How To Start Building Confidence: A Story From A (Formerly) Fearful Guy
As a 4-year-old, I recall clinging to my father’s leg at a friend’s birthday party. I was terrified to go into the other room, where other kids were whacking a piñata with a long stick. That model followed me the rest of my life.
Being an unconfident male in America is not a winning recipe for success and I knew that. For decades, I had no clue what to do to get out of it. At times, I felt doomed to a life of misery, despair, and loneliness.
But that wasn’t acceptable. I couldn’t live with that defining my life. Even though I felt completely annihilated, I figured a way out must exist. Otherwise, life won’t even be worth living.
And today, as a young 34-year-old man, I’ve got all the confidence in the world despite things being rough at the moment. My wife and I have $30,000+ in medical debt (and growing) and she has perplexing health problems that baffle doctors.
I have every reason to feel anxious and fearful and yet I’m not. I’m certainly not perfect, so fear and doubt creep in from time-to-time. But, I’m happier and more joyful than ever before. And if you met me, you’d think things are going quite well.
If you are wondering how I started building confidence, here are a few lessons I learned along the way:
Consider Your Mind A Dangerous Place You Never Go Alone
Remember your parents telling you,”Never go near that place. It’s dangerous. You could get hurt.”
What happens in your mind? If you’re a fearful person, you’ll notice the thoughts start buzzing. Although you try not to think about them, they still gain power. You tell yourself not to act on them, but you still find yourself doing that.
And often, you feel completely overwhelmed and defeated. Fear runs your life. You don’t talk to people you want to. You don’t ask women for dates. You don’t leave the house, even though you want to.
True, isn’t it?
That’s exactly how I handled fear for a long time and I got the same old results — more fear. Failure after failure made me feel trapped and at a dead end. I felt stumped, defeated and totally lost.
That’s why I no longer hide anything or live in my mi-nd anymore. I had to constantly practice sharing my thinking with others whom I trust to listen without judgment. I keep pouring those fearful thoughts out of my head so they won’t have an opportunity to grow and gain strength.
You Can Only Neglect the Spiritual Dimension of Your Life to Your Detriment
To cope with my fear, shame, guilt and poor self-esteem, I developed an addiction. The addiction took my naturally fearful disposition and magnified its intensity 100 times.
Eventually, I learned the spiritual part of life had to come first. It’s kept me out of my addiction and it’s transformed me from fearful to confident.
Spiritually, I simply trust that all will work out and everything is under the control of a supreme God. That gives me the confidence that all I have to do is continue to grow as a person and keep trying. Something will work out. I don’t know what or when, but I know it will.
Can you gain confidence without spirituality? Perhaps. But, I think it’s like not taking vitamin C when you have a cold. You can do other things (like rest). But you’re throwing away a key part of the puzzle.
Have an Insane Desire to Serve Others
My natural fear kept me withdrawn and isolated. The addiction made it even worse that coming out became impossible.
But, as I learned what worked, it became clear that serving others was the key. When I thought about my fear, I realized how self-focused it made me.
These are the thoughts that would often cross my mind:
• What’s that person thinking of me?
• Oh no, I did something wrong.
• What should I say?
• Will I fail?
• I’m an idiot.
If you ever find yourself constantly thinking about these things, get out of that thinking. I actually started this right away before feeling confident. Although I knew I didn’t have the confidence or skills to accomplish large things, I knew could deal with the smaller stuff.
I didn’t just serve others by volunteering to serve soup at a homeless shelter once a month. It’s actually a daily practice. When a friend calls, I pick up immediately. If someone asks for help, I say “Yes” 90% of the time.
Whenever someone has a small problem, I clarify it for them. A friend wakes me up at 6:30 in the morning with a phone call, I answer right away, rather than calling back at a more convenient time.
Identify Your Own Strengths and Weaknesses
Building confidence comes from knowing yourself. Just like everyone else, you have strengths and weaknesses.
I always thought confidence means appearing invulnerable, like Superman. You have no weaknesses and you never feel afraid.
