In this article, I describe a plan to increase confidence. My plan consists of three techniques, which you do in decreasing order of preference:
1) Train your subconscious mind to see opportunity and success where it previously saw threat so you don’t feel anxiety,
2) Learn to articulate and face your anxiety, and
3) Learn to ignore your anxiety
Technique #1 is best. If technique #1 doesn’t work, move to technique #2. If technique #2 doesn’t work, move to technique #3. I think these techniques need to be done in order: if you try to ignore your anxiety before you articulate and face it, you will miss out on valuable information.
The most important thing you need to know about confidence is that it is mostly fake. And by “fake” I mean “based on no rational reason.” Confident people do not think they will succeed because they have any rational reason to think they will succeed, but because they have faith. Obviously, it helps if your faith is backed up by rational reasons, but sometimes you don’t have any rational reasons, so you need faith.
Confidence, Anxiety, and your Subconscious Mind
Confidence has an intellectual element and an emotional element. In other words, confidence is the FEELING and BELIEF that you will succeed at whatever purpose you are pursuing, whether it be brushing your teeth, building a business, pursuing a woman, or anything else. The opposite of confidence is anxiety, which is the feeling that you will fail at pursuing your purpose because a threat or obstacle blocks the path.
Generating the intellectual aspect of confidence is much easier than generating the emotion. To generate intellectual confidence, all you need to do is analyze the facts in your possession and formulate a plan. If the facts clearly indicate you will succeed, you can confidently soldier ahead. If the facts clearly indicate you will fail, you can decide to go do something else, certain that you did the right thing. If the facts are uncertain (like in most situations) you can confidently soldier ahead until you collect additional facts, which will tell you whether to keep going or do something else. You may also decide to confidently risk failure if the facts are uncertain if you think that failure will not be so bad.
The difficulty of generating confidence, however, is getting your subconscious mind to generate the feeling of confidence. Your subconscious mind generates emotions based on a complex analysis of the data available to it, and your intellectual analysis is often a relatively unimportant piece of data to your subconscious mind.
When your subconscious mind feels like you can succeed at your chosen purpose based on its calculations, you feel energized, excited, focused, single-minded, and determined. Your body language, tone of voice, and demeanor become that of a confident person. You do not need to read a book or website to tell you how to act confidently – you just naturally feel and act confidently. Our subconscious minds evolved to recognize confidence, so other people will know you are confident as well.
If I put a suitcase with a million dollars in a trashcan across the street and you knew for a fact that there were no obstacles to you going and grabbing that suitcase, you would confidently grab it. You would run with vigor, excitement, and joy. You would not be timid, anxious, or care what anybody thought. You wouldn’t think much, or get distracted, or worry if you were doing the “wrong” thing. You would just do it.
On the other hand, if your subconscious mind feels like there is a threat on the way to the goal you are pursuing, or that there may be a better goal you could pursue, you feel anxious. Anxiety freezes you to force you to reassess the path you are on. When seized by anxiety you feel timid, low-energy, and stressed, like something is preventing you from moving. Your mind also switches into rumination mode, cycling through distractions and doubts, because it is trying to figure out what to do next. When seized by anxiety your subconscious mind will constantly create excuses for you to not pursue the goal because it is certain you will fail. You will worry about what people think because deep down you think they may be right. Again, this is all a natural, automatic response – even if your conscious brain knows on an intellectual level that you are on the right path, if your subconscious brain thinks you are doing the wrong thing it will cripple you.
Although we like to think of ourselves as rational, intellectual beings, in reality our rational mind is a relatively new and weak appendage that sits on top of a much larger, stronger, and sophisticated subconscious lizard mind that evolved over millions of years. While our rational mind can only process about 7 pieces of information at a time and pay attention to only a few things at once, our subconscious mind can process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information from a vast array of internal and external inputs. And because our subconscious mind is so much more sophisticated than our conscious mind, it is generally stronger and usually gets it way.
Put another way, humans are primarily emotional beings and most of what we do is controlled by our subconscious mind. Your subconscious is like a different person living inside of you, with a completely separate set of desires, thoughts, fears, and perceptions from your conscious mind. Our rational mind can guide and tutor our subconscious mind, but deeply changing the subconscious mind is a long and difficult process. There are also some changes you just cannot make (you can’t for example, just completely turn off your desire for food or sex).
