“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge.”~Charles Darwin
How many people do you know who are absolutely, positively sure of themselves, yet are about as wrong as they could possibly be? Based purely on anecdotal evidence you could come to the conclusion that morons are the most confident in themselves, yet geniuses are often the most doubtful about their abilities.
We don’t have to rely solely on our own experience, however. In 1999 it was demonstrated in laboratory settings by researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger at Cornell University.
They conducted an experiment where they tested participants’ logistic capacities and found a peculiar result.
The participants in the lowest quarter of the bell curve felt like their results would place them in the top 40% of everyone tested. In reality they had performed worse than 88% of all participants.
Putting this into perspective: That’s like someone being sure a city is 5 hours away when it is really 30 hours distant.
On the other end of the bell curve, the top performers consistently underestimated their performance. The participants who scored in the 10% of everyone tested assumed they had only beaten out 75% of everyone else; not 90% like they had actually done.
That’s why the tendency for idiots to be confident and geniuses to be unsure is now known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
What does this have to do with you?
My bet is, if you are reading a book about how to improve your confidence, you suffer from an abundance of intelligence, not a lack of ability. Your lack of confidence may come from too much smart.
Idiots aren’t smart enough to realize they shouldn’t be so confident. They lack the ability to accurately gauge their own abilities.
Smart people who could use some more confidence are that way because they lack the ability to accurately gauge others’ abilities as compared to their own.
By the end of this post I will show you how to build your confidence by reframing your perspectives, taking simple (yet effective) actions that will boost your gumption, and show you how to keep it going for the long term.
REFRAME YOUR VIEWPOINT
WHAT ARE YOU GOOD AT DOING?
You want to be over there in Self Confidence-land but you’re in Self Doubt Place.
In order to get from here to there, you have to start where you are. What do I mean?
No matter how little confidence you have in yourself, I’d bet a million dollars that you are good at something. That’s how confident I am that you have some skill or ability that you can excel at.
Whatever it is that you’re good at, take ownership! Own it! Don’t worry about how silly or worthless someone else might have judged it.
Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Don’t give that person the permission to judge your self worth as lacking.
If you’ve been thinking about it and you still can’t come up with anything, then maybe you should start lessons for something you’ve always wanted to learn.
The point is to realize you are/can be good at something, and
you can show yourself that you deserve to be confident as demonstrated by your
WHAT ARE YOU GOOD AT BEING?
Maybe you are convinced you’re not good at doing something. That’s ok, we can work with that.
Instead of focusing on being good at doing something, let’s look at what you are good at being. Let me ask you this, what good qualities do you have?
Are you a good daydreamer? Are you a great listener? Are you sensitive to other people’s emotional state? Maybe you have a great sense of humor and can find something funny about the worst situations.
Think about it long enough and you can always find something about yourself that is a positive trait.
Take time to recognize that there are traits about yourself
that are worth-while and valuable. Focusing on the positive traits will be
spending your time and energy in the right place.
HOW TO LIGHT THE DARKNESS
Ever heard the saying, “It is better to light a single candle than curse the darkness?” For every negative thing you tell yourself, you are only cursing the darkness. It gets you nowhere, and only lengthens the time you’re sitting in the dark.
The moment you realize you have positive traits, you are lighting that metaphorical candle of self confidence inside yourself.
Everyone has something about themselves that undermines their confidence. Anything can be a source of insecurity like singing off key, bad skin, bad choices, etc.
Take a moment to think about what insecurities you have and write them down. The intent is to give shape to your vague feelings and give you something solid to work on addressing.
A practice I’ve used in the past is to take that piece of paper with all my negative ideas written on it, and then destroy it.
The symbolic destruction of those limiting beliefs can lead to very real changes in your emotions.
Also, any time you find yourself thinking something negative about yourself, immediately counter it with a couple positive thoughts instead.
Negativity works like weeds in the garden of your mind. If it
has been left unchecked for years, they will have tangled the entire garden and
will be difficult to remove. Once clear, however, it will be easier to catch
the small sprouts of negativity before they have time to put down deep roots.
Water the good thoughts, and immediately weed out the bad thoughts.
Pain shared is pain divided; joy shared is joy multiplied.
Whatever the reasons you have for not feeling confident (I don’t have enough money, I’m not good looking enough, I’m uncoordinated, etc etc) they are all just things you tell yourself. They are simply beliefs that you have created. The good news is, you can change how you believe about yourself by sharing your beliefs and fears with someone you trust.
The more you try to keep your fears to yourself, the more power you give them. The day you can’t talk about something is the day is begins to control your life. In the darkness of your own doubts, your fears have room to grow and take over your mind.
When you share your doubts with someone who cares about your well being, it gives you the benefit of another person’s perspective on whatever belief is holding you back. Their way of looking at it might be just the right thing at the right time to realize whatever it is you believe about yourself may no longer be true.
