“Confidence is everything. Confidence is what makes that simple white tee and jeans look good.”
Confidence is a key that unlocks many doors – but without it, you’ll often stand in the rain.
Most advice comes down to fake it until you make it, which is neither a viable nor sustainable strategy. You can’t watch a motivational video on YouTube before every business meeting or have your buddy give you a pep talk before every date. Putting up a façade is exhausting, makes you feel like a fake, and does to your confidence what a wrecking ball does to an old building. Instead, you have to cultivate real, authentic confidence from the inside.
But this is easier said than done.
How can you be confident at work if you’ve never succeeded at a job before? How can you be the life of the party if you’re introverted and despise small talk? How can you trust a new relationship if all your previous ones exploded like the Hindenburg?
In his book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, psychotherapist and self-improvement author Nathaniel Branden describes confidence as a loop.
If you aren’t confident, you don’t trust your skills, are awkward in social settings, and self-sabotage your relationships. This leads to bad experiences, so your confidence plummets even more. But it also works the other way around.
If you have high confidence, you act with boldness and create good experiences, which increase your confidence even more.
Here’s how you can break the low loop and enter the high one.
This Is Where Confidence Does NOT Come From
One of the biggest misconceptions about confidence is that it comes from having something.
There are stunning models, rich business tycoons, and world-famous celebrities who are insecure. They buy expensive toys and spend hours in front of the mirror to make up for it. At the same time, there are plenty of normal guys with a beat-up car who are cocksure of themselves.
Confidence is about believing in yourself – it’s independent of external circumstances.
But cultivating this belief doesn’t work like you think it should.
The Key to Real, Authentic Confidence Lies in Acceptance
“The only way to be truly confident is to simply become comfortable with what you lack.”
– Mark Manson
Real confidence isn’t about flaunting your strengths but accepting your flaws.
You’ll never be perfect – nobody is. If you don’t accept your flaws, the self-sabotaging voice in the back of your head will always remind you of your perceived inadequacies, like being too short, too poor, or too dorky. But once you accept these as parts of yourself, you regain power over your mind.
Despite working out for over ten years, I’ve got small calves that make my legs look like sticks in shorts. For the longest time, I was ashamed of them, especially when others’ comments hit my sore point.
It didn’t matter how many compliments I received about my fit body, smarts, or restaurant-level cooking skills. When I looked in the mirror, my eyes sought out the part between my knees and feet like a homing missile. I felt so bad about myself, I picked photos for my Instagram based on how my calves looked and wore long pants even in the summer.
You also try to cover your insecurities because today’s society and social media give you the impression you have to have it all.
Men need to be good-looking, strong, successful in business, and never miss their kid’s soccer games. Women should look flawless, be independent, climb the career ladder, and push out a baby or two between meetings.
Whether you’re insecure about your height, income, looks, or because your laugh sounds like Goofy on LSD, there’s only one way to deal with it: Acceptance.
You’re worthy as a human being, no matter what you have or lack.
I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but you can make it go down the hatch a little easier.
Avoid unhelpful language
Your confidence depends on how you perceive yourself.
If you mistake your attributes for your identity, they become much harder to accept because your ego is on the line.
- “I’m socially awkward” vs. “I don’t have good social skills yet.”
- “I am weak” vs. “My muscles are small.”
- “I’m broke and suck with money” vs. “I don’t have financial security yet.”
- “People laugh at me because I said something stupid.” vs. “people laugh at me because I’m stupid.”
Do you see the difference?
View your attributes as parts you can improve or work around – not as an identity set in stone.
Get comfortable with rejection and hurt instead of running from it
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
Most people try to avoid pain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a masochist who’s into licking electric fences. But when you avoid or resist pain, you cause suffering for yourself.
When someone commented on my small calves in the past, it upset me. I came up with a fierce comeback (“at least I don’t have your ugly face”) or started arguing in my head (“they aren’t that small.”) But this only caused me suffering.
Today, I accept they’re small and even crack jokes about it.
That is true confidence.
Sometimes, life forces you to face things you’ve previously viewed as flaws and feel the hurt. You will get rejected. People will laugh about you. You’ll feel like an outcast. That’s life. Accept the pain and you’ll save yourself the suffering.
There Are Two Types of Confidence – Only One Is Worth Pursuing
Acceptance helps you break the low-confidence loop, improvement is the fuel that keeps the high-confidence one going.
Your brain always compares your current situation to what recently happened. No matter where you stand, if you’re getting better, you will feel better about yourself.
“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”
– James Clear
Once you have de-identified with attributes you don’t like and aren’t afraid of rejection anymore, you can work on improving them. Hit the gym, save some money, work on your social skills. Focus on racking up positive experiences that indicate a light at the end of the tunnel.
But while building confidence feels great, there’s a trap you have to avoid.
I once had a friend who was so confident Kanye West would’ve asked him for advice. Yet, he was a pain in the ass to be around and often fell into bouts of depression, imposter syndrome, and self-loathing.
Scientific research has found there are two types of self-esteem – healthy and toxic. He was a prime example of the latter.
- Healthy self-esteem
This is based on how you feel about what you have control over.
You can’t control if someone likes you, when you’ll get a raise, or how many pounds you lose this month. But you can control if you’re being a good person, work hard, or stick to your diet. And no matter the results, you’ve got that going for you.
Focus on your choices and actions rather than on what you achieve.
- Toxic self-esteem
This is based on external measures – success, popularity, money in your bank account.
They’re tricky beasts. While you soar sky-high when things go well, an irritated look, a failed business deal, or a pimple on your face can send you crashing down. You become an insecure knobhead who questions your self-worth as soon as things don’t go your way.
External success is a nice byproduct but should never be your end goal.
When you work on yourself and see results, it’s tempting to build your confidence on your achievements. He built his confidence on this external measure and went to great lengths to protect it – alienating friends with his ruthless actions and feeling worthless when he had to go home alone after a club night.
Find confidence in internal improvements, not external results.
“What matters to an active man is to do the right thing, whether the right thing comes to pass should not bother him.”
Wrap-Up to Build Real, Authentic Confidence
The path to real, authentic confidence is a paradoxical one.
It’s not about becoming the best, strongest, or whatever-est person, but about accepting what you can do and what you appear like in this moment.. It’s not about chasing achievements but doing the right thing regardless of the results.
The road to real, authentic confidence might be a rocky one, but it’s one of the few things that will truly change your life.