Project One Fear Less: how to build self-confidence

Project "One Fear Less": How to build self-confidence



There’s a recognizable peace and casual happiness in the face of someone who is comfortable in their own skin. You know the glow when you see it. But, what does it take to get it? How does one learn to build self-confidence that you can actually see?

When it comes to self-confidence building skills, it seems these individuals have mastered the following four:

In this post, you will learn how to do the same. You are about to learn how to use six confidence-building tools – and take on one personalized project – that can help you close the ‘confidence gap’ between how you are living your life and the little bit bolder, little bit braver way you’d prefer to be living it.

So, sit back, close your eyes and summon up a fear or limiting belief that you know stands between you and a more confident version of yourself. Then, put on a work shirt, roll up your sleeves and grab a good ink pen, because you are about to create a personal, step-by-step approach for overcoming it.

Know exactly what you came here to find out? Use to table of contents below to jump to a specific place in the article.

Why moderately-intelligent, average-looking, unwealthy people ARE self-confidence and you ARE NOT

Let’s get straight on what self-confidence is.

Self-confidence is your belief in your ability to do something, accomplish something, or to become something. One word in this definition holds the key to unlocking the self-confidence mystery. Here’s a hint:

Self-confidence is your belief in your ability to do something, accomplish something, or to become something.

Self-confidence is a belief system. And that explains two perplexing scenarios:

  1. 1
    it explains why someone who you think SHOULD NOT be confident IS and
  2. 2
    it explains why someone who you think SHOULD be confident IS NOT

Self-confidence is not about smarts, looks, talent, cool friends, or money. Confidence is a personal belief system. If you are willing to take apart and examine the pieces of your current belief system – you know, the one that is keeping you from being self-confident - then you can rebuild the system into something that serves you better.

How to turn a low-confidence belief system into a high-confidence belief system: 4 mindset shifts

So, where does the moderately intelligent, not particularly attractive, strapped-for-cash individual find that enduring self-confidence?

Those individuals have managed to overcome not one, not two, not three but four iconic self-confidence-busting beliefs. Intelligent, attractive, well-to-do individuals who lack self-confidence have not overcome those four iconic self-confidence-busting beliefs. Those four beliefs are:

1. “I don’t have the skills or resources to do [or accomplish, or become] that thing.”

This belief consists of doubting that you have the resources or tools that you need in order to do, accomplish or become something. Intelligence, time, talent, or financial means – whatever it is – you don’t believe it’s enough (i.e., that you are enough).

A better belief system:

Self-confident individuals don’t tell themselves they “can’t” do something. Instead, they allow themselves to be learners. They roll up their sleeves, push their glasses back up on the bridge of their noses and build self-confidence by actively seeking out the skills and resources they need to close skills and resource ‘gaps’. They also know how to scale down super lofty (read: overwhelming) goals such that they require less time and money, but are still satisfying to achieve.

2. “Failure is embarrassing.”

This belief recognizes failure as an experience reserved for losers. For fear of being labeled a loser, failure then becomes something to be avoided at all costs - even at the cost of trying in the first place (and potentially succeeding).

A better belief system:

Self-confident individuals recognize failure as a shared human experience. Personally, professionally and spiritually, none of us are immune from coming up short sometimes. Self-confident individuals believe there is value in all of their efforts - as learning lessons, as one-day-this-will-be-funny stories, and as bonding experience that help make them more relatable to other imperfect humans.

3. “My ideas are […silly, weird, not worth it].”

This belief is a tricky one as it is less a matter of low self-confidence and more a matter of low self-esteem.

What’s the difference? Well, as we learned earlier, self-confidence is your belief in your ability to do something, or accomplish something, or to become something. Self-esteem is not about your belief in your abilities, in about belief in your innate worth.

If you don’t believe that your ideas, hopes, dream, etc. are worthy of pursuit or good enough to share with the world, than you likely suffer from very high Other-esteem, which means you tend to place greater value on the needs, wants, and beliefs of others than on your own needs, wants, and beliefs. In other words, you care a lot about what other people think.

A better belief system:

Self-confident individuals can tell the difference between Self- and Other-esteem. Because this is a beyond meaty subject, in another post, we talk about the importance of being able to recognize this difference and introduce a tool to help you more consistently choose Self-esteem over Other-esteem.

4. “If I could just get more control of my life, I will experience less uncertainty, negativity, disappointment and fear.”

