Self-confidence is a sticky subject for a lot of guys.
For one thing, it’s a broad topic that encompasses everything from how we think and feel to how we look and interact with other human beings.
For another, it’s not a topic we really like to talk about all that often. If you don’t have much confidence, you probably don’t want anyone to know that; and if you do, you might feel like talking about it will make you seem conceited, or even crass.
No One to Confide In
As a result, many men are left with all sorts of questions about their own self-confidence (or lack thereof) and no one who they feel like they can talk to about it.
To help guys who are struggling with a lot of the same issues I had (and continue to have), I’ve collected answers to some of the most popular questions about self-confidence below.
Popular Questions About
How do I build self-confidence if I’m too intimidated to even get started?
Both implicitly and explicitly, the media tells us we should strive for a ripped physique, dapper style and smooth social moves.
But it doesn’t tell you what to do if you’re too scared to set foot in the gym, feel silly wearing a suit and can barely bring yourself to speak to another human being.
This is often one of the first hurdles the contemplative man identifies in his quest for confidence: the person we want to be seems so far away from the person we are now that trying to become him feels futile – and, if we’re being honest, terrifying.
The best strategy I’ve found for overcoming this sense of overwhelm comes from the book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by psychologist Nathaniel Branden.
Branden developed a therapy method known as sentence completion that’s designed to help you think more deeply about your aspirations and identify steps you can take to achieve them.
Here’s how it works:
- At the top of a page, write down a sentence stem such as “If I bring five percent more awareness to (insert goal or problem here) today…”
- Next, immediately write down six to ten completions of the sentence as fast as you can, without pausing to think consciously about your answers.
The genius of the exercise is that it not only gets you thinking about small, easy-to-achieve steps you can take to achieve your goals – it reveals that you already know what those steps are.
Achieving your goal, then, becomes a simple matter of executing the steps you’ve laid out for yourself.
Real World Example
Let’s use improving your style as an example. If you have a closet full of raggedy old t-shirts, you’re probably not going to rush out and replace them with crisp-fitting suits overnight.
After all, buying your first suit is intimidating, and if you’ve spent your whole life dressing casually, you’ll probably feel uncomfortable in a brand new kit.
Instead, try writing down the sentence stem, “If I brought just 5% more awareness to improving my appearance today…” then jot down your answers as quickly as possible.
They might look something like:
“…I would replace my ratty old sneakers with some crisp white kicks”
“…I would ditch the hoodie in favor of a well fitting Rugby sweater”
“…I would have my shirts tailored”
“…I would get a more stylish haircut”
“…I would replace my t-shirts with polos”
Before you know it, you’ll quickly amass a list of small, easy-to-execute tweaks, all of which would give your look an instant upgrade.
By making a series of small, incremental changes, you’ll not only start to look better, you’ll start to feel more comfortable – and more confident – with the idea of looking good.
Before long, you’ll adjust to your new, five-percent-better look and ask yourself how you can increase your look by another five percent, and then another, and so on and so forth.
So if you’re having trouble getting started on a self-improvement endeavor of any kind, try asking yourself what you would do if you brought just 5% more awareness to the problem.
In almost all cases, the right starting point will reveal itself.
Why can’t I stop comparing myself to others?
First and foremost, understand that if you constantly catch yourself comparing yourself to others, you’re not alone.
“Some psychologists, most notably Leon Festinger, believe that our desire to compare ourselves to others is a drive—one almost as powerful as thirst or hunger,” writes Rutgers University sociologist Deborah Carr.
So rest assured that comparing yourself to others is a perfectly normal and natural part of the human experience.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a particularly pleasant one. When we compare ourselves to others we tend to focus primarily, if not entirely, on what we perceive to be others’ strengths while ignoring their weaknesses – making ourselves feel inferior in the process.
Plus, as Carr points out, constantly comparing ourselves to others can turn friends into rivals.
“If we use others as a benchmark to evaluate ourselves, that creeping twinge of jealousy may undermine our ability to truly cherish the good things that come to others,” she writes.
Temporal vs. Social Comparison
So, how do we circumvent this most human of tendencies?
Since it’s pretty much impossible to resist our urge to make comparisons, Carr recommends comparing yourself not to others, but to yourself – more specifically, to past and future versions of yourself.
“This process, called temporal comparison, is less well-known than Festinger’s social comparison theory, but there are good reasons why we should rely on temporal rather than social comparisons when taking stock of our lives,” she says.
More specifically, Carr says temporal comparison allows you to structure your goals in a manner that’s both realistic and practical:
“Having a clear idea of what we need to do, what we have been doing, and what’s got to change can help us to take realistic steps to reach our goals.”
