How to Build True Confidence Over Time (Principles From The Confidence Gap)

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I really enjoyed reading The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris which outlines the main principles for gaining true confidence in your life over time.

The principles are based on ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) and mindfulness-based psychology which I have personally found to be helpful in my life.

These principles require effort, action, and persistence over time as nothing good in life comes without effort and persistence.

I thought the book was great because it gave a practical and true framework for developing more confidence over time that was not based on faulty or fake self-help tactics.

How Would Your Life Be Different?

  • There are many people who have issues with confidence or self esteem 
  • How would your life be different if you had the confidence to pursue the life you want
  • What do you give up? Miss out on? Opportunities lost?
  • The main problem that occurs is people put their life and dreams on hold because they are not “confident enough”
  • Most people have tried faulty psychological strategies like visualization, self hypnosis, positive affirmations, challenging negative thoughts, relaxation techniques, fake it till you make it techniques and more
  • These are all ways of avoiding your feelings and will only lead to failure in the long term because feelings are a normal part of the human experience. When we focus on trying to get rid of feelings they will own us.
  • It’s by clinging to these tactics to avoid feelings or distract themselves from fear that keeps people striving for “more confidence” and to poor results over time

Key Skills to Learn

  • The three key mindfulness skills that play a role in the journey to genuine confidence are defusion, expansion, and engagement
  • Defusion: the ability to separate from your thoughts and to let them come and go, instead of getting caught up in them or allowing them to dictate what you do.
  • Expansion: Expansion is the ability to open up and make room for emotions, sensations, and feelings and to let them come and go without letting them drag you down, push you around, or hold you back. This helps in handling fear, anxiety, and anger.
  • Engagement: the ability to be psychologically present and live fully in the moment. To be fully aware of what is happening right here, right now, instead of being caught up in your thoughts. To be curious and non judgemental about what’s happening. This is essential if you wish to perform well or find fulfillment in what you are doing.
  • Clarifying your core values: your heart and souls internal desire for what you want to do, become, and how you want to behave in this life. To use these values to motivate, inspire, and guide your ongoing action. When mindfulness, values, and committed action come together, they give rise to psychological flexibility, the ability to take effective action, guided by values, with awareness, openness, and focus.

Values vs Goals

  • Values are desired qualities of ongoing action. They describe how you want to behave as a human being: how you want to act, what you stand for, the principles you want to live by, the personal qualities and character strengths you want to cultivate.
    • Values usually come from life experience and what you believe to be true in the world 
  • Goals are desired outcomes. They are what you want to get, possess, or achieve. They are not ongoing and change a lot throughout life based on what you personally want at certain times.
    • Goals are usually based on what you think an achieved outcome or possession will give you in your life at the current time
    • Goals change as life interests, views, and values change
  • Think of values as a compass which sets the direction you want to steer in and keeps you on track. But keep in mind that committed action is what provides the fuel to your journey and values only provide the navigation.
  • It’s important to go after your goals but you may or may not achieve them and that’s where your values come into play. If you can stick to your values despite the unpredictability of life you will find fulfillment and satisfaction despite the outcomes.

The Confidence Gap

  • The confidence gap is the place we get stuck when fear gets in the way of our dreams and ambitions.
  • If you believe this you are stuck “I can’t achieve my goals, perform at my peak, do the things I want to do, or behave like the person I want to be until I feel good or more confident.”
  • There are 2 common definitions of confidence:
    • 1. A feeling of certainty or assurance
    • 2. An act of trust or reliance
    • Both definitions have truth to them but in order to build confidence the second definition is more valid. Confidence is not a feeling but an action in this definition. It is an act of trust or reliance. When we trust or rely on someone we often do not have feelings of absolute certainty or assurance. In fact, when things are at stake we often have feelings of fear and anxiety and thoughts about what could go wrong. 
    • In order to build confidence you have to learn to trust yourself to take action despite how afraid you are feeling
  • The more you play by the rule of “ I have to FEEL confident before I take action” the worse the results will be over time

RULE #1: The actions of confidence come first, the feelings come later

5 Reasons People Lack Confidence

  1. Excessive Expectations– being a perfectionist and thinking that everything has to be perfect and you can’t mess up. Messing up is a fact of life. If you are constantly worried about messing up you won’t be able to perform or relax. Allow yourself to mess up.
  2. Harsh Self-Judgment– our minds naturally have negative thoughts. The key is noticing them and letting them be while taking action.
  3. Preoccupation With Fear– Fear is a part of being human. We need to accept it and keep taking action in our life.
  4. Lack of Experience– Experience and practice builds confidence over time.
  5. Lack of Skill– Learning, reflecting, and practicing over and over again builds skills.

