How to build confidence

Someone said to me recently, “I can only imagine how your results will soar when your confidence rises to the level of your expertise.”

Confidence? Whatchoo talkin bout, Willis? I haven’t thought of myself as lacking confidence for a long time. But he could be right. There are still times when I procrastinate, or avoid doing something entirely, because of self doubt. For example calling a nationally renowned psychiatrist to introduce myself. Or even approaching the folks here at ADDitude magazine about carrying my blog.

I’m an expert in my field, with years of training and experience. I get accolades from nearly everyone I work with. How could I still be struggling with this? Confidence issues are so high school.

Hm, high school. Maybe that’s the answer. I had severe undiagnosed ADHD (early ’80s, rural Pennsylvania, we’d never heard of it). My nickname was “Dizzy” even though I had an IQ of… well I won’t reveal that. My Mom was constantly asking me, “How can someone so smart be so STUPID?!?”

Naturally I grew up believing I was inept.

[How to Banish Negative Thoughts & Feelings]

Let’s trace the confidence lifecycle of the typical person with ADHD:

Infant: Doesn’t do much besides eat, sleep, and poop. She’s pretty confident she can handle those responsibilities.

Elementary school: Begins to take risks, begins to notice failures, begins to wonder why she’s different than other kids.

Middle/high school: Hits the wall. “Other kids don’t struggle like this, what’s wrong with me?” If an ADHD diagnosis is made, now she has a label, probably an IEP, and maybe a behavior chart. If the disorder is not explained thoroughly and compassionately to her and everyone she interacts with, self esteem issues are compounded. But happily, when she starts getting the help she needs, her confidence improves.

College and early adulthood: Finds her niche, discovers something she excels at. Confidence soars. But early wounds may still lurk beneath the surface.

[Silence Your Harshest Critic — Yourself]

How to improve confidence? I’m not a fan of avoiding the “f-word” (failure) to boost self esteem. There’s huge pride in failing at something, trying again (perhaps repeatedly), and eventually succeeding. If you only do the easy stuff, you aren’t going to feel very good about yourself in the long run.

Here are some ways to boost your confidence as an adult with ADHD:

  • Set up situations where you can fail safely. A martial arts class, for example.
  • Stretch. Do something that’s just a little outside your comfort zone every day.
  • Visualize your successes, past and future.
  • Solicit and re-read testimonials and fan mail, even if they’re from your mom.
  • Fake it til you make it. Act like you’re confident, and soon you will be.
  • Dress the part. Wear clothes that make you feel powerful.
  • Prepare. If it’s information you need, get it. Practice.

Try some of these tips before going into situations that require confidence, such as public speaking. Also call on them to help you take the chances in life that will move you towards your goals.

[Free Download: Get a Grip on Tough Emotions]

The Psychology of Self-Confidence and Self-Belief

Three of the most influential theories that have shaped our knowledge of self-confidence are William James’ self-esteem “formula,” Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory, and Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory.

Thanks to William James, we learned that self-confidence is an important predictor of success. His formula for self-esteem (a related, but slightly different construct than self-confidence) proposes that it is built on the foundations of two elements:

  • How we feel and what we believe about ourselves (our self-confidence/self-belief)
  • How well we actually perform (our successes; Nayler, 2010)

This concept was not a new one, but James was one of the first to lay it out in detail. The idea stuck and influenced the work of another important theory in the area of self-confidence and self-esteem: Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory.

Bandura’s theory states that self-efficacy is built on one’s beliefs in the likelihood of future success; those who believe they have the ability to influence the events of their lives have high self-efficacy, while those who feel they are not in control and have little to no impact on what will happen to them in the future have low self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977).

Self-efficacy is focused on current beliefs about the future; while self-confidence is also concerned with beliefs about the future, there is a definite link to the past—after all, our self-confidence is built on our past experiences.

Deci and Ryan’s drew from Bandura’s work to create their own theory on another “self-“ construct: self-esteem. Self-Determination Theory posits that we are all born with an inherent drive to explore our environment and thrive, and that self-esteem is a result of humanity’s basic needs being met:

  1. Relatedness
  2. Competence
  3. Autonomy (Ryan & Deci, 2000)

This theory expanded the boundaries of the self-confidence/self-esteem literature by adding in the needs component; when our needs are met, according to the theory, we have all the ingredients necessary to experience healthy self-esteem and to grow and flourish as a person.

