Life will always throw you curveballs, and force you to grow in ways you never anticipated. Some of that will shake you, some will make you want to run and hide, and some will make you want to stand and show the universe who you are.
Building confidence and self-worth is essential in this, because without it you'll be blown around like a leaf in a hurricane. So finding ways to build confidence, ways to build self-worth, and confidence building activities to maintain a core of confidence isn't just a nice to have, it's imperative.
Here are some of the biggest and most surprising ways to build confidence and self-worth I've found.
Your comfort zone isn't the enemy
There’s nothing quite like a warm bed on a weekend morning.
The ability to luxuriate in the comfort and simplicity of that is something that, after considerable practice, I excel at.
But comfort gets a bad rap.
It’s looked down on as the unwanted and undeserving-of-your-respect relative of getting uncomfortable. Of taking fresh action. Of doing things you’ve never done before.
And then there are some other coaches who constantly tell you to fuck being in your comfort zone, take a cold shower, go bungee jumping and hustle like your life depends on it.
So just how are you supposed to reconcile how damn delicious comfort is, when there are messages all around that it's the big bad?
Here's what the dictionary says:
- a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint
- things that contribute to physical ease and well-being
- prosperity and the pleasant lifestyle secured by it
I don’t know about you, but I want those things. I want oodles of those things. I want my cup to runneth over with comfort and for it to get all in the carpet and between my toes so I’m walking around in the stuff and traipsing it wherever I go.
There’s wonder in your comfort zone. There’s ease there. Pleasure. Joy. Freedom.
The problem comes when your comfort zone stays static, or when it shrinks. That’s when your life gets smaller and the ease and joy become harder to find.
So...what if instead of talking about getting out of your comfort zone, you instead sought to grow your comfort zone?
What if your comfort zone was the whole goddamn world?
What kind of playground would that give you?
Instead of thinking that you shouldn’t look for comfort, or that feeling the need to be comfortable somehow makes you less than someone else who’s out there doing “epic shit”, what if you sought to use the ease and joy and freedom that comes with comfort, and expand it outwards?
This, friend, is what natural confidence offers. A foundation. A bedrock. An unshakeable knowing that whatever happens, you’re enough, and you’re okay.
Build confidence, because it's the means to find comfort in the whole wide world.
How to Play to Win
As a kid I could run fast, but not as fast as others. I couldn’t catch, kick or throw a ball to save my life. I was never interested in sport, so never really tried. And as a result, I was routinely left until last for the team picks.
BUT THEN ONE DAY, SOMETHING ODD HAPPENED.
I was 14 years old when I returned to school from a fantastic family holiday overseas; one of those trips that completely refreshes you. I had a water polo class on that first morning back at school, something I’d normally try to get out of by claiming I’d picked up some rare tropical illness while away and had to be quarantined for the safety of my classmates, but that morning I just went with it. What the hell, I thought.
In the pool, I found myself marking Adam Vanburgen, one of the star players at everything. I was sticking to him like glue, preventing him from getting his shots in, blocking his passes and intercepting the ball on a few occasions.
After 20 minutes I saw him position himself to receive a long pass from up the pool, and I got myself into the perfect position to intercept. Adam glanced over his shoulder, saw me ready to challenge him once again and said, “Christ Steve, where the hell did you go on holiday?!”
In that session of water polo, I’d become something I hadn’t expected. A decent player, playing a decent game of water polo.
What made the difference?
I WASN’T THINKING ABOUT THE COMPETITION; I WAS JUST PLAYING.
Some people believe that success is about getting there faster, better and smarter. Some people measure their progress and success by comparing where they are against where other people are. Some people even base their next choice on how well they think they’re stacking up against the competition.
I believe that living your life in competition with others will destroy your confidence.
The very act of putting your focus on those external measures of competition means that you’re:
- paying more attention to advancing you ahead of the competition, rather than increasing the value of your next choice
- devaluing what you can do when compared to “superior” players
- creating a habit of comparison that automatically creates stress and pressure
KEEP DOING THAT AND YOUR confidence WILL BECOME SHRIVELLED LIKE A BAKED BLADDER.
That morning playing water polo, 2 things changed:
- I had no thoughts about the competition.
