Confidence is fragile.
It’s easy to fall apart as a person. It’s easy to get distracted.
Situational factors can easily throw you off course. It’s easy to lose sight of who you are, or who you want to be.
But confidence is really important. It’s your belief in your ability to develop skills, learn, and achieve goals. It is “a person’s belief in their ability to influence events that affect their lives.”
If you don’t believe you have control over what happens in your life, you quickly lose hope. You quickly lose purpose. You quickly begin fading into passivity and depression as a person.
The thing is: We all go through hard times in life.
Going through hard things is the name of the game. You can’t control everything happening around you. Stuff happens. But also, stuff happens inside of you, even when you are trying your best. Sometimes you fall flat on your face. Sometimes things don’t go exactly how you planned.
It’s easy to lose your confidence on the path toward the life you want. In fact, without the right perspective and the right approach, you’ll never make it where you want it to go.
Something will happen along the way… you’ll fail, something won’t work out, you’ll hit a glass ceiling. Something will happen and you’ll be left with two choices:
- Give up
- Keep going
Robert Brault has an amazing quote here: “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”
For most people, “failures” or “situations” end up shattering their confidence and faith, and they end up forfeiting their future to a “lesser” but “clearer” path. By forfeiting, rather than moving through the challenge (with help) — their confidence and identity shrink.
When your confidence shrinks, your future shrinks.
Whatever it is you’re trying to do, if you want to get there, you’ll need help along the way. You’ll need to be radically honest about what you’re going through. You’ll need to reframe your identity over and over.
This article will show you how:
Be Vulnerable About Where You Are (And How You Feel)
“All progress starts by telling the truth.” — Dan Sullivan
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” — Mr. Rogers
The worst thing you can do during challenging times is to keep your emotions INSIDE.
When you isolate and bury your emotions, then those emotions become TRAUMA.
When emotions become TRAUMA, then you become stuck in and defined by the past.
Your past becomes your enemy, rather than your friend. Your past is seen as happening TO you, not FOR you. Your past continues to be emotion driving you, rather than information you can use.
TRAUMA means you haven’t reframed your experience. It means you haven’t learned from it, but instead, you are continuing to be the slave to it.
Unresolved trauma leads you to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as addiction and distraction. This is why Alcoholics-Anonymous has the mantra: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
Be open about where you are. Otherwise, you’ll become a shell of yourself. As trauma expert Gabor Maté, MD, says, “What we call the personality is often a jumble of genuine traits and adopted coping styles that do not reflect our true self at all but the loss of it.”
Here are two excellent ways to “Be vulnerable about where you’re at”:
- JOURNALING: Writing about what you’re dealing with is essential. There is so much science to prove this point. Writing about what you’re dealing with allows you to think about it differently. It allows you to see it differently. It turns confusion into words and coherent thoughts, which you can then comprehend and choose what to do with. Writing in your journal every single day is a habit everyone should develop. It helps you become far more self-aware, it helps you reframe experiences, and helps you proactively determine who you want to be.
- TALKING: Aside from journaling, you can and should have people in your life whom you can talk to when you’re going through hard experiences. Whenever I’m overwhelmed, I call my friend Wayne or my mom. They always empathetically listen, encourage me, and by the time I’m done with the phone call, I feel much better. There were many instances during my PhD program when I felt very lonely. I remember pulling all-nighters in strange buildings on campus, studying for some HUGE TEST and wanting to give up. I’d call Wayne and he’d help me through it.
Michael Fishman has said, “Self-made is an illusion. There are many people who played divine roles in you having the life that you have today. Be sure to let them know how grateful you are.”
Tell What You’re Striving to Accomplish (And Who You’re Striving To Be)
“When you speak of what you want, and even one person hears, it may begin a generative loop.” — Joshua Wolf Shenk
In addition to being open and honest about your struggles — whether past or present — you need to become radically honest about your goals. You need to be honest about what you want in your life.
This can take a huge amount of courage.
According to research done by Bronnie Ware, the #1 regret of people on their deathbeds is:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
It takes incredible courage to fully own and admit what you want for yourself. Sometimes, it’s hard to even admit it to ourselves.
When you go through hard experiences and lose your confidence, or just get busy with the hustle and bustle of life — you can forget what you truly want.
Here again: Journaling really helps. If you have a practice of journaling daily, you can begin to be honest with yourself about the life you’d truly love to be living.
You can write about your life and how it’s turned out. You can also write about how you’d LOVE it to turn out. Everything in your past and everything happening in your life right now is happening FOR you. As Byron Katie wrote: “Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you.”
There’s no need to be frustrated or upset about your past or current circumstances. Instead, you need to think about and write about what you genuinely want.
You can actually train your desires. You can define what you want and then fuel that desire. You fuel that desire by:
- Defining it
- Describing it
- Making it your new story and identity
- Investing money, time, and energy into it
- Taking daily steps toward it (often courageous steps)
The most courageous (and powerful) thing you can do, once you admit what you want, is to begin TELLING EVERYONE.
