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How I learned to believe in myself

Believing in yourself can be hard, but it isn't impossible. Follow these steps to learn more about how to believe in yourself.

Ramit Sethi

How I learned to believe in myself: 4 tips from entrepreneur Ramit Sethi

A few weeks ago, I asked you to send me your toughest, most burning questions. I got thousands of responses, and I’ll be answering as many as I can in the upcoming months. Here was one of the most surprising ones I got: People wanted to know how to start believing in themselves. For example:

“What was the first thing you changed, when you decide to take ahold of your life and implement those changes.” – Alan Y.

“How did you actually make the changes in your life? You knew what needed to change etc but how did you NOT become the all talk no action guy?” – Mary K.

“How did you learn to believe in yourself?” – Laura H.

This is such a popular question — and so central to becoming a top performer — that I wanted to devote an entire post to it. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, none of the tactics, techniques, frameworks, and strategies I share will mean anything.

I know how rare it is to have someone looking out for you and sharing the insights they learned along the way. I’ve had my own mentors and advisors along the way, and it’s my treat to return the favor to you.

So, today…

4 ways I started believing in myself

1. Brutally small steps with a long-term perspective

I have friends who expect their apartment to look like an interior decorator showcase…at 24! Are you shitting me? Your parents took 30 years to buy those 3 spatulas.

We all want to be the best-dressed…lift the most weights…make the most money…get the hottest girl/guy. But what we forget is those are the RESULTS of time and consistent process (and a little luck).

Like you, I’m impatient with myself. I want the end results — the six-pack, the accolades, the things to brag about.

But I was inspired by people like Jeff Bezos and John Bogle, who have decades-long perspectives.

But I see people paralyzed by the end result. Instead, I forced myself to start off small and stay consistent. For example, I know a guy who constantly lectures me on health stuff he reads online like ketosis, Paleo, intermittent fasting. Yet he’s still overweight! I would rather be the guy known for putting in small steps — working out 3x/week — than for having an encyclopedic knowledge of health.

Put another way, it’s easy to dream about running 3x/week or making $500,000/year of passive income. Losers will dream about those, but take no action. (In fact, they’ll actively resist doing anything by using code words like, “Ugh, I don’t want to freelance. That’s trading time for money.”) When I hear this, I feel one of my favorite emotions: pity.

Better to start running once/week and earn $1,000/month on the side.

2. Overprepare like you cannot even imagine

Most people have no idea what it takes to compete at the highest levels. They think spending 20 minutes Googling around will suffice. And in fact, many people have never met a truly world-class performer, so they have no idea what real preparation looks like.

You remember my skinny friend who emailed me asking for advice on how to gain weight? He said, “I already eat 2100 calories/day” and I spit out my drink. As a skinny dude who intentionally gained 40lbs in the last few years, I eat that for breakfast.My buddy did not know the game being played around him (i.e., that to gain weight, he would have to eat more than 2x that).

Similarly, I teach my students how to overprepare for meetings like nobody else. By the time they walk in to a room, 80% of the work is done — they know every aspect of the person they’ll be meeting with, including their history, who their mutual friends are, etc. (I used this in a meeting just last week: I said, “Oh, by the way, we have a few friends in common. Her eyes lit up. “Really, who?” And once I told her, the meeting took a sharp turn for the better.) If you’re more prepared, you’ll be more confident, and in turn be able to believe in yourself.

Some examples of how I overprepare:

  • When my parents told me I needed scholarships to pay for college, I created a system to apply to 65-70 scholarships. I also videotaped myself to discover a crippling error I was making, which finally let me crack the code of interviewing and get enough scholarships to pay my way through Stanford undergrad and grad school
  • For one of my sales page, I spent over 4 months writing it. I also hired an outside consultant for $13,000 to give me feedback. It has earned millions of dollars.
  • I spent 15+ hours reading my old textbooks and notes to prepare for a webcast I did with BJ Fogg, one of my mentors. I gave it away free to IWT readers because I wanted you to have access to this.

Exhausted? Good. Nobody said this would be easy.

“But Ramit,” you might say, “don’t #1 and #2 conflict? How are you supposed to overprepare but also think small??” Yes, I realize #1 and #2 conflict. No, I do not care. Top performers will figure out the balance between overpreparation and taking action.

3. Handle naysayers

A lot of people told me IWT was stupid, the name was stupid, and why should anyone listen to me? Honestly, it hurt, especially when I was starting out and didn’t have a lot of confidence. And I tried every horrible tactic. I argued with them. I ignored them. I challenged them. All stupid.

The best technique was co-opting their criticism by saying, “You know what, you might be right! I have no idea if this is going to work. But I figure I have to give it a shot, right? If you were me, what would you do?”

