One of the things that held me back from pursuing
my dreams for many years was fear of failure … and the lack of
self-confidence that I needed to overcome that fear.

It’s something we all face, to some degree, I think. The key question: how do you overcome that fear?

By working on your self-confidence and self-esteem. Without really
thinking of it in those terms, that’s what I’ve been doing over the
years, and that’s what helped me finally overcome my fears, and finally
pursue my dreams.

I still have those fears, undoubtedly. But now I know that I can beat
them, that I can break through that wall of fear and come out on the
other side. I’ve done it many times now, and that success will fuel
further success.

This post was inspired by reader Nick from Finland, who asked for an article about self-worth and self-confidence:

Many of the things you propose make people feel better
about themselves and actually help building self-confidence. However, I
would be interested on reading your input in general on this topic.
Taking time out for your own plans and dreams, doing things another way
than most other people and generally not necessarily “fitting in” can be
quite hard with a low self-confidence.
Truer words have never been spoken. It’s near impossible to make time
for your dreams, to break free from the traditional mold, and to truly
be yourself, if you have low self-esteem and self-confidence.

As an aside, I know that some people make a strong distinction
between self-esteem and self-confidence. In this article, I use them
interchangeably, even if there is a subtle but perhaps important
difference … the difference being whether you believe you’re worthy of
respect from others (self-esteem) and whether you believe in yourself
(self-confidence). In the end, both amount to the same thing, and in the
end, the actions I mention below give a boost to both self-esteem and

Taking control of your self-confidence

If you are low in self-confidence, is it possible to do things that will change that? Is your self-confidence in your control?

While it may not seem so, if you are low in self-confidence, I
strongly believe that you can do things to increase your
self-confidence. It is not genetic, and you do not have to be reliant on
others to increase your self-confidence. And if you believe that you
are not very competent, not very smart, not very attractive, etc. … that
can be changed.

You can become someone worthy of respect, and someone who can pursue what he wants despite the naysaying of others.

You can do this by taking control of your life, and taking control of
your self-confidence. By taking concrete actions that improve your
competence, your self-image, you can increase that self-confidence,
without the help of anyone else.

Below, I outline 25 things that will help you do that. None of them
is revolutionary, none of them will do it all by themselves. The list
certainly isn’t comprehensive. These are just some of my favorite
things, stuff that’s worked for me.

And you don’t need to do all of them, as if this were a recipe … pick
and choose those that appeal to you, maybe just a couple at first, and
give them a try. If they work, try others. If they don’t, try others.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Groom yourself. This seems like such an obvious
one, but it’s amazing how much of a difference a shower and a shave can
make in your feelings of self-confidence and for your self-image. There
have been days when I turned my mood around completely with this one
little thing.

2. Dress nicely. A corollary of the first item above
… if you dress nicely, you’ll feel good about yourself. You’ll feel
successful and presentable and ready to tackle the world. Now, dressing
nicely means something different for everyone … it doesn’t necessarily
mean wearing a $500 outfit, but could mean casual clothes that are nice
looking and presentable.

3. Photoshop your self-image. Our self-image means
so much to us, more than we often realize. We have a mental picture of
ourselves, and it determines how confident we are in ourselves. But this
picture isn’t fixed and immutable. You can change it. Use your mental
Photoshopping skills, and work on your self-image. If it’s not a very
good one, change it. Figure out why you see yourself that way, and find a
way to fix it.

4. Think positive. One of the things I learned when I
started running, about two years ago, what how to replace negative
thoughts (see next item) with positive ones. How I can actually change
my thoughts, and by doing so make great things happened. With this tiny
little skill, I was able to train for and run a marathon within a year.
It sounds so trite, so Norman Vincent Peale, but my goodness this works. Seriously. Try it if you haven’t.