No matter how much control you have over your life, there is no great escape from uncomfortable feeling.

You can’t know for certain whether the job you have been interviewing for will come through. Your current relationship might not last as long as you’d like. Your results might come back negative and they might not. Life itself is not even guaranteed day to day. The uncertainty of it all terrifies many of us. So much so that we are willing to subject ourselves to enormous stress and anxiety in effort to avoid experiences that might bring us…stress and anxiety.

A better belief system:

While self-confident individuals do believe that they can influence the outcome of or even control some things in life, they know and accept that they are not in full control of their lives. Still, they manage to face those experiences with the right mix of grit and grace.

Limiting - and better - beliefs: Overview

The four mindset shifts we just covered are important. So, let's have a quick, visual recap.

"I don't have what it takes."

Instead of telling yourself you “can’t” do something. Identify what it is you need to learn and then learn it.

"Failure is embarrassing."

Failure as a shared human experience and a sure sign that you are trying to do something meaningful with your life.

"My ideas aren't worth it."

This is a matter of low self-worth. There are helpful exercises for working on that here.

"If only I had more control."

While self-confident individuals do believe that they can influence the outcome of or even control some things in life, they know and accept that they are not in full control of their lives.

What's behind the self-confidence glow?

Your level of self-confidence can influence all aspects of your life, from the seemingly insignificant to the once-in-a-lifetime. Whether your self-confidence is high or low can determine what you wear, whether you speak up for ourselves or others, the jobs you apply for, who your friends are, who you link up with romantically, the travels you do and don’t take, and whether or not you share your gifts with the world.

The benefits of higher self-confidence include:

  • higher self-esteem
  • better interpersonal relationships
  • less stress and social anxiety
  • greater enjoyment of life

No wonder they glow!

And, it’s all pretty amazing considering living with or without all of the above hinges on a belief system that you can construct with your own two hands.

6 tools to build self-confidence with


We know that building self-confidence means building a better belief system. How do you do that? There are several tools we can pick up that will help build – and enforce - our new belief system. Below, we highlight six self-confidence practices that can help you shift a low-confidence belief into a high-confidence belief. Some of these are physical tools. Some of them you can do with a pen. Others will require you to get out in your community.

Below, we explore each tool and name the specific low-confidence belief it can transform.

1. The physical tool scientifically-proven to boost self-confidence

We start off with a tool so simple that it is almost hard to buy into its efficacy...but, then you start looking at the psychological and physiological evidence. This tool costs nothing to pick up, take a split-second to do and can be done virtually anytime and anywhere by anyone. Your Mee-Maw might have been telling you to do it for years...

It’s straightening your spine.

Multiple research studies have identified a striking link between posture and improved self-confidence. Psychologists from Ohio State University have found evidence that posture can actually influence how we think about ourselvesHow does this work? The research offers up a several physiological explanations for this.

First, slouching or slumping over is a defensive posture. Should we ever be attacked, we would do it instinctively to protect our internal organs. The physiological message slouching sends to the brain is that we are unsafe.

Second, a shoulders forward, belly-crunched position compresses the lungs reducing their ability to send fresh oxygen throughout the body.

And third, a significant study out of Harvard University found clear evidence that posture can influence our hormone levels. Specifically, that research showed a connection between good posture and increased testosterone, which helps maintain lean muscle, healthy bone mass density and a sense of well-being. A connection between good posture and decreased cortisol level was also found. Cortisol is a hormone that is released during stressful situations. Increased cortisol levels can result in inflammation, brain fog, sleep disruption and mild depression. (151617)

The low-confidence belief(s) this tools works on:

“My ideas are […silly, weird, not worth it]”

“I don’t have the skills or resources to do [or accomplish, or become] that thing”

How often should you practice building self-confidence with this tool? Daily.

2. The tool that builds self-confidence by forgetting the "self"

Another activity that has been proven to positively impact self-confidence is volunteering. A recent study showed that teens benefited psychologically from volunteering and with long-term benefit.

Where do these psychological benefits come from? When we volunteer we can make new friends, learn new skills, discover new hobbies, and maybe even have fun. Helping others makes us feel really good about ourselves and can remind us of how fortunate we are. It’s important to note that the greatest benefit came from helping strangers, not family members or friends. The study leads suggest that this is because helping strangers requires us to leave our comfort zones which is more challenging, but also more satisfying. 

