Building the Confidence Muscle: 7 Exercises for Boosting Inner Strength

It’s that time of year when everyone’s hitting the gym, working on New Year’s resolutions and doing penance for holiday over-indulgences. Depending on your goals for the new year, it’s also the perfect time to build your confidence muscle.

Just as no one comes out of the chute with bulging biceps, very few of us start out with all the confidence we need to journey through this life. If you’re one of the lucky ones who’ve never doubted yourself, you can move along now – there’s nothing more for you to see here. But if you’d like to pump up your self-esteem and your quads, consider adding the following to your daily workout:

1) Flirt with disaster.

At least I tried. Too many people go through life without ever having made an intense enough effort to be called a failure. ~~ Minori Yasui

The first thing to understand is that failure isn’t fatal. In fact, it’s essential for growth. If you insulate yourself from failure by playing it safe, you’ll never develop your strengths. The trick is to move on when you try something and it doesn’t work. Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, reframe: turn losing into learning.

This is the paradox: unless you’re willing to fail, you can never succeed. But focusing on learning, rather than success, means you can never fail. Life simply becomes a series of lessons to be learned. When you understand that, you stop fearing failure, and your confidence soars.

2) Put one foot in front of the other – again and again.

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort. ~~ John Ruskin.

Life will present you with lessons, often the same ones repeatedly, until you have mastered whatever it is you need to learn. But you can’t “positive think” your way to mastery. Just as you can’t build strong muscles by being a couch potato, it doesn’t matter how many affirmations you stick on your bathroom mirror, or how many memes you share on Facebook, you can’t build confidence unless you do the work.

Whether you want to learn to play the piano, or meditate, or write a book, repetition is the key. It sounds obvious that the more you practice, the better you’ll get, but you’d be amazed how few take it to heart. Resolve to put in the effort. As you improve you may find that, far from being a chore, your daily practice becomes a pleasure you look forward to.

3) Bust out of your comfort zone. 

Habit with him was all the test of truth,
It must be right: I’ve done it from my youth.
~~ George Crabbe, poet and naturalist

To build your biceps, you start by challenging those muscles, lifting slightly more than they’re used to, then increasing over time. To build your confidence muscle, you challenge yourself with new experiences. This may come as a shock if your life’s goal has been to make it through without ever leaving your comfort zone.

Remember that a rut is actually an open-ended coffin, and that avoiding new experiences – which at first may seem like a rational choice – will only keep you fearful and stuck in neutral. Unless you embrace fresh challenges, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. So the next time an opportunity comes your way – something you’d like to do but would normally be afraid to try – for heaven’s sake, say YES!

4) Make a leap of faith.

The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself – the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us – that’s where it’s at. ~~ Jesse Owens, four-time Olympic gold medalist

We tend to think that courage belongs to soldiers, mountain climbers, and firefighters – people for whom risk is a life-and-death proposition. But small, calculated risks can get the adrenalin of normal folks pumping just as hard. Even a small risk can feel huge to your nervous system.

Experimenting with calculated risks builds confidence, but just as no bodybuilder would go from lifting 50 pounds to 250 pounds overnight, it’s important to pace yourself. Taking on too much too soon, though exciting at the moment, can actually set you back. Take on a little bit more than you think you can handle – trust me, it will be enough – and increase the demands you make on yourself over time. Then when it’s your turn to leap into the fire, instead of being burned, you’ll come through stronger than you ever thought possible.

5) Unload old baggage.

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. ~~ Mohandas Karmachand Gandhi

Often the weight we need to lose isn’t pounds, it’s excess baggage. Start now shedding whatever is weighing you down: grudges, resentments, regrets, and the like. You don’t need them. Stop wasting your energy on things you can’t control, especially other people’s behavior. All you’ll succeed in doing is weakening your confidence muscle.

In particular, weed out envy. Stop feeling threatened by other peoples’ achievements. If they reached their goals, so can you. Their success is proof that there’s more than enough to go around.

More important, forgive yourself for the times you failed to measure up. Self-forgiveness is the first step in forgiving others, and a vital step toward developing true self-confidence.

6) Sidestep judgment

Contempt is the weapon of the weak and a defense against one’s own despised and unwanted feelings. ~~ Alice Miller, psychologist and author

What we carry inside us colors how we perceive the world. If you’re overly critical of others, is it any wonder you have stage fright? You imagine your audience to be as hyper-critical as you are.

Vow to compete less and collaborate more. Be a mentor, a cheerleader, a reliable source of moral support. Give the support and encouragement you’d like to get. You’ll be surprised how much comes back to you in kind.

7) Pat yourself on the back

I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing. ~~ Hillel the Elder

Make it a point to celebrate every personal milestone, every goal reached, no matter how small. Reward yourself for your efforts, for the fact that you kept going. You challenged yourself, and because of it your confidence muscles are stronger.

Enjoy your victory dance – you’ve earned it – then take a breather and fill your tank. Read a great book, spend time with friends, laugh, get a good night’s sleep.

Because before you know it, you’ll be back out in the world, where new challenges await.