8 Daily Habits That Build Confidence

A couple weeks ago, I put up a blog post about a book I had recently read.  In that entry I stated the following:  “When our daily habits and  energy are focused on action in the present time it leads to success, which builds confidence.  Confidence is a fear killer.”  A couple of readers responded, asking about what I meant by ” daily habits.”

What you are about to read are habits that I have developed that help me to build confidence in myself.  I do not presume to be an expert on how best to manage your life.  Nor is this intended to be a brag post detailing how amazing I am at life management.  Furthermore, I don’t purport to be some life management guru a la Stephen Covey.   Instead, this is simply a list of habits that I have incorporated into my life that have helped me build confidence in myself.  Take what you want from this and discard the rest.

Confidence is not arrogance.  Many people confuse the two.  Arrogance is an attitude that says, “I am good and you are inferior.”  Confidence is the ability to say – and truly believe – that, “I am good.”   Confidence kills fear and its offspring, anxiety, depression and  hopelessness because one believes deeply in his or her ability to confront and manage the difficulties and challenges of life.

Much of what drives my habits are things I have learned over the course of my life.  I haven’t always done these things.  But, as I have read, studied and experimented I have found habits that have  helped me to find success in my career, personal pursuits and my family life.  I am not perfect in these habits, though generally I do them consistently.  I have picked up many things from many sources, including books and conversations with others.

Habits lead to confidence because they allow us to have daily victories.  We become depressed and hopeless when we do not feel we have control over our lives.  Good daily habits teach us that we can control our lives and  once we see ourselves have victories each and every day, the confidence builds, self-belief grows and you banish  negative feelings and thoughts that inhibit growth.

  1.  Wake Up Early and Let the Light In

My alarm goes off at 5:30am and I hit the snooze a couple of times, but I’m usually up by 6:00.  The first thing that I do is to pull out the scriptures and study the word of God.  The light I am referring to is not the sun, but the light of knowledge and truth.  If you’re not a Christian or much of a religious person, then study something else that adds value and brings light into your soul.  There are many sources of truth and light.  For me, it is so crucial to kick off the day in this manner because it sets the tone for the rest of the day.  It is also one of the most positive things I can do all day.

2.  Prayer/Meditation

Following scripture study, I take time to think and ponder about what I have read, to be still and pray.  I like the mornings because it is so quiet  and peaceful and lends itself to deep thinking and prayer.  Its a great time for inspiration.  Sometimes I fall asleep in the middle of a good meditation session because it is so relaxing, but most of the time it allows me to begin the day on a positive, calm note.  It is important to have time each day to pray and think and search for inspiration.

3.  Daily Plan

Every morning before beginning my work I take a look at the day ahead.   It is at this time that I determine what are the priorities for the day.  I have found that I can only really accomplish 3-5 major tasks each day.  Trying to plan for more than that is setting yourself up for failure.  Be honest about what you can truly accomplish.  I feel good about myself when I can tick off a list and when I put too much on my plate, it just makes for stress.  I think of my day in terms of my roles, in other words as an employee, husband/father and home owner, etc..  I have a list of to-do items for today, this week and this month and I keep the list to one page.  I print it out and use it through the day to jot down notes and such.  I have tried doing it electronically, but I have always preferred good old fashioned paper.

I don’t get caught up too much in planning for the future, especially setting long term goals.  Short term goals are much easier to achieve and you have much greater control over the immediate future than over what happens six months from now.  I prefer to have an “end in mind”, rather than a fixed goal.  Perhaps they are one and the same, but I try not to set fixed goals that are too specific way out in the future.  It just causes anxiety and stress, especially when you can’t control the future.

4.  Daily Learn

I take time each day to learn something new.  At the present time I am trying to hone my Portuguese skills, so on some days I take 30 mins to practice that language.  Somedays I will research a particular topic or read from a magazine or trade publication.  The point is, that I feel the need to make sure I am filling my mind with knowledge and challenging myself to do something new.  Blogging is one of those items because I often have to do a lot of learning before posting.  Hobbies can also fit in here.  When you learn, you open your mind to new worlds and possibilities and confidence is the result because you are not limited by ignorance.  Knowledge opens the door of opportunity.