The Confidence Cycle- or How to Get Good at Anything

  1. Practice the Skills– practice your desired skill over and over again until it becomes unconscious 
  2. Apply Them Effectively– Step outside of our comfort zone into real life situations where we can work through fear while using our skills. 
  3. Assess The Results– We need to reflect on our results without judging our beating ourselves up.
  4. Modify As Needed– After learning test different things and change what needs to change for better results.

Let Go of False Fear Beliefs

The following beliefs are myths that society has created and cause a ton of suffering because people are not able to just allow and move with their feelings. 

  • Myth 1: Fear is a sign of weakness
    • Every human experiences fear when they step outside of their comfort zone into a challenging situation for them
  • Myth 2: Fear impairs performance
    • Fear is not your enemy, it is a powerful source of energy that can be harnessed and used for your benefit
  • Myth 3: Confidence is the absence of fear
    • It’s not fear that holds people back it’s their attitude towards it that keeps them stuck

RULE #2: Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear; it is a transformed relationship with fear

How to Develop True Confidence

Fear, anxiety, and lack of confidence boil down to a few basic elements:

  • E-Emotions
  • M-Memories
  • I-Images
  • T-Thoughts
  • S-Sensations

In order to develop lasting confidence we need to know three things:

  1. How to handle our thoughts and feelings effectively
  2. How to take control of our actions, even when our thoughts and feelings are “negative” or uncomfortable
  3. How to engage fully in whatever we are doing, irrespective of the thoughts and feelings we are having


  • Our mind naturally generates negative thoughts and even if we practice positive thinking every day we can’t stop this process
  • Neuroscience makes it very clear that the brain does not eliminate or eradicate old neural pathways, it lays down new ones on top of old ones. You can create new pathways and use the old ones less but the negative thought patterns will still pop up you can’t eliminate them
  • Negative thoughts are not problematic, it’s our relationship to them and how much we fuse with them
  • A Zen master said to find the person who tells you he or she has eliminated negative thoughts and if you find such a person you know that’s not who your looking for
  • The thing to ask yourself is if these thoughts are workable and helpful to going where you want to go. “If I allow this thought to dictate my actions will it lead me to where I want to go”. If not we can defuse from them and allow them to float away.

4 Common Categories of Reason Giving Thoughts

  1. Obstacles– our mind points out all the obstacles and difficulties that lie in our path
  2. Self-judgments– our mind points out all the ways in which we are not up to the task
  3. Comparisons– our mind compares us unfavorably to others who seem to do it better, have more talent, or have it easier or who are genetically more gifted
  4. Predictions– our minds predict the ways we could fail or get rejected or embarrass ourselves

Defusion Techniques For Thoughts

These are all ways to defuse from negative thoughts which allows them to have less of a hold on you and more space between them and you. 

Remember that if you are trying to use these as ways to get rid of thoughts they will not work and make them worse.

  1. Notice them
  2. Name them
  3. Neutralize them
  • Singing: I’m having a thought that this will never go away 
  • Silly Voice: This will never go away – say it with a silly cartoon voice 

RULE #3: Negative thoughts are normal. Don’t fight them, defuse them

The Self Esteem Trap

  • Our society encourages us to think in terms of winners and losers, successes and failures, and to divide ourselves and compare to others.
  • If we get hooked by the story that we are a winner or great or better than someone else we may feel good for a little bit. But it doesn’t take long until our mind finds someone else who is doing better than us and drops into a negative spiral
  • If we are constantly having to create a macho self image it will not allow us to accept ourself when things go wrong and it will create animosity in the world. The key is to just accept yourself the way you are without creating a positive or negative self image. 
  • Fragile self esteem is very common in successful people where they hold onto the narrative that they are great when they are winning but when their performance drops they have a lot of self sabotage 
  • The winner loser mindset creates a desperate need to achieve fueled by fear of becoming a loser or failure which leads to chronic stress and anxiety
  • When someone holds on to “I’m a winner or better than others” they can’t create healthy loving relationships over time as they are divided against their own humanity. This mindset creates narcissism and ego centric behavior.