5. Kill negative thoughts. Goes hand-in-hand with
the above item, but it’s so important that I made it a separate item.
You have to learn to be aware of your self-talk, the thoughts you have
about yourself and what you’re doing. When I was running, sometimes my
mind would start to say, “This is too hard. I want to stop and go watch
TV.” Well, I soon learned to recognize this negative self-talk, and soon
I learned a trick that changed everything in my life: I would imagine
that a negative thought was a bug, and I would vigilantly be on the
lookout for these bugs. When I caught one, I would stomp on it (mentally
of course) and squash it. Kill it dead. Then replace it with a positive
one. (“C’mon, I can do this! Only one mile left!”)

Know yourself and you will win all battles. – Sun Tzu
6. Get to know yourself. When going into battle, the
wisest general learns to know his enemy very, very well. You can’t
defeat the enemy without knowing him. And when you’re trying to overcome
a negative self-image and replace it with self-confidence, your enemy
is yourself. Get to know yourself well. Start listening to your
thoughts. Start writing a journal about yourself, and about the thoughts
you have about yourself, and analyzing why you have such negative
thoughts. And then think about the good things about yourself, the
things you can do well, the things you like. Start thinking about your
limitations, and whether they’re real limitations or just ones you’ve
allowed to be placed there, artificially. Dig deep within yourself, and
you’ll come out (eventually) with even greater self-confidence.

7. Act positive. More than just thinking positive,
you have to put it into action. Action, actually, is the key to
developing self-confidence. It’s one thing to learn to think positive,
but when you start acting on it, you change yourself, one action at a
time. You are what you do, and so if you change what you do, you change
what you are. Act in a positive way, take action instead of telling
yourself you can’t, be positive. Talk to people in a positive way, put
energy into your actions. You’ll soon start to notice a difference.

8. Be kind and generous. Oh, so corny. If this is
too corny for you, move on. But for the rest of you, know that being
kind to others, and generous with yourself and your time and what you
have, is a tremendous way to improve your self-image. You act in accordance with the Golden Rule,
and you start to feel good about yourself, and to think that you are a
good person. It does wonders for your self-confidence, believe me.

One important key to success is self-confidence. A key to self-confidence is preparation. – Arthur Ashe
9. Get prepared. It’s hard to be confident in
yourself if you don’t think you’ll do well at something. Beat that
feeling by preparing yourself as much as possible. Think about taking an
exam: if you haven’t studied, you won’t have much confidence in your
abilities to do well on the exam. But if you studied your butt off,
you’re prepared, and you’ll be much more confident. Now think of life as
your exam, and prepare yourself.

10. Know your principles and live them. What are the
principles upon which your life is built? If you don’t know, you will
have trouble, because your life will feel directionless. For myself, I try to live the Golden Rule
(and fail often). This is my key principle, and I try to live my life
in accordance with it. I have others, but they are mostly in some way
related to this rule (the major exception being to “Live my Passion”).
Think about your principles … you might have them but perhaps you
haven’t given them much thought. Now think about whether you actually
live these principles, or if you just believe in them but don’t act on

11. Speak slowly. Such a simple thing, but it can
have a big difference in how others perceive you. A person in authority,
with authority, speaks slowly. It shows confidence. A person who feels
that he isn’t worth listening to will speak quickly, because he doesn’t
want to keep others waiting on something not worthy of listening to.
Even if you don’t feel the confidence of someone who speaks slowly, try
doing it a few times. It will make you feel more confident. Of course,
don’t take it to an extreme, but just don’t sound rushed either.

12. Stand tall. I have horrible posture, so it will
sound hypocritical for me to give this advice, but I know it works
because I try it often. When I remind myself to stand tall and straight,
I feel better about myself. I imagine that a rope is pulling the top of
my head toward the sky, and the rest of my body straightens
accordingly. As an aside, people who stand tall and confident are more
attractive. That’s a good thing any day, in my book.