5.  Daily Read

I take time each day to read.  I’m always reading something.  My biggest problem sometimes is that I will have 3-4 different books started at one time.  I focus on biographies, history or self-improvement type books. I love to read about famous and successful people in history because I always learn something about what made them successful that helps me in my life.  However, sometimes a good fiction book, like a good movie,  can help to relax and detox.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reading.  If you’re not reading, you’re not learning, in my humble opinion.

6.  Daily Exercise

Balance is key in life and you can’t just exercise the brain.  Exercising the body is critically important.  This statement is backed up by a host of great research.  But, notwithstanding the research, I personally can vouch for the importance of exercise.  I choose to exercise in the late afternoon.  I tried doing it in the morning, but it requires that I get up even earlier and hey, I’m weak and a 4:30 am wake up call is just asking too much.

Exercise for me is like a microcosm of life.  Sometimes it hurts while you’re doing it and you have to push the mind to disregard the body, which is screaming at you to give up.  Then, when you complete a rigorous workout, you have the personal satisfaction of knowing you overcame the body and its pain and then once the endorphins kick in you feel like a million bucks.  I like the way I feel after a good workout and I notice that I sleep much better at night, too.

Exercise builds endurance.  When you can endure the pain of a workout, you begin to build a toolbox that gives you the instruments to endure the mental and physcological challenges that life can bring.  Exercise gives you the confidence to believe in your ability to endure the pain and overcome the negative messages that the mind sometimes gives you.

7.  Daily Review

To me, this is one of the most important habits that can build confidence.  I struggle the most with this, but mostly because I’m often lazy and I am too tired at the end of the day to want to do it.  However, keeping a journal is a healthy habit.  I try to keep a daily journal, making an entry at the close of each day.  This entry should not simply be a recap of the day’s events or a passive account of the weather, but it should serve as a time of reflection about what went well and what you can improve.  This should be a positive time where you note your victories, not a beat-yourself-up session.  Along with your victories, you should note the areas where improvement can be made and how you plan to improve.  When you do this, you begin to see how much you truly accomplished and how much good you  are cable of and then your confidence grows.  Journal writing teaches you to be accountable to yourself for how you spent your time.

To be most effective in this habit, you should ponder the days events with questions like, “how has someone blessed my life today?, or “how has God’s hand been in my life today.”  When we stop and count our blessings and consider our efforts, we can see the good things stacking up and it gives us hope.

8.  Remind Yourself of Who You Really Are

Throughout the day it is important to remind yourself of who you are.  Maybe this seems like an odd concept to you, but I feel that if we have an understanding of who we really are, we will rise to that standard.  For example, when I think if who I am, I think of the fact that I am a son of God, a husband to a great wife and a father to wonderful kids, etc.  This standard reminds me that I have something to live for and something to live up to and my decision making is therefore in line with that standard.

Anyway, these are my daily habits that I employ to help me deal with this crazy journey we call life.  I find that these steps provide me with  the tools to be happy with who I am striving to become.  As a result, I can be confident in myself because these habits lead to little victories each day.  Day after day, they add up and you start to believe that you can accomplish anything and manage life’s challenges.

I would love to hear about the habits that work for you.  Please feel free to share.


Why the Gun Control Debate is a Waste of Energy

If you turn on news these days and watch it regularly for any amount of time, you would likely come away with two conclusions about life in America.  Those conclusions would probably be:  1.  Deaths by gun are rampant and out of control and 2. Deaths by terrorists are at an all time high.  You will likely come away fearful or apprehensive about your safety and the future of our country.

Every time that I hear of a mass shooting it saddens me greatly.  What a horrific, cowardly act for someone to indiscriminately shoot other human beings and take their lives.  It is senseless and I will never quite understand the sickness, hatred and/or desperation that drives a human being to so ruthlessly take the life of another.