The low-confidence belief(s) this tools works on:

"I don’t have the skills or resources to do [or accomplish, or become] that thing”

How often should you practice building self-confidence with this tool? Monthly, if you can.

3. The four-letter verbal tool that builds self-confidence

Wishing you had someone else’s job, talent, lover, house, car, nose, etc. is a sure-fire way to undermine your efforts to build self-confidence. (It’s also a petty, presumptive practice.)

Parceling out one sliver of someone’s life and dubbing it ideal grossly strips that person of their basic humanhood. Perhaps that job comes with an extreme amount of stress. Perhaps that “natural” talent took them decades to hone. Behind closed doors, perhaps that lover is abusive. Maybe they worked three jobs for that house – or are struggling with guilt that their parents bought it for them and everyone knows it. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Maybe you envy someone’s entire life. Still petty. Still presumptive. You do not know what they sacrificed or had to experience in order to get there. You do not know what they are still sacrificing to be there. You do not know whether they have found happiness there. You do not know what “there” really feels like at all.

This powerful tool isn’t the easiest one to use, but it will make a significant difference in your self-confidence. To do it, whenever you find yourself comparing yourself to others, say “Stop” out loud. Will you always catch yourself? No. But, what matters is that when you do, you audibly say “Stop” and you repeat and repeat and repeat. And, one day, you will.

The low-confidence belief(s) this tools works on:

"If I could just get more control of my life, I will experience less uncertainty, negativity, disappointment and fear.” 

“I don’t have the skills or resources to do [or accomplish, or become] that thing”

How often should you practice building self-confidence with this tool? Daily.

4. The tool that sets your self-confidence foundation

Something amazing happens when you can clearly and concisely articulate your core values. You will find yourself beginning to live them. And, when your thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and decisions align, you can confidently take your life in whatever direction you like…and you won’t care so much about what others think about it. This is serious freedom…

…but it can’t happen if you don’t know what you really think about the world and your place in it.

You can start to figure that out by exploring what you value in life. Not what anyone - or everyone else - values. What you value. This self-confidence boosting tool looks like making a list of your 3-5 core values and keeping it up-to-date.

What are core values? Core values are the personal principles that guide your life. They reflect what you consider most worthy in life. You can think of them as foundational pillars, or as a life compass of sorts, but best way I’ve heard them described is as “agreements”. In his book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz shares his four guiding principle of living. We can look at these as examples of core values:

  1. 1
    Be impeccable with your word
  2. 2
    Don’t take anything personally
  3. 3
    Don’t make assumptions
  4. 4
    Always do your best

This is the way Don Miguel Ruiz has agreed – with himself - to live his life. Now, your list of core values can also be as simple as a list of single words. Examples of single-word core values include: Integrity, Generosity, Service, Community, Creativity, Peace, Growth, Fun.

If you’ve never thought about your core values before of if it’s been awhile since you’ve considered what your values are, we have a great self-reflection exercise that will help your core values take shape in another post

The low-confidence belief(s) this tools works on:

“My ideas are […silly, weird, not worth it]”

How often should you practice building self-confidence with this tool? Review and revise your core values quarterly.

5. Making promises to yourself - and keeping them

Consistently making commitments to yourself and following through on them can help you build self-confidence and self-esteem. Every time you make and keep a promise to yourself, the reward circuitry in your brain is triggered. You send a physiological signal to yourself that says, “I am putting the time and effort in because I am worth it.” This feels good and makes you crave that feeling more. You will be inclined to make and keep more promises. The result is a happy, babbling brook-like flow of self-confidence. 

It is important to note that we are not talking about goals here. At all. There is a very significant difference between personal promises and personal goals. Promises are not time-bound or measurable. We discuss this important difference at length in our post, “Self-love 101: how to keep more promises to yourself”. In that same post, you will find a step-by-step guide designed to make and keep meaningful promises.

The low-confidence belief(s) this tools works on:

“I don’t have the skills or resources to do [or accomplish, or become] that thing”

“My ideas are […silly, weird, not worth it]”

“Failure is embarrassing”

How often should you practice building self-confidence with this tool? Every few months.

6. How to build self-confidence by losing control

A commitment to trying to control life is a commitment to consistent dips in self-confidence. Because, despite your best laid plans, you don’t have control. No one has total control over their life outcomes.

