’m not going to pretend I know it all. But what I do have to offer is that I have completed the full journey, from shy, “nice” and trying to please everyone, all the way through to where I am now. And where is that? What does being confident mean to me? It means that these things now occur in my life where they didn’t before:
- I regularly seek out opportunities to push boundaries and expand my comfort zone, running towards fear rather than away from it
- I can go into a situation full of anxiety and yet quickly push through that to enable me to feel competent and at ease
- I feel comfortable being honest in all situations. Rather than hide my views I express them, calmly and diplomatically where required, but also without compromise
- I place my needs above everything else. I am selfish about developing my life and inner-self because I know that ultimately the people in my life will benefit from me being a better person
- Most importantly from my point of view, I can’t remember the last time I felt jealousy or envy, and it’s been many, many years since I entertained the idea of wanting to be anyone else
So how did I get to this from being a “nice” guy that did all I could to avoid confrontation and anxiety-provoking situations? Well, it wasn’t easy! But in order to help others out there who are similar to me and serious about developing true, unbreakable inner confidence, I have taken some time to break down the steps I took to achieve this. See the secret is really no secret at all – it’s about constantly taking action in a way that pushes your comfort zone further out until you learn how to make any situation feel like it’s in your comfort zone.
Let’s have a look at the different things I have done that I believe contributed most to being as confident as I am today. I’m not saying these will work for you, but I am confident that you will improve your life in some way by trying these things, if nothing else.
1. Identifying your ultimate dream lifestyle
Something that is a real confidence drainer is not knowing where you’re going in life. The great thing is you don’t even need to be sure about it; you just need to have a direction to travel in. Try taking 30 minutes to write down a descriptive paragraph or two about what your life would look like if you could wave a magic wand and choose anything. I’ve found with my clients that answering these three questions in detail is a great structure to use:
1) What will you have / what will you be doing?
2) How would other people describe you?
3) What will you think about yourself?
Writing down the detailed answers to these questions, using as much emotive and descriptive language as possible, is a good starting point. Once you’ve done this make sure you re-read it regularly (at least twice per week) to remind yourself constantly about why it is you are getting out of bed. This will increase your sense of purpose in life, a reason to live in a way, which will increase your confidence. Of course, to actually achieve this dream lifestyle, there are further steps you need to take… (read on).
2. Writing down goals and striving to achieve them
I remember reading about a study at Oxford University: researchers asked all students in a class who had written down their goals. I can’t remember the exact details but about 3% of them did this. When the researchers revisited the students again about 20 years later, the small group who had written down goals were earning a combined income that was greater than the combined income of all 97% of their classmates.
There are plenty of free resources out there on how to write goals (including The Inspirational Lifestyle). The general key I recommend is that rather than write outcome based goals (e.g. “I will get a promotion”) try writing action-based goals that are under your control (e.g. “I will take a management course and then apply for a promotion”). By making sure the goals are under your control your confidence is not subject to luck. Remove luck by making sure that nothing and no-one can affect the achievement of your goal except for you.
3. Reading popular self-development books by successful business people
While there are far too many refuse-bin-worthy self-development books out there, your safest bet is to read the memoirs and how-to books which are written by people who have actually achieved something. Research your field of interest, find out who are the most successful people within it, and then look for what they’ve written.
It really is simple; if someone like Richard Branson is a billionaire, he’s probably a pretty reliable source of information on how to make money. Much better to listen to him than someone fresh from completing an MBA and spilling a bunch of inexperienced theory-based conjecture.
4. Learning how to manage your state of mind
Most of the time the reason you feel anxious or nervous about a situation you’re about to go into (e.g. public speaking) is because you’re in the wrong frame of mind. This is sometimes referred to as “state”, or “being out of state”. Imagine this: you’ve been studying accounting for three straights hours without interruption, when all of a sudden you’re dragged to a party. Straight away you feel anxiety even though going to a party is not an unusual situation for you. So what’s the problem?
Your brain was set into the “studying” state, which is secluded, quiet, and antisocial. You are then thrown into a situation which requires you to be extroverted, talkative and social. This is a really uncomfortable imbalance for your brain to handle. The solution? Taking baby steps. When you realise you are feeling anxiety about an upcoming situation and you suspect that it is because of being in the wrong state, try to figure out some in-between steps you can take. Using our example above, rather than going straight to the party, you could have a chat on the phone with some close friends, followed by pre-drinks at your house with just a few people. This way by the time you get to the party your state has gone from withdrawn to outgoing in easy to manage steps.
5. Understanding the balance between learning, mentoring and action
One of the most common barriers to success is too much thinking and not enough doing. It’s the doing that builds confidence, not the learning. As a general rule, for every hour you spend reading or watching videos etc. (passive learning), you will benefit most by complementing this with two hours mentoring/coaching, and at least seven hours practicing or otherwise taking action. It’s the 10/20/70 rule.
This is why I’ve titled this article “9 ways to build confidence from the outside in”, because I believe building confidence goes far beyond just reading inspirational or educational books etc. It’s about taking action so that you will start seeing results and positive changes.
6. Approaching strangers
This is one of the scariest things for people to do – very few can do it sober without a background in cold-calling or sales of some kind. Doing this is a really powerful way to build confidence, particularly if you’re single and approaching strangers with the intention of potential romance. If you can get yourself to do this sober, during the day, it makes everything else seem a lot less scary. You can learn to love rejection as the learning and feedback experience it really is.
7. Trying new things regularly
If you don’t have at least one hobby on the go at all times then what are you doing with your free time? I recommend constantly seeking out new hobbies and trying things out, no matter how doubtful you are about them. This has two benefits for confidence:
1) By learning a range of skills and having varied experiences you start building up transferable abilities. Over time less situations will seem totally unknown because you will have done something similar before. For example, I found I really enjoyed salsa dancing despite never having danced before, because it combined my previous experiences of playing in a band and doing martial arts.
2) You will eventually find those things that bring you the most pleasure and satisfaction (in a non-creepy way of course). Confidence is often also described as “conscious competence”, which basically means that if you are doing something that you are skilled at, and you know that you are skilled, you feel confident.
Successful people always say “how can we do this?” whereas unsuccessful people generally say “why should we do this?” What kind of people do you spend the most time with? Until you develop a strong inner core of confidence that others cannot touch, you need to surround yourself with “can do” people in order to feed on their confidence.
People showing you that anything is possible and that they believe you are capable of anything will go a long way towards helping you believe this yourself.
9. Making a conscious effort to stop caring about other’s opinions of you
Finally, the biggest lesson I ever really learned about developing true all-round confidence is that the only person I should compare myself to is… myself. There is nothing to be gained in comparing myself to others or trying to live to others expectations. Confidence comes from setting your own expectations of yourself and then trying your best to live up to them. I am not saying that you shouldn’t compete with others, because that’s a great motivator too, but your results and progress should only be measured against your past self.
Well that’s it. There’s a million other things you can do, but I am sure that if you start with this list and TAKE ACTION rather than just read this and do nothing, then you will start to see big changes in how you feel about yourself. You can become confidence in a range of situations, and if you keep increasing the number of situations you feel confident in you will eventually feel confident in all of them.
I sincerely wish you the best!