Sometimes, it can feel like everything around us has been constructed to make us feel not good enough. With every swipe and scroll comes another reminder of how we’re not successful enough, not hot enough, not smart enough, not rich enough, not cool enough, not whatever enough.
It’s easy to start drowning in the comparison game and start beating ourselves up.
I do think there is such a thing as a healthy dose of discomfort, but going too far down this path is just painful, not useful and definitely not conducive to building confidence.
I recently read The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz and he stated in his book that:
All confidence is acquired, developed. No one is born with confidence.
This got me thinking.
So, what exactly is confidence?
The dictionary defines it as a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
To me, this means to trust.
To trust yourself.
And in order to build trust whether, with yourself or with others, the key is action.
Action is how you acquire confidence and action is how you develop it.
"To think confidently, act confidently. Motions are the precursor to emotions." Dr. George Crane - Applied Psychology
I started thinking about the people in my life who radiate with true confidence. How do they behave? What do they do consistently?
And, I started reflecting on times in my life when I’ve radiated with confidence and the times in my life when I haven’t.
What was I doing during those times? How was I behaving during those times?
One particular story kept coming up in my thoughts.
I remember being nine years old. Our family moved to a new town and I was about to start 5th grade at a new school.
I was scared. I was dreading it.
I was sad to leave my old friends and have to embark on this journey of making new ones.
I remember telling myself on my first day of school that going home friendless was NOT an option. At recess, I was going to talk to everyone I could, share my snacks, invite myself to play games and be my silly self.
And that’s exactly what I did. I crushed it.
I made lots of new friends (some I still have today).
I also made a significant change to my beliefs that day. I believed that making new friends and meeting new people was fun and I’ve kept that belief with me throughout my life.
Nine year old me trusted herself (at least on that day) and she took action even though she was terrified. It was a profound confidence building moment in my life.
When I need to draw upon some inner self-confidence, I often think about that girl. She had that confidence in her then, which means, I still have it in me now.
We overthink confidence sometimes as this magical thing outside of ourselves. But it’s not really. It comes from within us and is developed by the actions we choose to take.
During my reflections, there were a few recurring themes. I’ve summarized them below into practical steps and ideas to help you acquire and develop your own confidence.
Here they are:
1. Show up and stand up straight
My mom used to nag at me when I was growing up…
“Don’t slouch” as she grabbed my shoulders and pulled them back while I was sitting at the breakfast table.
She’d ask me...“are you really going out like that?” As I scrambled out the door in my dirty track pants and bedhead.
I used to think, ugh mom what is your problem, as I rolled my eyes at her (to be fair to myself, I was a student at the time).
Turns out my mom had a point and there’s an actual theory behind this called embodied cognition. The concept is that not only do our minds influence our bodies, but our bodies also influence our minds.
You know, when you look good you feel good and when you feel good you look good.
Or how about when you smile you feel happier and you’re happier because you smile.
Sometimes, it can feel hard to change our thoughts. But, it's not that hard to change our posture, smile and make ourselves look a little nicer.
So, clean up and put your good clothes on.
Do your hair.
Don’t look like Gollum...seriously.
You can always start here.
2. Make eye contact and smile at other humans
Okay, I don’t mean walking around with a perma-smile and staring at everyone all the time because that would be weird.
But I do mean when you catch someone’s eye on the train or walking down the street, the person at the store, your coworker, client, friend or whoever you’re interacting with, make eye contact.
In The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, he talks about a concept he learned called eye gazing where you practice maintaining eye contact with people until they break it. The idea is to purposely make yourself uncomfortable with the goal of overcoming that discomfort.
I used to have a long commute to work and I thought it would be fun to try this. It definitely felt strange at first. I’d practice on the train and then in the office and with anyone I was interacting with.
I’ve found this to be a great exercise in building my own confidence and leading interactions with people.
And along with eye contact, smiling helps too, even if the other person doesn’t smile back.
I notice in my own life when I make the effort to smile, I see more people smiling at me.
It keeps momentum positive and, it feels good.
You’d be surprised how much of an impact this can have on your confidence and life.
3. Move. Your. Body.
Even just a little bit, like for 5 minutes (because you’ll be inclined to keep going - the hardest part is starting).
Get your blood and endorphins flowing.
Do something good for yourself and remind yourself that you care enough to take care of the only body you get in this life.
And if you already exercise, try doing one more rep or go for one more minute than you normally would.
Just a little further.
Revel in the accomplishment.
Even if it’s tiny.
4. Compliment someone and consciously look for the positive
Tell a coworker that you really like the way they did something or tell your significant other something you appreciate about them.
Positivity has a ripple effect and it gets your mind thinking on a positive wavelength; looking for the good in others, in situations and in yourself.
It can also influence the recipient of your positive words to do the same.
It’s easy to complain, especially when others around you are doing it. Complaints seem to roll off our tongues unconsciously about the weather, the traffic, our coworkers, our friends, our partners.
Looking for the good requires us to consciously shift our minds in a new direction. People want to be around those that make them feel good.
When you catch yourself complaining and spiraling down in negativity, try countering your statements with the positive side. Say it out loud. Give your compliment to someone.
Don’t add to the downers. We’ve got lots of those.
Be someone that lifts people up.
5. Take risks and have an open mind to failure...even if you’re scared
Seems counter-intuitive, I know.
What if I fail?
Yeah, that’s exactly the point.
It might epically suck.
But you’ll find with an open mind, you will have learned something and you’re a little stronger than you were before.
This is where you start to discover what trusting yourself is all about.
I teach English online.
I have this one particular student, we’ll call him Tim, who I absolutely adore. Not just because he’s actually adorable, but because he never fails to inspire me.
He shows up every day with a contagiously positive attitude and a big smile.
He tries to spell and sound out new words. When he gets it wrong, he tries again. He doesn't let the fear of embarrassment stop him. And he has the best time doing it.
Laughing at himself, cracking jokes.
Every day, I’m like damn.
He’s 6 and he’s my role model.
It’s not always about succeeding.
It’s about trusting yourself to try in the first place.
6. Get to know yourself a little more each day
Who even are you?
If confidence is trusting yourself, how can you have it if you don’t know yourself?
'Yourself' is a work in progress and always will be.
Dig deeper and do some self-assessment. Question your assumptions, biases, beliefs, opinions.
Reflect on what kind of person you were today.
Ask yourself who you are becoming?
Look inward, not outward. The more you learn about who you are, the more you can act with integrity and stay true to yourself.
I'm currently reading Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday and this quote really resonated with me.
“We can’t improve the world if we don’t understand it or ourselves. We can’t take or receive feedback if we are incapable of or uninterested in hearing from outside sources. We can’t recognize opportunities - or create them - if instead of seeing what is in front of us, we live inside our own fantasy. Without an accurate accounting of our own abilities compared to others, what we have is not confidence, but delusion. How are we supposed to reach, motivate, or lead other people if we can’t relate to their needs - because we’ve lost touch with our own?
7. Accomplish tiny goals and do what you say you will
Small things and tiny steps are my favourite.
They build momentum and lead you to bigger things.
They are the foundation of building trust and developing confidence within yourself.
If you said you were going to do something today, like go for a run, bring something to work for a coworker, be on time, start your project or whatever it is…
If you’ve fallen off the wagon, like I have many times, there’s no better day than today to get back on.
It's not always about the big things or the great things we do once.
Building confidence and trust happens in the mundanities of consistency in the small things.
With each consistent action and tiny accomplishment, you build one more ounce of trust in yourself.