Since I read my first self-help book back in 1986 (Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization), I’ve noticed that broadly speaking they fall into three distinct if occasionally overlapping categories. The first is what I call “image management”, as exemplified by Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. These books aim your attention towards how you come across in various situations, teaching you how to dress for and cultivate an image of success, largely so that you can make feel confident, win friends, and, well, influence people.
The second category of self-help books are all about “the metaphysics of self-empowerment”, as typified by Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Here, we learn about how to control the universe by controlling our minds, or at the very least our mindsets. Pretty much every positive thinking book ever written goes into this category, along with The Secret and other books that tell us how if we just think the right things we can be confident that we’ll get what we want as our reward in the world.
The third category in my mini-cosmology is what I would call “self-awareness” books like Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. These books are less about how to be than about how we already are. They point to the existence of a deeper self that is intimately connected with the divine — a kind of a capital “S” Self that exists before the creation of our personalities and beyond the limits of our personal achievements.
So an “image management” book on self-confidence would teach you to look and sound the part, nailing your hair and makeup while squeezing yourself into the perfect outfit for the job at hand. Looking your prospective client, boss, or mate squarely in the eye, you fake it ‘till you make it, offering up a firm or delicate handshake to let them know the kind of confident character you are.
While a “metaphysics of empowerment” book might spend a bit of time on the importance of playing the part, it would spend most of its pages teaching you to prepare yourself for your upcoming job interview/sales call/date through information gathering and mental rehearsal. In this world, confidence comes from preparation, so you need to do your homework, review your past successes, and rehearse your future ones until you know that you’ll be able to unleash the confidence within when you need it most.
Let me nail my colors to the mast here — while I never wrote much about image management, largely because anyone who knows me knows I’m deeply unqualified to do so :-), my writing has evolved over the past seventeen years from the metaphysics of self-empowerment in You Can Have What You Want and Feel Happy Now!, to a kind of hybrid empowerment/awareness model in Supercoach, to a pretty full blown exploration of the big “S” Self in The Inside-Out Revolution and The Space Within.
So when I talk about self-confidence these days, I’m really talking about Self-confidence — the confidence we naturally feel when we are in touch with our deeper nature. And there are, or so it seems to me, two key elements to showing up confidently regardless of what the situation is, how well we happen to be dressed, or even whether or not we’ve had any time to prepare ourselves for whatever is yet to come…
1. Knowing that we’re not in control of the universe
Metaphysical self-empowerment is based on the idea that “if it’s to be, it’s up to me”. For years, I found this a comforting idea, because it made me feel less at the mercy of a seemingly fickle and at times almost random universe. But it also led to an incredible amount of pressure, stress, and self-doubt, as carrying the fate of the world on my relatively modest shoulders was a heavy load to bear.
Over time, I noticed something interesting — each time the universe kicked my ass and life didn’t deliver what I demanded of it, I relaxed a little bit more on the inside. My feelings of failure would quickly turn to a sense of ease and presence, and I would temporarily drop out of my role as emperor of the universe and back into just being me — an ordinary guy doing his best to make his way in the world.
This unempowered non-victim approach to life has served me well over the years, leaving me free to play full out as if my life depended on it without ever actually believing that it does. Knowing that I’m not in control of the universe, I can let all that thinking about how things are going to turn out drop away and simply do my best without having to continually fear the worst.
It’s a kind of “positive fatalism” — a recognition that while the results I want may or may not be in the cards, throwing myself into creating them is the best and most enjoyable game in town.
2. Faith in the incredible creative potential of the deeper Mind
I’ve been doing live radio since 1992, and my Hay House radio call-in show Living from the Inside-Out has been on the air since 2005. One of the things I love about doing it is that preparation is somewhat futile, as there’s no way of knowing what’s going to come my way in any given hour.
This leaves me free to just show up and respond to what shows up, which in turn allows me to stay available to the in the moment responsive intelligence inside me. This creative intelligence — the wisdom within — is the ultimate safety net, allowing me to walk the high wire of the complete unknown with absolute confidence that the deeper Mind will always catch me if I fall.
I rely on it when I write, bringing forth words each time I show up to the blank page that somehow manage to consistently surprise and delight me. I rely on it when I coach and teach to bring what’s wanted and needed to the surface, allowing me to just connect with another human being and see what happens. In fact, every time I get myself out of the way, my deeper Self comes through.
So why aren’t I always confident? For the same two reasons in reverse.
The only areas of my life where I consistently struggle are the ones where I don’t trust that the infinite creative potential has my back. Somehow, in those areas I fall back into the metaphysics of empowerment, trying to control the universe by continual scenario planning (aka “worrying”) and thinking that if it’s to be, surely it’s going to be 100% up and down to me. I try to borrow confidence from my past successes and convince myself that “I’ve got this”, but truth be told, putting a brave face on top of scary, insecure thinking doesn’t mask much of anything.
Here’s how Syd Banks, the enlightened Scottish welder, talked about it:
“There is one Universal Mind, common to all, and wherever you are, it is with you, always.
There is no end or limitation, nor are there boundaries, to the human mind.
The Universal Mind, or the impersonal mind, is constant and unchangeable.
The personal mind is in a perpetual state of change. All humans have the inner ability to synchronize their personal mind with their impersonal mind to bring harmony into their lives…”
Each time I’m reminded that I don’t control the universe, I remember that I don’t need to. And each time I rely on the in the moment responsive intelligence of the deeper mind to see me through, the more reliable it proves itself to be.
Michael Neill is an international thought leader and master coach, challenging the cultural mythology that stress and struggle are a prerequisite to creativity, happiness, and success. As the founder and CEO of Genius Catalyst Inc., Michael’s mission is to unleash the human potential with intelligence, humor, and heart.
To learn more about Michael and his work, visit www.michaelneill.org or join the nearly two million people who have enjoyed his TEDx talks Why Aren’t We Awesomer? and Can a TEDx Talk Really Change the World?