Every time I see someone driving a brand new luxury car, I picture them being massively insecure.
I feel like that car is the only thing in life they have to show for their efforts and that driving it is a coping mechanism for the fact they really don’t feel whole.
In reality, this isn’t always true at all. Like George Jung’s father says in the movie Blow, “It’s nice to have nice things, George.”
But I can’t help but see insecurity everywhere I go. Why?
Because I’m insecure. We all are. It’s self-evident. We get so caught up in these status games, so caught up in trying to be what we think other people want us to be, so caught up in the idea that we need something outside of ourselves to be confident.
But deep down, we all know that true confidence comes from within. You should be able to feel confident, happy, and content simply because you’re alive. But alas, you’re not, I’m not, we’re not.
I always say the same thing when it comes to self-improvement. Self-improvement can’t cure you or get you anywhere near close to perfection, but the growth during the process is enough to change your life in a profound way.
I’m on my own journey to becoming more confident, not just in the contexts where I’m competent, but just flat out confident one hundred per cent of the time. Here’s what I’ve been learning and trying to implement.
Why, Why, Why?
‘I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.’ — Marcus Aurelius
Confidence or lack thereof can be boiled down to one core element. The more you care what other people think about you, the less confident you are.
The opposite is also true. You want to be around the people who are indifferent about whether or not you like them. You vie for the validation of people with a take it or leave it attitude. Rare is the free person who does what they want with no apology.
This is the person you wish you could be. You’ve imagined this ideal self that walks around the world carefree. But how do you actually get there?
One thing that helps me? I always focus on what’s going on in the mind of people I’m trying to impress.
I ask myself,
“What is so special about this person or group of people that I should care about their opinion at all?”
Absolutely nothing. They’re humans who bleed the same blood I do, have the same incessant conversation with their inner critic, who walk around the world not really knowing what they’re doing at all.
This is who I should care about?
Of course, this only works to a point, right? All of these strategies only work to a point. You can enter waves of motivated confidence where you do move through the world carefree…in spurts.
My recipe for sustaining it? My recipe for sustaining anything? Incessant repetition.
When you find yourself wanting the approval of others in any situation…when you’re buying new clothes because you think it’ll make you feel better, when you don’t raise your hand in the meeting because you fear being embarrassed, when you do anything because you think it will help you get validation from someone else…
…ask yourself why you should care, at all.
It’s a good exercise when done often. People are just as afraid of you as you are of them. Get a little bit better and you have the edge.
The One Thing You Must Understand
“The world wants to assign you a role in life. And once you accept that role you are doomed.” — Robert Greene
You have to understand that you have deeply embedded narratives, patterns, and societal scripts that keep you from being the fully confident version of yourself.
I’ll prove it.
Picture yourself standing in an elevator right now. Imagine yourself yelling something crazy at the top of your lungs in an elevator full of people. You might be nervous even picturing that, right?
Tim Ferriss has confidence exercises in his classic book the Four Hour Work Week. One of them is to lay down in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy street.
These actions seem wrong and off to you, but why?
Is there anything inherently wrong about yelling in an elevator or lying down on the street? No. You might annoy some people, but you’re not going to die. Yet if you tried to do these things, you’d experience fight or flight symptoms as if you were going to die. Why?
It’s a combination of two things:
- Heavy social conditioning: You’ve been taught how to restrict yourself more and more as you age, moving from “don’t touch that, sit still!” In Kindergarten to “find a safe practical job” as an adult.
- Evolution: We’ve evolved to build social bonds. More importantly, we’ve evolved to be very fearful of breaking them. Rejection from the tribe means death, hence the fight or flight feeling when doing something that “puts you out there”
This little two-ingredient cocktail proves quite hindering, so what do you do?
Having a deeper understanding of how deep your social programming runs is a good start.
The first step towards change is realizing that you’re not really “you.” The real you is buried under all of that social conditioning. Until you know what you really believe, who you really are, and what you really stand for, you’ll never have real confidence and be able to fully step into the world.
Find ways to break patterns and do things that are a little weird. Often, when a retail or service worker asks me how I’m doing, I yell “fantastic!” It startles them a bit, but then they kinda lighten up, and I realize putting myself out there won’t kill me. I start conversations in elevators all the time for the same reason.
These things seem trivial and trite, but how many people move through the world like they’re walking on eggshells? Almost all of us. Even doing these little random things to break yourself out of your box can help.
How to Build Your Inner and Outer World at the Same Time
“Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.” — Ayn Rand
You can’t build this type of confidence from thin air. So instead of just thinking about how to become more confident, focus on developing good reasons to be confident and then also do inner work to understand you’re inherently valuable just as you are.
Take me for example. Could I technically have felt confident and inherently worthy when I was dead broke, hated my job, depressed, and drowned in drugs and alcohol? Sure, I guess, but no, not really. Getting my life together helped quite a bit, but it didn’t solve everything.
See, when you reach success in your life it will make you feel more confident, but you’ll only feel confident because you’ve improved by measures that society deems acceptable.
You’re more productive, you made more money, you have a great career, you’re in shape, whatever. On the one hand, you are developing a stronger sense of inner confidence because you’re doing things that matter to you, but you’re still basing your validation on the outside world.
I’ve often wondered if my drive to be successful came from me, or came from the culture and ethos of rugged individualist Western culture. The answer is a little bit of both. But following this path has taught me that getting the accomplishments and living the American dream still doesn’t cure you.
Jim Carrey has a quote:
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
On the one hand, he’s right, but you have to go through the steps yourself to understand what he’s really trying to say. Until you slay the dragon, you’ll always imagine yourself slaying the dragon.
So go ahead and slay it. After each achievement, you’ll feel euphoria and then it will fade. You’ll realize it wasn’t everything you thought it’d be. You’ll realize nothing is ever what you think it will be.
But you still keep working hard and improving your life while simultaneously starting to detach from your accomplishments more and more.
You detach from your ego.
Addition by Subtraction
“Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” It’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know.” — Ryan Holiday
The real reason we don’t walk around with a default state of confidence is our ego. The more you learn, the more you understand that everything important is a paradox.
If you want to develop real confidence, you need to focus on becoming the best possible version of yourself while trying to simultaneously destroy your ego. You work as hard as you can to accomplish, but you detach from your accomplishments.
Upgrading yourself increases your inner level of confidence until you reach the point where you realize you didn’t need to upgrade anything.
You’ll know you’re getting close if you find yourself contemplating living in a cave and meditating your days away. You’ll realize nothing really matters, at all.
I shot this video where I talked about a trick I use to deal with self-doubt. The trick? I contemplate the infinite vastness of the universe and I think about how insignificant I am…how insignificant any of this is.
But then, for that reason, it makes me want to conquer everything.
True confidence happens when you’re just like, “Why the hell not?” “Screw it, let’s try this, let’s do it.” You’re able to attempt crazy ridiculous goals because you know they’re not important.
You’re able to put in more effort because you realize none of this really matters.
You don’t maintain this feeling forever, hardly, but you do have these little glimpses of what it feels like to walk through the world with ease ready to tackle what’s next.
The more you cultivate this combination of action, reflection, understanding, absorption of paradoxes, and counterintuitive patterns of thinking, the closer you get to perfection.
But you never get there. And that’s okay.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.