NOT TO GET all Biblical on you, but I need to start this article on confidence by talking about the Devil. Yeah, I know, not your typical start to a self-improvement article, but I promise, it’ll make sense in the end.
And it’ll be a shitload more useful than me telling you to ‘just believe in yourself.’
There’s a moment in John Milton’s Paradise Lost which has always stuck out to me. Satan (aka the Devil) has been thrown out of Heaven for rebelling against God.
He’s decided that rather than repent his crimes, he’s going to bust out of Hell, search through the void and find God’s new rumored creation (read: man) and corrupt them into turning their backs on the big man upstairs.
So off he goes on a grand adventure, meeting all manner of strange people on the way, and eventually finding himself on a mountain outside the Garden of Eden.
It is here that he has a momentary crisis of conscience.
Recalling his former bliss in the paradise of Heaven, he mourns his ruined life and realizes he has nobody to blame but himself.
He realizes that the real Hell is within him and it is of his own making. Instead of living in accordance with God’s will (read: selfless love) he could only love himself, and could never, despite knowing it was wrong, live a life where he had to submit himself to something greater.
His pride simply wouldn’t allow it. And now, he’s ruined his life. He knows he will never again be happy. And I mean, we shouldn’t feel sorry for him, because, y’know, he’s Satan, but it’s hard not to.
The guy’s made the ultimate fuck up.
As he sits on the mountain, it seems like redemption might almost be within his grasp. He knows where he’s gone wrong, he just has to let go of his pride and change his course.
But he can’t do it.
He tells himself that he can’t turn back and be redeemed. He says he knows his pride would eventually have him rebel, and he knows he’d always make the wrong choice.
In the midst of this woeful self-pitying, there’s a little aside that’s always stood out for me:
He says that he can never give up his war on God because all that he tempted to his way of pride and vanity (read: the other fallen angels) would see him as the fraud he knows himself to be.
And that is something he couldn’t allow. He has to be seen as better than he is.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
So he continues what he’s set out to do, and condemns himself to ruin for all eternity.
Not a great plan.
Rather than being a mustachioed, pitchfork-branding villain, John Milton’s Satan is a sympathetic one. He makes mistakes that any of us could make, and he painfully feels the errors of his ruined way of thinking.
Like any of us, he knows deep down that he’s led himself astray.
His vain pride is a lot like the failures I see in myself, and almost everyone else. They don’t stem from anything real, they stem from an unhealthy desire to be seen as something we’re not.
To be seen as better than we actually are.
And when it comes to confidence – that is the mistake that none of us can make.
WHAT CONFIDENCE IS NOT
Before we even address what confidence is, we have to address what it isn’t. And unless you didn’t get the allegory about Satan, it’s this:
Your vain desire to be seen as better than you are is toxic bullshit that will fuck your shit up.
I believe that’s the exact definition you’ll get on PsychologyToday.
So long as you perceive confidence as something that revolves around other peoples perception of you, specifically, your status in relation to them, then you will never be confident.
To throw some more Biblical wisdom at you (Okay, okay, just this once):
‘You cannot serve two masters.’
As long as you serve the wrong one (read: vain insecurity) you will continue to make your confidence worse. So long as you measure yourself by the opinions of others, you will only ever notice the instances where you don’t measure up.
And I assure you, that’s about as fun as it sounds.
Look, I get why people do it. Hell, I did it all the time, and like anyone, I still lapse into doing it sometimes. When you don’t feel confident, you often harbor feelings of inferiority that you desperately don’t want people to be aware of.
As a result, you try to pretend to be what you aren’t.
But as we’ll see later, this is a betrayal of your confidence on two levels.
Confidence isn’t just ‘not faking it.’ It’s also not forcing it. You can’t will yourself into a state, trick or hypnotize yourself into healing your confidence issues. At best, those are band-aid solutions. They peel off when wet.
The only way to be confident is to do the hard work and build the right foundation. That starts by cutting out the faking, the forcing, and all the bullshit. If you don’t do that none of the following will work.
Understanding what confidence IS NOT is crucial to understanding confidence itself. Because confidence, it turns out, isn’t really a thing.
WHY THE CONCEPT OF CONFIDENCE SUCKS
So confidence isn’t faking it or forcing it – you get it. But what is confidence exactly?
Well, I think there’s a simple reason why everyone gets it so wrong. And it’s in the name.