In reality, however, that’s just trying to stuff feelings and it only increased my fear.
When you’re trapped in fear, you falsely believe you have more weaknesses than strengths. It prevents you from seeing yourself accurately.
But, take a look. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you’ll find. You’ll realize that as you learn how to deal with your fear, you’ll find you have more good parts which you didn’t know you had.
The good parts of you will grow while the bad and negative will fall away and become much less apparent in your life.
That’s how it worked for me. I couldn’t have done it without looking at the bad (greedy, critical, demanding) and good (intelligent, helpful, funny). And today, I feel like I’m 95% the good version of me. You can ask my friends, my wife, and even strangers, and they’d say positive things about me.
Only Focus on What You Can Control
Historically, so much of my fear has been based on outcomes of situations. I want to:
• Have people respond my way
• Always win
• Never have any rough patches
• Be a fearless superhero winner like James Bond
When I didn’t get the desired outcomes, I beat myself up and felt guilty and ashamed. Clearly, because I didn’t get the woman, the job, the friend, or the money, I was a “bad” person.
I rarely do that anymore, because about 90% of life doesn’t work out your way.
Only 10% does. So, focus on that 10% and grow the heck out of it. Keep trying until you find what works and do less of what doesn’t.
In a given day, I can’t control much. I’m self-employed. I can only control how and when I reach out to prospective clients, and how many of them I contact. Whether they choose to do business with me or not isn’t in my control.
So, I can only make contacts and chat with interested prospects. After that, I just have to trust that everything falls into place.
In the grand scheme of things, I realized that isn’t much.
Understand The Paradoxical Ways Your Mind Works
Human minds sometimes work the opposite of what appears to make sense. For example, if you have ever said to yourself, ”I’m going to walk right up to that girl and ask her for her phone number” and then promptly avoided doing it, you’ve probably felt confused as to why.
Well, it’s because you’re using willpower but you don’t have enough confidence. You still feel fearful and it shows most of the time.
So, the first paradox is this:
• To overcome your fear, let it enter
I no longer say to myself, ”Uh-oh. I’m getting fearful again. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it…Oh no! Here it is. I’m screwed. This is gonna be rough.”
Instead, I allow the fear to enter. Whenever it comes in, I feel numbness and tingling in my arms. My hands sweat a little. My back and neck tighten up.
However, I don’t get fearful of those sensations. I let them happen. I know they’ll pass and I’ll be alright. And that diminishes the power fear has over me.
Other paradoxes include:
• You get what you give
• Seek to understand to be understood
• Listen to others and you’ll be heard
• You get what you oppose
• Do it because you don’t want to
• Embrace your vulnerability
Feelings Often Don’t Fit the Facts
My wife of nearly 8 years and I met online. We talked a few times by phone before meeting. And once, I said something to her which I later thought was quite rude.
I panicked. I thought I had blown it and she would never talk to me again.
I’ve shared the story with her several times. I no longer remember her exact response, but she can’t recall anything unusual from our phone conversations.
However, she does recall the awkwardness of our first date. She thought I was a cheapskate because we went to a friend’s house for dinner, then to a local zoo by the lake (free), and then watched a horror movie (rented) at home.
Seemed fine to me since I thought it made sense to keep it casual when meeting the first time. Unfortunately, that’s not what she was expecting.
Anyway, my feelings told me I had ruined our relationship before it started. Then they told me the date was fine.
In both cases, my feelings were different than reality.
So today, if I’m feeling anxious, fearful, or wondering how I did or how to take what someone said, I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. I simply move on to what’s next and focus on that.
And if I’m having a hard time with feelings that refuse to go away, I talk to someone else.
Yes, You Can Skyrocket Your Confidence, Too
You may, like me, have been born with low self-confidence. You may also have had catastrophic life experiences which ruined the confidence you have had.
Well, you can get your confidence back. Or find it for the first time.
No matter how stressful or intimidating it can be, you can absolutely learn how to feel confident in any situation. That can happen even if you don’t have a shred of confidence now.
These tips can make that possible. But, of course, it will still be up to you to take action.