Based on these three theories, and countless other reports, articles, and studies by other researchers in the field, we have been able to put together a more coherent picture of what self-confidence is. It is a sense of belief in oneself and feeling assured of your own abilities and chances of future success, and it is in large part based on your past experiences.

We explore this further in The Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass©

Self-Confidence vs. Self-Esteem

So, although self-confidence and self-esteem have crossed paths at many points and share some common features, they are considered two distinct constructs.

woman arms up high - The Psychology of Self-Confidence and Self-Belief

Self-esteem is a fairly stable trait that doesn’t change much in individuals—unless they put in some dedicated effort to improve it. It can generally be defined as our beliefs in our own inherent value, worth, and how deserving we are of love, happiness, success, and other good things in life.

By contrast, self-confidence does not take into consideration any beliefs about the worthiness or overall value; rather, it focuses on the ability to succeed and beliefs about one’s likelihood of succeeding.

The two are certainly related, but it is easy to see where the line is drawn between them; self-esteem is about the success you feel you deserve, while self-confidence is about the success you feel you are capable of achieving.

3 Examples of Healthy Self-Belief

Healthy self-belief is not narcissism, bragging, or boasting. Rather, it is a realistic but optimistic evaluation of yourself and your abilities and a sense of trust and confidence in yourself.

Examples of healthy self-belief and self-confidence include:

  • A woman goes on a date and has a great time; she feels like she and her date clicked and is looking forward to hearing from him. When he doesn’t call within a few days, she refrains from falling into a negative thought spiral and instead thinks, “Maybe he just isn’t the type of guy who calls right away. Or, maybe we just aren’t right for each other. I had fun and that’s what matters!”
  • A man is looking for a job and sees a posting that has several requirements; he meets most of them, but he doesn’t quite reach the cutoff on a couple of them. Instead of passing it up and assuming he would never get an interview, he applies anyway and explains how he has other traits and qualifications that make up for any lack in the requirements in his cover letter.
  • A student is interested in taking an Advanced Placement class at her high school and talks to her friends about it. Those who have already taken the class tells her it’s really hard and that she probably wouldn’t pass. She could trust in their judgment and pass up the opportunity, but instead, she holds firm in her belief about her own abilities and signs up anyway.

Common Characteristics of Self-Confident Individuals

It’s pretty easy to spot self-confident people; in addition to signs like the ones above, there are plenty of other signs that indicate a person is confident and self-assured, including:

  • People who are self-confident do what they believe is right, even if they are mocked or criticized for it.
  • They are more willing to take risks and “go the extra mile” to get what they want.
  • They are able to admit when they’ve made a mistake and learn from their mistakes.
  • They wait for others to congratulate them on their accomplishments instead of bragging and boasting.
  • They accept compliments with grace and gratitude (Mind Tools Content Team, 2016).

In addition to these more general signs, there are some signs that are specific to relationships; partners with self-confidence are:

  • Less likely to be jealous and controlling.
  • Willing to be vulnerable.
  • Comfortable and willing to set healthy boundaries.
  • Willing to admit when they’re wrong.
  • Comfortable assuming their crush or their date likes them.
  • Less likely to blame themselves if the relationship doesn’t work out.
  • Assured of their own ability to make good decisions.
  • Unlikely to show off or brag about themselves.
  • More likely to accept responsibility for their actions and emotions.
  • Willing to leave bad or unhealthy relationships (Alexis, 2014; Altman, 2014).

12 Tips for Building Self-Confident Skills

woman smiling - Common Characteristics of Self-Confident Individuals

So, how do you become one of those people described above? It isn’t necessarily an easy road, but you will likely find it more than worth the effort. Below are some tips on building your self-confidence and boosting your belief in yourself.

The team from the Mind Tools website listed several tips and suggestions for improving your self-confidence based on where you are in your journey:

  1. Preparing for Your Journeya. Take inventory of what you’ve already achieved.

    b. Think about your strengths and weaknesses (but especially your strengths).

    c. Think about your goals and values.d. Practice stopping negative self-talk in its tracks and replacing it with positive thinking.

    e. Commit to the journey to self-confidence!

  2. Setting Outa. Identify and enhance the knowledge and skills you need to succeed.b. Focus on the basics—don’t get bogged down in details or reaching for perfection.c. Set small goals and achieve them to “pile up successes.”

    d. Keep working on your positive thinking and self-talk.

  3. Accelerating Towards Successa. Celebrate your successes.b. Keep yourself grounded.

    c. Assess your current level of self-confidence and identify what strategies you can use to keep building it up (2016).