In addition, temporal comparison allows you to better identify and understand any issues in your life that may be keeping you from reaching your goals.
For instance, maybe your goal is to build muscle. You start a workout plan that’s supposed to last eight weeks, and for the first two, you follow it diligently. But by week three, you’ve fallen off the wagon.
By comparing your diligence this week to the past two weeks, you can identify where and why you went off track, allowing you to course correct and get back at it for week four.
This is a much healthier and more productive way to approach the problem then if you had simply sat at home during week three and lamented the fact that “everybody else” works so much harder than you.
As Carr puts it: “By focusing on self-improvement rather than one-upmanship, we’ll have a more realistic and insightful strategy for reaching our goals, and ideally, our friends and loved ones will be there to support us along the way.”
Psychology Today | 3 Reasons to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Zen Habits | Life’s Enough: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Becoming Minimalist | A Helpful Guide to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
What’s the fastest way for me to build self-confidence?
Before I can answer this question, I have to point out the problem with its premise: building real, authentic and lasting self-confidence takes time (unfortunately).
Whether you’re trying to feel more confident about your body, your people skills, your style or any other aspect of your life, the only real way to effect change is by taking small, incremental steps toward improvement, day in and day out.
As Navy SEAL, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, author, podcaster and all around bad-ass Jocko Willink puts it:
Getting better isn’t a hack or a trick or a one change that you need to make. Getting better is a campaign. It’s a campaign. It’s a daily, a weekly, it’s an hourly fight. An incessant fight that doesn’t stop against weakness and against temptation and laziness.
It’s a campaign of discipline. It’s a campaign of hard work, of dedication.
It’s waking up early and going to bed late and grinding it out every second in between. Every, single, day.
So, you want to get better, you want to self improve? Stop looking for a short cut and go find your alarm clock and find your discipline.
But with all of that said, it’s also true that some actions yield more immediate results than others. While consistency is the key to confidence, there are a few quick wins you can rack up to help yourself feel better in the moment. They include:
Yes, it sounds like something your sister does at yoga class. But don’t let the name fool you – it also works.
Research by Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy has shown that adopting a dominant position for two minutes can increase your levels of testosterone by 20 percent and decrease cortisol (the stress hormone) by 25 percent.
Carve out two minutes each day to strike a powerful pose and you’ll immediately feel the difference.
Clean Up Your Look
There’s no denying that when you look good, you feel good. Read this post to learn 14 quick things you can do to look more handsome.
Clean Up Your Diet
Starting a workout plan is an obvious way to both look and feel better, but it might be awhile before you see results – especially if you don’t update your diet accordingly.
Use the tips in this post to make eating clean easier, and you’ll quickly find you have more energy and vitality – two essential ingredients for building confidence.
I learned the hard way – by wasting a lot of time – that before I could improve my mind, body people skills and style, I first had to understand what I was doing wrong.
For me that education came from myriad books covering everything from the psychology of self-esteem to what to say at parties.
Make a list of the areas you’d most like to improve or the skills you’d most like to develop, then seek out books on those topics. I found that even before I had put the advice I learned from books into action, I felt more confident just by virtue of knowing that I was (finally) on the right track.
To help you get started, I’ve put together a list of the best (non-bullshit) self-help books for guys.
How do I get over my fear of failure?
In my experience, the best way to get over your fear of failure is to reframe and depersonalize what failure really means.
Too often we make the mistake of assuming that if we fail to achieve a certain result, it will betray a personal flaw on our parts. We avoid trying new things because we fear that, if we fail, we’ll have to admit that we are failures.
But the truth is that failure is inevitable. Literally everybody fails. Going through life trying to avoid failure is kind of like going through life trying to avoid hearing a Justin Bieber song: it’s futile, so you may as well embrace it.
Once you accept the inevitability of failure, you’ll quickly start to think of it not as a reflection of your personal worth, but as a normal, necessary and even valuable part of life.
Some of the most successful people view failure in this way. There are essentially two types of people: those who spend their lives trying to avoid failure at all costs, and those who embrace it – and in so doing, learn from it and grow.
It’s only the latter group who achieve great things, as illustrated by one of Michael Jordan’s most famous quotes:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
By acknowledging – and better still, embracing – the fact that everybody fails, you’ll learn how to harness failure’s lessons and join an elite class of high-achievers.
How do I bounce back from rejection or failure?
OK, so you’ve accepted that failure is a normal part of life – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting.
Even when you acknowledge that failure is commonplace, you’ll need a strategy for overcoming the feeling on inadequacy that all too often accompanies it.
