The Best Way to Gain Self-Confidence and Resilience

Person in cycling gear wears helmet looking out to the side of frame confidently, ready to ride along hillThere is only one way to gain self-confidence:

Do difficult things.

You can consciously choose your challenges or let the vagaries of life choose them for you. Either way, by facing your fears and insecurities head-on and moving forward even before you feel confident, you paradoxically develop confidence.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s incredibly hard to do things when every cell in your body-mind screams how unsafe it might be. Luckily, you’ve had a lot of practice. When you learned to ride a bike, cross the street by yourself, or drive a car, you probably felt incredibly uncomfortable. In time, those life skills, and hundreds of others, became second nature and fairly un-scary. You were building confidence. A library of experiences that first seemed daunting became almost automatic.

In some ways, the difficulties life brings are easier to deal with when you have no choice. For example, an accident that requires you to use your left hand for a month because your right one is in a cast. Or the challenges of being a new parent and navigating sleepless nights. In those situations, you really have no choice but to adapt, learn, and grow.

On the other hand, when choosing a challenge there can often be long periods of indecisiveness fraught with images of worst-case scenarios. In spite of that, when you consciously choose one of these arduous paths, knowing there will be hard roads ahead, you not only build confidence, you develop resilience.

What’s really fascinating is how, after decades of facing your fears and doing difficult things, you can still find the challenge du jour so overwhelming. That would seem to be counterintuitive given what was just said about confidence and resilience, but it isn’t. All the confidence in the world doesn’t inoculate you to life’s hardships, nor does it make them easier to bear.

You might think aging confers a certain measure of increasing equanimity, but that isn’t always the case. As you age beyond 50, you may notice yourself feeling more sensitive to and aware of everything that seems even a little daunting. But are you really more sensitive? Or is it that now you have the time and space to pay attention to how sensitive you always were? Raising a family, dealing with job and career issues, etc. can be very distracting. They have a tendency to push us from one task to the next, leaving little time for introspection.

You can’t control the slings and arrows of life, but you can choose a more balanced path by not seeking out too many extra things to overcome or achieve.

One thing you can be sure of: there will be challenges until you quit this mortal coil. The smartest thing is to stay accommodating to them and learn new ways to adapt.

Of course, life is far more than just getting through the day. Most humans are hedonists and want to maximize pleasure. Building confidence and resilience helps you enjoy life more, as it enables you to capably navigate its vicissitudes. With perspective, you can look back on many experiences you thought you couldn’t handle but did.

Confidence doesn’t make you welcome hard times. That hedonistic part wants life to be easy, fair, painless, and comfortable. You may be confident you can meet all sorts of challenges but still prefer them not to intrude on your life.

Everything on earth is made of energy and energy is never still. Everything, including you, is in flux, even if it sometimes feels as if you’re stagnating. Just like a hibernating bear, you need fallow times. Challenging yourself incessantly is no more helpful than never taking a risk, and in its worst iteration, it can make you an excitement junkie. You can’t control the slings and arrows of life, but you can choose a more balanced path by not seeking out too many extra things to overcome or achieve.

In some ways, the hardest day-to-day task is awareness of what throws you off-kilter. A seesaw of challenge and rest to both push you beyond your comfort level and make you feel safe and nurtured would be the holy grail. No easy feat. Still, one worth exploring, perhaps with the support of a therapist.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC, therapist in Buffalo, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Mason

    Mason

    November 15th, 2017 at 11:15 AM

    Brilliant!
    I have to share this with my children because I have always told them to do things that feel just a little bit tougher than what you necessarily think that you can manage. And then when you see yourself doing those things successfully then it’s time to bump it up a notch!

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    November 16th, 2017 at 3:15 AM

    Hi Mason,
    Thank you for taking the time to share your reaction to this piece. I also think it’s important to rest on one’s laurels sometimes, and take a break from striving. Always going from one accomplishment to the next without pausing to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors can have an unintended consequence: leaving them on the hamster wheel of incessant achievements, which can ultimately feel empty.
    As with most things in life, the challenge is to create a balance.

  • Grace

    Grace

    November 30th, 2017 at 4:00 PM

    I believe this is true but its not easy to do hard things especially when I was younger this was true. Playing it safe makes things simpler and when I was young it was always easier to do what I saw most normal people doing and followin the normal path. Trying new things was pretty scary and stills is sometimes because failure can be real and really hurt. But then again a lot of the best things in my life due to risks like moving with my husband to Germany and having kids and also investing most of our money a few years ago. I definitely more confident than I was when I was 20!!! But still not a daredevil. I would say most people can do it no matter your age don’t give up :)

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