If you hit a roadblock on your journey to self-confidence, don’t worry! They happen to everyone. Try to get back on track as soon as you can. You may find the worksheets and activities listed later in this piece helpful.

Games to Build Self-Confidence in Children

Although we generally try to teach children self-confidence through compliments, praise and giving them concrete experiences of success, there is another fun way to help them develop greater confidence: playing games!

Not only will they be more engaged and interested in building self-confidence, you might actually have some fun too. Give these two games a try with your child and see if they make a difference.

Catch the Compliment

Ann Lodgson describes the game Catch the Compliment as a fun way to help your child build their own self-esteem and self-confidence and to learn to respect others as well.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Gather a selection of soft, lightweight balls for the game. Beach balls, foam balls, and soft playground balls may work best. In a stitch, you can even wad up some newspaper or make a ball of tape.
  2. In a large, open area (with breakables removed) gather the players into a circle. You can play inside or outside, it doesn’t matter.
  3. Players take turns tossing one ball to different players in the circle. As each toss is made, the tossing player gives the receiving player a compliment.
  4. The receiving player then tosses the ball to someone else, again, giving a compliment as the ball is tossed.
  5. If desired, gradually add more balls as play continues. This will increase the pace and the level of challenge to players as they try to think of compliments to give.
  6. At the end of the game, take time to ask players what was most difficult for them, what was easiest, and what was the funniest thing that happened during the game. Ask players to explain what they had to do to be successful at the game. You will find that listening, looking, thinking, and other skills will be mentioned.
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This is an easy game that can be played with children of all ages—they just have to be old enough to catch a ball and give a compliment!

You can read more from Ann in her article here.

Positive Experiences

This fun game for kids can be played with friends, family, or both. It’s another easy activity with some very simple rules.

Follow these guidelines to play:

  1. Get the kids to sit in a circle and give them one index card each.
  2. Ask the kids to write their names on top of the index card and put it in the bowl. Shake the bowl to mix the cards.
  3. ass the bowl around and let the kids pick one index card. Ask them to write one positive thing about that person. They pass the card to the next person and the next until everyone has written at least one positive thing about that person.
  4. Collect all the cards and put them back in the bowl.
  5. Give the cards with their names back to the kids and let them read the positive things people have to say about them (Gongala, 2017).

This is one of those games that everybody wins; each kid will walk away with a boost to their positive feelings about themselves, a vital ingredient of self-confidence.

Click here to see other games and activities for boosting self-esteem and self-confidence in children.

For games and activities, you can do with very young children and toddlers, check out Aviva Patz’ piece on the Parents website here.

Activities and Exercises for Developing Self-Confidence

Worksheets for Adults and Students (PDF) self-confidence self-belief

If you’re not a huge fan or worksheets or writing in general, there are some other activities and exercises you can do to work on your self-confidence and self-esteem. Of course, the most important thing you can do to build your self-confidence is to get some success experiences under your belt—no matter how small—but here are some other things you can try as well.

Recognizing Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are so often a drain on our self-confidence, and we may not even realize it. Negative thoughts can be sneaky, so we need to be extra-vigilant in identifying and addressing them.

Practice “listening” to your own thoughts; notice the automatic thoughts that pop into your head and pay attention to the way you talk to yourself. When you notice a negative thought, grab onto it and either write it down or just sit and think about it for a moment.

Don’t spend long thinking about the thought in its current form though. Instead, spend your time thinking about how it can be rephrased and adapted to become a positive (or at least neutral) thought.

For example, if you catch yourself thinking, “You’re such a failure! You can’t do anything right!” try to replace it with a more forgiving phrase like, “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I bet I can do better next time!”

This replacement thought not only offers you forgiveness and compassion, it also helps you boost your belief in your ability to succeed in the future. Give it a try and see if it works for you!

Challenging Yourself

As noted several times in this piece, the best way to boost your self-confidence is to open yourself up to positive new experiences and allow yourself to succeed.

If you have low self-confidence, you probably don’t like taking risks—whether those risks involve physical activity, going for a new job or promotion, talking to someone you like, or just trying a new activity. It’s a classic catch-22: your low self-confidence encourages you to avoid doing the exact things that would help you build up your self-confidence. If uninterrupted, this can lead to an ever-deepening spiral of self-confidence; you don’t have any exciting new successes, so your self-confidence is even lower, so you feel even less like trying new things.

