There 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.
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