Personal Growth

How To Build Self Confidence: A Counter-intuitive Guide

a man doing a handstand in front of a lake and mountains exuding self confidence

How do you build self-confidence when you don’t have any evidence to suggest that you are capable of achieving that new goal?

It feels like the biggest question of the century and a problem that many of us feel burdened with; building that elusive self-confidence when nothing we have done thus far in life suggests that we deserve any, at all.

How are we supposed to feel confident dating new, interesting and beautiful people when all of our past experiences have been awkward, to say the least?

How can we chase that dream career when we believe we have no talent?

What about applying for that promotion at work?  How can we go forth and slam our application letter on the manager’s desk with hulk-like confidence when our last few attempts ended in rejection?

How can we have the confidence to build a company from scratch when we don’t have the faintest idea how to write an e-mail?  I mean, seriously?

Despite what we read and hear, most of us live by limiting beliefs and are restricted in reaching our true potential because of a lack of evidence.  Evidence which says, ‘Hey, actually, you can do this’.  Or something like, ‘Wow, you got that right.  Perhaps you can do it again!

Self-confidence is similar, nay, exactly the same as self-motivation

The common misconception being that you must wait for motivation to strike before taking action when the opposite is in fact, true. 

a girl standing alone with her bike on a deserted road waiting for motivation to strike before taking action
I’m just waiting until I feel motivated to ride before I get off this deserted road.

To build self-confidence is no different. 

We believe that we need confidence to succeed, or worse, we need confidence in ourselves before we can even get started.  The truth is you must take action whether you have confidence in yourself or not. 

This is how confidence is cultivated.

If you find yourself scrolling through those coveted articles that promise to ‘Build Your Self-Confidence in 48 Easy Steps’ then I’m afraid you’re looking in the exact wrong place.

Generally, these 48 easy steps focus on the external, and somewhat easier tasks, that will certainly help build a strong foundation for you to work upon.  But that guarantee that they offer? These are often the quick and easy hacks that we believe will start us down the road of living a good life but…

These are temporary quick fixes and, like everything else worth having, building self-confidence is both incredibly straightforward and incredibly hard.


a monkey sitting in the forest with his hand by his mouth looking off into the distance as if he is trying to consider what self confidence actually is.
You might think you know, but your definition is probably a little skewed. Yeah, think about that.

Let’s begin with the dry, rather unexciting description of confidence, shall we?

Confidence in basic terms is the belief in our capabilities, talents, and skills to take on a challenge or task and succeed

But this doesn’t quite do it justice, in my opinion.  Yes, self-confidence might be doing something with the faith that we will be triumphant.  This is the correct definition of confidence but the problem is this – we take this definition and reconstruct it in our brain-space.

If confidence is the belief in our capabilities to take on life’s challenges and succeed then I must need the confidence to succeed’ …is what we might assume.

But, wait… ‘I don’t have any confidence.  Therefore, there is no way I can succeed and therefore I can’t even try.  Right?

If we stayed with the above idea, we become convinced that without confidence we can’t even begin to get started. 

young man sitting in an empty square wearing a red jumper and ripped jeans.  He believes he cannot take action without self confidence so he is waiting for it to arrive.
Well, I guess i’ll just sit here forever.

And I understand why.  No-one wants to play a game that they don’t believe they can win.

Myself, I will never (again) participate in a swimming gala.  I am an entirely average swimmer; I am comfortable in the water, I wouldn’t drown, but I cannot swim with any sort of speed to save my life.

If I were lost floating in the sea I’d probably be completely fine up until the point where I’d have to make a vague attempt of breast-stroking my way free from the world’s oldest and slowest shark.

I can’t win a swimming gala, so I wouldn’t even consider joining in with the ‘fun’. But, that is because I have the evidence from past experience which tell me that I’m not a good swimmer. However, before I had this proof that I absolutely suck in water, I gave it a go.

Why is that?


I think we need to add a few snippets to the above definition of self-confidence. 

First of all, the ‘best of us’ who appear to have the dream body, the luxury cars, and the stellar careers, have a different definition of confidence that is much more helpful than the textbook definition above.

That is, that confidence is the ability to be content with failing.

In this respect, perhaps we’re using the wrong jargon.  Instead of yearning for the confidence to succeed, we should instead cultivate the courage to take action when there is no guarantee of success.

The courage to take action regardless of doubt or lack of belief in ourselves is really what is required here.  Sure, you can still label this as confidence if you like, so long as you are happy to work with this new definition.

It takes real mental strength to march forward with no proof that you will succeed, but you must do it anyway.

