On Courage.


I wrote this answer to a Quora question about confidence. The fact to the matter is confidence is often misunderstood. I hope my words shed a light on what I believe is the true source of confidence.
Confidence is another word for experience. Confidence is what you get when you have practiced doing something enough times with enough iterations that you instinctively develop an expectation for the outcome of applying yourself towards a certain activity. Naval Ravikant says it best: “Self-esteem is the reputation you have with yourself.”

Lack of confidence basically is a manifestation of your isolation and withdrawal from life.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” —Anais Nin.

Confidence is the outcome of your courage to take action. Courage is what you seek. Courage matters the most.
Courage is a muscle to be trained and practiced as often as possible to gain strength.
Everything that is the component of your character is a function of practice and of the habits you build. Your brain has evolved to strengthen the connections that gets used regularly. Just like a muscle, the more you think a certain thought, the more your brain builds up and strengthens the framework used to think this very thought every single time it comes in context of the input of your environment. Every time you take an action, your brain builds more neural network connections to support and increase the speed of performing such an action. The more you do something, the more you think something, the more you feel something, it all translates into habits.
Habits determine your life.

You want to understand that science established the correlation between “how you think/feel” and “what you do.” It’s a circular relationship that goes both ways, it’s what is called reflexivity.

Professor Amy Cuddy wrote in “Presence” the explanation of how you feel makes your body language a certain way. Her research shows something to the effect that people who lack confidence look and speak in a certain way as a result of such feelings of inadequacy and their inner negative monologue. The physical appearance and external body language can also affect how you feel on the inside. It’s somehow like the “Fake it till you make it” proverbial quote. Body language expressed in poses of power and command will actually program your feelings towards feeling more confidence. Think Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” Power pose. Standing akimbo like Superman. Using the Diamond figure with your hands. Sitting down with an open stance with your arms expanding outwardly or clasped behind your head while spread widely. The poses of power which are taught to politicians and public figures in media training work on our psychology if we apply it towards others, and our own mind as well. Over time, your mind will simply say: “Oh, I keep standing in a show of confidence. Well, I guess I am a confident kind of person.”

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is famous for discussing how the hierarchy mechanism of our primitive mind are billions of years old in the story of evolution. The analogy of the relation between the behaviors of a Lobster and the human being in how we establish our status in the social hierarchy is quite funny if you check out the memes on the internet, but the underlying seriousness of the concept in undeniable. In his book “12 Rules for Life,” rule number one is “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” This is basically another iteration of the same circular relationship between what you feel and what this makes your body language look like on the outside. Standing up straight with shoulders back is a show of open confidence. A show of I’m ready for battle. A show of I’m not hiding inside my Lobster shell, or hiding behind my armor and shield. It’s a show of strength. Even if you’re wounded and scarred. Your stance of power towards life, welcoming all battles with open arms will make your enemies tremble. You can make yourself feel more confident on the inside by starting to show it on the outside regardless of what you feel inside. It requires conscious effort. You don’t have to surrender to your established behavioral patterns. Your mind is plastic. You Can Change How You Act. You can program how you approach and respond to life. Be mindful of such power.

You may be directed towards a certain behavior because of your perceptions and feelings regarding the situation. You developed the “habit” of a certain response. So, if you were faced with a situation that requires your reaction, your mind simply fires your synapses in the path of least resistance, the already established habits, the things it already knows what to do, whichever is familiar to you.
Let’s say for instance that you were facing a young beautiful lady that you find attractive and when she spoke to you in a casual way you simply froze because you didn’t know what to say, you have no reference point, no prior experience, and the whole thing wasn’t planned. You are more likely to develop an aversion to being in such a situation again and would withdraw from interacting with the ladies you fancy, simply because you have a new reference point that says: “I will be ridiculed, it will cause my social status to be demoted in my environment, it will cause pain, this is danger so I should stay away.” The next time you find a beautiful woman which your instinct drives you to approach, your brain blocks the action with the behavior already established in its bank of past experience. It’ll say: “Hold on now, this is danger. It will hurt. Your instincts are overruled. Stay put and shut up.”
This voice basically is the subconscious mind, your primitive mind, the part of the brain that is millions of years old and is programmed to keep you safe and alive. It doesn’t care about your evolved superior neocortex or what your rational mind thinks. It simply says, this is the way it is. I know what’s best for you based on what’s in the database. It’s like your own boring authoritative cruel bureaucrat from the archive department denying your request because you don’t have the proper forms and necessary signatures.
Your options here are simple.
One, accept that decision, and move away from the archive department employee’s desk with your tail between your legs, shoulders slumped and head down. You can bet he will note it down in your file as a personal win over your rational judgment and the next time you go there to ask for permission to do an action, he will hold it in your face again and says: “I thought we already established that you don’t have what it takes to do this the last time around, and THERE, that’s the record of you actually thinking it over and agreeing with me on that matter, so please don’t waste my time with this ever again, thank you, goodbye, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” The next time around you are faced with the same rational thought that you need to do a certain action you will remember: “Oh, right, I shouldn’t bother, I don’t have permission from my own subconscious to do this and he will strongly disapprove and probably will humiliate me for ever bringing it up. I should dismiss the whole things and find something else to do. Maybe I should try one of the addictions he likes and constantly approves of like social media, porn, or sugar.”
Option two, you remember that the damned insolent bastard actually works for you and you are his boss, and his opinions are considered in a consultation capacity only but the decision making bears completely on your own shoulders. You are actually the CEO of your own mind and only you have to face the consequences of your decisions and your actions. He’s just an employee trying to secure his monthly salary by trying to look good doing his job and applying the highest margin of safety possible to avoid losses. Your subconscious mind has no imagination or tolerance for risk, but your conscious mind, your chief executive mind, for all intents and purposes, actually does.
It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
You need to set a precedent and email it to your subconscious to keep it in the archive. He’ll come around eventually. When you sustain this action for a certain period of time, he will always give you a green light and the go ahead signal.
Courage is the ability to take action regardless of the bubbles and butterflies in your stomach.
You develop courage the same way you build your biceps. Your lift a weight that is light enough for you to carry and heavy enough not to make the action effortless. You build your muscles by tearing the fibers with exercise, because you didn’t have the necessary strength to sustain this effort without injury. Your brain, applying the same internal policy to the rest of the body, builds up more muscle fibers to carry that load the next time around. It’s simply a matter of management allocating resources in the company to address a deficiency in performance.
So, all you need to do to develop your courage muscle is to take small steps, small actions, to start small. You need to choose a simple small target that is easily achieved, accomplish it, succeed in it, and celebrate the success. Repeat with consistency, increase difficulty level as you move along from one level to the higher level. Bit by bit you build a track record. One small action at a time, you develop a habit and you build your confidence in performing this action without failure.