Our subconscious mind also subtly influences our rational mind’s thoughts. We often make “rational” justifications for the emotions generated by our subconscious mind by means of a process called confabulation. An example of confabulation would be an alcoholic justifying to themselves why “one more drink” wouldn’t hurt. An even better example is our subconscious mind making excuses as to why we shouldn’t approach a beautiful, intimidating woman. Even though we think we are thinking clearly, our thoughts are actually warped by our subconscious mind. Even worse, many thoughts never even reach our conscious minds because our subconscious mind blocks them.
From a neurological perspective, “anxiety” is not one thing. Rather, it is a set of alarms that go off when your subconscious mind detects threats. These alarms are hierarchically arranged by sophistication. At the bottom of this hierarchy is the oldest part of your brain, the periaqueductal grey, which generates panic in the case of an immediate threat. It is the least sophisticated of the anxiety alarms, and is designed to give a quick, imprecise, low-resolution signal while the more sophisticated parts of your brain are trying to figure out what is going on. Above the periaqueductal grey is the medial hypothalamus, which governs more sophisticated responses to threats, like devising a plan to escape. Above the medial hypothalamus sits the amygdala, which generates an even more sophisticated emotional representation of the threat. And at the top of this hierarchy sits your frontal cortex – the rational, “conscious” part of your brain which is the most sophisticated of all.
Each layer of this hierarchy can inhibit the lower layers, which creates an efficient system: after sensing a potential threat the lower levels immediately set off an alarm, which is then “checked” by more sophisticated parts of your brain. If the more sophisticated layers determine that the potential threat is benign, they shut off the alarm generated by the lower layers. For example, if you are alone in your apartment at night and hear a loud noise, you may feel “startled” because your periaqueductal grey getting you ready for fight or flight. But if you turn around and see that the sound was caused by a book falling to the floor, the more sophisticated parts of your subconscious mind will realize that the sensed threat was not a real threat, and they will therefore shut off the alarm and inhibit your fight or flight response. But if you turn around and see an axe murdered in your apartment, the sophisticated parts of your subconscious mind will realize that your periaqueductal grey was right, and you need to get running or fighting.
Your anxiety circuit also generates alarms when you are faced with uncertainty or with multiple competing goals. Remember, the purpose of anxiety is to help you figure out the correct path.
While anxiety is necessary to protect you from threats it becomes a problem when the conscious, sophisticated parts of your mind do not shut off the alarms when the alarms do not have merit. Constant alarms make you feel like shit, stressed, timid, weak, crippled and unable to make progress towards your goals. They also sap your energy and enthusiasm. Paradoxically, when anxiety stops you from making progress towards your goals, you end up failing to collect the very information that anxiety wants you to collect! Worst of all, because your anxiety circuits are constantly registering false alarms where none exist, your subconscious mind is constantly eliminating possible paths from consideration even before they reach your conscious mind, making you an ever-more fearful person.
Your anxiety system can go haywire for a variety of reasons: 1) you have so much chaos and uncertainty in your life that too many threat alarms are going off and your conscious mind doesn’t have the time and energy to individually respond to each alarm, so the alarms just persistently stay on, or 2) the alarms have been going off for so long that they have hijacked your conscious mind to think that the threats are real even when they are not. Your conscious mind only has so much bandwidth, and if the threats are coming in faster than you can respond to them they just accumulate and you end up with a general sense of dread about everything. And when you don’t respond to the things that are setting off anxiety alarms within you, and instead choose to avoid them, that causes you subconscious mind to assume that those things really ARE threats. Anxiety ultimately becomes a vicious cycle that keeps getting worse and worse.
To take a conservative approach to our safety, nature causes humans (and most animals) to have an over-active anxiety system. Apparently, evolution determined that it was better to have false positives rather than false negatives. If you have a false alarm in the jungle (i.e., your anxiety wrongly registers something as a threat) you may miss out on a tasty treat but if you have a false negative (your anxiety misses an actual threat) you may get eaten by a lion, which is much worse. While the conservative approach to anxiety alarms was a good evolutionary strategy for more primitive animals, the over-active anxiety system creates real problems for humans because we live in a complex society where many of the threats are abstract, complicated, and may not occur until years into the future.
Training Your Subconscious Mind to See Opportunity
There are three primary methods to train your subconscious mind to see opportunity and success where it previously saw threats: 1) exposure therapy, 2) self-improvement, and 3) autosuggestion.
The best way to train your subconscious mind to feel confident when pursuing a goal is to actually succeed. When your subconscious mind sees you succeed at something, it is much more likely to generate confidence the next time you try to do that thing. For example, most people feel confident they will succeed at brushing their teeth because they have successfully brushed their teeth many times in the past. An expert carpenter will feel confident when doing carpentry because he has successfully done it many times in the past. And so on.