This process of challenging and sharing your doubts is not a quick fix. It can take time to unlearn all the negative things you’ve been saying about yourself which eventually undermines your self confidence.
Oftentimes, people who are working through negativity find it
useful to create a space for the beliefs. It’s ok to be insecure. Accept
yourself as you are, and know that you’re good enough.
Sometimes you fail and it eats away at our confidence. Good news, you’re not alone. Everyone fails. The only time you actually fail is if you fail to learn the lesson.
That’s why I like to think of my mistakes as opportunities for learning. Whenever I mess up, I get excited because it means I’m about to learn something very important.
If you’re focused on learning from an experience, you can’t spend energy wallowing in self pity about making a mistake. Best thing is to own your mistake, take immediate steps to fix it, and learn the lesson that’s there to be learned.
No matter what kind of failure it is that’s eating away at your confidence, it’s ok. It doesn’t mean you are always going to be that person that made that mistake. That’s why it’s important to learn the lesson; it enables you to make more and more interesting mistakes in the future!
Get playful with your mistakes, and you take away their power
to permanently debilitate your confidence.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
One of the fastest ways to undermine your self confidence is to compare yourself to someone else.
You know how it goes. You’re cruising YouTube when you find a video of a child prodigy piano player who has accomplished more by age 5 than you have in your multiple decades on planet Earth.
That sound you just heard was your self confidence balloon popping.
What do we do, knowing there’s always going to be someone better, faster, smarter, or prettier than us?
Realize that the only person you should try to be better than is who you were yesterday. The only way you will build self confidence is to realize you are capable of becoming a better person tomorrow than you were yesterday.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
While I was still in the process of building my skills as a stage performer, I still lacked an abundance of confidence in my abilities.
Whenever someone would compliment me after the show I would think, “They are just being polite, they probably feel like they have to say that.” In response I would usually say something depreciating like, “Oh, I try, but I could have done better.”
Eventually, I realized that it was not only undermining my own confidence, it was incredibly rude!
Here are nice people who are taking time out of their life, coming to say hi, and then saying nice things about me! They didn’t need to do that. They could have easily walked out the door. But, no, they wanted to compliment me, and then I insult their opinion by essentially saying, “Well, I’m sorry you liked that because it wasn’t very good; it could have been a lot better, so why don’t you work on developing your taste.”
Next time someone compliments you in an appropriate dynamic, simply say “Thank you,” or “It means a lot to me to hear you say that,” and appreciate the fact that someone has taken the time to let you know they value your efforts. Work on actually being able to accept the compliment.
(If someone compliments you on the street without invitation,
you don’t owe them anything but pepper spray. You aren’t living your life for
If you’re feeling down about your lack of self confidence, there’s a simple technique to fix it: smile.
Smiling is a universal human expression for happiness; when we feel happy, we smile. Interestingly enough, the opposite is true, too; when we smile, we feel happy.
Further, it doesn’t even have to be a genuine smile. Scientists have demonstrated that the simple act of activating the same muscles you use while smiling can improve your disposition.
In 1988 scientists had participants hold pens lengthwise in their teeth which forced their mouths into a smile. Then the participants were asked to rate the humor of various cartoons.
What the researchers found was incredible. The participants who
were covertly made to smile found the cartoons to be more enjoyable. The
conclusion being you can change your internal emotional state through changing
your physical state.
This is not limited to smiles, however. Research has been done into “power postures.” Certain human postures are universal to the experiences of triumph. Bring to mind the classic victory pose of an olympian who just won gold; both arms extended directly over head with their feet placed wide.
If you want to feel confident, then stand as if you were confident. Assuming this pose basically has your body telling your brain that you are feeling confident enough to stand like this, so the brain better catch up with the emotional side of things. So it does.
Next time you’re in need of a dose of confidence, stand like
you are confident, and then you’ll feel it too!
Let’s continue in the vein of confident body language and talk about the power of good eye contact.
When I was a teenager I had trouble looking myself in the eye. I’d look everywhere in a mirror except in my own eyes. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, and I didn’t feel like I could face myself.
Eventually I realized that I needed to be able to face who I am, and I forced myself to look into my own eyes. For an uncomfortably long time.
It quickly became less awkward to make eye contact with myself. Then, that confidence carried over to my interactions with other people, too.
I found that looking into someone else’s eyes shows that you are interested in what they have to say, and is a powerful socializing tool. The ability to look someone in the eye says you are someone to be respected, and is comfortable in your own skin.
If you look everywhere but the eyes of the person you’re
talking to, it tells them you are not to be taken seriously. Just like with
smiling and posture, eye contact can be something you do to consciously to
change how you feel, rather than waiting to feel like making eye contact.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
Nowhere is it more evident that you can affect your internal state by changing your external state than it is when we look at the clothes you wear.