To break this cycle, you know what you need to do: put yourself out there, try something new, and challenge yourself!

Find something you’re interested in and go for it. It might be a cooking class, a running group, marathon training, or volunteering for a cause you are passionate about. Whatever it is, push yourself to take a risk and watch your confidence grow.

Giving Yourself the Self-Care You Need

Self-care is incredibly important for a lot of things, but it can be especially impactful for our self-confidence.

Engage in self-care to show yourself how valuable you are, and you will feel more confident in your abilities and motivated to prove that you are right about yourself.

Remember that self-care is about much more than just getting a massage or allowing yourself to indulge in some extra-tasty food or in a Netflix binge. Make sure to take care of your body, mind, and soul by eating healthy, exercising, giving yourself a break, and engaging in whatever other self-care you need to feel good.

Practicing Accepting Failure

This isn’t an especially fun exercise to practice, but it is, unfortunately, a necessary one. We all fail at some point, and it does us absolutely no good to pretend that we don’t—or won’t—ever fail.

To practice accepting failure, engage in some activities that you know you will fail at. I know, it sounds terrible! Why would you do something when you know you will fail? Because practicing failure can be just as important as practicing success.

Take risks and set stretch goals for yourself. Sometimes you will achieve them, and sometimes you won’t. Whether you achieve them or not, make sure to tell yourself the same thing after: “You put a lot of effort into this and I’m proud of you for working hard.”

You don’t need to succeed to be proud of yourself and confident in your abilities (Coleman, 2017).

Napoleon Hill’s Self-Confidence Formula

business man - self-confidence self-belief scales

If you’ve ever looked into boosting your self-confidence, you may have heard of Napoleon Hill’s formula for self-confidence before. Napoleon Hill was one of the first business “self-help” authors, writing the hugely influential book Think and Grow Rich, which laid the foundations for the self-help literature as we know it today.

Hill created a “self-confidence formula” and published it in a set of “lessons for success” to help people realize their own abilities, set plans for a successful future, and commit to working toward that successful future.

The formula is as follows:

“First: I know that I have the ability to achieve the object of my definite purpose, therefore I demand of myself persistent, aggressive and continuous action toward its attainment.

Second: I realize that the dominating thoughts of my mind eventually reproduce themselves in outward, bodily action, and gradually transform themselves into physical reality, therefore I will concentrate My mind for thirty minutes daily upon the task of thinking of the person I intend to be, by creating a mental picture of this person and then transforming that picture into reality through practical service.

Third: I know that through the principle of Auto- suggestion, any desire that I persistently hold in my mind will eventually seek expression through some practical means of realizing it, therefore I shall devote ten minutes daily to demanding of myself the development of the factors named in the sixteen lessons of this Reading Course on the Law of Success **.

Fourth: I have clearly mapped out and written down a description of my definite purpose in life, for the coming five years. I have set a price on my services for each of these five years; a price that I intend to earn and receive, through strict application of the principle of efficient, satisfactory service which I will render in advance.

Fifth: I fully realize that no wealth or position can long endure unless built upon truth and justice, therefore I will engage in no transaction which does not benefit all whom it affects. I will succeed by attracting to me the forces I wish to use, and the co-operation of other people. I will induce others to serve me because I will first serve them. I will eliminate hatred, envy, jealousy, selfishness and cynicism by developing love for all humanity, because I know that a negative attitude toward others can never bring me success. I will cause others to believe in me because I will believe in them and in myself.

I will sign my name to this formula, commit it to memory and repeat it aloud once a day with full faith that it will gradually influence my entire life so that I will become a successful and happy worker in my chosen field of endeavor.”

Click here to download the form for your own use.

Although many have found the advice and suggestions provided by Hill’s publications useful, it must be noted that, like the philosophy promoted in the book The Secret, there is no evidence that they have any positive impact on a person’s life. The main idea in both Hill’s work and The Secret is that by thinking about what you want and “sending it out into the universe,” you can attract your desired outcomes to you.

This is generally the sort of thinking that positive psychology has tried to distance itself from, as research has made it quite clear that there is little merit in “thinking” your way to success; however, many have reported that such ideas have motivated and inspired them, and you should grab on to inspiration and motivation wherever you can find it!

Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy

You’ve certainly heard of hypnosis before, but you may not be as familiar with hypnotherapy—and you may not know what they have to do with self-confidence!

Hypnosis is an alternative treatment that is generally not practiced as a first-line approach, but it is not uncommon for a therapist to use hypnosis in cases that call for it. A lack of self-confidence can be one such case.