Your subconscious mind may also base its confidence on analogous data. For example, in a novel situation your subconscious mind may think “I have never faced a situation exactly like this, but I have successfully faced similar situations in the past, and those previous situations were similar enough to make me feel confident I can succeed in this situation as well.” Your subconscious mind might even think “I’ve generally succeeded at novel and uncertain tasks in the past, and I feel like I am a pretty competent, intelligent, and strong person, so even though I have not quite faced this exact situation in the past, I am confident I will succeed here as well.”
To feel confidence, your subconscious mind needs to see a clear road to the finish line, which requires you to generate a plan and a routine in your life that minimizes threat and uncertainty and provides a clear, consistent stream of wins as you pursue your goals. If your subconscious mind thinks the plan you created is too difficult and the wins too remote, you will feel unmotivated, so you will need to re-adjust your plan and your definition of “win” to make the make the wins feel more attainable.
For example, if a particular task or plan is too intimidating to your subconscious mind, you can generate confidence by breaking it into smaller, less intimidating tasks that your subconscious mind feels like you can do. For example, if you are intimidated by the prospect of writing a paper, you can start by just opening your Word processor and typing a word. Your subconscious mind may doubt that you can write a paper, but it knows you can type a word so you will feel motivated to take that first step and type a word. Once your subconscious mind sees you succeed at typing a word, then you may feel enough confidence to type a sentence, and so forth. Similarly, if you are too anxious to approach a woman, you can start with smaller tasks, such as just saying “hi” or asking them the time. I have found the key to success is continually humbling yourself and re-categorizing as “wins” small things that provide you just some incremental progress. Those incremental steps quickly add up. Similarly, therapists often recommend “exposure therapy” is the most common cure for anxiety.
Self-improvement boosts your confidence by giving your subconscious new data by which to calculate your chances of success. You want your subconscious mind to think “we are not the same person that got rejected before, so we will not get rejected this time.”
Part of the reason women love shopping is that it makes them feel confident. By buying new clothes, they reprogram their subconscious mind to think “well now people will like me.” Of course, on a rational level a new set of clothes is usually not enough to make people change their opinion of you, but that rational analysis does not matter to the subconscious mind: it feels confident because the data is now different.
You can improve yourself in many ways, including by lifting, eating better, dressing better, using better hygiene, etc… You can learn how to do these things in other articles, so the only point I will make here is that you can motivate yourself to pursue these purposes just like you would motivate yourself to do anything – break it up into smaller more attainable wins and create a plan and routine that gives you a steady stream of those wins.
Autosuggestion and Delusion
Self-help gurus, philosophers, and mystics have long known that you can reprogram your subconscious mind by feeding it positive data in the form of affirmations, mantras, prayers, or meditations. This form of reprogramming is called autosuggestion – suggesting to yourself you are more competent, strong, and able to succeed than you previously felt you were.
For autosuggestion to work, you must consistently tell yourself these affirmations over a long period of time. Repetition is necessary because your subconscious mind needs a lot of data to change its opinion on your chances of success. The affirmations must be detailed and connected to emotion – remember, the affirmations are for your subconscious mind, which operates on emotion. Whenever a negative thought pops into your head, you must defeat it with a positive thought.
The more tangible and “real” the data, the more likely your subconscious will be convinced. For example, gurus and therapists often tell you to repeat your affirmations out loud or write them down. Some even suggest writing yourself fake apology letters from people who have harmed you – even though your conscious mind knows those letters are fake, your subconscious mind will often be tricked into feeling better. You can also daydream – by fantasizing and visualizing yourself succeeding at a particular task, your subconscious mind will feel more confident when actually performing that task.
Obviously, autosuggestion is a much weaker way to reprogram your subconscious mind than actual success. Your subconscious mind evolved to reject “fake” data, so just saying something to yourself is much weaker than seeing it actually happen. Nevertheless, mountains of data – scientific, historical, and anecdotal – suggest that “fake” data can trick our subconscious mind and generate new mental states. Religions, cults, art, and superstitions work because of this principle. Religious people often feel closer to God as a result because their subconscious mind thinks that the master of universe will favor them because they spoke some magic words. Think that’s stupid? Well, if you’ve ever cried during a movie, the same thing happened to you too.
One of the strangest manifestations of autosuggestion is when people start believing their own lies. Even if they knew they were lying in the beginning, after they tell the lie enough times their own subconscious mind starts to believe it. Scammers and cult leaders sometimes fall for their own tricks. Governments and public relations have also learned that you can make people crazy things by simple repetition.