When you think about confidence it’s probably some glossy Hollywood version. Think, Tom Cruise, intense, serious look, running fast, and fighting guys.
Confidence is focused, driven, determined, strong. Right?
Or is it something else?
If you think about confidence in your day to day life, it’s often nebulous and hard to pin down. It never really feels the same way, and whenever you think you have it, it vanishes just as quickly as it showed up.
It’s never as concrete as it is in the movies. And in fact, when you think about it, it isn’t really a thing.
Confidence isn’t an emotion.
You aren’t confident because you’re possessed by some magical, all-powerful feeling. No, you’re confident because at that moment you’re more capable of handling your fear and anxiety than you usually are.
Their power over you is diminished. Rather than being something, confidence is simply the weakness in something else.
Which, when you actually look at the word itself, makes sense.
The Latin root of the word confidence is confidere which means ‘having full trust.’ Confidence is simply the ability to trust yourself in your ability to do things. This is most closely related to the idea in psychology of self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is basically your belief in your ability to achieve things. Where self-esteem is how good you feel about yourself, self-efficacy is how good you feel about your capability.
But how does this relate to confidence?
Confidence exists in the relationship between you and your fears and anxieties. The better that relationship, the more you will trust your ability to act despite your fears and anxieties. And as result, you will be far more likely to act confident.
Confidence isn’t a super-emotion that washes out all others, but rather the acceptance and experience of emotions that you don’t want to feel, and the trust in yourself to manage them and act anyway.
Confidence is feeling afraid.
WHAT CONFIDENCE IS
Someone is confident when they do something that triggers fear and anxiety. They are more confident the more they do this with ease.
Confidence is a muscle, it gets stronger and weaker the more you use it. But like any muscle, it has muscle memory so the more you’ve developed it in the past the quicker it will return if you slip-up in the present.
There are a few different ideas that relate to the building of confidence. The first is the Greek / Aristotelean view (I can’t believe that’s a word) that you build your virtues into one robust individual – the ideal man so-to-speak.
This idea has permeated Western Culture since they first put it on a scroll. Every superhero, historical theory, and impulse you have to worship politicians has its roots tied up in this.
The Aztecs had a different view. In their society, the world was seen as ‘slippery’ and that man was too inherently flawed to stay virtuous within it. In their eyes, man would always slip down. Their solution to this was to prize the community, as people would always need to rely on one another for support and guidance.
That such a human-centric philosophy came from a society that tore the beating hearts out of people baffles me.
When it comes to confidence, my experience has been that it’s somewhere in between. You have to rely on yourself to act despite the presence of fear and anxiety, sure. But this action doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
It exists in your life.
And as we’ll see, what surrounds and supports an action can often be just as important as the action itself.
HOW TO BE CONFIDENT
Okay, I’ve said that confidence is about acting despite fear and anxiety, but let me get something clear:
You cannot overcome fear and anxiety.
It’s not possible to ‘overcome’ emotions like that. You can only change your relationship with them. You will always feel as afraid as you are now, but the power that fear has over your actions will change. The way your body reacts to it will change. Instead of paralyzing you or making you run, your fear will become something more akin to a motivator.
Your confidence increasing/decreasing? That’s just your relationship to your fear changing. For the better or worse.
You build a relationship with your fears and anxieties by honestly appraising who you are and then taking uncomfortable steps to confront them. Confidence does not exist in a vacuum – the happier you are with the rest of your life the easier it will be to develop confidence in areas where it is lacking.
That said – It doesn’t cross over.
It’s easy to think that fighting someone in a boxing ring, or public speaking would help you overcome a fear like approaching girls but this isn’t the case – the confidence is built where it’s built.
What does happen however is that once you’ve built confidence in one area it’s easy to believe in your ability to build it elsewhere (self-efficacy showing up again).
THE TWO TYPES OF CONFIDENCE
Confidence can be divided into two separate types: active and passive confidence.
Active confidence relates to your ability to take actions that confront fear.
Passive confidence relates to your day to day confidence in yourself.
The two are interlinked.
The more you build your active confidence, the more your passive confidence gets a boost. The more you build your passive confidence, the more your active confidence gets a boost.
Of the two, your passive confidence is the most important, but it’s important to build both, as the ‘boosts’ works equally in reverse.