While you can find no shortage of listicles and multi-part strategies for bouncing back from a setback, my favorite is the simple, two-step process outlined by Jim Rohn.
Rohn acknowledges that everybody fails at one point or another and suggests two simple steps for rebounding from these missteps:
1. “Take Responsibility for The Missed Opportunity”
It’s tempting (and oh-so-easy) to blame others for our failures. But it’s only by taking responsibility for them that we give ourselves a chance to learn and improve, Rohn argues.
“Be prepared for the letdowns that happen every so often,” he writes. “Know that this lost opportunity just set you up to take advantage of the next one. Realize that you can make the necessary alterations next time.”
2. “Remind Yourself That You’re Bound to Get Better”
Think back to when you were in school and you got a bad grade on a math test. Sure, you may have felt bad about it, but you probably didn’t blame your teacher for being inept, or the curriculum for being inappropriate for a 10-year-old, or the text book for being poorly written.
Chances are you simply accepted what happened, learned from it, and did better next time. (For the purposes of this argument, I’m assuming that you did, eventually, pass fourth grade math.)
You can apply the same attitude to literally any setback, and grow as a result.
“Don’t get down on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s the next opportunity that matters, not the previous one,” writes Rohn.
“The previous one matters only in that you must learn from your mistakes. But the next one gives you the opportunity to show that you have learned from your mistakes.” (emphasis mine)
By taking responsibility for your failures and mistakes, you become what Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls “response-able” – you are able to respond.
And in responding, you give yourself an opportunity to improve and grow.
Success | How to Bounce Back From Failure (by Jim Rohn)
Huffington Post | How To Bounce Back From Failure — Over And Over Again
Psych Central | 6 Steps Toward Resilience & Greater Happiness
Psychology Today | 4 Proven Ways to Bounce Back From Failure
How do I bring confidence from one part of my life to another?
Annoyingly, confidence isn’t one-size-fits-all. Oftentimes we feel great about our abilities or performance in one aspect of life, and downright embarrassed about others.
You might think you’re a math genius, but break out in a flop sweat when talking to girls. Or you could know you’re a good speaker, but you hate how scrawny your arms are. Or maybe you’re comfortable with your athleticism, but can’t wear a suit to save your life.
While you can’t exactly transfer your confidence from one facet of life to another, you can determine how and why you became confident in certain fields, and then repeat that method elsewhere.
Say for example that you grew up with a reputation for being the smartest kid in class. In academic and professional settings you’ve always excelled, and you feel confident in your intellectual prowess.
But in social settings, things were different. You started to notice that other guys somehow had a seemingly natural ability to talk to girls (seemingly being the operative word), while you clammed up, over-thought everything and could barely string a sentence together.
Instead of getting hung up on the fact that you’re not as smooth as you’d like, ask yourself why you’re great at taking tests, but not at talking to women.
Chances are, it’s not because you’re preternaturally gifted at tests, it’s because you’re more practiced. You studied, you read, you spent time on intellectual pursuits that helped develop your critical thinking skills, all of which make tests and other academic pursuits easier for you.
And while you were doing all that, how much time did you spend engaging people in conversations? Probably not a lot.
So the reason you’re much better at tests than at parties isn’t because you’re preternaturally gifted, but because you’re more practiced. Test-taking and socializing are both skills, and you’ve just practiced one a lot more often than the other.
When you start to evaluate the reasons why you’re confident in one area and not others, you realize that your lack of confidence stems not from your self-worth, but merely from a lack of practice.
Shift your focus to the areas you want to improve, and self-confidence will follow.
How can I develop confidence if I never had good role models in my life?
Unfortunately, we’re not all blessed with prototypically perfect father figures like Sandy Cohen.
Some of us have family, friends or other close relations who display traits we would have rather not learned, from negativity and pessimism to more serious concerns like aggression and even violence.
The good news is that your development is not your destiny. Even if you grew up around less-than-ideal influences, you have the ability to choose both who you want to be, and who you want to model.
And you don’t have to look far to find admirable men doing excellent work. Your own community is no doubt full of teachers, organizers, charity workers and other stand up citizens whose examples you can learn from.
But you don’t need a personal connection to great leaders in order to learn from them. Thanks to podcasts, biographies and autobiographies, we have the ability to learn and internalize lessons from great men not just throughout the world, but throughout history.
Book stores (by which I of course mean Amazon, because who goes to book stores anymore?) are packed with biographies of men whose life stories will both inspire you and provide you with a model to adapt to your own life.
Here are just a few books that can help get you started:
Do you have any questions about self-confidence that I haven’t answered here? Let me know!
I’ll do my best to answer them for you.
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