If I had to pinpoint one trait that all successful freelancers have in common, can you guess what it’d be?
It’s not intelligence… Or experience… Or a high degree of skill… Or even education.
The one trait I’m talking about is: Confidence.
It’s incredibly simple: If you think you can’t do something — you can’t.
Without confidence, you may be able to make some headway, but it’s like paddling upstream… At best you end up working too hard to achieve too little — and at worst you end up exhausting yourself and going backwards.
Ultimately, no amount of effort or skill can fully compensate for not believing in yourself. Your subconscious mind — the director of the “movie” you call life — will find ways to help you sabotage yourself and turn those deeply held negative beliefs into reality.
This is what Carl Jung meant when he said, “Until you take what’s in your subconscious, and make it conscious, it will rule your life, and you will call it ‘fate.’”
As someone who’s been on both sides of the fence — having gone from having very little confidence, to understanding how to feel confident in many situations (even if that confidence sometimes seems “unwarranted”) — I’m in a unique position to give you a good insider’s perspective that might help you turn things around.
1. You don’t need to reprogram yourself
A lot of people put time and energy into trying to “reprogram” their brain to be more confident.
But you don’t need to do that.
You just need to deprogram it.
You came into this world pre-equipped with an enormous amount of confidence. You don’t need to add any — you just need to remove the mental junk that’s currently blocking it.
This is great news! Instead of rewriting the code in your brain, you just need to delete some, which is infinitely easier.
Think of when you first learned to walk…
You had no “proof” you’d be successful.
In fact most of the evidence pointed in the opposite direction of success — you’d spent weeks or months crawling on your hands and knees, even falling right on your ass.
Did you beat yourself up about it?
Did you hire a coach? Do affirmations?
Did you think about quitting because it wouldn’t work?
Obviously you didn’t do any of those things. You kept on smiling and having a good time because you knew it was going to work.
As you got older, the people around you helped condition you to be less and less confident over time through criticism, presenting their opinions as “facts” you needed to abide by, and even pushing their preferences onto you as the “right” way to be, do, or live.
In spite of everything that’s gotten in the way before now, it’s still relatively easy to get your inborn confidence back any time you want to. You can probably even do it fairly quickly if you’re focused about it.
You just need to erase, and from now on tune out, the critical noise that started blocking it in the first place.
2. Choose to be responsible for your own confidence
Let’s start off with a simple decision you can choose right now, this minute.
It’s just a choice — I’m not asking you to suddenly be confident, or even to picture yourself as confident — only to decide that you are going to take responsibility for your own confidence.
Allowing your confidence to be dictated by other people’s behavior towards you, or by the circumstances and events that happen around you, ultimately leads to misery (usually sooner than later).
That’s because you have no control over those things — you’re reduced to being a helpless passenger along for the ride (which usually doesn’t go where you want it to).
If you want strong, lasting confidence, you need to decide that it will come from you, and only you.
That way, it’s no longer at the mercy of what’s going on around you. You are always in control of your own fate.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do to get your confidence up and running again just yet. All you need to do right now is take responsibility for it. By doing so, you’re giving yourself a solid foundation to build on.
3. Realize confidence (or lack of it) comes from your thoughts
People sometimes say to me, “But Danny, how can I be confident when my boss is a jerk? Or when my spouse yells at me right before a big presentation? What then?”
If you look for reasons to not be confident, you will always find them.
But the opposite is also true: If you seek out evidence of your own awesomeness and personal power — regardless of what others are doing — then that is what you’ll find.
For example, imagine if, after being yelled at by your spouse right before a big presentation, you decided that their lashing out was just a result of them having a stressful week at work and a few sleepless nights.
In other words, it had nothing whatsoever to do with you.
Notice how nothing has changed, other than your own thoughts.
Yet if you consistently practice reframing techniques in the way I just showed you, over time you’ll notice that instead of taking other people’s behavior personally and letting it decimate your confidence, you become impervious to it and let it all roll right off your back.
If this seems like some sort of mind trick, or intellectual dishonesty, consider this: I promise you that there is nothing more dishonest — and no bigger piece of mental trickery — than letting someone else’s mistreatment of you make you feel bad about yourself.
4. Give yourself more credit
There’s a reason I’m always telling people “my story” — that I have no college degree, held menial dead-end jobs until I was 34, and so on: If I could be a total screw up for decades and still turn it all around, why not YOU?
But even though I tell these stories all the time, people still email me in disbelief, arguing that I must have had experience, must be exceptionally organized, must have been born with a high IQ, etc — even though none of those things are true.
This is a weird thing that humans do. We project advantages and amazing qualities onto people we see as “experts,” even when we have no idea if those observations are real or imagined. Psychologists even have a name for this behavior: the halo effect.
The truth is, even the smartest people know surprisingly little.
For example, I once watched two Harvard law professors arguing about whether something was illegal.
Just think about that! Two of the smartest legal minds in the world — from the same Ivy League school, no less — holding literally opposite views on whether something is legal or against the law.
Do you realize what that means? It means that the world’s dumbest person can choose either side of that debate, and still have the exact same chance of being right as both of the two legal geniuses who are arguing about it!