The deeper part of this was truly mastering my own personal psychology to know how to push through the tough parts to believe in yourself. Any top performer, especially athletes, will tell you that after a certain point, it’s not just technical skills — at a certain level, everyone has those. It’s the psychology that differentiates someone operating at 99% from someone at 99.9%.

If you’re curious, I’ve written more about dealing with critics.

4. Be mindful of who you surround yourself with

A few years ago, I noticed a lot of B players who plateaued at a certain level (I’m not going to say which field). I got fascinated with this — some of them were truly amazing at what they did, so why did they get stuck? — and I started studying them. And I found one of the biggest factors in getting stuck was who they hung out with.

The B players were hanging out with other B players who were satisfied making $X, or having the impact of Y. They hung out with the B players because they had a lot in common with them, they were friends, and it was comfortable.

And that’s fine! If you’re comfortable doing $X or having the impact of Y, great! But a lot of these people were privately frustrated since they couldn’t grow.

When I pointed out that doing yet another “blog roundup” on a blog with 2,000 readers would be pointless, they stared at me, blinking. They had the ambitions, but did not know how to truly leverage the power of relationships to grow. (Note that I’m not saying “how to make fake friends to make more money.”)

The truth is, the best people in your industry know things you do not. They can open doors you cannot. And they’ve mastered not only tactics, but psychological insights that you have not. It would be easy to hang out with the same old people for the rest of your life. Or you could challenge yourself, become valuable and helpful to people more experienced than you, and soak up everything they have to offer.

This single lesson alone is responsible for my business growing massively over the last few years.

*     *     *

Anyway, those are just some thoughts on believing in yourself…

As I said, I’m in the position of having gone through many of these things in the last few years, and it’s my privilege to be able to share what I learned — my biggest mistakes and my biggest insights — with you. This is EXACTLY what IWT is about: living a Rich Life, whether through your finances, your career, your social skills, personal relationships, or even health and fitness and travel, and yes, even believing in yourself.

P.S. If you’re curious and want to get more thoughts like this, you can sign up for my free newsletter.

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  1. avatar
    Atanas Yanev

    The B players stuff is just what was in my mind for the last 3 months.

    Sometimes I think that I will read another blah-blah post here, but you rule 🙂

  2. avatar
    Vincent Nguyen

    I liked the idea of overpreparing and I get what you mean. A lot of the work I put into certain things raise people’s eyebrows then they wonder how I get results in the things I do.

    I also make it a point to be mindful of who I surround myself with. I can definitely pinpoint the choices I could’ve made in my darkest hours and it was all because of the people I surrounded myself with. Now, I surround myself with “door openers” and I can feel the impact it has on me.

  3. avatar

    I’m glad you posted this! I really needed to read it. The last part really hit home; my mom always taught me the importance of watching the company that you keep.

    Sometimes I wonder if the various company I have kept over the years has hindered me greatly…..

    Something to think about.

  4. avatar
    Sean Mysel

    Irony is often finding people who can open doors for you is relatively easy. I wanted to improve my research and analytic skills. Had a professor at Columbia who wrote a book about researching ticket prices for MLB teams.

    Simply wrote him and asked him the best place to start, he gave me a wealth of information.

  5. avatar
    Renita Kalhorn (@flowjunkie)

    Another meaty post, Ramit. Thank you for pointing out the fallacy in most people’s thinking: self-confidence doesn’t come in one fell swoop, when you achieve the big goal; it grows little by little with each small win in moving toward the goal.

    Also, maybe you were being facetious (?!), but I actually don’t see a conflict between #1 and #2: the kind of preparation you’re talking about IS taking action towards the goal, rather than just gathering information and doing nothing with it, a la your overweight friend.

  6. avatar

    As usual, Ramit gives concrete actions to take and great examples of how these actions helped him. Advice of an unspecific nature doesn’t work for me. For instance, I thought I needed to learn how to deal with failure after several job losses. This post showed me that my lack of confidence because of the job losses is what’s keeping me stuck. And it shows me what to do about it. I encourage anyone who hasn’t signed up for the newsletter to do so. It could change your life! I am closer today to taking the next step than I’ve been in the past 10 years. Thank you, Ramit!

  7. avatar
    Jason Jones

    Great tips.

    I definitely think it is vital to surround yourself with people who encourage your dreams and who aren’t naysayers.

    And now to be a naysayer…

    “For one of my sales page, I spent over 4 months writing it. I also hired an outside consultant for $13,000 to give me feedback. It has earned millions of dollars.”

    What sales page was that?