High Self-Esteem: making and believing positive self judgments and appraisals in your mind. This is not actually reality but something your ego had to create. You cannot create your reality in your mind, reality happens exactly as it is.

Studies found that:

  • High self esteem correlates with egotism, narcissism, and arrogance
  • High self esteem correlates with prejudice and discrimination 
  • High self esteem correlates with self deception and defensiveness when faced with honest feedback
  • When people with low self esteem try to boost it with positive self affirmations they generally feel worse 

Self Acceptance (Where True Confidence Comes From)

  • Self acceptance, awareness, and the courage to take action are all much more important 
  • When we step outside of our comfort zones things won’t always turn out well and we will fail, embarrass ourselves, and make mistakes
  • When we do screw up how will our minds react? Most of the time if we have a bad relationships with ourself they will berate us
  • The key is to reflect and assess what you did wrong and then drop the self judgment and develop self acceptance
  • Self judgment does not help in any way. Assessing the results and practicing skills to make changes for next time does.
  • Practice getting unhooked from all your self judgments negative and positive
  • The biography of you is not you. Whether your mind describes you with praise or negativity this is not you. Remember, are the words helpful or not? If they are not, drop them.
  • Self judgments change like the wind. When you are feeling good they will be positive, when you are feeling bad they will be negative
  • What matters most in life is what you do, what you stand for, and how you behave. This is far more important than the stories you believe.
  • The more we judge others and label them as losers or weak or bad the more our mind will judge us 

RULE #4: Self Acceptance trumps self esteem

The Power of Engagement

  • If we want to perform well in life, sex, conversation, sports, work or anything we need to be psychologically present and engaged in what is happening
  • If we are caught up in our thoughts and feelings it won’t go well. We need to develop the trust that we can engage and trust our body to regulate itself
  • If we are too attached to our thoughts or feelings or worries we will not be able to contribute to conversation and engage in an activity
  • This is called task focused attention- being fully focused on the task at hand, we cannot get rid of negative thoughts, feelings, or judgments but we can switch the focus on to the main task while dimming the light on them
  • When we can be present on the world around us and our five senses our level of fulfillment increases dramatically and our performance and joy for life does as well 
  • Psychological smog is when we are so clouded and attached to our negative thoughts and feelings that we forget or get lost in it. Smog only occurs if we are fused with our thoughts and feelings. The only way out of the smog is through engagement and defusion.
  • Practice unhooking from the smog, thoughts, and feelings, and engage with practice and life

Values For Motivation & Courage

  • Most programs place a lot of emphasis on goal setting but it’s a small piece of the puzzle and usually not as important as values
  • With goals that are not aligned with core values you will not have the motivation and flow to achieve the goals 


  1. Values give us the inspiration and motivation to persist, to do what needs to be done, even when the going gets tough
  2. Values give us guidance or act as a compass through the storms that we encounter
  3. Values provide us with fulfillment as we move towards our goals

What can motivate us to step outside of our comfort zone and embrace fear, anxiety, and other challenging thoughts and emotions? Values.