- The only thing that mattered was enjoying myself.
My self-worth had nothing to do with winning or losing or being better or being worse than anyone else in that pool; it was based purely on my choice to engage with the game and play to the best of my ability.
It wasn’t even that water polo suddenly mattered to me; I still didn’t give a flying fig about water polo, what mattered to me was the value derived from simply playing.
That's real confidence.
You're a Giant, Cosmic Accident
30 seconds after the big bang (around 13.75 billion years ago), the entire universe was smooth and uniform, having expanded and stretched exponentially due to something called the inflation field.
The universe didn’t really know how things worked back then, and tiny quantum fluctuations meant that some parts of this vast uniformity were slightly less uniform than others. Bits of the universe were more dense than others, and in one tiny, infinitesimal quantum fluctuation grew something called the Virgo supercluster.
Somewhere in here was a random clump and cluster of density, a bit like a birds nest in an overgrown bush on the edge of a wood that you drive by at 70kph. Within that cluster, the result of the minutest, random quantum fluctuations imaginable, is the Milky Way. That’s where you and I hang out, but without those minute fluctuations we simply wouldn’t exist.
Gravity, matter and anti-matter danced for around 9 billion years, forming our early solar system. 100 million years into the life of what we now call the Sun, the solar system wasn’t the homely place you and I are familiar with today. Chunks of rock whizzed all over the place on irregular orbits, and one day (scientists think it was about 4.5 billion years ago, a Tuesday) a lump of rock the size of Mars collided with the Earth, causing quite the stir. Some of the rock embedded itself here on Earth, while other fragments from the collision were blasted out into space.
Some of this material would eventually form the moon, an occurrence that’s generally regarded as a “good thing” as without the moon there would be no gravitational influence to steady the tilt of Earth’s axis, resulting in massive variations in solar heating and catastrophic changes in climate that would make conditions for life on our planet about as likely as Paris Hilton becoming a Nobel laureate.
But that wasn’t the end of the Earth getting walloped by rocks, with the “late heavy bombardment” around 3.9 billion years ago seeing a re-alignment of orbits in our solar system that resulted in a whole heap of trouble for us. Comets, asteroids and other space debris effectively kicked the shit out of the planet, some of them bringing ice from the outer reaches of the solar system which, due to our fortunate position close enough to the sun for water not to freeze but not so close that it boils, gave us water.
Then came life. Nothing as awesome as you and I at first, but single-celled bacteria filled the seas and pretty much had the run of the planet for a billion years or so. Nothing more than dumb chemicals that happened to give out a little oxygen into our sweet, breathe-it-all-in atmosphere, these little critters were perfectly okay as single-celled organisms go. But then an accident happened that changed things considerably.
A bacterium and an archaeon walk into a bar…
One day, one of these cells (a bacterium) was just hanging around wondering how to spend the day (coffee shops hadn’t been invented yet), when it was engulfed by another cell called an archaeon. These guys were a little surprised by the turn of events, but fortunately they got on like a house on fire and formed a clingy kind of relationship that could be termed symbiotic. That single event kicked off a chain of evolution that led to things like cell mitochondria (the batteries that create energy in your cells today) and sex (for which I for one am grateful).
Without these two little guys bumping into each other that day, no complex life would exist on Earth at all.
Not that it was a a straight line from there to here, not by any means. The planet was pretty damn tumultuous around 1.5 billion years ago, with molten eruptions and granite grinding against metal as areas of the crust cooled and shifted, creating a wonderful, wide array of elements for evolution to start playing with.
Then there was the accident that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, when (and this is our best guess, there’s no footage unfortunately) a 10 kilometre wide asteroid hit the Yucatan peninsula in what we now call Mexico. Not only did this create the conditions in which the dinosaurs and other reptiles perished, but created conditions where certain small, sex-loving mammals could adapt and survive, free from their mammal-munching predators. Thanks Mr Asteroid. We owe you our very existence.
Give us a freakin’ break…
You’d think at that point that we’d be given a break and left to our own devices, but from around 20 million years ago to 6 million years ago the Earth spewed enough magma to create two massive mountain ranges in Africa. Running from north to south and standing 2 kilometres high, these new mountain ranges blocked moisture-laden weather patterns, created deep water lakes that disappeared after a couple of hundred years and forced the local primates to adapt.