The line between average and great is much, much thinner than you think. It’s mostly just a choice you make.
5. Be nice to yourself
Imagine having one or more employees working under you… Would you expect them to do amazing work if you were verbally beating them up all the time?
Not only would they be miserable, and produce poor work — they’d probably walk out on you.
Yet we beat ourselves up all the time … and then we wonder why we’re not getting to where we want to be in our careers, our fitness, our relationships, or our finances.
The key to stopping this self-defeating behavior is to realize that doing it doesn’t just feel bad… it’s also standing in your way of making progress.
It might seem like you can beat yourself into being better, but I’ve never found that to work, especially in the long term.
You can absolutely succeed regardless of what others do to you, but you cannot succeed without YOU in your own corner. If you want to be confident and successful, constant self-criticism is a behavior you cannot afford to keep.
6. Starve what you want to die
Sometimes a negative thought pattern has picked up so much momentum over time that it’s hard to stop.
It’s a lot like putting the brakes on a train that’s been moving full-steam ahead for a while — it takes some time and effort to bring it to a full halt.
Similarly, if you’ve been beating yourself up about something for months or years, it’s hard to change your thoughts about it on a dime.
If you find yourself in that kind of situation, you can at least distract yourself from the negative mental loop
In other words, while you may not be able to change the negative thought into a positive one right away, you can at least “starve” it by not giving it as much attention.
You can do that by adjusting your thoughts about it a little at a time, or even distracting yourself from it completely.
For example, if you’ve been struggling to lose weight, you can adjust your mental story from “I’ll never lose weight” to “Maybe I’ve just been too down on myself — I think I can make this work if I start small and build up my confidence. This week I’ll take the stairs instead of the elevator…”
There’s also nothing wrong with avoiding the mirror or the scale for a while, if those things only seem to lead to negative thoughts that keep you programmed for failure.
Over time, that negative thought pattern will become weaker and weaker, and you’ll be able to notice a negative thought and change it to a positive one with very little effort. And if you keep practicing that habit, you can even eliminate the negativity completely.
7. Don’t listen to “realists”
People love to try to convince you you can’t do something because it’s not “realistic.”
But have you ever thought about what reality actually is?
The word “reality” is just a way of describing what has been true up until this point.
It says little — or nothing — about the future.
By definition, growing and improving means that you’re doing something you’ve either never done before, or that no one else has ever done before.
If everyone listened to the “realists” about what’s possible, everything would always stay the same.
We probably wouldn’t even be here since the world as we know it likely would not have developed. Nothing good in this world was created by a “realist.”
8. What you say is as important as — and maybe more important than — what you do
This is controversial, but in my experience it’s absolutely true.
In the Netflix special Miracle, Derren Brown coaches a woman through her first time eating glass.
His advice to her would shock most people: He spent a few seconds on the technical instructions of how to chew up the glass — and the rest of the time focusing on positive self-talk.
This scene illustrates a fascinating phenomenon: When you say something to yourself (whether out loud, or even in your thoughts), your subconscious mind can take it as a sort of “command.”
If the glass-eater had “prepared” by telling herself it would hurt, do you know what would have happened? It would have hurt.
Whenever, and I mean whenever I get an email from someone who has repeatedly failed at freelancing, despite having “tried everything,” I always look for — and virtually always find — sentences like this within their email:
“I’m very frustrated…”
“I’m so overwhelmed…”
“It seems like nothing works for me…”
“I can’t make it work…”
Feeling this way is understandable. And everyone needs to vent sometimes.
But I’m telling you right now that talking this way repeatedly for prolonged periods of time — whether out loud to others or in your own head — is the same as asking for more failure.
I know it doesn’t feel that way, but that’s what’s happening.
You need — need — to find a way to start to turn those thoughts around.
I’m not suggesting you outright lie to yourself, since pure denial can backfire.
For example, waking up one morning and saying to yourself “My confidence is soaring, I’m sure I’ll get a promotion today!” — after years of telling yourself you’re the worst employee at the company — probably won’t work.
Your subconscious mind is a tricky thing, and it can reject ideas that are too far off from what you’ve been telling it for so long.
However, you can start to soften these thoughts, and over time you can replace them completely.
It’s a lot like taking a blow torch to metal: First you have to heat the metal up, then you can bend it, and eventually you can mold it into whatever you want it to be.
I’ll leave you with a few examples of how you might start to soften your thought pattern:
“This has worked for others. Maybe it can work for me too.”
“I can find a way to do it.”
“I’m worthy of success and I deserve good things to happen in my life.”
“I’m sure there’s a better way to do things I haven’t thought of yet. I’ll read some blogs to see what I might be missing.”
“Maybe my negative attitude has been affecting me more than I realize. A good night’s sleep can help me feel more confident in the morning.”
These are just a few examples off the top of my head — you can use whatever thoughts feel good to you.
More importantly, do you feel the relief in those statements?
That relief is your original self-confidence — the same amazing confidence you were born with — starting to reset to its original factory setting.
If you re-create this confident state of mind by making a habit out of being nice to yourself, before you know it you will feel damn near invincible.