13. Increase competence. How do you feel more
competent? By becoming more competent. And how do you do that? By
studying and practicing. Just do small bits at a time. If you want to be
a more competent writer, for example, don’t try to tackle the entire
profession of writing all at once. Just begin to write more. Journal,
blog, write short stories, do some freelance writing. The more you
write, the better you’ll be. Set aside 30 minutes a day to write (for
example), and the practice will increase your competence.

14. Set a small goal and achieve it. People often
make the mistake of shooting for the moon, and then when they fail, they
get discouraged. Instead, shoot for something much more achievable. Set
a goal you know you can achieve, and then achieve it. You’ll
feel good about that. Now set another small goal and achieve that. The
more you achieve small goals, the better you’ll be at it, and the better
you’ll feel. Soon you’ll be setting bigger (but still achievable) goals
and achieving those too.

15. Change a small habit. Not a big one, like
quitting smoking. Just a small one, like writing things down. Or waking
up 10 minutes earlier. Or drinking a glass of water when you wake up.
Something small that you know you can do. Do it for a month. When you’ve
accomplished it, you’ll feel like a million bucks.

16. Focus on solutions. If you are a complainer, or
focus on problems, change your focus now. Focusing on solutions instead
of problems is one of the best things you can do for your confidence and
your career. “I’m fat and lazy!” So how can you solve that? “But I
can’t motivate myself!” So how can you solve that? “But I have no
energy!” So what’s the solution?

17. Smile. Another trite one. But it works. I feel
instantly better when I smile, and it helps me to be kinder to others as
well. A little tiny thing that can have a chain reaction. Not a bad
investment of your time and energy.

18. Volunteer. Related to the “be kind and generous”
item above, but more specific. It’s the holiday season right now … can
you find the time to volunteer for a good cause, to spread some holiday
cheer, to make the lives of others better? It’ll be some of the best
time you’ve ever spent, and an amazing side benefit is that you’ll feel
better about yourself, instantly.

19. Be grateful. I’m a firm believer in gratitude,
as anyone who’s been reading this blog for very long knows well. But I
put it here because while being grateful for what you have in life, for
what others have given you, is a very humbling activity … it can also be
a very positive and rewarding activity that will improve your
self-image. Read more.

20. Exercise. Gosh, I seem to put this one on almost
every list. But if I left it off this list I would be doing you a
disservice. Exercise has been one of my most empowering activities in
the last couple years, and it has made me feel so much better about

All you have to do is take a walk a few times a week, and you’ll see benefits. Start the habit.

21. Empower yourself with knowledge. Empowering
yourself, in general, is one of the best strategies for building
self-confidence. You can do that in many ways, but one of the surest
ways to empower yourself is through knowledge. This is along the same
vein as building competence and getting prepared … by becoming more
knowledgeable, you’ll be more confident … and you become more
knowledgeable by doing research and studying. The Internet is a great
tool, of course, but so are the people around you, people who have done
what you want, books, magazines, and educational institutions.

22. Do something you’ve been procrastinating on.
What’s on your to-do list that’s been sitting there? Do it first thing
in the morning, and get it out of the way. You’ll feel great about

23. Get active. Doing something is almost always
better than not doing anything. Of course, doing something could lead to
mistakes … but mistakes are a part of life. It’s how we learn. Without
mistakes, we’d never get better. So don’t worry about those. Just do
something. Get off your butt and get active — physically, or active by taking steps to accomplish something.

24. Work on small things. Trying to take on a huge
project or task can be overwhelming and daunting and intimidating for
anyone, even the best of us. Instead, learn to break off small chunks
and work in bursts. Small little achievements make you feel good, and
they add up to big achievements. Learn to work like this all the time,
and soon you’ll be a self-confident maniac.

25. Clear your desk. This might seem like a small,
simple thing (then again, for some of you it might not be so small). But
it has always worked wonders for me. If my desk starts to get messy,
and the world around me is in chaos, clearing off my desk is my way of
getting a little piece of my life under control. It is the calm in the
center of the storm around me. Here’s how.

Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that
can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come
true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C
s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the
greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in
it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable. – Walt Disney


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