For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in what makes people confident, successful and happy in life. I’ve read so many books on the topic than I can count on my fingers and toes, and I’ve continuously invested in myself by doing courses and training in human behaviour, how the mind works, emotions and success strategies. I really enjoyed reading biographies about people who had already achieved success in many areas of their lives. Like you, I wanted to learn. I wanted to know what they were doing and how I could apply that in my own life.
In the beginning, I would immerse myself in so much information, before setting out to put it into practise. I would start off with excitement, feeling like a had a plan, but when I tried to take action I would falter. The things I was choosing to do, seemed way more challenging than what the books made them out to be. I wasn’t used to getting out of my comfort zone, so even the smallest of tasks felt like a massive hurdle to jump over. Have you ever done this too? Maybe you’ve found the courage to jump over the hurdle, but as soon as you’re on the other side, there’s another hurdle, and another and another after that, until it just seems like too many to jump over all at once.
Even in high school I wasn’t a fan of doing athletics and I’d stand at the start of the hurdles race, gearing myself up for the starting signal, trying to focus on one hurdle at a time, when all I could see was the 100 metres worth of hurdle jumps in front of me. I’d start by jumping and running as high and as fast as I could, but inevitably I would fall and crash into one of them. I hated that feeling. It felt like everyone was watching. I thought it meant that I had failed and made a fool of myself. I would hear negative self-talk asking “Why did I even bother?” or saying “I’m never doing this again”. But eventually I would do it again, and I’d get past the hurdles from before, going even further, until finally I’d get to the end having cleared all the hurdles. You’d think I would’ve celebrated then, or at least felt excited about completing the 100 metre sprint.
Instead I would notice how I wasn’t first or that I wasn’t in the top 10%. I’d look for the tiniest of mistakes or imperfections, like the fact that I’d wobbled half way through, or that I could have run faster. I usually finished those races with a grimace and the same negative thinking pattern of how I hated it and didn’t want to do it again. Until one day I didn’t do it again. I had improved so much that I was doing the 100m hurdles as part of our school competition team, but as soon as school finished and I didn’t have anyone telling me I “had to do it”, I just stopped. I thought I was finally free from all the pain of failure, not realising that I was the one who had created those negative emotions.
What I didn’t see then, was how I’d actually been winning this whole time, not failing. I had made so much progress, but because I was focusing so much on what I was doing wrong, I didn’t see the things I was doing right. Instead of taking on feedback as things I could learn from, I had been telling myself off for not being perfect. I used to look at feedback as something negative, when really it was simply something to consider. I didn’t realise that I could choose to take it on and use it, or I could choose to consider it and let it go. It didn’t have to mean anything.
Back then, because I was only focusing on the negative side, it felt as if I was always failing. So I started to avoid that feeling. Once I left school, I began to fear uncomfortable situations where there was a chance that I might not win. A chance that I could fail. I started looking for guarantees. I wanted to feel so secure that I would come out on top, 100%, that I stopped trying new things. Anything that was unfamiliar to me, became scary on some level. The trouble with this, is that I really wanted to achieve and to feel successful in life, but I was preventing myself from taking the steps towards that.
Overcoming the fear of not getting it right
I buried myself in books and information because that was safe. I could guarantee that I would win in my imagination. I could trick my mind into thinking I was taking action and being prepared because I was collecting information. But over time, I realised I hadn’t made any progress in the real world. I was extremely knowledgeable on what I could do to improve all areas of my life. I had researched for decades. My problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what to do, it was that I didn’t know how to take action on it consistently without it feeling so negative. Every time I tried something new, if I didn’t get it 100% right the first time, I felt sad, upset, angry or embarrassed. I began creating meanings about what that said about me as a person, believing that if I didn’t get it perfect, that meant I wasn’t good enough, that I was a failure or that I was stupid.
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The most challenging thing for me when I first started to put into practice the things that I had read about, was that most of the habits or behaviours that some successful people talked about doing, were things that went against the grain. They did things differently than most people and didn’t necessarily fit in with other people’s views. The books and media made it sound easy. So why was I finding it so challenging?
Many of us have held ourselves back because of the uncertainty of what’s to come if we dared to try. Are you wanting to put your hand up more at work to express your ideas, run a project or ask for a raise or a promotion? Have you ever stayed in a relationship that wasn’t working, simply because it was easier than facing the discomfort of breaking up? Or is it the opposite, and you’d rather stay comfortable in a string of short term friends-with-benefits relationships because a longer commitment is out of your comfort zone? What about in your health area of life? I know people who genuinely want to get fit and lose weight, but at a certain point they self sabotage themselves out of fear. Maybe they’re scared of what life will be like in their new body, or what sort of attention they could attract. Maybe it’s just that they’re scared to fail so they quit before they’ve even given themselves a chance. If you look deep enough, do you know what’s holding you back? Can you see the fear you’re holding on to, that’s preventing you from moving forward?
For me, the biggest thing holding me back was my lack of self confidence to overcome the fears I had created. Fears about not fitting in, about failing or feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed. Most of all I feared not being the best. I feared having to work so hard that I didn’t enjoy life anymore. I would think “What if it takes me my entire life?”, “What if it’s too uncomfortable or painful?”, “What if I waste my time and never get to my goal?”. But deep down I already wasn’t enjoying life, so it made sense to go for what I wanted, even if it was challenging at first. You won’t really know if you don’t give it a go right? I knew that if I could find a way to build up my self-confidence, that I would be able to face those fears and get through the other side even stronger and closer to my goals.