While CBT and other behavioral therapies can do a great job of tackling your conscious thoughts and helping you manage your feelings and behavior, we know that there is also a lot of stuff going on in your subconscious. Hypnotherapists believe that hypnosis can help treat low self-confidence by breaking into the negative things happening in your subconscious and injecting a dose of positivity.

If you’re interested in giving it a try, check out this sleep hypnosis on YouTube.

If you’re interested in trying hypnotherapy with a qualified professional, you can learn more here.

Guided Meditations to Boost Self-Confidence

If you’re a fan of meditation and would like to try some that are geared toward improving your self-confidence, these might be just what you’re looking for:

  • Guided Meditation: Self-Esteem from The Honest Guys

  • Guided Meditation for Self Confidence, Self Esteem, Positivity, and Sleep from Meditation Vacation

  • Guided Meditation for Confidence, Self Love, and a Better Self Image from Joe T at Hypnotic Labs

  • Healing Spirit: Guided Meditation for Self Esteem and Acceptance, Anxiety, and Depression from MeditationRelaxClub

  • Best 10 Minute Guided Meditation for Confidence & Self Esteem by Great Meditation

Movies about Self-Confidence and Self-Belief

Movies are such a subjective experience for people that it’s hard to recommend specific ones to boost your self-confidence. In general, any movie with a theme of believing in yourself and hard work paying off is probably a good bet.

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If you’re not sure what movie you would turn to in order to get a boost of confidence, consider these suggestions:

  • Working Girl (1988)
  • The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
  • Begin Again (2013)
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  • Sex and the City: The Movie (2008)
  • Clueless (1995)
  • Mean Girls (2004)
  • The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
  • Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
  • We Bought a Zoo (2011)
  • Legally Blonde (2001)
  • Thelma & Louise (1991)
  • Beyond the Lights (2014)
  • Young Guns (1988)
  • Zootopia (2016)
  • A League of Their Own (1992)
  • Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015 – present)

Okay, that last one’s not a movie—but it can still give you a nice boost of confidence!

Motivational Speeches and Popular TED Talks and Videos

If you’re ready to get pumped full of confidence and motivation, but you don’t have time to watch a whole feature-length movie, check out these TED Talks and inspirational speeches:

  • The Skill of Self Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

  • Meet Yourself: A User’s Guide to Building Self-Esteem by Niko Everett

  • Success and Self-Confidence Through Rejection by Ted Ladd

  • Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating by Elizabeth Gilbert

  • The Surprising Secret to Speaking with Confidence by Caroline Goyder

  • The Power of Believing You Can Improve by Carol Dweck

  • How to Build Your Creative Confidence by David Kelley

The 8 Best Books on Self-Confidence and Self-Belief

If you’re a reader looking for a good book on self-confidence, you may find that one of these eight books give you just what you need:

  • The Power of Self-Confidence: Become Unstoppable, Irresistible, and Unafraid in Every Area of Your Life by Brian Tracy (Amazon)
  • How to Develop Self-Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie (Amazon)
  • Self-Confidence: How to be Confident and Improve Your Self-Image by Katy Richards (Amazon
  • Thriving with Social Anxiety: Daily Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety and Building Self-Confidence by Hattie C. Cooper and Kyle MacDonald (Amazon)
  • Confidence: How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs and Achieve Your Goals by Martin Meadows (Amazon)
  • The Ultimate Secrets of Total Self-Confidence: A Proven Formula That Has Worked for Thousands by Robert Anthony (Amazon)
  • Self-Confidence: The 21-Day Self-Confidence Challenge: An Easy and Step-by-Step Approach to Overcome Self-Doubt & Low Self-Esteem and Start Developing Solid Self-Confidence by 21 Day Challenges (Amazon)
  • Self Confidence: Unleash Your Hidden Potential and Breakthrough Your Limitations of Confidence by Bill Andrews (Amazon)

19 Quotes and Affirmations on Self-Confidence

If you’re looking for some inspirational quotes or motivating affirmations to help you boost your self-confidence, check out this list of 19 quotes and affirmations.

Vivica A. Fox:

“A great figure or physique is nice, but it’s self-confidence that makes someone really sexy.” 

Arthur Ashe:

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” 

Thomas Carlyle:

“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.” 

Stephen Curry:

“To excel at the highest level—or any level, really—you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching.” 

Dalai Lama:

“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” 

Samuel Johnson:

“Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.” 