Remember when you were learning to walk? Maybe not, try to observe a baby struggling to lift its body using his limbs. It’s monstrously hard and frustrating, but the baby keeps going, because he sees his mother and father and everyone around him able to do it. He KNOWS it can be done, he simply needs to try until he can do it as well. The baby first can push against the mattress, slowly he learns to crawl, do little push ups, be able to sit down on his own, and one day he becomes mobile on his hands and feet and can crawl across the room with speed and jovial excitement. He will try and attempt many time to pick himself up on his own two feet, and it doesn’t happen, he falls back down from atop the shaky unstable legs. His brain hasn’t built up the balance and muscle coordination and strength necessary to make it possible. The parents get used to his crawling away and attempts of standing up all the time until one of those days, the baby decides to go for it and he can stay up and maybe take a step or two. Success! The baby learns he can do it now. He tasted it, he know he can perfect it if he does it again and again. Soon enough, he’s a menace to society with his perfect walking, running, jumping, climbing and all sorts of acrobatics he can perform with his hands, arms, legs and feet.

In his amazing book “Atomic Habits” James Clear calls it the “Plateau of Latent Potential.” It’s basically what happens with gradual improvement to a sustained action over time following the exponential function.
Building ANY skill, ANY habit, ANY decision making heuristics, ANY emotional response, ANY behavior that defines your character follows the law of compounding and the exponential function.
Your initial efforts are built up on top of one another, and the improvement isn’t linear, it’s exponential. It compounds. The plateau of latent potential is that slow seemingly flat line of infinitesimal progress across time, actually it feels like forever before you start to feel its effects, but once you do, watch out. You get that infamous hockey stick curve everyone talks about in the world of start-ups and Silicon Valley.
The main thing that will sustain you in that extremely long period of disappointment is “Unquestionable Faith” that it actually can be done.

“Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.” —Marcus Aurelius.

So, Courage is the only path to confidence. Confidence without a real established track record of actions and successes is simply hubris. It’s pretentious arrogance. Confidence on the foundation of conscious mindful awareness and sustained careful action is the real thing.

William Zeckendorf Sr., in his autobiography, tells the story of how he had his first fight at school. He tells of how he was attacked by a bully as a small boy and he challenged the kid for a fight after school. Although he was scared, he says he simply ran towards the kids and started throwing punches towards the arrogant bully who wasn’t expecting it. He concludes the story with the ultimate wisdom that if you get into enough situations where everyone knows you will go to war with guns blazing at any provocation, the word gets around and no one will ever bother you again. My own father was the epitome of having such a fearsome reputation which he maintained for all of his life. His dad was notorious in his neighborhood for taking no shit from nobody and for having zero tolerance for suffering fools. His father taught my father the lesson the hard way. My grandpa told him, never come home defeated in a fight, or you will get a worse beating here at home. My dad had to win every confrontation with his peers with the utmost motivation of having a good story to tell his father to prove himself worthy of his dad’s respect.

The lesson applies to everything. Take the necessary actions steps. Start small. Make sure it’s something you can easily achieve. Win. Celebrate the win. Next iteration, you take it a step further, and build from there. Slowly but surely, you will build your confidence.
Be wary of what you tell yourself. Your words become your thoughts. Your thoughts become you decisions. Your decisions become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits define your character.

“For things to change, you have to change.” —Jim Rohn

You don’t wish for things to become easy, wish you get better. You can develop the character you wish for by building the habits of such a character.

Evision building up your habits like carving a stone. Thoughts are like running water over your brain, they seek the groves that make it run in a specific path. Our minds love to conserve energy and use the path of least resistance. You consciously can start aiming your thoughts in a directed steady stream towards a certain intentional path and the groves will form. If you’ve ever held a garden hose and had the water stream blast away earth and sand you know that it works. Rivers chisel away their own path in the hardest of mountain rock with sheer persistence.

Have faith in your ability to do it.
I wish you a blessed life.

***

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