Confidence is the natural state of life before it gets obscured by anxieties.
Confidence is when you are free from anxiety about being you. You are free from anxiety about your perceived “imperfections”.
You are free from anxiety about what life is presenting you with at the current moment.
You don’t spend all your time worrying about the past or the future, because you know the past can’t be changed and the future hasn’t happened yet, but when it does happen you can handle it.
Further, you have no desire to be anyone else, to be any other way, or worry about what others make think of you.
On the last point, not worrying about what others think of you is not coming from an attitude of aversion, which is based on fear and past hurt. That’s like saying “I don’t care what anybody else thinks” when, in fact, you do care quite a bit.
Confidence comes from knowing you have everything you need.
confidence comes from knowing that nothing else you could be doing right now is guaranteed to make you any happier than you currently are!
Once you find this to be true your anxieties start to fade and you find yourself in a pretty good place.
This may sound all well and good, but how the hell do you arrive at this point?
Everyone Struggles With Confidence
Everyone struggles with doubts about themselves. In fact, some people you see who seem to be full of confidence are actually some of the least confident people out there.
If my memory is accurate, my struggles began towards the end of elementary school in the 6th grade. Three of my strongest recollections are:
1. My sixth grade math teacher calling me a “perfect idiot”.
2. Having girls inform me of how hot my older brother was (this went on through my freshman year of high school)
3. The complete disintegration of my elementary school group of friends due to intra-group squabbles over females (our animal instincts start young), as well as the transition into 7th grade and it’s accompanying shakeup and reorganization of the established social order. I felt abandoned by people who had been my friends.
Taken together, these events shaped a powerful “I suck” narrative that persisted until my late 20s when I started to question what I had been telling myself for so many years.
Once a negative self image is formed, it’s a sticky thing. You view life through a certain prism where everything bad that happens is a result of your own suckiness and everything good is just dumb luck.
You don’t realize that just because bad things happen in life, it doesn’t mean they are definitely going to happen. The first is realistic, the second is pessimistic.
In the meantime, while you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop and not trusting anyone, you miss all the good in your life because it doesn’t fit your negative “woe-is-me” narrative.
The Solid Foundations of Confidence
Most people think of confidence as something you gain after you have some success. While I think successes are important for confidence in some ways, in others it can be detrimental. Constantly thinking in terms of success and failure reduces our life to a grand competition, with clear winners and losers in every aspect of it.
If that’s what you want your life to be, so be it. Your mind will think in those terms. But that is just one model by which life can be viewed, and it may not be accurate, since in the long run we are all dead. Beliefs in judgement and the afterlife aside, death is the great equalizer.
If you’d prefer to have a much more inclusive view of life, and in my view less stressful and more pleasurable, here are some underlying foundations upon which you can build your confidence.
1. Understand what you control
There are only two things that you directly control in your life: how you treat people and your effort. All other control is mostly illusory.
The only thing that brings any long-term happiness is goodness. Negative behaviors are a defense mechanism and have their origins in fear and anger. Be kind and amiable. Don’t manipulate and use others for your own ends. If those things worked, manipulative people would be happy. People who celebrate “always getting what they want” are dying a slow spiritual death whether they know it or not.
If you give the right effort, and things don’t go your way, don’t be troubled. Not everything goes our way in life. Often, trappings of success depend on other people’s decisions and the decision can go against you. This point was written about in a recent post, so I won’t go into it here.
When a decision doesn’t go my way, whether it’s in my personal life or business, 95% of my thought process is “this person must be crazy to not want me in their life”.
The other 5% takes it personally. Some of that 5% is left-over low confidence (thought patterns never really vanish completely, they lurk in the background). But I like to retain some doubt so that I never get so comfortable with myself that I leave no room for growth.
2. You must “fail” miserably
You must “fail” and emotionally hit rock bottom; and then realize it’s not so bad. It’s your struggles that give you perspective as long as you don’t let them consume you. Without the struggles you would have no idea what it’s like to feel good. We can only know things through comparison.