Andee Maurios:

“Smile, for everyone lacks self-confidence and more than any other one thing a smile reassures them.”

William Jennings Bryan:

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.”

Alex Spanos:

“My self-confidence didn’t come from my appearance, it came from other things that I did. But certainly not my appearance.”

Ron Perlman:

“I’ve studies the lives of the 20th century’s great businessmen and concluded that self-confidence was instrumental in all their success.” 

E.E. Cummings:

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” 

Lao Tzu:

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” 

If these quotes don’t quite hit the spot, you may benefit from creating some self-confidence affirmations. You can also create your own, but these are some good examples that can help get you started:

  • “I am smart, competent, and capable.”
  • “I am growing and changing for the better.”
  • “I believe in myself and my abilities.”
  • “I can do anything I set my mind to.”
  • “I act with confidence and with a plan, but I accept that plans can change.”
  • “It is enough to have done my best.”
  • “I have the power to change myself.”

A Take Home Message

I hope you found this piece a useful and informative dive into self-confidence and self-belief. It turns out that Henry Ford was mostly right—although self-confidence isn’t necessary to function in our world, it can make all the difference between “just getting by” and thriving!

If you found any of these exercises, suggestions, worksheets, or activities useful, bookmark this page so you can come back to it at any time and remind yourself that you can do it—whatever it is!

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think self-confidence is the key to success? How do you give yourself a boost of confidence when you need it? Let us know in the comments section!

Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this long piece. I hope you had some fun and came away with at least a bit more confidence in yourself and your abilities!

We explore this further in The Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass©

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    • Woodman, T., & Hardy, L. (2003). The relative impact of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence upon sport performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21, 443-457. doi:10.1080/0264041031000101809
  • 4. Think positive to overcome your negativity bias.

    Since the early days, humans learned to get lunch or be lunch. Our natural negativity bias has kept us safe from danger for thousands of years. But not every new or different thing is a threat to our survival. This negativity bias can chisel away at our confidence because we’re hardwired to pay attention to all that we’ve done wrong.

    FBI agents are taught to hunt the good stuff. It can be hard at times because positive information is like Teflon and easily falls away. But negative information, like Velcro, sticks.

    How to make it work for you:

    1. Come up with five positive thoughts to counter every one negative thought.
    2. Let every positive thought sit for 20 seconds before moving to the next positive thought.
    3. Acknowledge both good and bad emotions.
    4. Do not try to suppress negative ones.
    5. Label the emotions for what they truly are and move on. Do not enter into inner dialogue about the negative emotion because then it becomes more powerful.

    5. Raise your curiosity levels.

    Curiosity is an important trait for FBI agents working investigations and anyone who wants to be confident and successful.

    Curiosity is the foundation of life-long growth. If we remain curious, we remain teachable and our minds and hearts grow larger every day. We can retain our beginner’s mind by always looking forward and discovering new experiences and uncovering new information.

    How to make it work for you:

    Ask questions and be curious because:

    • It makes your mind active instead of passive.
    • It encourages you to be more observant of new ideas.
    • It opens up new worlds and possibilities.
    • It creates an adventurous response that leads you in a new direction.

    The Regrets of the Dying

    Australian singer-songwriter Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care for many years, spending time with men and women near death. As she worked with her patients, she listened to them describe their fear, anger, and remorse. She noticed recurring themes.

    In 2009, Ware wrote about her experience in a blog post that went viral. She turned that article into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. When people die, she says, they often express one or more of the following sentiments:

    • “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” People (especially men) often find themselves trapped on what economists call the hedonic treadmill. They work to achieve material wealth and status, which should bring happiness but doesn’t. Instead, they want more. So, they work harder to achieve even greater wealth and status, which should bring happiness but doesn’t. And so on, in an endless cycle. People trapped on the hedonic treadmill are never happy because their reality never meets their ever-increasing expectations.
    • “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” In order to keep the peace and avoid rejection, we sometimes bottle our emotions inside. But refusing to be open and honest leads to a life of quiet desperation. Sure, the barista at the coffeehouse might laugh if you ask her to dinner; but it’s also possible that dinner could lead to the love of a lifetime. On your deathbed, you’ll regret the things you didn’t say and do far more than the things you’ve done.
    • “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.” In Aging Well, George Vaillant summarizes more than fifty years of Harvard research into adult development. “Successful aging [is] best achieved in relationship,” he writes. “It is not the bad things that happen to use that doom us; it is the good people who happen to us at any age that facilitate enjoyable old age.” In The Blue Zones, his book about populations of people that live longer than most, Dan Buettner writes that two secrets to a long and healthy life are making family a priority and finding the right “tribe”. At the end of their lives, people who failed to foster friendships regret it. (Here's my summary of The Blue Zones.)

