12 ways to build kick-butt confidence by taking action

Updated to Business on December 14, 2022.

I grew up in a family of nine kids. Maybe you saw the TV remake? It was called “Survivor.”

I’m kidding – sort of. Our parents worked hard to give us everything we needed – but we did learn to fend for ourselves. That’s where confidence comes in.

I learned pretty early in life that confidence trumps skills, connections, and even money. When I feel confident doors seem to open up, sales come in, and punches roll away. Life seems to have a bounce in it.

But, if confidence is so powerful, why don’t we have as much as we want all the time?

The problem is the past.


Just like optimism, willpower, and resilience, confidence tends to dissolve when faced with the memory of when we failed.

As you are reaching out to call a sales prospect, you’re reminded of a sales call that tanked. 

You’re getting dressed for a party and dreading the inevitable awkward conversations that usually happen at parties.

In an argument, you remember being frustrated the last time you lost an argument. So you fight back. 

You sound like an amateur on the sales call, the party is awkward (as expected), and you regret what you said in the argument. 

Where was confidence when you needed it?

According to Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, when bad things happen we see them as:

permanent (this isn’t going away),

personal (it’s my fault, I’m not worthy), and

pervasive (everyone is over weight, in debt, and struggling in their marriage). In other words, we make it worse. 

Goodbye confidence.

It’s kind of like the old chicken and the egg (horse and cart?) metaphor. It’s hard to get more confidence, when it takes confidence to make good things happen so you can get more confidence. Huh?

So what’s the solution?


I’ve been busy lately building my business, adding staff, and taking on new clients, all the while trying to maintain a healthy balance between the fun of work and the fun of life. I’ve noticed my confidence has been acting like a pimply teenager at a school dance. One minute I’m full of self-doubt, not sure what foot to put first, the next minute I’m standing tall, making decisions, and moving forward with confidence.

And as much as affirmations and visioning have their place, I’ve learnt that taking action, in the right direction, works better and faster.

Here are 12 ways to actively build more confidence, instead of wishing and waiting for it to happen.

rain-man-1988-16-g-reduced1. Dress better. Sounds silly, but it works. This isn’t about how much you spend on clothes – it’s about taking pride in how you show up. Spending a few more minutes on your grooming and clothes can do wonders to what goes on in your head (remember the scene in Rain Man when Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise come down the escalator studded out in their new suits?).

Nothing succeeds like success.” Sir Arthur Helps, in Realmah, 1868

2. Set a small goal, and achieve it. It could be as small as a short run you take before work, or not indulging in an afternoon cookie. Keeping promises is like fuel for your confidence fire.

3. Don’t fight back. You’re tempted, AND you know arguing back only makes it worse. Pull on your big girl pants and take the high road. You will always win more arguments by really listening, than from spitting out vengeful attacks.

4. Do a small thing, really well. It could be an email reply you spend just a bit more time crafting, or repairing the baseboard at home. Spend a few more minutes, put some love into it and feel good about your work (read “Admit it: you’re failing” for more tips on doing small things to make a big difference)

5. Read a book to make you smart. I like to have one book on the go to make me smarter and one, well, just for fun. Some of my recent favourites in the smart category, are: The Willpower Instinct, The Lean Start Up, The Power of Habit, Be Excellent at Anything, The Now Habit, Steve Jobs, and The Happiness Project

“To wish you were someone else is to waste the person you are.” —Anonymous 

6. Get your money in order. Nagging worries about money chip away at your confidence. Make a plan, reduce some debt, set up automatic payments – small actions, in the right direction, pay big dividends, long term.

7. Fix something. Broken shower curtain, loose door knob, dripping faucet? Don’t let small “must-do’s” erode your confidence. Spend the time and money, get it fixed, and remind yourself you are in charge.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” —Helen Keller 

8. Keep promises. No biggie, a promise to pick up your child at 3:15, to make dinner, or phone the gas company. Promise making is an opportunity for confidence growing. Make it happen, be accountable, build confidence. And then do it again.

IMG_30649. Learn a new skill. Learning to ride the unicycle last year was more than a fun challenge – learning a new skill (even something as hopelessly awkward as riding a unicycle) is a cool way to feel good about your abilities. Grow abilities—grow confidence. What could you learn this week?

10. Remember names. Small thing, but it works. Repeat them, write them down, rehearse them. Don’t use forgetting names in the past as an excuse. If you can remember the names of actors in movies, or players on the Boston Celtics, you can remember names.

“Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend.” —Lao Tzu 

11. Exercise more consistently. It might only be 20 minutes, but get out everyday. Consistency is more important than intensity. Every time you workout you kick negative doubts out (see “Why I joined the Morning Club” for more tips on exercising daily)

12. Change a habit, for the better. Drink less coffee, skip the morning muffin (there’s a reason for the term “muffin top”), make sales calls in the morning, only check email hourly – whatever. Improve a habit and build confidence to make and keep commitments.

What are you going to do to build more confidence? Tell me in the comments below.