Thanks to the infinite wisdom of the local school board and their new school zoning policy, I was required to change to a new high school as a freshman. The standard adjustment period from elementary to high school was made exponentially more unenjoyable by the fact that my new school had an entirely new social demographic.
I went from the average awkward teenager to one who was so scared of just being looked at as he got off the bus that my entire body would break out in sweat. Forget talking to girls — walking through the halls at recess was difficult enough. All those eyes looking at me!
My family and friends encouraged me to be “more confident.” This is perhaps the worst advice you can give to someone who is border-lining on social anxiety disorder.
In retrospect I know their intentions were good, although their advice was just terrible. Did they just expect me to turn on the confidence switch in my head? Oh oops, I forgot to turn that on.
The process took a long time, and actually the only thing that built up my confidence systematically was athletics, especially wrestling and martial arts.
It wasn’t so much the coaching but rather the physical challenge. The better I got, the more my confidence grew and slowly expanded into totally unrelated realms. It was almost as if once I knew I was good at something, I knew I was good enough to talk with everyone.
What Most Of Us Get Wrong About Confidence
Telling someone to be confident is like telling someone to be happy.
Happiness cannot be pursued directly, and if it is, the results will almost certainly be both quickly forgotten and disappointing. Instead it is a byproduct of losing yourself in some pursuit, moment, sensation or idea.
Confidence is like happiness — it cannot be pursued. Rather it is a product of a life-changing process or experience.
There is a basic formula to create lasting confidence.
Being Scared of Something + Resolving To Do It + Doing It = Confidence
Inspirational quotes, pop psychology and self-affirmations are just temporary confidence boosts. Although they may make you feel good, they lack the fundamental base. They are like temporary Band-Aids.
Maybe you wanted to hear some secret formula, but like most things in life, the foundations of great beginnings are often deceptively simple. Only when we look from far away do they look complicated and inaccessible.
Challenge is the mortar used to build the foundation of confidence. We build confidence one success at a time. Perhaps this is the perennial lure of self-help — it provides an external source to lay that first foundation of confidence for self-development and growth.
This idea is echoed in childhood, where good parenting instills an illusionary sense of confidence. The “Wow. Honey you are so great” comment serves to build children’s confidence. However to lather such specious compliments on an adult comes across as fake and disingenuous.
What to Tell Someone Lacking In Confidence
Instead of telling them they are intrinsically great and amazing, instead offer them a challenge. They may not take it, but you have done your part. You can’t force confidence upon anyone.
Only a transformative experience can affect someone into creating LASTING change. Any challenge, regardless of how insubstantial it may seem, is the water and sunlight needed for the seed of confidence to grow.
There are no losers — as westerners we are so preoccupied with success that we often forget just taking on a personal challenge is transformative enough. Regardless of the outcome, taking on some sort of task and completing it shows one that he or she is capable.
I’ve been a high school teacher for the last eight years. I must admit, I’ve given up on the idea of inspiring change simply through giving life advice. Instead I offer challenges.
The students who lack confidence, I build them up. I start small. I empower them to create confidence for themselves. All the while I stand on the sidelines watching them build themselves up one challenge at a time.
The Unstoppable Confidence Plan
Remember the three steps for building confidence. Think Simple Right?
- Pick something you are scared of.
- Commit to doing it and follow through.
- Become more confident as a result.
Sounds too simple? The beauty of simplicity is that it’s the underlying factor in the greatest achievements. It’s the water that slowly wears away the rocks or the steady hand that builds a masterpiece. Simple formulas can create uncommonly great things.
The next time someone is lacking confidence and they feel they can’t continue on or don’t know how to, don’t just lather them with well-intentioned, you-can-do-it comments.
Instead, offer them a challenge.