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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Build Confidence From Scratch

How to Build Confidence From Scratch

Michael Edwards, better known as Eddie “The Eagle” is a British skier whom no one believed in before he made it to the Olympics.

Eddie was slightly overweight, extremely far sighted (he wore thick glasses) and trained in second hand equipment. At times he even stayed in a Finnish mental hospital because he couldn’t afford genuine accommodation. Many people came to doubt his ability as a skier.  If he didn’t have confidence in himself, he could never have endured all this, and never would have made it to the Olympics; which he did, and became internationally loved as a figurehead and emblem of the Olympic spirit.

When I think about all the great people like Eddie, who achieved greatness through their confidence, I wonder where it came from. I don’t think confidence came naturally to them. It didn’t come naturally to me.

If confidence doesn’t come naturally, where is it from?

When I was a small child, before attending school I remember my friends and I seemed almost limitless in confidence.  We lived fearlessly. Though all our lives were open to us, we never looked forward and worried. We had not collected any regrets.  I remember nobody seemed more confident than anyone else, nobody carried themselves as superior.

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All this changed at school. In school, competition is entrenched. It didn’t matter what we did or studied, whether we studied English, Art, P.E, some naturally stuck out, scored better and were rewarded for it. Our conduct at school even separated us. This in turn seemed to affect self confidence.

I was never a straight-a student. My grades were good but not great. I was never one of the kids rewarded for some high grade or performance, and never had their levels of self esteem.

Confidence for me came later.

In high school, I discovered my passion for technology. I loved writing code (I still do) and each successful program I wrote, each line of effective code was rewarding to me in a way I never felt before. Each time something didn’t work, or when I came across a difficult bug to overcome, I was presented with an exciting challenge. I received no praise in school for it, no accolades, but that didn’t matter. I was doing what I loved, and every time after solving a difficult coding problem, my confidence grew.

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Here I discovered something that changed my entire outlook on confidence and ability.  Self confidence can never be found outside.  It is something that only comes from you.  No matter how much you look, or where you look, no matter how much praise you do or don’t get, you will never find confidence unless it comes from within.

Confidence came from working though difficulties, making myself work on challenging pieces. It didn’t seem to matter if I succeeded or failed (but I’ve long known that even if you fail a hundred times, you will succeed if you are able to keep trying). I only needed to keep pushing myself and confidence grew as a result.

Confidence comes when challenges are overcome

When struggles are overcome, it feels good, and there’s a great deal of satisfaction. From this satisfaction comes confidence.

Perhaps you have an unhealthy lifestyle and losing weight, doing exercises and going on diets are the difficult things for you.  Perhaps, you are shy. Delivering a talk in front of a large audience will then be something difficult to you. Or perhaps you are a perfectionist, then embracing mistakes will be the most difficult thing for you.

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No matter what it might be, you probably felt proud, strong, and sure in your abilities once you overcame that obstacle.  That is the true feeling of confidence earned through effort and experience.

Confidence grows from doubt and criticism

There will be setbacks and disappointments. There will be failures because many breakthroughs require trial and error.  There will be criticisms because everyone is far from perfect at the very beginning.

When I first started Lifehack, it took a long time to gain readers. It took me a while to get 100 visitors. This was difficult for me because I had great ambitions for this site, and for a time it seemed doomed to fail. I received plenty of criticism.  Some thought that the world didn’t need another advice site, others thought there was something wrong with the idea itself. It was hard for me not to listen to them and agree.

But in the end, I believed in my dream and persisted.  I tweaked the layout, reconsidered how the articles would be structured and written. Made the site more user friendly. The team grew with the hiring of some extremely dynamic and talented people.  With each determined effort, the site grew in popularity, and a few years later we have now influenced millions.

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Pushing out of my comfort zone and getting past the most difficult challenges were the greatest factors in growing my confidence.

Pushing yourself through is tough, I’m not denying that.  They wouldn’t be called “challenges” if it were otherwise. But there is a quote by Churchill that I think about whenever I am faced with new ones, a quote that I feel related to everything I’ve written about above:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going”

Some people avoid challenges.  Perhaps they may have failed at something one too many times, perhaps they’ve been told that they lack something needed to succeed. Instead they rely on stability, coasting through life.  This can be fine for them, but ultimately its restrictive.  They will never grow in confidence, and their fear of failure will become so powerful that will give up before seeing success.

The key to self confidence is to face every challenge head on.  With every challenge you face and overcome, your confidence will grow to face the next.  Welcome the challenges that come, don’t avoid them.  They are all opportunities in disguise to feed your growth.

Featured photo credit: Eddie the Eagle via foxmovies.com

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Willpower is essential to the accomplishment of anything worthwhile.” – Brian Tracy

“Just do it.” – Nike

The most important and satisfying things in life usually aren’t the easiest ones.

The good news: In today’s hyper-connected world, we have access to all the information we could want to help us achieve our future goals. We know what foods will make us healthier (would kale or quinoa be as popular without the internet and Dr. Oz? I think not). We can also estimate for ourselves the benefits of starting retirement savings early – and the implications for the lifestyles of our future selves (that boat at 65 means fewer vacations in your 20’s).