  • Make sure to write down your top 5-6 values and put it somewhere where you can see it to help you to move in the right direction
  • Also realize that true success is living by your values. The popular notion of success sets people up for tons of unnecessary suffering. If you hit a goal you get a moment of pleasure and then back into suffering. We need to let go of outcomes and focus on living by our values being more in the present moment of life enjoying the process. 
  • From this perspective the mother who gives up her career to act on her values of raising children is far more “successful” than a CEO who earns millions of dollars but completely neglects his values

RULE #5: Hold your values lightly, but pursue them vigorously 

RULE #6: True success is living by your values engaged in the process not the outcome

  • When we engage in the process and journey and detach from the outcome the more rewarding and fulfilling the process is and paradoxically the chances of succeeding are greater

RULE #7: Don’t obsess about the outcome, get passionate and engaged with the process

The Fear Trap

  • Albert Ellis was terrified of rejection by women so he decided that for one month he would go every day to New York Botanical Garden and force himself to talk to every attractive woman he encountered 
  • Not one of these women said yes to him asking them for a date but he considered it a success because he overcame his fear of rejection which lead him to a life of adventure
  • We’ve been educated to think that fear is bad and that it’s a sign of weakness and that successful people don’t have it and we should get rid of it. Same with anxiety and other unpleasant emotions. This is not true.
  • Most people respond to unpleasant emotions with either autopilot mode or avoidance mode
  • 1. Autopilot- our emotions take complete control over us and we can’t control how we respond to them
  • 2. Avoidance- using distraction, pleasure, hiding, thinking, and other opt out strategies to 
  • The more we avoid our fear the bigger it grows and the more negatively it affects our lives 
  • The sooner you get back on the horse and ride again after falling the sooner you will regain confidence
  • Exposure means staying in contact with your fears until you get used to them and it has a more positive impact on behavior than any other tool 
  • Engagement and expansion of unpleasant emotions is the way through. We need to allow and open up to the unpleasant feelings while taking action.

To Accept Fear:

  1. Notice it
  2. Acknowledge it
  3. Make space for it
  4. Expand awareness
  5. Engage

How to Be a Fear Whisperer:

  • Allow it
  • Befriend it
  • Channel it 

RULE #8: Don’t fight your fear, allow it, befriend it, channel it

Key Lessons From Heroic Acts:

  1. When we move forward guided by our values we will feel a sense of meaning and purpose and find satisfaction in knowing we are doing what matters to us
  2. Even when we think a goal is impossible, we can still keep moving towards it. We don’t have to believe that we will achieve it, we just have to take action
  3. As long as we keep moving forward every little step counts. Each and every step is an important part of the journey
  4. Moving in a meaningful direction often gives rise to uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations. We need to make room for discomfort
  5. When the going gets tough, the tough get mindful. If we wish to act effectively in challenging situations, we need to engage fully in what we are doing.
  6. At times we will all give up on the path. Commitment doesn’t mean we never give up or go off track. Commitment means that when we do give up or go off track we pick ourselves up and get back on track again. 

How to Get On Track:

  1. Pick a domain in life
  2. Clarify values
  3. Set goals
  4. Specify actions
  5. Get moving

The Big Choice

We are given two choices in life:

  1. For the rest of your life you only take action when you feel ready or good enough to do it and end up missing out on life 
  2. For the rest of your life you take action to do the things that are really important for you whether you are in the mood or not. This is a recipe for success and fulfillment in life.
  • Dr. Seuss describes the waiting place: this most useless place is full of people just waiting. They are waiting for anything and everything: for trains, buses, and planes. For changes in weather, for fish to bite, mail to arrive, or hair to grow. They have put their lives on hold, unwilling to move on until they have received what they are waiting for. No wonder they all look so miserable.
  • We all get stuck in the waiting place at times when we don’t feel good or aren’t in the mood or when we aren’t confident

Understanding the Reality Gap

  • Whenever there’s a large “reality gap” or a gap between the reality we want and the reality we are in, painful feelings will arise. And the larger the gap the greater the pain. A small reality gap may give rise to feelings of disappointment, frustration, anxiety, regret, boredom, guilt, or impatience. An enormous reality gap may rise to despair, angst, rage, or terror.
  • Some of the most painful reality gaps may occur when important life goals become truly impossible because of illness, disability, or other tragic outcomes
  • This is when it’s the most critical to open up and make room for the painful feelings, acknowledge that it hurts like hell, and be kind and compassionate towards ourselves
  • We have a choice to make in these situations: we can stand for giving up on life, or we can stand for living by our values in spite of the pain and loss, deciding to move forward one step and one moment at a time
  • Ten years from now, when I look back on this period in my life, what would I like to say that I stood for and what values did I live by in the face of the reality gap
  • We can then use those values to set some new and different goals- and take our pain with us as we pursue them

