3 lies you’re probably telling yourself about confidence

How cultural misconceptions of self-confidence can hurt you.

How is it that you can be stuck on the same project for years?

I spent years looking for the golden key that would give me permission to move forward.

I told myself that I didn’t have the experience, the money or the connections to do what I wanted, but with one more training course or one more article I’d be ready.

Eventually I had to accept an ugly truth. I wasn’t lacking in skill, I was lacking in confidence. Here’s how I define it:

Confidence is just the belief that you can make something happen.

Without confidence, all I had left was a belief that I couldn’t make it happen. So I unconsciously sabotaged myself, making bad decision after bad decision, and failing to stick to anything long enough to get any kind of traction.

It took me a long time to dig myself out of the no-confidence trap. Here are 3 cultural beliefs I had to let go of in order to get confident again.

Myth 1: Confidence Comes From the Inside

TRUTH: YOU. CAN’T. DO. SHIT. ON. YOUR. OWN.

As wonderful and unique as you are, you would die without other people.

Still,l you’ve been conditioned to believe you’re the best thing since sliced bread by a massive global marketing machine that knows it can prey upon your vanity in order to sell you things.

Thousands of people put a hand in on the hardware and software I’m using to write this, so how much credit can I really take? (Thanks guys.)

Just as you rely on others for virtually everything in your life, the same is true for your confidence.

  • How do you know you’re a great quarterback? People catch your throws. Other people cheer.
  • How do you know you’re a great writer? People read your stuff and tell you they like it.
  • How do you know you’re a bad ass musician? People dance or laugh or cry when you play.

I spent years wandering around, living in cities and towns where I didn’t know a soul. It’s very hard to have confidence when nobody is reinforcing what you’re good at.

How it Can Hurt You

Before I realized that confidence came from other people, I was pretty convinced I didn’t need anybody.

But when I walked away from my bar in Guatemala in the middle of the night, my confidence took a nose dive. I didn’t have an identity anymore, and it took me 18 months to build a new one.

Assuming that you’re the source of your confidence can lead you to burn bridges you can’t afford to burn, and you won’t know it until it’s too late.

Additionally, and perhaps worse, if you think you’re solely responsible for your confidence, you won’t seek out people to help you. You’ll try to do everything yourself, and you’ll work way harder than you need to with a far more meager return.

How to Fix it

  1. Accept that you get virtually all your confidence from other people.
  2. Seek out as many people as you can who a) think you have the skills to make it happen and b) will encourage you to take consistent action.
  3. Tell them what you’re going to do every day.
  4. Share your success with them. Make them feel like they were largely responsible for it, because they were.

If you’re a writer and you need confidence, check out my daily accountability service for writers (via text message).

Myth 2: You’re Either Confident or You’re Not

We talk about people being confident, or having high or low confidence. It’s like an on/off switch instead of something that exists on a continuum.

The truth is, confidence is contextual.

I’ve got a friend who’s completely relaxed doing 100 miles an hour through The Alps, but when we met up in London a few years back he nearly freaked out in the tube.

We’re all confident in some situations, and not confident in others.

You need three things to be confident:

  1. Know the rules: Understand the social conventions so you say and do the right things at the right times.
  2. Know the players: Understand where people fit in the social hierarchy, who you can trust and what skills they have so you can predict behavior.
  3. Have the skills to play the game. Know what moves to make and when to make them.

The stronger you are at these 3 elements, the more confident you’ll be in that context.

Actors are more confident in an audition when they know the room, know the casting director and know the part they’re reading for.

How it Can Hurt You

If you think of yourself as “confident”, then you’ll unconsciously avoid situations where you won’t be confident.

If you think of yourself as “not confident”, then you’ll gloss over it when you actually are confident, causing you to miss opportunities.

How to Fix it

  1. Recognize that you’ll be confident when you know the rules and the players and you’ve got the skills, and you’ll be less so when you don’t.
  2. Develop skills that will translate into a lot of different contexts so you usually get confidence from other people. Rapport building, small talk, dependability and honesty are skills that serve you in a lot of different contexts. I’ve got a magician friend who can bend a quarter. He gets mileage out of that everywhere he goes.

Myth 3: Over-Confidence Makes You Arrogant

Confidence helps you perform, arrogance blinds you from the truth.

I’ve held myself back from fully using my skills or knowledge because I didn’t want to get painted with the arrogance brush.

We don’t own our talents and let them fully blossom, because the “nail that sticks up gets nailed down.”

In order to let yourself pursue a skill and develop world-class confidence in something, you’ve got to let go of the idea that it’ll make you arrogant.

Arrogance is not just an extreme amount of confidence. It’s a completely different thing.

  1. Confidence is believing you can make something happen.

2. Arrogance is believing you have nothing left to learn.

How it Can Hurt You

Arrogance will cause you to exclude people or information that doesn’t fit into your worldview. A good thing to try and avoid.

Just be careful that you don’t stifle the development of confidence for fear of being arrogant.

Kobe Bryant didn’t worry about being arrogant when he woke this trainer up at 4:45am . He was too focused on building his confidence (by refining his skills).

How to Fix it

  1. Be a student of your discipline. Study every day and remember that experts have the most to learn.
  2. When it’s time to perform, trust your skills and knowledge. Then go back to being a student.

I’ve got a friend in New Hampshire. He makes incredible Maple syrup now, but he used to build custom houses.

One day he was showing me a house he’d built that had a fireman’s pole and a stunning view of the White Mountains.

He said, “When we finish a house, the guys on my crew walk around and pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves. It’s almost like they’re surprised we finished it. I don’t get that. For me, as soon as it’s in my head, I know it’s already built.”

He knew the rules. He knew the players, and he knew he had the skills. And over time he’d built up an incredible amount of confidence. You can do it too.

  1. Find people who will encourage and expect you to take action. Tell them what you’re going to do so you’re more likely to do it. Share your successes with them.
  2. Recognizing that confidence is contextual, get strategic about understanding the rules and players of the game you’re playing, and work every day to strengthen the skills involved.
  3. Recognize confidence as an unlimited resource. Keep looking for ways to improve. Treat study and performance differently. When studying, assume there’s more you don’t know than you do. When performing, assume you know everything.
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Liman Albridge

Half Ben Franklin, Half Tyler Durden. Emphasis on half. I get weird over at occultedordinary.com.