For autosuggestion to work, your conscious mind must be on board. If you say the words “I know I will succeed” while your conscious mind thinks “I am lying to myself, I can’t do it” autosuggestion will fail. Confidence is a combination of feeling and intellect, so while you do not necessarily need to “believe” your affirmations, you cannot think they are false.
Imagine you are about to embark on any difficult task: a difficult project a work, writing an article on confidence, or approaching a woman. On an intellectual level, you know there is a chance of success and a chance of failure, but even failure would not be that bad of an outcome. Therefore, from a purely intellectual point of view, it wouldn’t be “wrong” to feel confident. Your subconscious, however, feels anxiety because of the enormity of the task ahead of you. In such a situation, you can use autosuggestion to make your subconscious mind feel confident. Your conscious mind knows that it is not lying to itself – it is just training your subconscious mind to produce the emotion of confidence so that you succeed rather than fail.
Articulating and Facing your Anxiety
Despite the steps described here to improve confidence, you may still feel anxiety in certain situations because 1) you have no data to demonstrate to your subconscious mind that you will succeed, 2) all the data seems to indicate you will fail, or 3) you are faced with genuine uncertainty.
When you feel anxiety, you must articulate your anxiety in words to rationally determine what, if any, threats your subconscious mind is sensing. Take a deep breath, step back, and ask yourself: “what, exactly, am I afraid will happen if I try to do this”? To answer this question, you may need to think deeply and brainstorm because it may not be immediately obvious to your rational mind why your subconscious mind is feeling anxiety.
The mere act of articulating your anxiety can reduce your anxiety because it transforms a vague, hazy, undefined fear in your mind into a specific, manageable threat you can articulate a plan against. Once you actually articulate in words the things you are afraid of, you often realize the threats are not as scary as you originally felt.
After you articulate threats in words, you can face them and formulate a plan to defeat them. The plan might be “keep going and don’t worry about this threat” or “keep going and do X thing to neutralize the threat” or “the threat is real and substantial, so you should take another path.” In any event, once you have a plan that leads you to your goal and deals with any obstacles that lay in that path, you will feel more confident. Interestingly, your anxiety circuit is not necessarily concerned that threats exist – it cares more whether you have a plan to defeat the threats. Therefore, you feel much less anxiety when you voluntarily confront the threats rather than when they unexpectedly come at you.
“Articulate threats and formulate a plan to defeat them” may sound like obvious advice, but most people do not follow these steps and their anxiety remains in the mysterious, hazy, unarticulated realm of emotion. When most people feel anxiety, they just give up and decide to go do something else. They don’t examine what caused their anxiety or how to overcome those causes. They just “feel bad” and go do something easy to feel good, like drugs, alcohol, video games, etc… Most people blindly follow their anxiety to stay safe, which actually does often work, but causes them to miss many opportunities when they actually could have overcome the threats.
Articulating one’s anxiety is often terrifying because it forces people to confront their weaknesses. If a man is afraid to approach women, the “threat” blocking his path to the goal may be that he is fat, out of shape, dressed horribly, stupid, uninteresting, etc… Articulating and admitting these problems will be painful and facing his anxiety would require him to fix those problems, which is not easy. Most people ignore their problems and leave them in the ether so they do not need to think about them or admit they exist. I have met many guys who convinced themselves they are amazing with women but are afraid to approach, probably because if they fail at approaching they must face the fact that they are not actually that great with women.
To defeat anxiety, you must believe that it is actually possible to create and articulate a plan to overcome any threat. In other words, you must believe the world is govern by rational rules, you can understand those rules, and you can use those rules to succeed. Anxiety becomes crippling when we see obstacles as immovable and undefeatable. Our fat, uninteresting friend who sucks with women cannot even imagine there are actual steps he can take to improve so he just never does it.
Ignoring your Anxiety
In his quest to vanquish his anxiety, our hero has performed a variety of exercises to train his subconscious mind to no longer feel anxiety. But even after such training, our hero sometimes still feels anxiety, which he deals with by articulating and facing his anxieties. Nevertheless, even after articulating and facing his anxieties, some anxiety may remain. This is usually because our hero is faced with a genuinely uncertain and novel situation. He has no data to demonstrate that he can succeed, nor does he have any data as to what the threats actually are. His anxiety almost is almost completely composed of the fear of the unknown.