    [Blue Zones commonalities]

    • “I wish I’d let myself be happier.” Happiness is a choice. Your well-being doesn’t depend on the approval or opinion of others. Happiness comes from one place and one place only: You. This idea, which is well-documented in happiness research, is the key to personal and financial success. (On Thursday, we'll explore this notion at great length.)
    • “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, and not the life others expected of me.” Ware says this regret is most common of all. “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it,” she writes, “it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.” We spend too much time doing the things that others expect of us. (Or the things we think are expected of us.) But living for the approval of others is a trap. We can never hope to please everyone. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to please anyone – other than yourself.
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    These regrets share a common theme. In each case, the dying lament having spent too much time seeking outside approval instead of focusing on their own feelings, values, and relationships. This is true regardless of wealth and social status.

    Ware isn't a nurse and she’s not a scientist – her observations are based on experience, not empirical data – but from my reading over the past decade, her conclusions match the research into happiness and human development.

    Money can’t buy happiness – at least not directly. Money is a powerful tool, it’s true. Abused, it brings sorrow and suffering. Used wisely, it opens doors, delivers dreams, and fosters joy. Although wealth is no guarantee of well-being, the more money you have, the easier it is to flourish.

    But here's the truth: You don’t want to be rich – you want to be happy.

    On your deathbed, you want to have lived a life without regret. To do that, you need to face and defeat your fears. You need to find joy in day-to-day activities, and use that happiness as a platform to procure passion and purpose. You need to forge freedom, both personal and financial.

    The Source of Fear

    Our lives are filled with fear.

    Some of our fears are physical. We’re afraid of spiders, snakes, and dogs. We’re afraid of heights, crowds, and enclosed spaces. We’re scared to jump out of airplanes (or even to fly in them), to go swimming, or to touch a drop of blood. We’re afraid we might be mugged.

    Some of our fears are psychological. We’re afraid of failure, darkness, and being alone. We’re afraid of the future. We’re afraid of death. We’re frightened of being judged by others, and scared to ask someone for a date.

    [J.D. under bear sign]Some fears are rational. I, for instance, am scared of bears. This is a healthy, rational fear. Bears will eat you. When you ignore your fear of bears, you can up like Timothy Treadwell, the man profiled in the film Grizzly Man. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler for anyone.)

    If you’re walking alone at night and a thug demands your money while holding a gun to your head, you’ll feel afraid and rightly so. This is a natural, rational fear.

    These healthy fears have a biological basis, and are the product of millions of years of evolution. A fear of snakes (or bears) has helped the human race to survive. A fear of heights keeps you from spending too much time in places where you might fall to your death.

    But sometimes rational fears can become irrational or excessive. It’s one thing to be nervous while walking on the edge of a crumbling cliff high above a river; it’s another to suffer a panic attack on the seventeenth floor of a well-constructed, glass-enclosed office building. (Or to worry about a bear attack in Paris!)

    Still other fears are mostly (or completely) irrational, yet they’re very common. An estimated 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety when speaking in public. I’m one of them. I’m aware of no biological basis to be afraid of giving a speech in front of 500 strangers, yet doing so makes most of us sweat and stammer.

    Healthy, rational fears keep you alert and alive. Irrational fears and anxieties prevent you from enjoying everything life has to offer.

    If It Bleeds, It Leads

    If our lives are filled with fear, that may be due in part to the prevalence of internet, television, and radio. Our fears are fueled by the modern mass media, which makes money highlighting extreme and unusual events.

    Here, for instance, is the front page from the 18 January 2014 on-line edition of USA Today:

    USA Today headlines

    Human trafficking! Attacks on Americans! Identity thieves! Remains of dead boy! Elsewhere on the front page, there are stories about extreme weather, a new truck that burst into flames, the background of a high-school gunman, a gay teacher forced to resign, and so on. And this is a normal, uneventful day.

    If you pay attention to the news, you might think terrorist attacks are common, bicycles unsafe, and that it's dangerous to let children play unattended in the yard. Yet statistically, terrorist attacks are exceedingly rare, riding a bike increases your life expectancy, and your children are safer outdoors than you were when you roamed the streets twenty or thirty years ago.