Being forced to migrate from area to area and to move food from one place to another, those environmental shifts created an evolutionary moment that (you could say) was the precursor to America’s Next Top Model. We learned to stand upright and walk on two feet.
As if that wasn’t enough cosmic coincidence for you, a gene mutation around 2.4 million years ago saw our jaws become weaker than our chimpanzee cousins. Perhaps because we no longer used a bite as a form of attack and spurred on by the ongoing need to either “think your way out, or eat your way out”, as Mark Maslin of University College London puts it, a smaller, weaker jaw meant that we no longer needed the thicker, supporting bone at the back of the skull. The removal of that constraint meant that evolution was able to give us a bigger skull and bigger brain.
But even that wouldn’t have been possible without our old pal Captain Protein. Proteins are made of long chains of amino acids that have evolved over millions of years to organise themselves within thousandths of a second into working, biological nanomachines. These proteins can fold themselves into a mind-boggling number of formations, and all it took was a single mutation in gene MYH16 to have these proteins form a little differently. And hey presto, smaller jaws.
Me got smarts…
With the constraints lifted, our brains grew and we became pretty darn smart. Changes in the brain caused a snowball effect, where mutations caused further changes that not only made sense in themselves, but opened the door for further mutations that enhanced the brain even further. Not only that, but we adapted ways to fuel our larger brains (they need around 20% of our energy at rest compared with 8% for other primates) by mutating ways to pump more blood and glucose into our noggins.
As we spread into the Middle East and Asia, we found all kinds of bountiful new environments and continued to flourish as a species. It was around this time (70,000 years ago) that a couple of mutations meant that protein FOXP2 was folded a little differently, changing just two of the amino acids needed to build it. Until then, we’d used sound to signal aggression, to call others to gather together and other basic calls to action. But this chance mutation allowed more complex vocalisations with more complex rules; the birth of language.
Now, some may argue that this isn’t such a good thing (watch Fox News, for example), but it’s hard to argue with the 16 mutations that lead to the evolution of our opposable thumbs, or the mutations that placed our eyes centrally and allowed us to focus at short distances, allowing us to create and build.
And this is where we arrive, more or less, at the present day.
By all rights, you shouldn’t be here…
From tiny quantum fluctuations, to cosmic collisions on an unfathomable scale, to the nuanced interplay of gravity and mass, to the grinding and spewing of elements and to the accidents of evolution, if even one piece of this chain had gone even slightly differently, humanity wouldn’t exist. You wouldn’t exist.
This whole chain of evolutionary accident and celestial coincidence, played out over billions of years, has given birth to you.
Sitting atop an extraordinary pyramid of happen-stance and luck, you’re the culmination of around 14 billion years work.
Go enjoy it.
How to Seize New Opportunities Without Fear
A new job opportunity that needs you to step up and deliver at a whole new level will have you trembling in your shoes. Entering into a romance after your heart’s been broken will bring out that fear and make you want to run. Quitting work and starting your own business is likely to have you feeling terrified about what you’re doing.
Any new opportunity will come with fear attached. It's just there.
So, here are 3 ideas to help you build confidence so you can confidently seize new opportunities without runny-hidey, shoe-trembly, pant-shitty fear.
Does it look like fun?
Put the fear aside for a second, and look at this new opportunity.
Could it be fun? Could it give you an experience you’ll love? Is it possible that you could have a great time?
If your answer is “yeah”—or maybe even a big, fat, juicy YES—then focus on that instead.
The point at which your energy around doing this thing—whether it’s a new creative pursuit, a physical challenge, a relocation, a career change, leaving a relationship behind or leaning into a new one—is greater than your fear around it, then you have it nailed.
The trick then, is to look for the gold in the opportunity. Ask yourself, “What kind of experience do I want to have?”, then make a decision that's in line with the
richness, texture and joy you want to experience.
Are you just making shit up?
If you’re feeling fear, there's a good chance you’re just making shit up.