Self-confidence has just as much to do with knowing you have some control over your life as it does knowing that you can/must survive without it. Practicing this tool looks like facing something difficult, something that scares us, intimidates us or limits us – and doing so with that mix of grit and grace.

This tool is effective that we – YOU – are going to make a project out of it. The project design is rooted in fear research studies and unfolds in way that puts you in as much control as possible of the whole process. When you’re done here, you will have created a personal, step-by-step approach for overcoming a fear or limiting belief. You can also get a copy of this project sent to your inbox by clicking here.

The low-confidence belief(s) this tools works on:

“I don’t have the skills or resources to do [or accomplish, or become] that thing”

“Failure is embarrassing”

“If I could just get more control of my life, I will experience less uncertainty, negativity, disappointment and fear.”

How often should you practice building self-confidence with this tool? Quarterly.

Build self-confidence by overcoming limiting beliefs with personal projects

“What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chances are you’ve heard a version of this quote before. It was probably a tad less poetic. It probably came from a well-meaning parent, coach, or friend, and it probably sounded something a little more like this: sometimes, you just have to face your fears.

As it turns out, this clichéd piece of advice is often times both warranted and recommended by behavioral psychologists. In order to break through barriers to self-confidence, you actually do have to confront those fear-based limiting beliefs.

So. If someone were to encourage you to step up to one of your fears or limiting beliefs, what would you be facing? What are you afraid of? Like, really, really afraid of? Social situations? Speaking up for yourself? Putting a piece of art you made up for sale? Striking up a conversation with a stranger? Your financial health?

Not quite ready to share? No sweat. I’ll go first. Here are my top three greatest fears:

  1. 1
    Loss, illness, or injury of a family member
  2. 2
    Tight spaces
  3. 3
    Not realizing my full potential

For me, these are the baddiest of all baddies. Number 2 causes me physical distress - heart palps, tightening of the chest, short and shallow breathing. Numbers 1 and 3? On those days where they’ve made themselves at home in my mind, I could be up all night.

Okay, now it's your turn. Grab a pen and paper and scribble out a short list of the things you are most afraid of.

There is something our fears have in common.

Because you and I are two different people with two different life experiences, it’s unlikely that our lists will read like carbon copies. But, even if our lists have no ‘shared’ items, there will be one thing in common with every single item on both of our lists.

That thing is control or, more specifically, a lack of it.

Each year, the smarty pants over at Chapman University conduct a study on American fears. Surveys are used to identify the most commonly shared fears across the nation, how global trends impact fear, and how fear impacts our lives. Over the years, study results have revealed two constants:

  1. 1
    Fears reflect both personal experiences and the current economic and political climate.
  2. 2
    Fear is largely related to experiences we cannot control.

Some of the most commonly reported survey responses over the last few years include terrorist attacks, natural disasters, identity theft, and illness or death of a family member. Fear studies like these are often conducted to help us better understand how to overcome them.

For this self-confidence building project, we use this fear research to help you design a personalized strategy to help you face you deconstruct a fear-based limiting belief. Before we begin, let’s give a little credit where it’s due.

Why a little fear is healthy

In all fairness to fear, it’s an entirely normal and healthy response when we’re presented with physical and emotional threats. Frankly, fear can be incredibly effective in keeping us out of real trouble. In some cases, fear is downright vital to our survival.

Fear becomes an issue when it’s unjustified, when we let it incapacitate us or overwhelm us in situations that aren’t worthy of it. In these situations, the ol' Face Your Fears advice is warranted…and recommended.

Therapists actually use something called exposure and extinction therapy to treat patients with obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. While anyone who has been exposed to trauma or whose quality of life is impaired by these conditions should receive this therapy under the care of a professional, elements of this strategy can be used by anyone looking to overcome unjustified fear.

How does exposure + extinction therapy work?

Generally speaking, here’s how exposure and extinction therapy works. First, patients are asked to list their fears and the worst-case scenario outcome associated with each fear. Examples -

Fear: Public speaking. Outcome: Embarrassment.

Fear: Asking someone out on a date. Outcome: Rejection.

Fear: Flying over the ocean. Outcome: Crashing into the sea.

Therapists then expose the patient to fear-inducing situations, either in real-life or via visualization where patients are asked to simply imagine the situation. In either case, patients never experience the negative outcome associated with their fear. With repeated exposure and no realization of worst-case scenario, the fear – over time - is unlearned. An important note here - the patient has full control of the situation as they are able to end the exposure at any time. (35

The practice of treating fear and anxiety with exposure and extinction therapy is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around since the 1950s. Newer research, however, focuses on ironing out the details like:

How intense should exposure be?