    The events in the news are newsworthy only because they're the exception, not the rule. They're statistical outliers. Yet because we're fed these stories daily, we think these things happen all of the time. As a result, we're afraid to live normal lives.

    I have a friend who's reluctant to leave her home. Because she's been assaulted in the past — an unfortunate event, but a statistically unlikely one — she lives in fear of being assaulted in the future. It's true that by appearing in public, my friend runs the risk of being assaulted again. It's far more likely, however, that doing things outside the house would bring her pleasure and fulfillment.

    To some degree, each of us is like my friend — but not as extreme. We are all filled with fears, and these fears hold us back.

    To live a richer, more fulfilling life — a life without regret — you must first overcome your fears. You can start by exposing yourself to new experiences, by interacting with your environment and allowing it to change you.

    It all begins with the power of “yes”.

    The Power of Yes

    [Impro cover]For a long time, I was afraid to try new things, to meet new people, to do anything that might lead to failure. These fears confined me to a narrow comfort zone. I spent most of my time at home, reading books or playing videogames. When opportunities came to try new things, I usually ignored them. I made excuses. I wasn’t happy, but I was complacent. I was safe.

    Then I read a book called Impro by Keith Johnstone. It changed my life. (Fun trivia: Here's where I learned about the book.)

    Impro is a book about stage-acting, about improvisational theater, the kind of stuff you used to see on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? I’m not an actor, nor do I want to become one, but several of the techniques described in the book were applicable to my everyday life.

    In one section, for example, the author explains that in order for a scene to flow, an actor has to take whatever situation arises and work with it. She needs to accept and build upon the actions of her fellow actors.

    Once you learn to accept offers, then accidents can no longer interrupt the action. […] This attitude makes for something really amazing in the theater. The actor who will accept anything that happens seems supernatural; it’s the most marvelous thing about improvisation: you are suddenly in contact with people who are unbounded, whose imagination seems to function without limit.

    I thought about this passage for days. “What if I did this in real life?” I wondered. “What if I accepted offers and stopped blocking them?” I began to note the things I blocked and accepted. To my surprise, I blocked things constantly – I made excuses to not do things because I was afraid of what might happen if I accepted.

    • When online acquaintances asked to meet for lunch. I’d refuse. I was scared they might think I was fat or stupid. (Or that they might be an axe murderer!)
    • When a local television station asked me to appear on their morning show as a financial expert, I was afraid of looking like a fool, so I refused.
    • When a friend wanted me to join him to watch live music at a local pub, I declined. I’d never been in a bar (yes, I’d led a sheltered life) and was nervous about what might happen.
    • When another friend asked me to bike with him from Portland to the Oregon Coast, I said no. It was a long way. It seemed difficult and dangerous.

    These are only a handful of examples. In reality, I blocked things every day. I refused to try new foods. I didn’t like to go new places. And I didn’t want to try new things. Or, more precisely, I wanted to do all of this, but was afraid to try. My default response was to find reasons something couldn't be done instead of ways to make them happen. Because I focused more on possible negative outcomes than potential rewards, I avoided taking even tiny risks.

    After reading Impro, I made a resolution. Instead of saying “no” to the things that scared me, I’d say “yes” instead.

    Whenever somebody asked me to do something, I agreed (as long as it wasn’t illegal and didn’t violate my personal code of conduct). I put this new philosophy into practice in lots of ways, both big and small.

    • When people asked me to lunch, I said yes.
    • When people contacted me to make media appearances or do public speaking gigs, I said yes.
    • When friends asked me to go see their favorite bands or to spend the evening chatting at a bar, I said yes.

    As a result of my campaign to “just say yes”, I’ve met hundreds of interesting people and done lots of amazing things. I’ve eaten guinea pig in Perú and grubs in Zimbabwe. I’ve climbed mountains in Bolivia and snorkeled in Ecuador. I’ve learned to love both coffee and beer, two beverages I thought I hated. I’ve learned to ride a motorcycle. I’ve shot a gun. I’ve gone skydiving and bungie-jumping. I published a book. I sold my website (and bought it back again!). I wrote a monthly column in a major magazine.

    These things might seem minor to natural extroverts, but I’m not a natural extrovert. I’m an introvert. These were big steps for me. These experiences were new and scary, and I wouldn’t have had them if I hadn’t forced myself to say yes.

    In recent years, I've come to look at saying “yes” like playing the lottery. Every time I do something new, there's a chance I'll win big. Let me explain.

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