The Motivation Gap

  • Motivation is the desire to do something
  • Every action we take has some underlying motivation to it, it is always intended to achieve something 
  • We can get good at recognizing the main motivation underlying whatever we’re doing
  • When someone says they don’t have motivation what they really mean is they have a desire to do the thing but they are not willing to take action unless they feel good, happy, positive, inspired, energized, confident, or in the mood
  • Most people understand motivation to be a feeling
  • If we equate motivation with being a feeling we will get stuck quick. It pulls us back into the trap of trying to feel perfect before we take action on our desire.
  • Once we recognize that motivation simply means desire we’re in a better place for changing our behavior. We can access our competing desires and recognize what is motivating the choices we make
  • The key thing to distinguish when evaluating your desires is if the desire to avoid discomfort is larger than your desire to act on your values
  • The avoidance driven life is far less rewarding than the values driven life
  • In order to change from allowing the desire to avoid discomfort overtake the desire to live a life by acting on our values we have to shift our mindset from “motivation” to “commitment”
  • Most people don’t lack motivation or the desire to do something they lack commitment and the willingness to carry on despite how they are feeling. What stops people is getting stuck in the waiting place for too long waiting until they feel confident or good enough to do what they desire to do.
  • The way we feel is largely out of our control but the action you take is very much within your control 

Changing Our Relationship With Failure

  • Failure will happen in life but the way society views it is pretty much an illusion because it’s based on measuring outcomes instead of if you lived by your values and did the best you could
  • True success is if you lived by your values and did the best you could
  • The process of changing results is constant in life and if you look at it in this way where you will “lose” a certain portion of the time and “win” a certain portion of the time it makes you realize that it’s just part of the process of being a human
  • We need to give ourselves permission to be stupid, to make mistakes, and to produce crap. We need to defuse from the tyrannical dictator inside our heads who insists that everything has to be perfect or a success.
  • From a values focused perspective if you lived by your values and found the process challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling that is success
  • Beating yourself up over “failure” does no good for you or your life and outcomes it only slows you down from making progress on the path of ups and downs

Steps for Rebounding from Failure:

  1. Unhook– notice, name, and neutralize the mind’s harsh commentary
  2. Make space– expand around the pain, allow it to be as large as it wants, and be kind to your pain
  3. Be Kind– true mental toughness is the ability to persist in your endeavor despite great pain by self acceptance, kindness to yourself, and the ongoing commitment to acting on core values. True strength is fueled by compassion.
  4. Appreciate What Worked– Acknowledge the things you did well despite having a poor outcome
  5. Find Something Useful– How can you learn and grow from what happened?
  6. Take a Stand– Ask yourself what you want to stand for in the face of this reality gap

RULE #9: Failure hurts- but if we’re willing to learn, it’s a wonderful teacher

Rule #10: The key to peak performance is total engagement in the task

  • The greater the emphasis on perfection, the further it recedes
  • If we fail, fall down, or have a hard time, we can always start over again. This is true freedom. Having self acceptance enables you to engage and let go.
  • Genuine confidence is not a feeling that comes and goes, but a personal quality: the ability to rely on yourself, trust yourself, be true to yourself, to accept yourself, to act on your core values irrespective of how you are feeling. This confidence can’t be gained from positive self talk or lectures. It requires effort, time, and persistence.

True Confidence Rules Summarized

  1. The actions of confidence come first, the feelings come later
  2. Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear; it is a transformed relationship with fear
  3. Negative thoughts are normal, don’t fight them defuse them
  4. Self acceptance trumps self esteem
  5. Hold your values lightly but pursue them vigorously
  6. True success is living by your values
  7. Don’t obsess about the outcome, get passionate about the process
  8. Don’t fight your fear, allow it, befriend it, and channel it
  9. Failure hurts- but if we’re willing to learn, it’s a wonderful teacher. Pain + Reflection = Progress
  10. The key to peak performance is total engagement in the task
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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.