People may disagree on this point, but I believe “failure” is an arbitrary label and only exists in the human mind. Lots of perceived failures turn out to be proverbial blessings in disguise.
3. Don’t covet or envy the lives of others
Just because someone has what you think you want, it doesn’t mean they are happy. In addition, what you think you want may not actually make you happy.
What if you would do anything to be popular but then once you are part of the in-crowd, you realize how vapid, dysfunctional, and empty it all is?
What if you would do anything to become a guy that all the girls like, but then you realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be?
Usually we only covet certain aspects of someones life. I remember a friend admiring another woman’s arms and telling me she wanted those arms. As something of an expert in fitness, I responded that to get those arms her diet would have to be vastly better and she’d have to spend a lot more time in the gym. My friend quickly reconsidered her desire.
Everyone has secret sorrows, struggles, and pains that aren’t in full view. If obtaining what the other person seems to have would require you to assume everything in that person’s life, including the bad, would you still want it?
4. You aren’t missing anything.
How many people go out on New Year’s Eve simply because they think they will miss out on something while the rest of the world is out having fun?
When you realize you aren’t missing anything, you settle down and are more accepting of whatever is present to you at this very moment.
Understanding this point only comes through experience and contemplation. You have to experience as many things as possible before you realize that you aren’t missing anything. That’s what your teens and twenties, and maybe your early 30s, are for.
For example, many guys have the fantasy of being with an incredibly beautiful woman. I know I did. But then it happened and, to my ignorant surprise, it wasn’t so great. There was no character behind the beauty. It was an ego boost but not much else. The fantasy was better than the real thing.
Men and women attach importance to beauty (and wealth and status) where none is truly warranted. A beautiful woman, or a really handsome man, or a rich and powerful man, or whatever attribute someone has attained, is most certainly not guaranteed to bring anything positive into your life, especially if that person’s character is lacking.
6. You don’t need a romantic relationship to be happy.
People don’t really believe me on this one, or sometimes they believe it could be true, but doesn’t happen to be true for them. Or perhaps they have found that they are only happy when they are with someone because it fills a void. Or perhaps “misery loves company”. Motivations vary.
But I know I have a pretty good life. I’m content. I have jobs I like, friends I like, and many intellectual interests.
I’ve been in relationships before. They can cause a lot of stress that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Sure, there are experiences that can only be had with a partner, but relationships aren’t guaranteed to bring more good times than stressful times.
In fact, I’ve seen lots of lives ruined by picking the wrong partner.
The following quote from Joseph Campbell expresses my belief about companionship:
“True passion is not the romantic fascination we associate with teenage crushes, it’s a deep wonderment and interest in the other”
That doesn’t mean I’m against romantic relationships, but the wonderment and interest in the other person better be there, too. And the truth is, romantic relationships don’t
guarantee any more contentment than you can have on your own, assuming you are already happy.
7. Letting go of expectations.
Whenever you attach expectations to life, they become conditions for happiness, and thus impediments to authentic experience. “But surely” you may think to yourself, “my expectations are quite reasonable”.
I guess everyone decides for themselves what is reasonable, but if you are over the age of 30 and they haven’t been even close to being fulfilled, perhaps they are more fantasy than realistic.
Anyway, it seems to me that the most exciting and fulfilling moments are those that occur unexpectedly.
Admittedly, the things I listed above took years for me to experience and internalize. You’ve probably already experienced some of the things I’ve already written, albeit in slightly different contexts.
Adding this all up, what you realize is that you are “it”. You already have everything you need. It’s just your thought processes that need to change.
Since the human mind makes sense of things through comparison, if it makes you feel better, I can state this quite confidently:
despite your beliefs about others and yourself, no one else you know is guaranteed to be happier than you are, despite what they seem to have. Because happiness and confidence are a mindset, not material items.
Adopting the beliefs about confidence that I listed in the opening will go a long way towards increasing anybody’s happiness. But you must put those beliefs into the context of your own life and see if they are true for you.
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