The Psychological Tool That Either Builds or Destroys Your Confidence
You make a mistake, fail to get an outcome you want or run into an obstacle.
Instead of bouncing back from that mistake or overcoming the challenge, you let that individual “failure” or setback deposit into your “failure and setback account” — meaning you add another tally to the “L” side of the win-loss column you call your life.
Do this enough times in enough different situations and you start to feel stuck.
Yes, you want to try doing something to improve your life, but you have so much evidence for you:
Your past is like a prosecutor detailing all of your crimes:
- Starting that diet for a week and quitting
- Writing one blog post and never posting again
- Talking to your buddies about starting that business but never doing so
- Promising yourself you’d save money, only to blow it month after month
- A losing streak of broken new years resolutions
You get stuck because you never create enough positive feedback loops to get the momentum you need to reach long-term goals. Creating the right feedback loops is … everything. So much so that it’s a central theme in most of my writing.
No Such Thing as a “New Beginning”
Why is it so hard to just will yourself to succeed?
In a sense, you do get a blank slate each time you attempt a new goal, path, mission, whatever. Your past doesn’t always count against you in a literal sense. But it counts to you because of the way you think and behave.
Feedback runs your life, especially your memories of feedback. On the one hand, this is good. Very good. You wouldn’t want to have to learn that touching hot stuff will burn you over and over again. Feedback is important for survival skills, but it often comes to bite you in the ass when it comes to the process of self-actualization.
Another theme of most of my writing — your brain is not your friend. The mismatch between your caveperson brain and the current reality you live in makes you overreact a lot, e.g., fear of social rejection causes real fight or flight responses in the form of nervousness even though social situations are almost never life-threatening.
Couple that with the way you use feedback and memory to make future decisions and you’re dealing with a nasty concoction of self-doubt and stagnation.
So each time you attempt something that:
- Puts you outside of your comfort zone
- Requires delayed gratification
- Requires a change in the way you see yourself
Your brain goes, “Hold up? Didn’t you try doing something like this before? Dummy! Don’t you remember how bad you fucked up the last time? Don’t do this to yourself…again!”
Even worse, your brain distorts your memory. You don’t remember the past like a snapshot. Instead, your past memories are like file folders in your brain that you pull up when you need them.
Those old dusty files can be altered by context, e.g., you might remember a situation in the past differently depending on how you feel the moment you access that memory.
So imagine coming into a new challenge in a bad mood, with no momentum, pulling up all your past failures from stored memory. No Bueno.
Fortunately, there’s another way. A way you’re already accustomed to.
You Already Know How to be Confident
Feedback loops and confidence are all context-dependent.
People who lack confidence in certain areas of self-actualization like:
- Social skills
- Entrepreneurial skills
- Long-term personal goal setting e.g., personal finance and exercise
Fail to realize they have confidence and positive feedback loops in other areas.
Picture the loner who plays videos games all day. This person probably has horrible social skills. But they’re really, really, really good at those damn games. Why? Practice. Tons of positive feedback loops. When that kid turns on Fortnite, he knows he’s about to do well.
Or picture someone who’s good at their job but scared to become an entrepreneur. Are they shaking in their boots nervous about doing well at the job they’ve been at for 4 years? No. They know what to expect. They know they’re competent.
Aside from these examples, we all have positive feedback loops in our lives we built unknowingly because we felt comfortable attempting them. Playing video games and getting a 9 to 5 are within the normal milieu so we feel less pressure attempting them.
Some of the more life-changing feedback loops are harder to build because…we’ve built counter feedback loops that train us to believe doing these things are harder than they really are.
The Societal Feedback Loop
Have you noticed that most of the items in the self-actualization bucket have a negative connotation painted by “society”?
- Why would you want to learn social skills? Weirdo. Just be yourself!
- Starting a business is risky! Instead, put your money in a 30-year mortgage that doesn’t provide cash flow. American dream FTW
- Money is the root of all evil
- Self-help is for losers. Just work hard at your job and everything will be fine
Not only do you have your own personal feedback loops of trying to step outside of the box and failing, but you have a societal feedback loop that bombards you with examples of why flying to close to the sun will burn you.
Every mass media advertisement, news clip, and comment from your teacher, parents, friends, and peers get stored in your memory.
You pull those files up, too. Combine that gasoline with the fire of potential social rejection tickling your lizard brain and no wonder you feel both stuck and fucked because … you kind of are.
So how do you combat this? Well, you create positive feedback loops in the other direction. You also try to move the context of self-actualization closer to the context of everyday life because it’s not any more difficult in an absolute sense. Just a relative one.