Fear is something of a drama queen, and will spin you stories about all the things that could go wrong and how you’ll end up losing out or looking silly.
But fear doesn’t know what’s going to happen any more than you, me or the next guy. The stories in your head aren’t real.
That includes the one about how Ryan Gosling would totally love you if you guys got to hang out, the one about winning the lottery, buying a huge house up on the hill where you’d hold huge parties filled with beautiful people, and it definitely includes the ones that fill you with fear and try to tell you that you’ll only fuck it up.
Notice the stories that don’t serve you and strip your confidence, remind yourself that you’re better than they would have you believe and ask, “What old stories would I love to let go of?”
Will it kill you?
Unless your new opportunity centres around a mission to Mars in a home-made space pod or a radical new approach to deep sea diving that involves holding your breath for a really long time and then counting on the Law of Attraction to manifest you some lovely oxygen, any new opportunity you face is unlikely to kill you.
Fear will try to persuade you otherwise, telling you that it will all fall apart and you'll be screwed.
Sure, you might lose out. That remains a possibility. You might end up with egg on your face. That could happen too. But unless this thing will actually end your life, the rest can be taken care of. You can figure it out. You can make a new choice. You can adapt.
Whatever happens, there’s always a way through. Confidence is being able to recognise that you're bigger than fear. Try responding to it with the question “What kind of person do I want to be?” and see what happens.
Why "Fake It 'til You Make It" Is Terrible Advice
Not so long ago a journalist dropped me an email, asking me for some tips for an article about self-confidence she was writing. Being more than happy to help, I sent her some thoughts and tips and insights, which I thought did a great job of helping people land real, natural confidence.
Some time later, she emails me back with the link to the finished article, and simultaneously my heart sinks and my heckles raise when I see the title:
THIS IS ONE EMOTION THAT YOU SHOULD FAKE
Erm, how about no?
I have 2 things to say regarding faking confidence...
1. It's bullshit
- "Faking it" means you're pretending to be something you’re not. It means you're playing a role.
- Faking it is about getting a short-term burst of outer confidence, rather than acting with genuine, inner confidence.
- Faking it has you acting like you think confident people ought to act, whether it's confidence or not.
- Faking it easily leads to over-compensating, making you bluff and bluster your way through, or slipping into disrespect and even arrogance.
- The act of "faking it" reinforces the belief that you don't have something that other people do, that you're lacking, somehow.
- The choice to fake it wouldn't be necessary if you allowed yourself to be vulnerable and leaned into self-trust.
2. It's damaging to your confidence
Faking it means you're pretending to be something you’re not, making assumptions about who you need to be to move forward, and ignoring who you are and playing the role of someone else.
But maybe worst of all, by choosing to fake confidence you’re reinforcing the belief that you don’t have something that other people do.
You’re telling yourself:
Face it, you’re not good enough to get through this in one piece, so you’d better pretend to have your shit together and be good enough, and then maybe you won’t get found out.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is incredibly damaging to your self-confidence.
But it's not just that.
People often point to research when they say that faking confidence makes you feel confident, but that "research" is based on 2 fundamental misunderstandings.
- "Experts" recommend adopting so called “power postures” to make you feel more confident, like planting your feet and puffing out your chest. These postures have been seen to increase testosterone, and swell short-term feelings of outer confidence. Trouble is, testosterone and outer confidence will make you more likely to bluff and bluster your way through to make other people think you’re confident. That’s not confidence; it’s arrogance.
- Confidence is not the absence of fear, it’s the ability to respond to fear in a meaningful way. Feeling afraid doesn’t mean you’re not confident, in fact, you can be shaking in your boots in the face of a challenge and still have confidence.
Don’t respond to a challenge by pretending to be good enough.
Don’t respond to it by thinking that you shouldn’t be afraid.
Don’t respond to it by thinking that you need to make up for something you lack.
Sometimes faking it is a tactic to avoid doing the real work. But you don't need to fake anything.
To paraphrase something I saw in the 1970's...
Confidence, it's the real thing.
Build confidence, don't fake it.
Success From Confidence, Not Confidence From Success
Finishing up a confidence coaching session where we hit all the right notes and something clicked in my client makes me feel on top of the world.
