The 5 Habits You Must Break to Become More Self-Confident


If you search "how to be confident" on Google, you'll find a collection of familiar advice. Talk nicer to yourself. Think positive thoughts. Try something new. (See also: 15 Ways to Gain More Confidence)

All sound guidance that can help boost your ability to be fearless and that is, after all, what confidence is made of. But happy thoughts and kinder words aside, there are also some habits that can actually keep you from becoming more confident, no matter how positive you force yourself to be or how many new things you decide to try.

So, rather than repeat what you already know, let's dig a little deeper and talk about some habits that sap confidence.

1. Stop Trying to Please Everyone Else

If I look back at all the stupid things I've done, most can be chalked up to me trying to make someone else happy. Don't ask me why, but I feel the need to please, and it's a need that I've had to wrestle with for as long as I can remember. (See also: How to Say “No” to Family and Friends)

Quite simply, I don't like the idea that someone doesn't like me — it literally bothers me to no end — and if left unchecked, it will drive me to dismiss my better judgment and throw my own good sense right out the window. Of course, I'll beat myself up for it later when hindsight sets in, and I'll start thinking of all the things I should have said and done instead.

That need to please has a very icky feeling to it, one that I've learned to recognize all too well, which means that I know I'm not being true to myself even as I'm doing it. The solution, then, is to stop caring so much about what other people think. That doesn't mean you can't be sensitive or caring; it just means that you consciously stop putting everyone else's needs above your own.

2. Stop Living in the Past

We carry a lot of baggage around — we have a tendency to hang on to the moments we believe define us in some way.

And to some extent, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I can look back, for example, and see where my path took me this way or that; where meeting that person launched a new career, reading that book inspired a new dream, or living through that trauma made me stronger and more prepared for the challenges that still lie ahead.

But it's one thing to draw on experience to give us perspective; it's quite another to use that experience as a measuring tool for success.

The truth is, we all screw up. Even the best and brightest have moments that they wish they had handled better — opportunities that they missed, or obstacles they failed to overcome. And we all long to have those moments back because we believe we'd be happier now if we had only acted differently then.

But the reality is that we need those failures to give us something to build upon. We need those dark moments so that we can discern what the light looks like. We need to understand what it feels like to be weak or afraid or uncertain because it shows us who we are in times of crisis, and knowing this less-flattering side of yourself is crucial to becoming the person you really want to be. (See also: How to Learn From Mistakes)

So, cut yourself some slack. Learn from those past hiccups, but don't carry them around as proof of your worth (or lack thereof). You can't start building confidence if you're busy dwelling on all the reasons you don't already have it.

3. Stop Setting Yourself Up to Fail

Since we're on the subject of cutting yourself some slack, let's apply that to your goal-setting habits as well, because the less confidence we have, the more critical and demanding we seem to become.

It's as if we believe that orchestrating a grander future somehow makes up for past failings. Instead of setting achievable goals that allow us to grow more confident incrementally with each success, we hold ourselves to ridiculous standards and scrutinize every stumble along the way.

In short, we set ourselves up to fail, and then point to those failures as proof of our inability to get it right.

That's a nasty, vicious cycle that will destroy any inkling of self-confidence.

So, let's break the cycle. Let's start setting goals that are realistic and achievable. If you've spent a lifetime of being unorganized (like me) for example, it's absurd to think that you'll change that tendency overnight and transform your home into a haven of order and symmetry. Likewise, if you've accumulated a ton of debt and have struggled to make a dent in it over the years, it's not reasonable to suddenly assume that you can pay it down in the next six months by foregoing fast food and Friday night beer runs.

That's a nice thought and all, but seriously? It ain't gonna happen.

Better to start small and make less invasive, more manageable changes that you can live with. Changes that put you on the right path to that amazing version of yourself, but that don't require you to achieve it all effortlessly, right now, this very minute. (See also: Ways to Make Goals Manageable)

4. Stop Looking for Someone to Blame

Sometimes, we get the short end of the stick, and sometimes, we can clearly point to those responsible for doing the sticking. But what we can't do — what we absolutely mustn't do — is allow that frustration to transform into helplessness. It's hard to be confident if your happiness and well-being depends upon the actions of others.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped owning our circumstances. I don't mean that we were asking for those circumstances or "created" them in some way. I just mean that we became OK with the idea that it wasn't our fault. And if it wasn't our fault, then someone else was to blame, and if they were to blame, then they must be in control.

The problem with this mentality is that it takes you out of the driver's seat. You're no longer responsible for your success, because someone else is keeping you from having it, and that's pretty much that. We wanted to go back to school, but our partner wouldn't "let us." We wanted to make more money or have a better job, but our boss just didn't like us. (See also: How to Be Happier and More Likeable at Work)

We wanted the same abundance, love, and happiness that everyone else in the world wants, but that world was working against us, and it just wasn't in the cards.