Step 1 — Brainwash Yourself
You have to compete with the Mt. Everest of negativity your past and society has built up.
This is why I always recommend people who are just starting out with this “trying to change your life” thing to just become a self-improvement whore. Bow to the god of self-help for years if you want to have a fighting chance.
I once wrote an article about How to Avoid Becoming a Self-Help Junkie. You don’t want to stay stuck in consumption. You want to graduate from it by implementing the advice (which I’ll explain soon).
But in the beginning, just to wash out the bullshit between your ears, bathe in self-improvement, constantly, even if it doesn’t seem to be working as fast as you want.
I wish I had a log of all the hours I’ve spent:
- Reading — Name a self-help book…I’ve read it
- Podcasts — Daily on the hour commute to my job for five years, during cardio sessions, while cleaning the house, on walks, in the shower
- Online courses — From general self-help to learning skills like marketing writing, I’ve poured tens of thousands into my education
- Youtube — Gurus, top 10 rules for success, and Joe Rogan over rocky theme music. I’ve watched it all
Most people stop and end there.
You want to implement to create positive feedback loops. And you do that by biting off as much as you can chew.
Step 2 — Build Molehills
I first discovered self-help because I’d just gotten a job as a video store manager. This was a big deal to me at the time because I didn’t have any reference points of being a good employee. I’d been fired from every job I had prior to that.
I used self-improvement to help wash away my past as a screw-up and added all sorts of little positive reference points I could use for the future:
- Managing a staff proved I had leadership skills
- Creating a schedule, doing inventory, and paying bills showed me I had more organizational skills than I thought previously
- Dealing with customers, especially testy ones, proved I could think on my feet and deal with sticky situations in a positive way
- I stretched myself and the team to reach different commission sales goals, which showed me that given the right incentive I could work hard and be creative
Mind you, this was a step up from where I’d been previously and I used that mental anchor in a positive way. The way I perceived my jo b mattered just as much as the job I was doing.
All the while, I continued to brainwash. I had no car, so I listened to audio programs as I walked a mile back and forth to drop off the bank deposit. Every morning before the store opened, I’d be listening to an audiobook while setting up shop. Basically, from the minute I woke up to the minute I went to bed, I was working on self-improvement.
I credit this period of my life to giving me the confidence to attempt becoming a writer.
Step 3 — Accumulate, Double Down, Reinvest
Let me try to paint the picture of the additional positive feedback loops that led to where I am today:
- A friend asked me to write articles after I’d been posting inspirational Facebook statuses. The confidence from positive feedback loops in my life led to confidence to post statuses led to confidence to write the first blog post
- The confidence to write one post turned to two, three, four, and eventually turned to pitching my articles to a big website
- I worked with an editor at said big website for 18 months, getting feedback on becoming a better writer and encouragement to keep going
- I got a job at a digital marketing company shortly after I started writing (the video store provided confidence to apply for a better job, too.) Our company had a staff of freelance writers and I asked to be one of the writers on top of the job I had already. That created a repeated memory of someone paying me for writing
- Both the feedback loops of the writing habit and getting paid to write consistently gave me the courage and money to buy online courses on writing and making money writing, which fueled the establishment of a true side business
- Having developed years of writing skills, thousands of dollars of income, and a barrage of positive memories from doing things like writing daily, overseeing marketing campaigns at work, studying facets of marketing both at home and on the job, and connecting with other like-minded people, I built the foundation of confidence I need to write full time
The Rich Get Richer Paradigm
Once you get in a real upward spiral, your idea of what’s possible changes to levels you wouldn’t believe.
“Me” from five years ago would jump for joy at results I’m now very used to getting. On the one hand, you have to be careful not to get into a flywheel of constant desire, but on the other hand, the more positive feedback you have the easier it is to get better, and better, and better, and better.
I don’t need motivation anymore. I’m motivated by default. Just like the kid who plays video games all day. I’ve earned the right to be confident. And now? Skies the limit. I no longer even try to imagine the future much because I know how limited my imagination is. I just work hard confidently, constantly, and effortlessly all at once.
The initial moments of trying to get that momentum, in the beginning, don’t even seem real to me anymore. I can tell you what it feels like to get to this point, but I can’t get you there.
Only you can.
The idea of feedback loops and momentum isn’t new.
But how often do you think of yourself as being in this constant state of flux, building both positive and negative feedback loops?
It’s important to know, understand, and stay continually aware of the fact that you’re never sitting still. That each moment builds or destroys.
And building from scratch isn’t nearly as fun or easy as riding a wave of years worth of momentum like I’m able to now, but there’s no other way.
Ultimately, like always, all self-help advice boils down to this:
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