How I learned to believe in myself

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.

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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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