But how to be more confident?
As I pondered the question of what it looks like to be the confident version of myself, a picture started to form of when I was really little. Before school, before I expected anything of myself. I was curious, full of adventure and excitement to learn new things. Can you think back to a time when the world was full of wonder, when learning was still fun? For example, when you were learning to walk for the first time, you fell down many times and sometimes maybe cried about it, but you would get up again and keep going with a smile. It most likely never occurred to you to stop, because you knew it was possible. You knew it was doable because the people around you, were doing it without even thinking. They might have been doing it a lot longer than you, and had more practise, but sometimes they stumbled too!
Environment is key
Think about it. If everyone else around is cheering you on, encouraging you to get up and keep going, how much easier is it to move forward towards your goal? But what if you’re surrounding yourself with people who are telling you that because they can’t do it, or they’ve never known anyone else to do it, that means you can’t either? The people we choose to spend the most time with, can have a massive impact on our future successes. It helps to have people who have been there before, and who really care, so they can see when you might be going off track and help keep you travelling in the right direction. Who do you know in your current environment that’s like that? Where else might you find more people like this to get to know?
Think about the people in your life that you look up to, or who have some confident qualities that you admire. What are the traits that you appreciate about them? Notice how they hold themselves. Are they standing tall, smiling and asking friendly questions? Do they tend to take care of themselves, wear certain clothes or start conversations in the same way. Do they tend to complain or do they look for the positives more often? If they make mistakes, do they take it on as feedback, even laugh it off, or do they tend to take themselves more seriously?
The more you start to notice other confident people and what they do, the more tools you’ll have in your toolbelt for when you put it into practise. That’s not to say that you should copy exactly what they wear or how they speak (that could be interesting!), but you can take their behaviours as clues and adapt them for your own personality. Try a few things out. See what fits and what you can tweak. This can be so much fun, especially when you’re in the company of like minded people who might have been where you are now. The more you do this in a positive environment, the more you’ll notice that the picture you have of yourself will start to change in a good way. You might even realise how much more confident you feel and how others are noticing the difference in you too.
Make it easier by starting with these small steps
Confidence is built by taking action! All it takes is to just start. You don’t have to get it perfect, and you don’t even need to finish the race. It’s about one hurdle at a time. For me, this started when I realised that the behaviours I was trying to do from the books I was reading, were too far away from what I felt ready for. So I decided to choose steps that were closer to my comfort zone, but still a little uncomfortable for me to do.
For example, at the time I wasn’t in a relationship but I really wanted to be. Instead of setting myself up on a date every week, I chose to start small, and set a goal to just talk to one stranger every week. That was it. It didn’t matter how long or short the conversation was, or what we spoke about. It didn’t matter if they were someone I’d go on a date with or not. It didn’t even matter if it was awkward or friendly, or even what they thought about me. The only thing that mattered was that I started a conversation with at least one stranger every day. That’s it.
Over time I became a lot more comfortable talking to different people I’d not yet met, and as a result, the conversations I was enjoying and the responses I was getting, improved. Even if I got some responses that were not great, or if my “hello” was rejected, most of the time I was able to hold some fun conversations. I even made more friends! My confidence started to build, one hello at a time. Whilst dating was still outside of my comfort zone, it felt a lot less scary than before. I could really see myself enjoying coffee or dinner with someone and not feeling like it needed to go perfectly. So what if it was a little awkward, I knew that over time I would have many more fun dates.
One thing that helped me to take action on this, was to give myself three seconds to go up to someone. I would take a deep breath, count to three and go for it. This would stop all the chatter in my head and helped me to act in the moment, whether I felt ready or not. By doing this, I was able to feel a sense of accomplishment and break the habit of procrastinating about taking action. Next time you really want to do something, seize the moment before your chatter brain has time to overthink it. Just breathe, count to three and go!
Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate, repeat
Noticing your progress and celebrating along the way towards your goal, is possibly the most important part. So often, people wait until they’ve reached their ideal and perfected goal before celebrating. The problem with this, is that perfect and ideal don’t exist other than in the imagination. If you wait for that, you’re dismissing all the positive steps you’ve made along the way that have been real achievements. Getting out of your comfort zone, no matter how tiny or not small of a step, is an achievement worth celebrating!
You are worthy of celebration, and if you’re not noticing your progress, it can feel discouraging, and more painful than fun. When you celebrate each step taken along your path, you’re cementing it in as your new foundation. This is so important. Celebration can be simple or extravagant. You can pat yourself on the back, go out with friends, write down something you’re proud of, tell someone about it, throw streamers and hang balloons from the ceiling, or simply notice it for yourself. Whatever feels like a celebration to you. Acknowledge that you made progress in whatever way feels amazing for you. Be proud that you took the initiative to do something.
If you just keep going, you’ll get there
Every time that you do the steps above, celebrate and repeat, you are building another block in your stairway to confidence. Each time you step up, you’re closer and closer to living in your confident self everyday. You can make your stairway as long or as short as you like. The point is that you’re building it day by day, every day. Self confidence is in your control. You can bring out the confident you, by taking small, intentional actions, consistently over time and celebrating every time!
That’s exactly what I did over the years, which has helped me to overcome the fear that was holding me back, and to keep being and becoming the person I envisioned I could be. I’ve done this over and over and over again, and I’ll keep on going and building on my successes. I still face fears from time to time, but now I know that I can move through them, and I’m always excited about the wonderful future that is on the other side.