How to build confidence and motivation

Sarah asks: Next year I will be participating in my school’s pageant show and am going up against tough competitors. You see, I am a shy person but whatever I put my mind to I DO IT. I need some advice on being motivated. When people look at me, they see this insecure girl. How can I change that and also change me into thinking positive and having confidence in myself?

Hi Sarah –



I’m not sure exactly what you’ll be doing in the show.  Singing, dancing, modeling?  I might have better specific advice if I knew.  But even without that, it strikes me that you’re asking two questions here, and I can take a try at both.


First, how can you get more motivated, and think positively?  You have come to the right expert on that one, Sarah!  We dogs have NO problems with motivation!  In fact, Handsome seems to spend an awful lot of time and effort restraining me from my motivations – holding tight onto the leash when I want to jump on a big dog who doesn’t like me, filling holes I’ve dug under the fence, or just yelling at me to… um… quiet down please.  That’s one of the main reasons I have this website – to help humans whose lives have squashed their motivation and positivism.


You see, Sarah, you had it once.  If you didn’t, you could never have learned to walk and talk – two of the hardest things any human ever learns to do.  Both take years of struggle, trying and failing endless times, before they’re mastered.  So what happens to that spirit then?  Is it fostered, encouraged, by everyone in your world, from your family to your friends to strangers?  Or have you faced shame, ridicule, rage, resentment, or any other of those things that teach children that it’s better to not be themselves, or love life?  I’m guessing that at least some of your experience has been the latter.  And your job, between now and that pageant (and then for the rest of your life!), is to battle those stupid lies, and get that motivated, positive, tough kid back!


How to do it?  Well, depending on how bad the damage is, it can take a lot of work.  Here are some of my favorite ways:

1)    Do something you love, and get great at it.  Whatever it is, if you master something you love, it will always build your mood, your self-esteem, and your attitude towards life.

2)    Hang out with positive people.  Sure, you can’t choose your family, or your teachers, but you can choose your friends.  Who do you hang out with?  Are they supportive, encouraging, fun?  Or are they insulting, fear-based, and negative?  (Don’t get me wrong though – best friends can insult each other all the time and feel great, but that’s because you always hear the affection behind them.  Oh if only everyone in the world could feel the love I get when Handsome calls me Poop-Head!)

3)    When negative inner voices speak up in you, ask them why they’re there.  “Hey you, if you’re inside me, why are you telling me I’m not good enough?”  Sometimes they’ll answer.  And if they do, they’ll usually tell you they’re protecting you from something.  So maybe you can ask them to do that in a more positive way!  Like, instead of “You’re going to make a complete fool of yourself onstage,” they could say “Better make sure you know your lines, and check your zipper before you go out there!”

4)    Write down ten reasons why you love what you’re going to do in that show.  And then the next day, write ten more.  Keep it up till you have at least a hundred.  Then go through the list, cross out the ones you don’t fully believe, and the ones that basically repeat other ones… and then come up with newer ones, till you have a hundred reasons that are true and great.  Then, whenever you feel your motivation slacking, you can just look at that list and feel better.

5)    And Sarah, if all these aren’t enough, I do recommend finding a good therapist (maybe your school has a counselor you can use), to talk with about all this.  I know from your letters to me that you’re bright, sensitive, and very insightful.  These are wonderful qualities, but not always the ones that are most valued in middle and high schools.  So it makes sense that you might need a special person you can talk with about what’s going on.  I’m happy to help, but a real live human can often give a lot that a caring emailing dog can’t!  And these things you want are what you truly deserve, and they’ll serve you so much in your coming life.  So, if you can, I really recommend getting some help with them.


Okay, so onto that second issue:  How to make it so other people see the confidence in you?


I keep thinking of that scene in “The Sound of Music,” where Maria is terrified of going to the Captain’s house the first time, and singing to herself about how confident she is.  And do you know why I’m thinking of that scene?  It’s because she’s doing exactly the right thing!


I don’t mean that you should lie to yourself.  But the best way to appear confident to others is to act like you are.  And the best way to do that is to keep telling yourself that, deep down, you know you’re fine.  I’ve heard that Elvis Presley had such bad stage fright that he often got sick before his shows.  But you’d never know it to look at old movies of him performing live – hey he showed confidence even I don’t have!  How did he do it?  He just had to, I’m sure, tell himself that, no matter how scared he was, he had all the talent and the skill he needed, and that the audiences would just love him.  And of course they did.


Another trick is to watch someone you really admire – a performer, or maybe even a politician – and see how they carry themselves when they walk onto a stage.  And imitate it.  Flat-out shamelessly copy them.  If you like, say, Bruno Mars (and who doesn’t!), watch how he walks, how he stands, how he smiles, all that.  If you like Katy Perry, same thing.  Walk around as if you were her.  Sure, you might not look like them (hey, no one can look like both Bruno and Katy!), but that’s okay.  Just inside your head, feel yourself carrying your body the way they do.  Smile as they would to the audience.  And get so used to that that it becomes they way you act when you’re in front of an audience.  And eventually, Sarah, you’ll just move past it.  You’ll become yourself up there.


So that’s a lot.  Feel free to write me and let me know what you’re doing more specifically, and maybe I can throw in a bit more.  But…


Hey, I almost forgot!  I do know one other way to get more motivation, more positivism, and appear more confident.  Get a DOG!  If you have one of us around, it’ll be a constant reminder of everything great about you, and how to love every moment of being alive.  (Plus, if you don’t win the contest, we will still think you’re the very best!).


Good Luck Sarah!  Do yourself proud!


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