The news coverage following these events is hard to watch.  The bias of the different media organizations comes through as do the political agendas of so many who have that platform at their disposal.  Politicians unashamadley  use the victims to push a political agenda.  Unfortunately, these platforms and agendas are often abused by complete fabrications, half truths and fear mongering with the ultimate goal of selling copies of a given publication, thereby driving up TV ratings or passing legislation.

My attitude about these shootings is almost always the same.  I think of what a great tragedy they are and then ponder over how can we as a society help those who would act in such a manner.  There must be constructive ways to help avoid such ruthless and disturbing actions.  I think my reaction is similar to a lot of Americans.  Yet, when you listen to the talking heads of radio and TV, it is almost always the same.  It always gets boiled down to a miserably inaccurate and overly emotional debate about the place of guns in American society.  Too many of us blindly swallow what the news media tells us without really making the effort to challenge and prove out what we are hearing.

The Truth About Deaths by Guns

When you take a step back and look at the statistics of deaths by cause in America, it paints a drastically different picture than that portrayed by journalists and the news media outlets.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) publishes annual statistics detailing the cause of death in Amerca each year.  For purposes of this blog entry, I will use the statistics of 2012, which can be found on the CDC’s website (www.cdc.gov).  In 2012, nearly 50% of all deaths in the United States were caused by heart disease (23.5%) and cancer (22.5%) for a total of 1.2 million deaths between the two causes.  After that the percentages drop dramatically and includes the next two highest causes:  respiratory diseases (5.7%) and then accidents or unintentional injuries (5.0%).  Death by firearms, of which mass shootings are included, totaled  33,636 of which about 64% (http://www.newsweek.com/2015/10/02/americas-biggest-gun-problem-suicide-374547.html) were ruled suicides.  That leaves us with around 12,000 deaths that were homicides by firearm.  This number would place death by firearm well below 15th place on the list of causes of death among Americans.  Suicide by firearm incidentally would rank squarely at the 15th place of causes of death.  Ironically, when the media talks about the suicide issue in America, guns are hardly ever pegged as the main problem, but rather they cite things such as “clinical depression, financial woes and drug problems”.

However, when you look at the top 15 news stories of 2012 (http://www.people-press.org/2012/12/20/timeline-top-news-stories-of-2012/), you will find extensive coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the terrorist attack in Benghazi and the Trayvon Martin shooting.  Those four stories represented 26% of the top news stories for 2012.  It seems to me to be far out of proportion given the actual statistics of deaths by terrorism and gunfire, each cause respectively well below 5% of total deaths.  So, given these cold, hard facts, why is it that we spend so much time and energy talking and debating about gun control when statistically speaking, it does not appear to be a problem worth the energy?  Really, if we were honest with ourselves, the leading news stories each night and the debates in the public square and Congress ought to be how we can reduce deaths by heart attack and cancer, which are gigantic problems, statistically speaking.  You have far greater odds of dying from falling down the stairs than of being killed by gunfire (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/02/daily-chart-7?fsrc=scn/tw/te/dc/dangerofdeath).

Now, lest you accuse me of being an insensitive jerk, my argument is not to say that we shouldn’t do anything to try and reduce homicides by gunfire, instead my argument is that we are allowing ourselves to be driven into a debate that could potentially result in limited personal freedoms by the sensationalistic news media that is fear-mongering its agenda right into your life.  I’m simply saying that we should stand back from the ledge of irrational fear and examine the problem for what it really is:  not much of a problem at all.  Statistically speaking, there are much bigger problems in America that deserve our attention and energy.

The political left loves to indulge in the emotional, heart-string-tugging, tear-jerk anecdotal stories to make its argument about taking guns away or severely restricting their use by citizens.  The political right uses fantastically ridiculous arguments such as that armed citizens reduce crime, that more guns means less crime and that if you register your gun it is only so the government has a list of gun owners so that they know who you are when the time comes to confiscate your gun.  In my opinion, given the aforementioned cited statistics, it is just as ridiculous to make an argument that you need to carry a gun for your protection as it is to say that confiscating guns will result in greater public safety.