Focusing on who's to blame isn't going to solve the problem, but it will keep you from becoming the confident and self-assured person you want to be. So, break the habit and start looking at your problems from a different point of view.

Hold others accountable for their actions? Yes. Call attention to the injustices of the world? Absolutely. But then turn your energy on finding ways to fix the problem and move forward. Forget about figuring out who’s fault it is… focus instead on how to make it better. Because you'll never be as happy/successful/wealthy as you could be if you're waiting on someone else to make it happen.

5. Stop Playing It Safe

In the movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," Ben Stiller plays a quiet, mouse of a man with a big imagination. In reality, he moves through life without much significance, but in his head, he's a brave and daring hero, engrossed in one glorious adventure after another.

There's a little Walter Mitty in all of us. We're drawn to stories filled with action and adventure because it allows us to vicariously experience something more intense, more passionate, and more exciting than the life we already know.

In "Die Hard," when Officer John McClane realizes he's trapped in an office building being hijacked by a group of purported terrorists, does he hide and wait for help? Hell, no. He goes after them with all he's got, foiling their plans and taking quite a few of them down in the process.

And when scientist Trevor Anderson ("Journey to the Center of the Earth") realizes that his missing brother left behind some unusual clues to his disappearance, did he turn them over to the authorities to investigate? No way. He took his nephew and followed those clues himself, all the way into a hidden world buried deep within the center of the Earth.

Indulging in these stories feeds our need for adventure. It answers that nagging question of "what if," and it satisfies our deep-seated desire to discover, explore and conquer the unknown... safely and without consequence.

Unfortunately, it does nothing for our self-confidence.

One of the most repeated pieces of advice for building confidence is to set goals and then achieve them, and we've already talked about the importance of making those goals realistic. But the opposite is true as well. It's hard to get psyched about accomplishing things you can do in your sleep, and this is where a little risk-taking can really stir things up.

In other words, if you're not testing your limits and broadening your horizons on a regular basis, you're missing out on the opportunity to discover just how amazing you actually are. I'm not suggesting that you try to take on a band of criminals by yourself, nor do I suggest venturing into the center of the Earth in search of hidden civilizations, but pushing the envelope just a little once in a while can do wonders for your confidence.

Heroes aren't revealed until they go on quests, so go on a few of your own. Bend the rules a little. Learn to improvise and be spontaneous. See what your safer, more reserved side says to do and then do the opposite of that. Remember, the definition of courage isn't a lack of fear — it's experiencing fear and pushing past it. The only way to experience fear is to face it and that means stepping outside of your comfort zone once in a while.

And that's when you find the confidence to become your own hero and live your own real-life adventure.

How do you generate self-confidence? Don't be shy, tell us about it in comments!

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Guest's picture

Point #3 is something I just realized I do. When things aren't going my way I set even bigger and (I now realize) unrealistic goals. I don't know what emotional need that fills (setting myself up to fail). Unsurprisingly, I don't achieve that bigger goal and I get angry, depressed, etc... As I just said, I don't know why I do this, but I do realize it's a mistake. This year, I set smaller/achievable goals and celebrate those wins. Thanks for this post.

Guest's picture

It's actually a very normal, even creative thing to do. Great painters do not just see a tiny piece of the painting they want to paint. They see the whole completed work of art. But they can't do the whole thing in a day or even in the time that it took to create the image in their mind. So they start with the sky. Add a cloud, add a barn, add a cow, etc..

Do see your entire goal, the one you want to achieve. Do you want to be a millionaire by the time you are 40 and you are 20 now. It is not unrealistic to work towards that goal. You may not achieve it entirely, but you may have a nice hefty savings account by the time you are 40 if you save say $5.00 a day for 20 years. You will have over $36,000. Well, it's not a million but it's a new car, or a down payment on a reasonable home for you and a spouse. Just think if everyone saved $5.00 or $10 a day from the time they were 20 years old, every day, little by little. There would be enough for those life disasters like the car keeling over and refusing to start ever again, like your mom needing an operation and not having insurance, like almost anything. And you continue to save, save, save in little amounts.

I just to try to clean the entire 10 room house in a day. Whew. I was a total failure and began to simply not try. Then I discovered that if I cleaned a room a day, I could finish the whole house in less than two weeks. Then I would put the house on maintenance and clean what had gotten messy. Once a month I would take a week to clean more thoroughly. It became quite a pleasure. Music, on mop in hand.

So do visualize your entire goal, whether it's to stop smoking one cigarette less a day or to lose weight, 300 calories less a day,it adds up and soon you will be smoking only two cigarettes a day and have your caloric intake down to about 1000 a day.

I forgot all these good abilities I have to accomplish what my grand plans a drop at a time so thanks for your comment. It reminded me. I am going to go and clean one drawer in my very cluttered dresser right now.