Yes, there is a “debate” about whether you should tell people about your goals. This debate is ridiculous when you really read into it, and when you understand how identity, confidence, and motivation work.
Those who say you shouldn’t tell your goals to people almost always mention the negative feedback you may get, and how that feedback can destroy your confidence.
There is some merit to this. Yes, if you start telling everyone about who you truly want to be, you may get some nay-sayers. You may get negative feedback.
But if you don’t tell people what you want, then you’re lying to yourself and you’re lying to them. You’re being inauthentic. Your relationship with them is ultimately a lie because you’re posturing and posing as someone you’re not — simply to live up to the expectations they have of you, or to remain in the comfort of being consistent with who you’ve been.
Being consistent with who you’ve been is not a good thing.
Being consistent with who you genuinely want to be is a great thing.
When you clarify your future self — who you genuinely want to be — and then, when you begin telling everyone about your goals, you clarify your CURRENT IDENTITY.
You also simplify your life, because motivation is based on three things:
- Having a clear and personally compelling goal
- Having a path to achieve that goal
- Having the confidence you can do it
Complexity kills motivation.
Defining and describing your future simplifies your future, as well as your path. Also, telling people what you want makes it more real to you. It creates an environment of honesty, accountability, and openness.
By telling people what you want, they can watch you transform in real-time. They can see your steps in that direction.
I remember five years ago when I first started writing online. I was committed to becoming a professional author. I began telling people that that’s what I wanted to do and that I was going to get started. Then people began seeing me post terrible blog posts.
And they supported me!
Then, over the next few years, they continued seeing me write more and more. Eventually, they saw me publish a major market book. They watched me go from who I was to who I wanted to be because I told them about it while it was happening.
If you don’t tell people, they won’t see the changes happening in you, because as people, it’s easy for us to have tunnel vision. It’s easy to be mindless and to assume you’re the same person you’ve always been.
But when you’re honest about where you’re going, they can watch your journey. They can support it. You can stop being defined by your past. You can start being consistent with your future self, not your former self. Put another way, you can start living consciously and on purpose, rather than subconsciously, repetitive, and as a byproduct of your current persona or environment.
How Identity Is Formed
“In describing themselves individuals create their own narrative identity.” — Dr. Dan McAdams (et al.)
“Narrative identity is the product of narrative accounts of a person’s past, present, and future.” — Dr. Ulla Hytti
“These stories are interpretations and recollections of experiences rather than factual accounts. Therefore, the construction of an identity comes through the continuous process of telling stories.” — Dr. Melin Bjursell
It’s also shaped by your behavior, but your behavior — especially the behavior you pay most attention to — is based on how you describe yourself.
Ellen Langer, the Harvard psychologist who has spent decades studying mindfulness said this:
“If something is presented as an accepted truth, alternative ways of thinking do not even come up for consideration. . . . When people are depressed they tend to believe they are depressed all the time. Mindful attention to variability shows this is not the case.”
In other words, when you’ve defined yourself as depressed, you think that is always true.
Anaïs Nin said, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are”
Put another way, we see the world through the lens of our identity. This identity should be consciously chosen. Your way of describing your past, present, and future should be consciously done.
Your “identity narrative” should ideally be based on your chosen future. When you begin telling people about who you plan to be, you literally train your brain to see it everywhere.
Take for example when you buy a new car. When you buy a car, you start to see that car everywhere.
But there is something you DON’T notice when you buy a new car… and that’s the hundreds of other cars. Those other cars are there, but you don’t see them.
You only see what’s relevant to you.
This is why being conscious of your own identity is so crucial. You want to train yourself to SEE, or selectively attend to, whatever it is you WANT to see!
This is why you must tell everyone about your goals.
You must tell everyone about your future self.
You can’t keep it secret.
Once you begin telling everyone, your perceptual world will begin to shape itself around your vision. You’ll begin to see the world through the lens of your chosen identity. You’ll begin to become consistent with your future self.
You’ll start to build incredible confidence, which will further expand your vision and motivation.
How Courage And Confidence Are Built
“Personal confidence comes from making progress toward goals that are far bigger than your present capabilities. “ — Dan Sullivan
By courageously telling everyone about who you plan to be, you’ll begin to make progress.
You’ll also need to courageously and consciously take actions, even small actions, toward your desired future self.
When you speak and act as your future self, you “signal” to yourself, and your subconscious, that this is WHO YOU ARE.
A recent meta-analysis shows confidence is built from recent performance. Small steps count.
How To Become Anyone You Want To Be (I.E., Deliberate Practice)
“Only through imaging a future self with improved skills may we be able to motivate, plan, and execute the honing of skills through deliberate practice.” — Dr. Thomas Suddendorf, Dr. Melissa Brinums, and Dr. Kana Imuta
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of the “10,000 Hour Rule.”