The reality is that there are more guns than ever  in America and yet gun violence has dropped dramatically after 1990 and has remained relatively stable for the last 15 years or so (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2015/08/graphics-americas-guns).  So, I think it reasonable to conclude that no amount of laws or lack of laws seems to be contributing to much of a change in the rate of gun deaths.  Deaths by gun violence is not even a blip on the radar of death causes.  Yet in spite of this, we continue to beat the proverbial dead horse, using ridiculous emotional and hyperbolic arguments to defend our positions.  It is energy that could be better used to solve a whole host of other, more pressing and real national problems.

Truth About Death by Terrorists

The same logic applies when considering the current state of threat from terrorist organizations.  For the sake of consistency, I will use statistics for 2012 to make a similar point regarding deaths by terrorists.  In 2012, according to CNN, the total American deaths by terrorist were 18.  Yes, that number is correct.  Since September 11, 2001 (an outlier year), the number of terrorist caused deaths has declined and remained fairly consistent year after year (http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/02/us/oregon-shooting-terrorism-gun-violence/).  Yet, that statistic probably surprises you given the inflated amount of news time and political speech spent on the horrors of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.  The Atlantic Magazine reported that “a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/americans-are-as-likely-to-be-killed-by-their-own-furniture-as-by-terrorism/258156/).  It makes you wonder why we spend so much time, energy and  American resources into fighting terrorism, which we do it rather ineffectively, in my opinon.

There is no doubt in my mind that ISIS and other terrorist organizations constitute a genuine treat to America, its people and interests.  We certainly can’t ignore the threat.  However, I wonder how much better off we would be if we avoided inciting hatred in a relative handful of religious extremist nut-jobs by not meddling in parts of the world we should avoid in the first place.  Does the notorious threat levels that our government issue help us or hurt us?  How much more helpful to the American physche would  it be if the news media placed the terrorist threat in the appropriate context?

It is very easy to point the finger at the news media, though in my opinion they do shoulder a large portion of the blame.  Yet we as consumers of the media readily fall prey to our intrinsic need to rubber-neck at the traffic accident.  We want the salacious, gory and sensational stories.  The fact that Mr. Robinson died of a heart attack yesterday morning doesn’t do it for us.  We are the ones that look to our government with irrational fears and beg them, at the expense of our own personal freedoms,  to protect us from a statistically improbable event.  We don’t watch the news unless something crazy is occurring.  The media knows this better than anyone and so do politicians, ever looking for an excuse to increase their own power base.  Ultimately, it is our fault, for we feed the beast through our inability to do a little homework and think for ourselves.

It is easy to get caught up in the tidal wave of fear and hopelessness that the media, especially the 24 hour cable news stations, who consistently and irresponsibly beat an incessant drumbeat of fear and sensationalism to drive up ratings.  My challenge and the point of this blog entry, is that no matter your political position, to just take a breath and chill.  Think things through and see the bias of others and look to the facts.  The probabilities of you dying by gunshot or terrorist bomb are so ridiculously low that it is pointless to worry or fret over it, much less willingly surrender your freedom because of it.

The Fearless Mind…

Recently I completed the book, “The Fearless Mind,” by Dr. Craig Manning.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and thought I would share some of my thoughts and excerpts from the book.Fearless Mind

Self Doubt and Worry

Early in my professional career, I was promoted to a position of responsibility for which I was not adequately prepared.  I was 28 years old and responsible for two large manufacturing facilities (200,000 sq. feet of manufacturing space), over two hundred employees and nearly a $100 million dollars in inventory.  It was an overwhelming challenge.  I ended up doing a mediocre job, not necessarily because I was unprepared, but because I was fearful.  I didn’t believe I was good enough and up to the challenge and consequently my performance was mediocre.  I placed so much worry and attention in keeping my job that I didn’t pay enough attention to doing my job and honing the required skills.  All I can remember from my time on that job was the stress  and anxiety and the fear that I would be fired.  And, looking back, much of what I stressed about or worried over were things I could not control.  That is what happens when you focus too much on an outcome or on the future.  Fear rules your life and it places boundaries on your personal progress and growth.