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We almost always know what we should do thanks to endless knowledge at our fingertips. But actually doing it is an entirely different kind of challenge. Most of us can relate to that feeling of inertia at the start of a big project, or the struggle to consistently make good, long-term choices for our health, or saving for the future. This mental tug-of-war we experience has evolutionary roots. While knowing this might bring comfort, it doesn’t help solve the problem at hand:

How can we flex our willpower to become better, faster, smarter, and stronger?

The bad news: you can’t Google your way out of this one.

Or can you? A fascinating body of research (much of which you can turn up online through popular press and academic articles) sheds light on how to hack your willpower for better, easier results in all areas of your life. The Willpower Instinct, a great book by Stanford prof Kelly McGonigal, provides a deep dive into these and more topics for anyone keenly interested.

Here’s the short version: we can make the most of our willpower through two types of hacks. First, there are ways to turbo boost your willpower. Second, there are ways to hack the system so you make the best use of whatever (sometimes infinitely modest) willpower you have.

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The following 10 tips draw on both of these toolkits.

1. Slow the heck down.

Most regrettable decisions (the splurge at the mall, the procrastination on the project, the snacks in the break room) happen when one part of our brain effectively hijacks the other. We go into automatic pilot (and unfortunately the pilot in question has a penchant for shoes, Facebook and cookies!). Researchers suggest that we can override this system by charging up the other. That is, slow down and focus on the moment at hand. Think about your breathing. Bring yourself back to this moment in time, feel the compulsion but don’t act on it yet. Try telling yourself, “If this feeling is still just as uncomfortable in 10 minutes, I’ll act on it.” Take a little time to be mindful – then make your decision.

2. Dream of ‘done.’

Imagine yourself handing in the big project, soaking up the appreciation from your colleagues or boss. Or crossing the finish line for the half-marathon you’ve always wanted to run. The rush, the aliveness, the wind on your face, the medal …

That’s a lot more fun and motivating to think about than how much work it is to get out of bed for your long, Sunday morning run!

Re-orient your brain by summoning more motivating feelings than just “not running this morning is more enjoyable than running this morning.” If your goals are meaningful, this will help.

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3. Make your toughest choices first.

Scientists have found that willpower is like a full bathtub that’s drained throughout the day. So, why not start your toughest challenges when you have a full reserve? Get that project started or fit that workout in before you even check your email or have breakfast. Bonus: the high you’ll get from crossing off your hardest ‘to-do’ will help you sail through the rest of your day.

4. Progress = commitment, not a license to backslide.

A lot of times people will ‘cheat’ right after taking positive steps towards their goals. (A common version of this trap is, “I worked out three days in a row, so I deserve this cookie.”) Most of us can relate to this thinking – but it’s totally irrational! We’ll often trick ourselves into setbacks because we think we deserve them, even if we don’t really want them and deep down we know they’ll work against us in the long-run.

How can you counteract this effect? Research finds that if you use your positive streak to recommit (“If I worked out three days this week, I must be really committed to my health and fitness goal!”) rather than an excuse for wiggle room, we don’t take the same cheat options. Cool, right?

5. Meditate.

Meditation is an expressway to better willpower. Bringing your attention to your breathing for 15 minutes, or even five, flexes your willpower muscles by applying discipline to your thinking. It does this by working two mental ‘muscle groups’: first, the set of muscles that notice when your attention is drifting, and second, the set of muscles that bring you back to your task at hand. Over time, even small amounts of meditation will help you build the discipline to easily do what was once hard – like pushing through a long stretch at work.

6. Set mini-goals.

Which seems more doable: committing to three 20 minute runs this week or a half-marathon? Mini-goals are brilliant because they’re easier to achieve and boost your commitment to continuing. When we size them up, we see them as achievable rather than daunting. Each time you succeed at one, it boosts your sense of efficacy and personal integrity: not only are you capable of doing what you set out to do, but you followed through on it. Nice.

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The beauty of mini-goals is that over time, mini-goals – and the momentum you’ve built by doing them – can quickly turn into super-goals. So that half marathon might be more likely to happen, and sooner and more easily than you think!

7. Eat.

Low blood sugar decreases your ability to make tough decisions. If you’re running on empty physically, you’ll also be running on empty mentally. (Yes, this one’s somewhat ironic if your goal involves changing food patterns – but even so, letting your blood sugar drop too far will only sabotage you over time.)

8. Sleep.

Research shows people who don’t get enough sleep have a tough time exercising their willpower. Sleep is critical for a healthy brain – along with just about everything else. So to optimize your willpower muscle, make sure you’re catching your zzz’s.

9. Nix the self-sabotage.

Making yourself feel bad hurts, rather than helps, your willpower efforts. Researchers have found that compassion is a far better strategy than tough love – telling yourself “It’s OK, everyone has setbacks sometimes,” will help you bounce back more quickly than negative self-talk.

10. Take the first hard step.

As a new behavior becomes a habit, it is more natural. You have to use less and less willpower to ‘make it so.’ When you’re starting a new pattern that feels hard, remind yourself that the first steps are truly the hardest. It will probably never feel harder than it does in those first few choices. In the case of repeated behaviors, like exercise or saving money, it takes weeks for new habits to take hold. By that point, the habit will be so ingrained, you’d have to try hard not to do it.

Featured photo credit: Kym Ellis via unsplash.com

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