When I’ve had a wonderful day with good people, where I’ve been able to riff, laugh and connect, I feel like the most confident man who ever lived.
And when I wrap up a corporate gig where I worked my socks off and got the respect of the team, it feels like I could tackle anything.
It’s really damn easy to feel confident when you’ve just got a big win under your belt or had a great time, and the confidence that flows from success feels wonderful.
But it’s so, so easy.
And it’s so, so temporary.
This is extrinsic confidence—confidence that’s made and fuelled by external events, and when the buzz from the success dies, so does the confidence.
Extrinsic confidence doesn't need you to build confidence, because it's outside-in.
Natural confidence is intrinsic. It doesn’t flow from what happens around you, it flows because you've built confidence in what you already have and who you already are.
- A confident artist will throw their heart and soul into their work.
- A confident piano teacher will love every step as their student grows.
- A confident manager will give their team what they need to do great work and not get in their way.
- A confident student will engage with studies and friends without needing to fit in or prove anything.
- And a confident athlete will love the very fact that they get to play and compete to the best of their ability.
Sometimes people get lucky, sure, but don’t wait for your confidence to be built from events that happen around you. You might be waiting a while.
Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.
A core of natural confidence provides the landscape for being of value.
Creating, adding, serving.
And in a beautiful twist, that’s where real, meaningful success happens.
Are you tired of waiting?
How to Turn Fear Into Confidence
Fear is a powerful motivator.
Just wear a meat-helmet to lion training school and see if I’m not wrong.
Fear is powerful indeed, but hardly empowering.
In fact, when you think about it, it strips you of your confidence and power, as it’s the thing that drives you to run away, urges you to curl up into a ball or yells at you to just hurry the fuck up and blend into the environment so you won’t get eaten.
So how do you turn fear into confidence?
How do you remain empowered even when that fear is clawing at you?
Here’s my 1-2-3.
Know it's there
Fear has a habit of either creeping up on you imperceptibly, or jumping out at you from behind the door and shouting “Boo!”.
In either of those situations—situations where you’re just reacting to the presence of fear—it’s odds on that you’ll do whatever that fear tells you to do.
So know that fear is there. Know that it’s there at work when you have to step up. Know that it’s there in your relationship when you have to be vulnerable. And know that it’s right there behind you when you’re looking at making a big, scary change.
It's simply a response to a set of uncertain circumstances, and it's there because it wants to keep you safe.
The fact that it’s there and can make you feel all run-and-hidey is reason for you to want to fight against it. But fear is no more your enemy than your toes are.
Fear is just part of you.
The moment you cast fear as your opponent is the same moment you give it more power than it actually has. You set it up as the Big Bad, the thing that wants to hurt you, the thing to be overcome.
It isn’t something to be overcome. It’s something to move with, because actually, all it wants is for you to be okay.
Don’t turn the experience of fear into a problem.
Smile with it, reassure it, and whisper to it that everything will be okay.
Know It's a Springboard
When you see fear and know that it’s an okay part of your day to day experience, something odd happens.
It creates daylight between your circumstances and your response.
I had a client who, when that daylight hit her face, decided to move to London for a career change rather than stay still out of fear that it might not be the right move. Another client chose to go deeper in her relationship with her boyfriend rather than follow an old pattern of holding him at arm's length. And another, tired and stuck and frustrated out of fear of change, quit her job and became self-employed.
Point is, you always get to choose. Fear doesn't need to call the shots, and it can be a springboard into a meaningful course of action.
That gap, that light between fear and response, that’s where power lives. That's where you build confidence.
Know WHo you are
When you're able to see fear for what it is and choose your response to it, it makes sense to base those choices on who you are and what matters to you.
Ask yourself questions about what stirs you, what gives you flow or what difference you want to make. Look at how you want to grow, what kind of experience you want to have and what kinds of ways you can show up and create value. Think about what you're willing to take a stand on, how you want to respond to challenge, or what you're really made of.
Doesn't it make more sense to respond to fear with all of these things that matter to you, rather than doing what it tells you to do?
This is what confidence is—showing up as you already are and trusting yourself to make meaningful choices.
That's how you turn fear into confidence.