Researchers Adam and Gallinsky looked into something they called “enclothed cognition,” which is the idea that the clothes we wear will have a demonstrable change in our mental state.
In 2008 they performed several experiments. In one, they had some participants wear a lab coat while others wore street clothes. Their task was to spot items that didn’t belong in groups of objects, like one orange M&M in a group of red M&Ms.
The participants in lab coats made half as many mistakes as the participants in street clothes!
It gets even better. In another test some people were asked to wear a doctor’s coat. Some participants were asked to wear a painter’s coat. Others simply had a coat in the vicinity and were not told what kind it was.
It was the same coat in all three situations.
Once they were ready, the participants were given simple tasks that evaluated their cognitive abilities. The participants wearing, what they believed were, the doctor’s coat performed better than the other groups.
This has powerful implications!
One of the fastest ways to improve your confidence is to wear
something that makes you feel confident!
IMAGINE BEING CONFIDENT
Just like you are able to influence your confidence levels based on the way you are holding your body, you can leverage your imagination to do the same thing.
Visualize yourself being successful in a new skill. Imagine
yourself as the most confident person in the world. It might feel silly at
first, but the more you do it, the better trained your mind becomes at telling
yourself you’re super awesome! And that’s what you need for confidence!
HELP YOURSELF BY HELPING OTHERS
A big component of self confidence is the ability to relate to yourself in a positive way. One of the quickest ways to make a positive difference in your life is to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.
Do something nice for someone you know needs some help. Tip an extra dollar to the person who makes your bagel tomorrow morning. No matter how small, any positive gesture you can do for someone else will show you that you can make a difference in the world. Your effort does make a difference, and you are capable of making something good happen in the world.
That will have you feeling on top of the world in no time!
CREATE A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”~Jim Rohn
Are the people in your life supportive and positive? Or do they continually ridicule and criticise?
Even if it is done under the guise of playfulness, constant negativity from the people in your life will wear down your self confidence.
How about your job? Are you in a line of work you are poorly suited for? If you are constantly finding yourself unable to perform the tasks assigned to you, it will not bolster your confidence.
Figure out what you enjoy doing, and then go do that!
If you are in a situation that you cannot change (like living with parents who are less than helpful) understand that it is a temporary situation, and it will get sooooo much better.
Take effort to create as much positivity and support in your
life as you can. This will go a long way to providing an environment of
encouragement and confidence.
KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK
CONFIDENCE IS A PROCESS
Self confidence is not something that you either have, or you don’t have. Instead, it is constantly in flux, and can either go up or down depending on your attitude and outlook. In a way, confidence is a habit.
If your whole life’s habit has been to be down on yourself, you’re not going to suddenly be Captain Confident in a single moment.
Give yourself permission to work on it, and understand that it
will be a life-long process of developing confidence. Remember, only compare
yourself against who you were yesterday. When you see the improvement, this
will provide you a significant source of encouragement.
BE CONTINUOUSLY GRATEFUL
The simple fact that you’re alive is an incredible marvel.
Given how unlikely it is that either one of us should be on this planet, it’s amazing to me that anyone can lose sight of what an amazing source of wonderment being alive is. But we all do it.
Like I said, before, often times our self confidence is
undermined by comparing ourselves to someone else. If, however, you are able to
focus on what you are able to be grateful for, you’ll discover you have enough
and you are enough.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW
Self confidence improves with competence. If you can improve your skills, you’ll also improve your confidence.
If you focus on the areas that would yield the most improvement you are creating the opportunity for maximum confidence growth. Think of it like this: If you are already really really good at something, you’ll have to work incredibly hard for a marginal improvement.
If you work on something new, you’re usually so bad at it that
any improvement will be a drastic improvement. When you see such positive
results so quickly, it will help you believe that you really can accomplish
your goals, and that’s really what confidence is all about, isn’t it?
MAKE UNCERTAINTY YOUR FRIEND
People who lack self confidence often want to know how something will turn out before it happens. Uncertainty can be a major source of anxiety, and anxiety eats away at confidence.
If you can learn to appreciate uncertainty, you will completely reframe your experience of it. This reminds me of the Zen quote, “Relax, nothing is under control.”
Any sense of control you might have is illusion. You have as much control over the universe as a wave has over the ocean. The sooner you can relax and enjoy the ride, the better.
Once you accept that life is a dynamic process, you can be
confident in your ability to meet it as it comes, live your life with
integrity, and enjoy the ride while you can.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our journey into understand how to improve your self confidence.
Basically it boils down to the belief that you are a capable person. If you’re not there yet start with small chances and pay attention to the victories. Based on previous success you can try bigger and bigger things. Soon enough, you will have created the belief that you can make positive change in your life, and that’s one of the most powerful beliefs you can have.
There’s a reason I called it “building self confidence” and not “immediately wishing and getting confidence.” It’s a process, so be kind to yourself along the way.
We’re all on the path, and I hope to see you on the road sometime!