Emma’s dictionary definition of confidence: Confidence is the belief in our capabilities to take on life’s challenges and succeed.  But, where this belief is lacking, confidence (COURAGE) is in taking on these challenges anyways and being content with the possibility of failure.


We’re all guilty of talking to ourselves poorly.  Even those of us who have got a firm grasp on that little negative voice inside our head, there are always those days where they’re happy to scream at you that you can’t and you never will.

Positive thinking isn’t going to be a magic cure for a lack of self-confidence.

I wish it were.  I wish that some morning, mirror affirmations would do the trick but I’d be lying if I said that were true.  And hey, the last thing I want to do is lie to you.

Ultimately, self-confidence is embedded in self-perception

How you view yourself will have a direct impact on your ability to build self-confidence and because of this, confidence isn’t always for the people who ‘have it all’.

a black and white image of a person looking at themselves in a puddle.  There are building and a plane in a the reflection also.
Yep, even how you view yourself in a puddle. A lovely artistic piece of symbolism – you’re welcome.

Confidence is an internal luxury which means that those glamour models that are showered in diamonds and designer clothing, don’t necessarily have confidence in their looks.

The CEO of a corporation built from scratch can still lack the confidence to manage a company of this scale.

The poet who writes rhyme that would have Shakespeare applauding in his grave can lack confidence in their writing ability.

In this way, we can look at humankind and see very clearly that the external factors of an individual’s life are not a defining factor for self-confidence. 

We can look to improve the external by earning more money, buying more luxuries, building the perfect body, and sleeping with the most gorgeous people in the world but this does not necessarily improve the internal.

This does not guarantee a rise in self-confidence but only guarantees that you are wasting your life.

It is when we work on our inner self – raising self-awareness, improving emotional intelligence, building emotional resilience, and cultivating courage, that we can begin to finally have confidence in ourselves to live life as a decent, successful human being.


The self-confidence loop seems like a sucker to try and break free from.

We mostly wander through life being incredibly average in everything we do, taking few risks, and accepting our situations for what they are.  It’s sad … really, it is. 

Opportunities are out there to be taken by anyone who is willing to go and grab a hold and yet so many of us sit back and allow someone else to succeed.

If we’re feeling generous we might even congratulate them.  Then secretly we sit and stew in the corner for months wondering why we can’t just find the self-confidence to change our lives for the better.

This is when we might find ourselves stuck in the no-win confidence loop of doom.  Super melodramatic, I know.

The principle is very simple – we believe we need confidence in order to be successful but we need to be successful in order to build self-confidence.  WHAT?!   Suddenly the melodrama seems well placed.

So the loop might look like this –

diagram of the no win confidence loop.  a cycle between no confidence and no success

But, in an ideal world, we’d rather be stuck in one that looks like this –

a diagram of a successful confidence loop between confidence and success

If we roll over and accept our fate, we resign ourselves to live a life stuck in this confidence loop of doom.  The reason being that confidence doesn’t magically appear from where the sun doesn’t shine, we build self-confidence when we have evidence to prove that we are capable.

So, you can begin to see why waiting for confidence is detrimental to your progress in life.

What evidence do you have before the start of any new venture that infuses you with that belief in yourself?


It’s new, you haven’t tried it before and you don’t have a clue what you’re doing so it’s completely understandable that you have little to no confidence in yourself to know what you’re doing.

Or consider trying something for the second or third time after failing your first few attempts.  Here you have the exact opposite of what you desire, that’s right, the evidence to prove that you CAN’T do it.

If I’m trying to race in an IRON MAN CHALLENGE but the first two times had me crippled on the floor with cramp, a broken leg, and exhaling blood, mid-course then it’s going to be pretty difficult to march onward with the confidence that I can even finish the race the third time around.

In this case; determination, a willingness to learn from mistakes, adaptability, and courage to keep going, trump confidence.


The no-win confidence loop of doom is not one that will sit well for many.  It suggests that those who are victorious are destined to only continue to reach new and bigger heights while the rest of us are stuck trying and failing or, not trying at all.

The rich become richer and the poor become motion sick running around in circles.

Now is the time to adopt the mind-set of the elite few who manage to find true success with one or the other definitions of confidence.  It’s simply not a case of breaking the confidence loop but adapting it.

The successful elite come to be so because they are content with the possibility of everything going wrong. 

New and improved no win confidence loop which begins with a confidence to fail rather than lack of condience to begin.

And what does this mean?

It means they will take action whether they have an unwavering belief in themselves or not.

