For more than two years I wrote a free monthly newsletter called Individual Virtue. Recently I’ve received some interest in those articles, so I thought I’d republish some of them (with light editing). This is the first.
Confidence and Courage
All of us enjoy feeling confident, or at least we dislike feeling confused and weak. We also like feeling that we’ve been brave and not cowardly. But how do we get these things? If you’re at all like me, how to get them was never really explained to you. It all seemed like magic. Either you have the secret ingredients or you don’t.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s start with the basics:
Confidence is an opinion that you hold about yourself. It would have to be, wouldn’t it? You either believe that you are able to do a thing, or you don’t.
Courage is your ability to make decisions and hold to them in the face of fear. Courage is about what you do, not what you feel. Someone who feels no fear at all in the face of real danger isn’t brave; they’re irrational.
Confidence and courage are not magic. They are built, just like most other aspects of human character. Do you want confidence? Do you want courage? You can have them! But you’ll have to develop them the old-fashioned way: by working on them.
By the way, this is the only way you’ll ever get them. The ‘fast and easy’ methods of building character traits don’t work; they are empty promises from people who have something to sell. Don’t fall for them; you’ll waste your time and end up no place better than where you started.
So, beware of counterfeits. There are many people and groups that will tempt you with them. Their game is this: They give you something that looks and feels like confidence or courage, but only if you are inside of their group. Don’t fall for it. Real confidence and courage come from inside of you, not from an exterior group.
Now, let’s start with specifics on getting confidence and courage. We’ll start on courage with a quote from John Wayne:
Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.
And this is true. Courage is your ability to act in the face of legitimate fears. You have to build this ability like you build your muscles. That means you start at a low level of courage and build up to a high level. Courage grows little by little and only with effort.
So, if courage is built, then something else is true: To act cowardly does not make you a permanent coward.
Imagine a weightlifter who can lift hundreds of pounds. But when he started, he failed many times to lift a fraction of the amount he lifts now. He only became a champion after he decided not to quit – even when he failed repetitively and things were very hard.
It’s the same with courage. If you face a scary situation – and act as a coward – that is not the end of it for you. You can come back next time and do better… and come back the time after that and do still better. And after a long time, people will watch you and wonder how you can have so much courage in the face of adversity.
This has been done by millions of others and you can do it too, but it requires hard, consistent effort.
As we said earlier, confidence is an opinion you hold about yourself. If you believe you can do something, you are said to be confident. If you don’t believe you can do it, you are not confident.
Judging yourself is where confidence gets complicated. For example, many of us have vaguely decided not to acknowledge our abilities because we fear that people would dislike us for having them. Turning your back on your own ability might have made sense at one time in your life (such as when we were children), but we must always acknowledge our abilities to ourselves, even if we hide them from the world.
Thinking that you can do more than you can is usually only a temporary error; once you try, you learn the truth.
The second part of confidence is having ability. This part is simple, but not easy. All types of ability are built by practice, from physical skills to making moral judgments. If you want ability, act. And as you continue to act, analyze your actions and improve them.
Analyze yourself from time to time. Find your gaps and decide which abilities will be more or less important to you in the future. Keep acting and keep improving. Soon enough, you will begin to be a confident person. In time, you will be highly confident.
Here’s a tip: Don’t think that you should be able to do everything. You can’t. No one can. There are simply too many things that are done in the world, and no one has the time and energy to learn them all.
Carefully choose the abilities you will develop, and never be afraid to say, “No, I’ve never learned how to do that very well.”
And remember this:
Other people’s opinions of you don’t really matter. It’s only when you accept their opinions that you suffer.