    4 months seems a little excessive. Glad it worked out, but let’s face it, it could just as easily have bombed and that would have been 4 months down the pan.

    Not sure that is over-preparation really. More like not wanting to pull the trigger…

    Was it like 300 pages long?

  8. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    It’s about 50 pages long. (The total marketing package is probably around 200 pages long.) And I agree, it would have sucked if the page bombed. Then again, that’s why the very best copywriters do months — or years — of research before ever sitting down to write a long-copy sales page.

  9. avatar

    As usual, Ramit, you are right on. Points 1 and 2 are the ones I focus on the most. There is no such thing as an overnight sensation.

    My favorite quote is from Thomas Edison and hangs above my desk at home and at work: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

  10. avatar

    Hey Ramit,

    I have found that it always start with how you think. When I don’t believe in myself, it’s because I focus on the gap between where I am and where I want to go.

    If you spend your time focusing on how far away you are from your destination, then…
    1. You will get discouraged.
    2. You will have spent your time obsessing about where you are instead of spending your time taking action…

    Yup, thinking too much about how far away you are from your goal is actually a distraction…a very good one.

    And who is going to advance more? Someone who does not worry too much about the future and just takes action, or someone who mostly worries about the future and then takes action with what energy is left?

    And then there is the self-fulfilling prophecy. You believe in yourself a lot -> You take massive action because you believe it’s going to work! -> Massive action brings good results -> Voila, you knew this would work!

    But, when you don’t believe in yourself -> You hardly take any action because it’s not going to work anyway -> You get mediocre results -> Aha, you knew this stuff didn’t work!

    As Henry Ford said:

    “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

  11. avatar
    Andrew B.

    The ‘B player’ stuff hits home right now.

    In my field I have years of experience, but am still considered entry level. Now, I’, looking to make the move into management, and have started interviewing, etc.

    I always hang out with managers, and directors when I can; and I manage to get along great with them on a personal level. They all know I do great work, but my problem is getting them to see me as more than just ‘that friendly guy, who does great work’.

    Any advice on how to get them to change perspectives?

  12. avatar
    Andrew Emmert

    It’s a good post Ramit, and it hits close to home for me. I struggle a good deal with trying to be more confident in my experience and successes.

    In fact, I’ve been taking the brutally small steps strategy with my schoolwork. It takes much of the pressure off of me trying to learn all of calculus and physics in a single year, helps to keep me out of panic mode. So I can attest to the fact that consistency over quantity works.

    I’m still waiting to see if you ever have any thoughts about being a top performer while struggling with severe mental illness. I’d love to see that article someday.

  13. avatar

    I over prepare. At my old job at PWC all I worked with were the top performers from college. I’ve learned though that if you can’t cut it get out.

    You can “over-prepare” enough to stay afloat. But unless you have the talent and the natural skills you’re going to be outpaced (so find something where you can become the top performer).

  14. avatar
    Fresh Georgia Peaches | The Peach Truck

    This is fantastic. I’ve read it twice in two days. The small steps are killer. I want success, and I want it now. But life doesn’t work that way. Small steps, consistency over time is how you win.

    I’ve also been very aware of who I surround myself with recently. This is huge. If you hang with negative people who aren’t successful at anything, you’ll end up that way. The opposite is true as well.

  15. avatar

    Thanks for snappy article.

    “A company is known by the people it keeps.”


  16. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    I cover this in exhaustive detail in my Find Your Dream Job course. You can get on the waiting list here.

  17. avatar
    Sunil @ CPA Coach

    cool post Ramit. the entire message can be summarized into one phrase “networking”. you are essentially saying to get out of one’s comfort zones and make meaningful connections with people who can help get you to that next level.

    it’s a lot about relationships which foster through ongoing networking. i completely agree with this. no matter what field, getting connected with the right individuals within is what propels you to the next level.

  18. avatar
    Nate Anglin

    The age old saying “you are who you hang out” with comes to truth again. It’s amazing how many people want to be X or earn X and hang out with the people who drag their feet and are comfortable with mediocrity. If you want to be the best, compete against the best and associate with the best.

  19. avatar

    I don’t understand how you learn to “hang out” with A players. Most of my friends are from my childhood, we hardly have business in common. So how do I meet these people and befriend them ?

    Please make a blog post about it. Even tim ferriss said you end up making the average of your 5 closest friends.

  20. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    I’ve written about this for years. So has Tim, and so have others. I have entire blog posts, and even entire courses, around it. I encourage you to dig through the archives, buy a couple books, and come report back what you find a week from today.

  21. avatar
    Elvin Peria

    Great post Ramit!