You may not reach your end goal but you will undoubtedly begin to experience small victories along the way and with each and every victory you will have the proof in the pud; the evidence to suggest that you should now have the confidence in yourself to keep going.

Because guess what?  You’ve gotten this far, so you must be doing something right.

Persistence will pay off until eventually, you will find yourself bouncing nicely back and forth between success and confidence.


a man trying to jump over a canyon between mountains.  He has blind faith and confidence in himself to make the leap.

Some of us are born with blind faith that many of us are in awe (or are resentful) of.  Do you have someone in mind?  I can actually think of someone quite clearly. 

They will try everything without hesitation, tackle every challenge, face every demon, build every empire that pops into their head, and seem to lack ‘the fear’. 

When they aren’t grinding my gears with their knight-like confidence, they are a source of inspiration.  That’s what we all want but the truth is, these people are freaks; beautiful, confident, one-off anomalies.

There are very few people in the world who can cultivate confidence from out of nowhere, with no proof or evidence to support their blind faith in themselves.  So, feel comfortable knowing that if you struggle with self-confidence then you are not alone.

Negative self-talk doesn’t seem to be a problem for these lucky few but what happens when confidence is misplaced?

Misplaced confidence is as damaging as no confidence at all

In contradiction to not having any confidence in ourselves without proof; having insurmountable confidence in ourselves without the proof, or with ‘negative’ proof, is just as detrimental.

For example, exuding body confidence across social media when you’re in fact morbidly obese.

Promoting body confidence is a must with the degree of self-loathing we are currently surrounded by but, if it isn’t promoted as ‘healthy body confidence’ then we would allow the world to tell us that being morbidly obese, which is more damaging than smoking, is A-OK.

Or, consider having confidence in yourself with the opposite sex.  If you’re evidence of this is that you’ve managed to sleep with everyone within a 10 mile radius, this doesn’t mean that you know how to treat them with respect or that you’ll ever be able to maintain a long lasting, intimate relationship with someone who you love.

Some are born with blind faith which propels them forward.  It’s kept in check; it’s healthy and does genuinely magically appear out of their ass.

Others have confidence based on negative evidence.  You don’t want to fall into this category.  Not all confidence is created equally.


a cabinet full of trophies
You will always start from a place of no trophies and no proof.

Waiting for proof that you can and you will achieve is hindering your chances of achieving literally anything.  You stop yourself from beginning in the first place because you’re waiting for a sign from above to tell you that you can accomplish whatever you dream of.

The hard truth is that you have to take action without proof.

You have to move forward regardless if you have confidence or not.

You have to take risks even if there is no guarantee of success.

And, you have to find the courage to do those things that will improve your life even when you lack self-esteem.

If the evidence that we need in order to build self-confidence to keep going is gathered as we hit milestones along the way, then all you can do is get started.

Work with the altered confidence loop.

Ultimately, even if we fail in achieving the ultimate goal there will be minor successes along the way that will tell us that yes, ‘You are going in the right direction.  You’re not useless after all.  Actually, you can do it

It’s a pure ‘easier said than done scenario’.

But, exactly like self-motivation, you must take action whether you lack confidence, belief, self-worth, or self-esteem.


Below are 5 suggestions for how to be confident which, rather counter-intuitively, requires no confidence at all, really.

They aren’t easy, if they were a lot less of us would struggle as much as we do with low self-confidence.  As always, the hard work is always worth your time and will yield greater results.

1. Belief isn’t that important

Forget about the need to have belief in yourself before you begin a project.  It’s over-rated and underappreciated by those who have it.

Time to erase this misconception that self-belief is the all-important, necessary component of success. Alright, this might be true to a certain extent.  I want you to believe in yourself and I want you to manifest self-confidence.

I want all of these things for you because it will help you join those people who are constantly going higher and further.  Self-confidence and belief will be what gets you to greater heights.

But listen up, when you’re just starting out, that deep-rooted teaching that you must have belief in yourself to get going is not an aid but a hindrance.

No matter how you feel; confident or not, believing in yourself or not, you must just begin.  Because there will be people out there who will go for each and every opportunity and won’t step aside to give you a turn on the ride.

You have to take it.

2. Courage trumps confidence

Confidence needs to be built upon using proof and evidence of your skills and successes.  You’re not going to begin anything new with any evidence that you might achieve.

This is where courage becomes your best friend.  You don’t need any proof of anything to cultivate courage, only a willingness to take action.