Gladwell was generously borrowing from the decades of research done by the psychologist, Anders Ericsson, who coined the term, “Deliberate Practice.”
What Ericsson argues, is that the “10,000 Hour” rule isn’t a rule. It’s not a rule because just doing something for 10,000 hours doesn’t mean you’re actually becoming any better.
Going to the gym every single day and doing the same “routine” workout isn’t going to turn you into an Olympian.
This is why “Habits” in and of themselves are not necessarily a good thing.
What “Deliberate Practice” means is that you’re moving in a “deliberate” and “chosen” direction.
Research shows that it’s impossible to engage in “deliberate” practice if you don’t have a goal. More specifically, it’s impossible to engage in deliberate practice without a clear “future self” in mind who has the skills, attributes, and circumstances you’re trying to create.
This is why defining your future self is so important.
If you don’t have a clear future self in mind, then you can’t actually choose and undergo a “process” to become that person.
It is, frankly, terrible advice to say one should “ignore goals” and focus only on “the process.” This makes zero sense, is bad advice, and isn’t reflective of the science.
You cannot choose a meaningful process without a goal.
You cannot engage in or create meaningful habits without a goal.
The goal determines the process.
The “process,” if done in a deliberate way, is simply you ACTING as your desired future self. It’s you getting better and better — and failing along the way — at being who you aspire to be.
“Deliberate practice” is supposed to be difficult. It’s challenging because pursuing a future self is, by nature, acting differently from your current and former self.
You’re striving to develop and become someone you want to be. That’s not easy. It’s also why you need a supportive and encouraging environment. You need supporters to help you break through your own glass ceilings because you’ll hit walls along the way. Many walls, in fact.
But as you make small progress toward your future self, you will build CONFIDENCE. With each step of confidence, you’ll believe more and more that you can become who you intend to be. Moreover, with each step forward, you’ll also experience an increase in motivation — which is the desire for what you want. In other words, you’ll want more and more to become the person you plan to be.
Over time, you’ll train your identity and perception, so that not only do you see the world through the lens of your new identity, but you’ll also genuinely BE THAT PERSON.
Anyone who tells you to “ignore goals” is lying to you. They have goals themselves, and the “process” they are undergoing is literally them striving to become their future self.
It is overly simplistic to say, “Focus on habits and ignore goals.” If you ignored goals, how could you actually intentionally and “deliberately” choose habits?
Why start a writing habit just for the sake of writing?
Just admit that you want to be a writer, and that’s why you’re now undergoing the “process” of becoming that, one day at a time.
Nothing Is Ever Finished: Just “Practice” And “Let It Go”
“A painting is never finished — it simply stops in interesting places.” — Paul Gardner
Building confidence, and becoming who you want to be, takes courage. It takes courage to attempt and try and bumble forward.
But that’s how you build confidence.
One important consideration is that “deliberate practice” means just that — PRACTICE.
When you “practice,” it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to mess up.
Here’s another example of bad advice. People often say you should entirely “let go of” or “ignore” outcomes.
That’s really stupid advice!
The outcomes you’re striving for is your future self. Rather than “ignoring” outcomes, you actually must become incredibly COMMITTED to who you want to be. Commitment to your future and your goals is essential to achieving those goals. Commitment is essential to undergo the challenging process of “deliberate practice.”
As John Assaraf told Lewis Howes in an interview:
“If you’re interested, you come up with stories, excuses, reasons, and circumstances about why you can’t or why you won’t. If you’re committed, those go out the window. You just do whatever it takes.”
Here’s the key distinction: You must be FULLY COMMITTED to your end result. But you must “let go of” results you get along the way.
This isn’t to say you “ignore” your results along the way. No! No! No!
The results you get along the way show you how you must adjust and tweak your “process”! If you’re not making progress, then you need to adjust the process.
As an example, when I decided I wanted to become a professional writer, I learned that I needed to get 100,000 email subscribers to achieve my goal of getting a 6-figure book deal.
When I first started blogging, I was getting a couple hundred, maybe a couple thousand page views.
But if I was serious about my goal, then I’d need way more page views than that. So, I adjusted my process and learned how to get more page views BECAUSE I was committed to my goal.
That said, I didn’t over-attach to any specific blog post I wrote. Every post was “practice,” something to learn from but not over-attach to.
The same is true for you: Whatever you’re trying to accomplish — you need to throw out imperfect work. You can’t attach to the outcomes along the way, but you must learn from them.
Let it go when things don’t go well.
This is all just “practice.”
You’ve got this!
Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist and bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work. His blogs have been read by over 100 million people and are featured on Forbes, Fortune, CNBC, Cheddar, Big Think, and many others. He is a regular contributor to Inc. and Psychology Today and from 2015-2018, he was the #1 writer, in the world, on Medium.com. He and his wife Lauren adopted three children through the foster system in February 2018 and, one month later, Lauren became pregnant with twins, who were born in December of 2018. They live in Orlando.
Image courtesy of Garon Piceli.