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with thoughts of inadequacy and fear.  Fear that I wasn’t good enough.  Fear that I couldn’t do something I wanted to do.  Fear of change.  Fear of the unknown.  I wouldn’t describe these fears as paralyzing, but in many cases this fear limited my progress and opportunities.  Some of this fear was a product of my environment, but mostly I think that fear is a  normal part of life and something that we all have to learn to conquer.

Feelings of inadequacy are normal and it takes great effort and discipline to over come them.  I have learned that as one thinks, so he is.  Our thoughts really do make us who we are.

This book gave me some great food for thought regarding how to think and how to conquer fear.  Here are some excerpts that I really liked:

“A fearless mind is achieved when we have cleansed ourselves of the barriers that prevent us from reaching our greatest potential.  We do this by learning to accept what we have control over and what we don’t.  Once we understand what is our responsibility and what isn’t, then we are able to channel all our energy into mastering those aspects that we have direct responsibly for and not waste energy (emotional, mental, or physical) on those things that are not with our responsibility.”

Think about it.  How wasteful is it to dwell on past mistakes or the actions of others?  Can we control what happened or what others will do?  Yet, we can control who we are and what we do – right now.   The author also stated, “The two most prominent areas of wasted energy are guilt and fear.”  Too many of us allow too much of our attention to be on our own mistakes (guilt), what someone else has done to us (anger) or  what the future holds (fear).  Time and energy spent on worrying about things we cannot control is less time on the now, which is really all we can control, anyway.

High performance people focus on those factors which they control directly and learn to master them.  They focus much less on an outcome (future) than they do on the present time.  In other words, their daily and weekly habits are what lead them to the desired outcome, not stress, worry or fear.  When our daily habits and  energy are focused on action in the present time it leads to success, which builds confidence.  Confidence is a fear killer.

Fear breeds mediocrity.  Mediocre means “of only moderate quality; not very good.”  Who aspires to that?  Mediocrity is a function of negative thoughts, which leads to poor choices, which leads to limiting consequences.  The author states that “behavioral researchers tell us that as much as 77 percent of everything we think is negative and counterproductive.  Medical researchers have found that as much as 75 percent of all illnesses are self-induced.”  I’m not entirely sure of the research behind the claim, but my initial hunch is to think that is probably true.

Fear also leads us to act conservatively.  “We settle for what is safe and easy instead of pursuing our dreams.”  I happen to really enjoy reading biographies of successful people.  One common thread is that many of them experienced self-inflicted, risky challenges and at times their futures looked bleak and sometimes they even failed spectacularly, but in the end, they achieved incredible heights because they did not allow fear to change who they were and to sap their energy.

Not only is a focus on the past a fear inducer, so is an obsession with the future.  This is an “outcome-oriented behavior”, which means that one sets objectives that are always in the future.  What?, you say, setting goals are a bad thing?  Well, yes, the wrong goals can be bad for you and too much time obsessing over those goals (future) can lead to stress, anxiety and fear.  Effective goals are those that are just beyond our ability to achieve (to promote a challenge) and more in the present (this week, next month)  than way in the future.  These goals should build off on another until the desired outcome is achieved.

“Paying excessive attention to what is wrong only magnifies the problems.”  

This seems obvious, but we’re all guilty of it.  Moaning, complaining, fault-finding are all actives that waste energy.  No amount of complaining can change something in the past.  Only the actions we take now will determine whether or not we can make any lemonade out of those lemons.  So, doesn’t it make more sense to put our energy into our choices now?  True it is that poor choices can limit the actions and choices we have available to us.  But, there is still a choice!  And as long as that is the case, how we choose to act now can make all the difference or it can just compound an already bad situation.