A weakness in one causes a weakness in the other. I.e. Not confronting a fear of approaching will always kind of dig away your self-esteem.
The reason I divide the two is that they’re built in completely different ways. So treating confidence as ‘one thing’ is dumb and will limit your results.
Active confidence is built by taking actions that confront your fear and anxiety.
There is NO OTHER WAY to do this. You can’t outsmart it. You can only confront it.
Unless, like me, your fear is gigantic, man-eating Sharks. Then you’re fucked.
You have to take consistent, repeatable actions that are always uncomfortable, and always move you in the direction of your anxiety and fear.
Let me repeat the most important part:
Building active confidence is entirely dependent on you finding the action you’re taking uncomfortable. It is required to be difficult, uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, or frightening.
If you always avoid these feelings, then you will never develop your relationship with them, and you will never develop confidence.
The easiest way to do this is to break whatever it is you want to do into the smallest possible version of itself. As I like to call it:
Do the least-most frightening thing you can do. And do it over, and over, and over again. Then make it more frightening and more uncomfortable.
Active confidence isn’t built in big swings, it’s built by chipping away. You feel the fear and anxiety, and you act despite it, however small you can.
If active confidence is acting despite fear and anxiety, then passive confidence is the quality of your relationship with yourself despite the opinions of others and the impact of the world around you.
I.e. if you fail at something you don’t feel like a loser and hate yourself.
Or if some people don’t like you, you’re okay with it and it doesn’t wound your feelings.
In other words, you achieve the fabled ability to ‘not give a fuck.’
This is where Keanu would say ‘woah.’
So how is passive confidence built?
Passive confidence is tricky. In my experience, it’s a result of a combination of factors – namely your overall happiness, your self-esteem, and your self-efficacy. And whilst I’ve only written an article on self-esteem so far (the others are fermenting as we speak), all three revolve around the same principle.
The more you develop your life so that it genuinely gets your emotional needs met, the more you will develop passive confidence.
There are a lot of theories on ‘not giving a fuck’, but in my experience, most are overcomplicated bullshit, and this is the simplest way to achieve it.
When you’re validated by your own life, you’re a lot less likely to need validation from other people. You’re a lot less likely to pursue emotional needs that are dependent on other people.
This also explains why narcissists (people who have a bottomless need for validation) can have their entire lives together yet always ‘give a fuck.’
Passive confidence stems from your own ability to take care of yourself. This is basic self-love 101. But as calling it self-love is lame as shit, we’re going with passive confidence.
THREE SHORTCUTS TO PASSIVE CONFIDENCE
There are three shortcuts I know of to help with developing passive confidence, and I use them in my own life:
1) Focus on how little you need to get your emotional needs met
You don’t need as much as you think you do to be happy. In fact, you need less than half.
Happiness is simple. It results from doing basic things well. Your life is secure, you have rewarding connections with others, you gain new experiences.
You don’t need to be a rich, famous, celebrity banging, public intellectual, world class MMA fighter. In fact, thinking you need any of that is only going to make you more miserable.
As a culture, we do the exact opposite of this, and it ruins us. We’re always thinking we need more, when in fact, we need nothing.
The main irony here is that the more we chase, the more likely it is we end up chasing the wrong thing. This is because the things we actually need are so staggeringly obvious and simple that they don’t require any chasing.
They just require you to change your perspective and make better life choices. Ones that redirect your focus away from whatever your emotional issues are driving you towards, and more towards the happiness that’s right in front of your eyes, under your nose, and within your grasp.
2) Practice integrity
That is what integrity is, and it is enormous for your passive confidence (as well as your happiness, job satisfaction, sex life, and relationship success). It’s also something you can practice every single day.
If we’re honest, we all use personal development techniques and ideas in order to get something we feel we need. Women, success, whatever. But in reality, the most important techniques are the ones that don’t get us any of those.
They’re the ones that teach us to have to have a better relationship with ourselves internally. This is what living in line with your values and boundaries does. It gives you a rock through which to ground yourself.
It gives you a foundation on which to build. One that isn’t built on sand.
When instead we forget or don’t even know our own boundaries, we pursue whatever impulses or ideas enter our heads, often ones that are contradictory to what it is we actually want and need.
Not only is this an aimless way to live, it’s also a clear sign that there are things we haven’t emotionally come to terms with. It’s a sign we need to take a hard look in the mirror.
