Midnight, mid-December 2011: I was lying wide-eyed, anxiously awake upon sweaty bed sheets, gazing up at the darkness.
Jeez, how did it get this bad? I asked myself.
Sleeping was impossible—my heart beating out of my chest like a drum—and my mind was racing as I looked over my life, feeling sorry for myself.
I was 20 years old, thousands of pounds in debt, hopelessly single, anxious, overweight, with rock-bottom confidence, and working a job I hated. I would binge drink and chain smoke to numb the emptiness.
Worst of all, I wore a mask that concealed how I really felt, how my life really was.
Nobody knew the extent of my issues, except me. This was my big, dirty secret—a secret that was rotting my insides. But to the outside world, I was the same old bubbly and happy Will.
Confident, nice guy Will.
Growing up I was a spunky kid, a short and tubby redhead. I was confident and knew my self-worth. I took part in school plays, could talk to anyone, old or young, and ultimately, I believed in myself.
Now I was a world away from this childhood self.
As I pondered this question—How did it get this bad?—an answer came to me, lighting a small spark of hope in an otherwise dark place.
My answer was this: however it got this bad, it didn’t happen overnight.
This little insight, although it wasn’t the aha moment I had hoped for, did serve me. It reminded me that what had gotten me in this hole was an accumulation of decisions and actions (albeit not great ones) over a few years.
Then a crazy little thought followed: if I had the power to get myself into this mess, maybe I have the power to get myself out of it.
For the first time in what seemed a lifetime, I fell asleep that night feeling hopeful and believing my struggles really could, really would, get better. As I closed my eyes, I realized exactly how I could change my situation: small daily challenges.
You see, shortly before this night, I had dipped into a book called Rules of the Game by Neil Strauss.
Although I didn’t delve too much into the content of the book—Strauss is a pickup artist and it’s a dating book—I loved the structure of the book.
Each day for 30 days, the reader is given a daily challenge that takes them outside of their comfort zone. Strauss starts the reader small, by making eye contact with people for example, before challenging them to scarier tasks, like asking someone out on a date.
I loved the idea of engaging in daily challenges and could really see it working. Leaving the dating element of the book behind, I began to set daily challenges to address my demons. I was less of a pickup artist and more of a sort-my-life-out artist.
The rules were simple:
I was to create and complete at least one challenge per day.
I was to view fear as a sign to take action. If I feared it, I did it.
Part of me freaked out. I was going to be purposely putting myself into the very situations the voice between my ears dreaded. But over the following months, I honoured my commitment.
Some days my challenges were small; other days the challenges were bigger:
>> I opened up to my parents and close friends about my anxiety, even though I was terrified of judgement. (They were nothing but loving and understanding.)
>> I got professional help from a debt agency, although I had been too embarrassed to admit the debt I was in. (With a solid plan, I was debt free within six months.)
My daily steps built up momentum. Over time, and as I believed it to be true, things got better. Not only was I taking charge of my life by overcoming my struggles, but my self-confidence began to return—which was funny, since I didn’t consciously set out to improve my confidence.
Confidence was a by-product of completing these daily challenges. The more I challenged myself, the more connected I felt to my confidence.
This showed me two things:
1. Confidence comes from action.
When I was feeling helpless, I took no action. This kept me disconnected from the confidence I had felt as a child. It was only after I realised I had the power to turn things around that I took action and, as a result, felt more confident.
We can spend a lifetime waiting around for a day to arrive when we wake up and feel worthy. Or we can take action, with big or small steps, and trust that those feelings will come.
2. Confidence is always inside us, even when we don’t feel it.
Although there was a time in my life when I didn’t feel sure of myself, confidence was inside me just waiting to be let out—in the same way that the sun is always shining, even on the cloudiest of days and darkest of nights.
In this sense, it’s not about “building confidence” but about “connecting with our confidence.”
Since that night, I’ve discovered that confidence, like anything worth having (health, wealth, or relationships), requires maintenance. To this day, I still set challenges that have me leaning into my fears, challenging what I believe to be possible.
Another way I maintain confidence is by being aware of what activities, people, and situations help me connect with that feeling. Then it’s all about committing to and making time for what keeps me connected.
There are times when I wish I could go back in time and offer words of encouragement and wisdom to my younger self. If I could, I’d say: ”For you, Will, not to you.”
Because the tough stuff in our lives is happening for us, not to us.
Our struggles shape us, teach us, and help build character. They are not monsters we need to hide under the carpet—as I had been doing—but rather opportunities to connect with our true, confident, and powerful selves.
Author: Will Aylward
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Travis May