    I am not good at believing in myself especially on the things that I suck doing. I often dodge the opportunities where I can practice and boost my self-esteem. This post made me realize that if I suck in doing things, I should grab every opportunity that can help me improve my weakness.

    Oftentimes, I consider myself as a naysayer but your script (“You know what, you might be right! I have no idea if this is going to work. But I figure I have to give it a shot, right? If you were me, what would you do?”) shuts down my negative self and looks for ways to improve myself. Very nice!

  22. avatar

    Hello, Sanjay here again.

    Initially I was pissed you asked me to work for my answer instead of redirecting me to the blog post in question (yeah, I read the entitlement post a bit later). But I actually learned more from searching “ramit sethi / tim ferriss networking” on google, as other authors posted things they learnt from you. So thanks.

    The most useful things I have learnt:

    1) A new perspective of looking at networking. Give first, then ask for favours. See whats in it for them.

    2) Stand out from the masses and learn how to ask people for things. Be genuine, confident, interested etc.

    3) Networking isn’t limited to large group meetings. Contact people your admire.

    I hope these things work on you too, because Ramit I admire the amount of quality content you put out for free.

    I think your blog can be made better by using “bread crum trails”, cheat sheets (at the bottom of the page so people don’t just skip the psychology) and tags.

    If you require any help with feedback or getting a perspective from an upcoming Indian entrepreneur (from India) do let me know. For example: Your brief case technique will backfire in India, it happened to me ! I contacted a company, I told them where they lack, I offered solutions on how I can help, including outlining how I’d go about it. Every thing was rosy, 2 months later they use my advice but employed someone much much cheaper to do it (with very poor execution). So yeah … Indians following the briefcase technique, don’t tell people the solutions to their problems, at least not before taking the advance payment.

  23. avatar

    Thanks for the practically useful article.

  24. avatar
    John K

    Great article with great points. Much needed especially the points on action and being over-prepared. Your response to the nay sayers and how you might as well try hit home…life is difficult you might as well choose the route you want anyway. Another great post. See you on the webinar

  25. avatar
    Ana P

    I have to say that this is an awesome post. Thank you!

    First, yes, I really don’t like the name of this blog. Which didn’t stop me from buying your book last week. Who cares about the name, with this useful content? Just my opinion.

    I see myself in some of your points. Over prepare. This is the main reason why I’m making per week what my uni colleagues are making per month. And I learned a lot of this from you. Thank you. But this fact won’t make me slack nor stop. I will keep using your knowledge.

  26. avatar

    Does believing in oneself correlate with success?
    I’m not sure I understand the nuances of confidence (faking it or true)in oneself with belief in a process that gets you from A to B.

  27. avatar
    Ken Tan

    I truly believe what you said about psychology is right – it’s the psychology that differentiates someone operating at 99% from someone at 99.9%. Everyone has the skill to do things if you can’t get your head straight, that is the separation.

  28. avatar

    Ramit, this is the post I needed this week. I told an acquaintance about my plans to finish off my MBA (loan-free) by using connections I have with a large financial services organization (via informational interviews, learning about the functions of an area of interest and where I might fit) with the end goal being a fellowship: education paid for and a position with that company after graduation. She totally “poo poo-ed” it and had all kinds of reasons why it wouldn’t work. I felt bad for a bit, but then I realized, I’ve been doing my homework for years building these relationships and positioning myself. I know all of the right people, I know exactly what I want and why I deserve it and I am not afraid to ask for it. The worst that could happen? They say no and I move to plan B. Big deal. Ultimately, she has no idea what she’s talking about and this article reminded me to trust myself.

  29. avatar

    I usually come here just to read and learn, but I felt that I needed to add my two cents about something important. Points 1 and 2 are NOT in conflict. There is a line in the Tao Te Ching about how “a great tailor cuts little.” In other words, life is won or lost by the cumulative success of small actions, not in “big” actions. My first encounter with this was my dad teaching me to play pool. He explained to me that a great pool player plans ahead about where to leave the cue ball, so that he never has to make a “great” shot. He just makes a series of well-planned “small” shots. Anyway, that’s how I interpreted points 1 and 2. Thanks as always, Ramit.

  30. avatar
    Tatiana St-Louis

    Awesome, couldn’t have said it better. As someone who is just starting building her sideline, these words come at the right moment. Don’t get discouraged, small steps at a time and learn, learn, learn everything you can! Thanks for the inspiration!

  31. avatar

    Great article as I currently am trying to address my severe lack of taking action. I failed very badly at something, and the experience crippled my ability to take decisive action. I always try to analyse a situation to find zero risk – which we all know is impossible. However, recently whenever I action, I find I do it very well. I also believe it is because I over prepare, and it is true there does comes a time when you just know when to stop.