Every single day the everyday man shows acts of courage that they don’t give themselves credit for.  But courage is available to each and every one of us.  It’s scary, right!  Facing our fears, taking risks, and being vulnerable to rejection is why courage is more important at the very beginning of your journey.

It will be what allows you to take the very first step.  Everything else following this is relatively easy in comparison.

You can easily build self-confidence when you have the courage to try things even when you’re unsure.

3. Be willing to fail

If you want to have confidence in anything, have the confidence to fail.  The confidence to succeed is easy but the confidence to fail is helpful.

To get to where you want to be in life you’re going to hit roadblocks, physical and emotional obstacles that are going to set you back.  You’re going to feel defeated, maybe you’ll feel embarrassed.

The important thing to note here is that failure hurts.  It’s awful and we’ll do anything to avoid it.  For the most part it’s truly unavoidable because failure is the path to success.  You will hear very few (true) stories of overnight successes that were a walk in the park and that’s because the path to success is bloody hard.

You must be willing to fail and be content with what it means to fail.  It means you are persistent, you know what is important to you and you’re willing to learn from mistakes and adapt your course accordingly.

4. You cannot build confidence in the comfort zone

The comfort zone feels warm and cozy but nothing ever happens there.

Confidence is built after an array of awkward, uncomfortable, and painful experiences.  It can’t be plucked out of the sky or handed to you on a silver platter.  When we believe we deserve to feel confident in ourselves even when we haven’t earned it, we could be swiftly heading down the road of narcissism and self-absorption.

Self-confidence is earned by living.

If you refuse to leave your comfort zone then you will only stay exactly where you are, as you are for the rest of your life. And, if you’re reading this, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you wouldn’t be content with that.

The more risks you take the more confident and comfortable you will feel in taking them. Live in the uncomfortable and get the hell out of your comfort zone!

It’s the greatest gift you could give to yourself.


5. Be driven by something greater than yourself

What’s particularly difficult about developing self-confidence is the mindset surrounding it.  Much like anxiety, it can be all-consuming.  We can be so focused on ourselves; what we said wrong, how we appeared, or what everyone else thought about us that our view of life is restricted.

Consider it an inadvertent side effect. 

This restricted thinking applies to self-confidence.  We can become so wrapped up in our lack of confidence that we aren’t able to turn our attention to those important motivating factors.

You must be driven by something greater than yourself. What are you willing to suffer for?  What pain and struggle are you willing to endure to change your life?

Step aside yourself and spend time focusing on what’s motivating your desire for change and use this to drive you forward.  Your lack of self-confidence is entirely irrelevant right now, that will come in time.

Open up your view ahead and consider what you are willing to bleed for.


a female body builder getting ready to lift a heavy dumbbell.
You can train in self confidence just like anything else. It is a skill, not a personality trait.

Each and every time you make the decision to take action even when you lack the confidence to do so, you build upon your mental muscle.  It becomes easier and easier each time to take the step as you become desensitized to the discomfort of the unknown.

And this is what you must do – build your mental muscle.

After ten attempts of trying something new, at the next try, your brain will think, ‘Yeah go on, go for it.  It didn’t kill you last time did it? I think you’re safe’ instead of, ‘DON’T DO IT! IT’S TOO SCARY!’

You can play with every excuse under the sun as to why you shouldn’t.  You can continue with emotional reasoning and tell yourself that you’d do it if only you had more confidence but, ultimately, you do not want to go to the grave only feeling self-blame and regret the action you never took.

The squidgy sponges in our heads are wired for negativity bias, meaning we have a tendency to focus and remember the negative feelings and emotions more than the positive.

I know, who the hell designed that?

Regardless, it’s what we’re stuck with.  And because of this, it’s up to us to counterbalance.  Face your fears head-on even when you have no faith in your ability to overcome them.

Embrace new challenges and opportunities even when you have no guarantee of success.

Think about the consequences of your inaction before you let a lack of confidence stop you.  Confidence develops and grows over time and experience, it’s not what you need to succeed it’s only what you think you need.

What you need is the confidence to be OK if you fail and the courage to go for it anyway.


About Emma Loveday

Hi there! My name is Emma, founder and writer of 'Resilient Humans'. Lover of slippers, 13% vol red wine, online courses (I don't care, you don't know me!) and queso, obviously. I'm currently in the process of writing my new book, 'Bold, Brave & Brilliant: 12 life lessons to cultivate mental strength and emotional resilience'. Check out @resilientemma on Instagram for the latest updates and all of the juicy goodness. Any questions? Just drop me a DM at or jump in the comment section below, I'd love to hear from you. No, truly I would.
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