3) Pay attention to the little things
When people walk around with shitty narratives about themselves and others, it always translates into shitty behavior. Likewise, when people have confidence issues, they always encourage shitty thoughts in their own head, which lead to poor decisions… and, yeah you get the idea.
It’s like the Butterfly effect, only without the time travel.
This is an idea that’s explored to an insane level of detail by Leo Tolstoy in his books War and Peace and Anna Karenina. It’s also an idea I return to all the time.
The idea is this:
Life exists in tiny moments, and those tiny moments add up to big, important ones. Because of this, it is incredibly important you pay MORE attention to the tiny ones than the big ones.
Which is the opposite of what we always do. We get so hung up on the big stuff, that we don’t notice ourselves sewing the seeds for disaster in all the little ones.
These tiny moments in which life exists – these can be unnoticed, inconsequential thoughts, or simply small, tiny habits you repeat every day. They’ll be different for everyone. But learning to view life in this way makes a huge difference.
To slip another bit of Biblical wisdom here (alright, this time really is the last!):
You cannot harvest grapes from a thorn bush.
In plain, millennial English this means: if you carry round fucked up shit inside yourself, then all the stuff you get outside is going to be fucked up too.
STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO BUILDING ROCK-SOLID CONFIDENCE
This is article is long as fuck, so to finish up here are the steps you need to to take moving forward. The simpler you keep these steps the better. The more you overcomplicate them, the harder it’ll be.
They’re listed in order. But steps 4, 5, and 6 can be done simultaneously (and should be). You could effectively name doing that as ‘living responsibly.’
Here we go:
1) Stop faking any and all behavior, stop lying and stop trying to impress people
Non-negotiable. Cut that shit out today.
2) Be brutally honest with where you’re lacking
Just as we hide our flaws from other people, we also have habits of hiding our flaws from ourselves. These are our defense mechanisms in action. But these don’t actually serve us in any useful way, they just make it harder for us to get our needs met.
Pay attention to where in life you think you’re letting your needs go poorly met, then question why this is?
3) What active steps can you take to build active confidence?
Active confidence requires you to do something. You cannot get it any other way. What uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking actions can you start taking to build it?
Remember, if they aren’t uncomfortable or don’t provoke anxiety, they don’t count.
This could be asking the cute Starbucks barista out, having a difficult talk with a loved one, or attending a new social event alone.
4) Take them
Stop thinking and just do it.
5) Assess your passive confidence
If passive confidence is having a life that you enjoy, where are you holding yourself back. What could improve?
If you do enjoy but aren’t feeling that confident about it – ask yourself just how much you really enjoy it, or whether that’s just a way of protecting you from taking the uncomfortable actions that would truly make your life better.
That goes double for you, guy who is addicted to playing video games instead of socializing. You can’t bullshit me, I was just the same as you were.
6) Address your passive confidence
Stop thinking and just do it. Start today. Because like anything related to confidence, nobody is gonna do it for you.
There’s only one person who can solve that problem for you, and he’s the exact same one you see in the mirror.
THE ONE RULE OF CONFIDENCE
At the beginning of this article, I retold John Milton’s famous story for a specific reason. Within Paradise Lost is the clearest example of what not to do, yet the example is the one we so often overlook, especially when it comes to confidence.
When we think of confidence, what we really think of is self-aggrandizing ideas like fame, charisma, success, and pride. But these ideas have nothing to do with confidence. These are just the things we think will give us confidence. We fool ourselves into believing they’re what we’re really seeking.
But as was the case with Milton’s Satan – they’re not.
In reality, confidence comes from not making the basic mistake that pursuing these things suggests you’re making:
You’re living for something outside of yourself. In particular, something that you feel you need from others.
For you, it’s not your perception of yourself that matters, it’s how other people perceive you.
That’s the mistake. You don’t realize you’re okay as you are. So you keep looking for others to tell you what you can’t tell yourself.
Real confidence comes from comfort. A comfort with yourself, your life, and a trust in your own actions. Real confidence is internal, it has nothing to do with anyone else.
And that is a comfort that is built. It begins and ends with you.
If, like Milton’s Satan, your idea of yourself is wrapped up in status, power, and the opinions of others – before you take any other step, you have to reconsider the ones you’re already taking.
Because it’s those steps that are stopping you from having what you always been seeking.
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