What’s the ideal ‘rest time’ between exposures?

How long should an exposure session last?

How does 'dosing' work in exposure + extinction therapy?

Basically, what recent fear researchers have been trying to nail down is something we're all familiar with when it comes to treating our other ailments. Dosing.

“Take 400mg every 4-6 hours for two days.”

“Your dog will need one, 2-mL squirt in each ear for one week.”

“Apply this cream, morning and night, until the rash goes away.”

Intensity. Frequency. Duration. You with me?

Research out of UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute gives concrete evidence supporting short, concentrated bursts of exposure in face your fears therapy. In this study, a group of mice was conditioned to fear white noise. When they heard it, they would freeze up in fear. After learning to fear white noise, the mice were then separated into three groups for therapy.

One group was alternately exposed to white noise, then six seconds of rest with no negative fear-related outcome. Another group was alternately exposed to white noise, then one minute of rest with no negative fear-related outcome. The last group was alternately exposed to white noise, then ten minutes of rest with no negative fear-related outcome.

After just ten ‘doses’ – a total of 20 minutes of therapy - one group of mice stopped freezing up when hearing white noise. Any guesses on which group that was?

The mice who were only given six seconds of rest between exposures ‘unlearned’ their fear in twenty minutes. The mice in other groups who received longer breaks between fears? They never stopped freezing when hearing the white noise.

What this means for your fears and mine.

So, sureConcentrated sessions of shortly-spaced exposures works for mice. But what works for people? For that work, we turn to Virgina Tech University where, with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Thomas Ollendick is running a five-year study of exposure-based, single-session therapy for children’s phobias.

That’s right. Single-session therapy.

In his sessions, which last roughly three hours, Ollendick has seen children make incredible progress in overcoming their fears. Children who had started sessions fearful of dogs, for example, have ended the same session taking a dog for a walk.

In his therapy sessions, Ollendick helps patients build situation-based hierarchies  fear. 

What is a situation-based hierarchy of fear?

A situation-based hierarchy of fear is a series of events that is progressively scary. Here's an example of a situation-based hierarchy of fear for a child with a fear of dogs.  

Seeing a dog across the street 

Being in a house where a dog lives

Being sniffed by a dog

Petting a dog

Feeding a dog a treat

So, to create a hierarchy of fears, Ollendick would work with a patient to make of list of mini-experiences that would cause increasing levels of anxiety. Then, one at a time, the patient’s beliefs about each situation’s outcome would be tested through the experience. By designing these mini-experiences in collaboration with the patient, Ollendick is able to offer a little of that ever-important element of addressing fear: control.

We talk more about the situational fear hierarchy and building mini-experiments in detail in our fear-busting workbook, Project One Fear Less: How to Build Self-confidence With Tiny Doses of Fear. It includes step-by-step, fill-in-the-blank worksheets to help you design fear doses for the willy-inducing items on your fear list. And it’s yours, on the house, when you enter your details below.


Neon Soul Supply helps readers make meaningful self-discoveries, build self-confidence and find the guts to self-express through a series of semi-guided paper-and-pen based projects and plans. Learn more...


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How to glow with self-confidence: a recap

The benefits of self-confidence are intra- and interpersonal. How much self-confidence you have can influence your stress level, the kind of people you spend your time with, how happy and successful you feel, and whether or not you share your gifts with the world

And these benefits are available to anyone who is willing to do the work of breaking down four, specific stifling beliefs and transforming them into a collection of self-supporting beliefs. The six tools we reviewed here can help you master the same four skills that glowing-with-confidence people have:

Practicing working these tools and .You can live your life a little bit bolder; a little bit braver.





(4) UCLA


(6) VA Tech and Stock

 (7) (20-45 minutes)

(8) Atherton et al., 2016

(9) Gloppen, David-Ferdon, & Bates, 2010


(11) Skenderis, 2015

(12) Stankov & Lee, 2014


(14) Mann, Hosman, Schaalma, & de Vries, 2004





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Hello! I'm a recovered Type-A+ people-pleaser and praise-seeker. Through Neon Soul Supply Co., I share the same habits, exercises, projects and tools that I used to start self-defining success and happiness so that you can do the same.

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