“I have come to realize how important it is to discipline my mind – to pay attention to the moment and not worry about the past or the future, to really focus on what I am doing, not what I and doing wrong. “

This can be a great challenge.  We have to train ourselves to spend as much energy as possible on what we are doing rather than our weaknesses.  This helps build confidence when we see evidence that we are capable of doing good things.  Our society often puts a negative spin on those with confidence, often confusing it with arrogance.  It makes sense because miserable people don’t like to be around confident people because it makes them feel even more inferior.  Hence the old saying, “misery loves company.”  But, there is great power when you can quickly identify your strengths and what you have to offer to others.  There is nothing wrong with confidence.  “Confidence is an ‘I am good’ approach,” while “arrogance is an ‘I’m good, you stink’ approach.”  There is a huge difference between those two mindsets.  How do you see your own self?  Do you immediately go to your weakness or can you readily see your strengths?  We should be able to identify our strengths just as easily as we can our weaknesses.

“Further, we are the only ones who can stop ourselves from achieving our dreams.  Self-destructive behavior should not be perpetuated by ourselves or condoned by those responsible for others.  The behavior won’t change if it keeps getting sugarcoated.”

Remember the story I told about my job at the beginning of this blog entry?  My boss recognized my insecurities and made a point to take me to task for it.  I can remember him clearly saying to me, “Paul, you need to take this tendency to doubt yourself and your abilities and crush it and never let it back inside you again – you are limiting your potential.  I see greatness in you, but you are holding yourself back.”  He was right and his pointed, truthful statement hit me powerfully.  And, we are just as guilty when we allow those we care for to perpetuate self-destructive behaviors.  This is not a time for sugar coating, but for having very real, pointed and honest conversations like my boss had with me.  Sugarcoating merely condones the behavior, validating the poor decision making by creating a false empathy.  Shoot straight, don’t sugarcoat when it comes to decision making and self-destructive behaviors – your own and of those you love.

There is so much more I could share.  This book is really wonderful and thought provoking.  There is much more to it than I have shared. All I can say is that I have seen the difference in my life’s course when I have been confident and focused on the present and my actions now.  I know how I get when I dwell too much upon the past or upon my mistakes.  I’m miserable and that’s no way to live life.  I appreciate this book for the reminder and the knowledge of how to banish fear from my life.  I highly recommend it!

On New Year’s Resolutions…

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions.  Mostly because I try to bite off more than I can chew, then fail and feel bad about it.  I don’t find that to be very productive.  Truth be told, forging good daily habits are the key to change and consistent growth.  If you have lousy personal habits, you will not grow or challenge yourself.

However, this year I have made a resolution to get back to blogging.  I was doing it for a while several years ago, but I used the excuse that I was too busy.  In reality, I was probably too lazy.  I feel a need to put my thoughts on virtual paper and express myself.  I think people find value in the opinions and thoughts of others.  At the very least, taking the time to compose my thoughts is therapeutic and allows me to think through my opinions.  If someone is interested, great!  If not, they don’t have to read it.

Took a wUtah Lake Frozenalk today with the dogs down to the lake and out on the frozen surface.  I enjoyed admiring the beauty of the virgin, white planar surface with the amazing snow covered Mt. Timpanogos in the background.  I truly live in a beautiful place.

Recently, I watched a documentary entitled “Unbranded” (you can get it on Netflix) with my family, which documented the 3,000 mile journey on horse back (wild Mustangs, mind you!) of four recent college graduates from the Mexican border in Arizona, north through Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to the Canadian border.  In addition to the beauty of watching this grueling 6-month journey and the endurance and grit it took to get through it, I was enamored by the absolutely astounding geography that encompasses the American West.  There is no where else like it in the world.  It is truly a treasure and deep down in my soul I’m a westerner.  Its in my blood and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  I regret that I don’t take more time to enjoy its beauty and the serenity that it offers.

Perhaps that is another New Year’s resolution I can make?