At this point, our hero has only one option left: ignore his anxiety and blindly jump into the unknown.
I could have started this article by just saying “ignore your anxiety.” And in fact, most books and articles in this genre just say “ignore your anxiety” or “ignore negative thoughts” and just plow ahead. But that doesn’t always work, nor should it work. Anxiety is a valuable evolutionary tool that exists for a reason, and if we ignore it we can get ourselves into deep trouble and miss opportunities to correct our behavior. It’s not a coincidence that drugs that reduce our anxiety, like alcohol and marijuana, often cause us to act stupidly: our natural alarm system that protects us from threats has been turned off.
You should only ignore your anxiety when we have trained it, articulated it, and faced it. In other words, you should only ignore our anxiety when you are confident it has nothing valuable to say. Otherwise, no matter how much we try to repress or ignore our anxiety, part of us will worry that our anxiety is right – that that nagging feeling may actually be warning us of a real threat. I have found that sometimes when you try to ignore your anxiety it only becomes louder, probably because something in your brain senses that you are ignoring your anxiety.
Obviously, you cannot spend every moment of your life articulating and thinking about your anxieties. For each particular threat, you only need to articulate and face the anxiety associated with that threat once and then use that confidence going forward. For example, for approaching women, you need to sit one time and really think to yourself what is so scary about rejection and what you can do to minimize that threat. But you complete this exercise, you no longer need to think about the negative effects of rejection every time you consider approaching a beautiful woman.
The key to managing your anxiety is faith.
We live in an infinitely complicated, constantly changing universe that is littered with infinite threats, some of which we know about and some of which we do not. There is no possible way that we can think about, face, and articulate every possible threat – we simply do not have enough time or mental energy. Therefore, we need to have a general faith that “everything is going to be ok” and only think about and respond to important threats that exceed a certain threshold of seriousness.
At any particular moment a wide variety of terrible things you can happen to you: you could get struck down by lighting, you could get cancer, a plane could crash on you, your company could fail and get fired, etc… Most of these dangers are technically threats but they are not likely enough for you to worry – therefore you must ignore them. Most of the things you worry about never happen, so you might as well have never worried about them!
In my personal life, I try to follow the following rules: 1) I ignore all threats unless there is some compelling reason to focus my attention on a particular threat or threats, 2) I consider each threat as minimally threatening as I possibly can given the data that I have, and 3) I only focus on one threat at a time unless I absolutely must spread my attention over multiple threats. In other words, I try to minimize the seriousness of any threat until the data is overwhelmingly clear otherwise. I only respond to anxiety alarms that are very loud and even then, I try to shut the alarm off as quickly as possible.
To some of you this approach may sound unsafe or overly risky, but it makes logical sense. First, as a practical matter, you only have the mental ability to focus on and respond to one threat at a time anyway, so at any particular moment you have no choice but to ignore all threats except for the most serious and pertinent ones. Even then, you can’t spend all day responding to threats so you need long stretches of time where you just ignore threats completely. Second, unless you have concrete data that a particular threat is real, imminent, and dangerous, there is no rational reason you should worry about it. Third, if you are facing an uncertain situation where you are not sure about the seriousness of the threat, you must use whatever data you have. For example, I invest my money pretty conservatively because, even though each individual investment has an uncertain outcome, I have collected enough data in my life to generally know that most investments will fail, most business plans are shit, and most people are overly optimistic about their businesses, so I only invest money if I have a clear reason to believe that the venture will make money.
For this approach to work, you need to do your homework, collect data, and face your threats squarely when you detect them. If I do not collect data about investing, and on top of that I ignore whatever threats I do see, I will lose my money every time. I do not ignore threats so I can live my life like a blissful retard, I ignore them so I can focus on the ones that actually matter.
Of course, no situation remains uncertain forever. Sometimes you blindly jump into a novel situation with fake confidence and fail. That’s ok. Every time you fail, you get access to new data with which you can 1) fix your existing issues, and 2) retrain your subconscious mind to feel confident.
Imagine you approach a woman and she rejects you. Most people will take that data as evidence that they will always fail at approaching women, so they will just stop approaching. But if you get rejected, you should rationally analyze your approach and figure out what you did wrong. Of course, sometimes its not clear why she rejected you, and if you do a thorough analysis of the data and cannot figure out what happened, you should just not worry about it. You should also always assume that your “mistake” was as small as possible – you cannot let your imagine run wild with thoughts about how terrible you are. Again, unless you have compelling evidence to the contrary, you should assume you did nothing wrong.
My website: http://www.woujo.com