Building Self Confidence: 13 lessons from the movie Wild

In the movie Wild, Reese Witherspoon plays the author Cheryl Strayed, who goes on an 1100 mile solo wilderness trek after the death of her mother. During the course of the film, Cheryl reflects on her life, and finally comes to peace with her past.

Here’s some questions I’ve been asking myself. What if I forgive myself? What if I was sorry? What if I could go back in time? I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. What if all those things I did were the things that got me here?” – Cheryl Strayed

She arrives at a point where she has no regrets. She sees her poor choices and mistakes all as part of the path to make her who she is now. This is a place of confidence.

Now imagine how different your life would be if you felt more self confident.

Fears and regrets would be only a faint memory of days gone by. You’d know without a doubt that you could achieve whatever you set your mind to and nothing could hold you back.

Self-confidence is possibly the most important quality that sets successful people apart from others.

Think of every person you know who has achieved a measure of success. Can you find even one who doesn’t show confidence?

Successful people have more confidence not because they’re any better than anyone else. They’re no better than you.

They have confidence because they learned some skills and talents that helped to develop an unshakeable confidence over time. Instead of thinking “Everybody will like me”, truly confident people think “I will be fine if they don’t.”

The good news is that you, too, can learn these skills and gain the confidence to propel you to success in any endeavour.

Wouldn’t you love to have more confidence?

Of course. But the reality is that it won’t come to you on its own accord; you have to seek it out.

Here are the top 14 ways to boost your confidence so you can feel good about yourself and enjoy the perks of success:

1. Look Good Feel Great

You know when you look and feel your best?

You have more confidence. You feel more alert. You bring more energy and focus to your projects. Others also take notice of you and respond to your positive energy.

Even though Witherspoon dresses casually and wears seemingly no make-up in the film, she radiates a rugged beauty.

I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Looking your best doesn’t have to mean looking like a runway model in the latest haute-couture. In both your personal and professional life, looking your best really is about being the best you.

If budget is an issue, pay for quality, not quantity clothes. Higher quality clothes do look better, fit better, and last longer than the cheap stuff.

When you look good, you’ll feel great and there will be an aura of confidence around you.

Stay in shape. Making the effort to stay in shape pays you well in terms of increased confidence and self-esteem.

If you’re insecure about your weight, for example, those insecurities can affect many other aspects of your life.

Eating healthy, nutritious foods gives both your body and brain what they require to function at top capacity. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where you’ll find the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grain breads.

Stay away from the center of the store, where they keep all the preservative-laden foods in boxes and cans.

Exercise every day to use up extra calories, tone your body, and gain more energy. Exercising also produces endorphins, the “feel good” hormone, which gives you an emotional lift and makes you feel good about yourself.

2. Let your Body Language show Confidence

Experts agree that people may get more from your body language than they do from your words.

Using confident body language will go a long way towards increasing your effectiveness with others and bring you greater confidence as well.

It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Walk like you were alone in the wilderness and feel the power of your own being. Follow these tips to exhibit confidence with your body language:

Stand up straight. Your posture can tell people a lot about you before you ever speak a word. Confident people stand straight and tall, whereas people who lack confidence shrink down.

Be relaxed and open. Even though you’re standing up straight, keep your muscles relaxed.

Tense muscles exhibit tension, fear, or insecurity to others. Open body language shows self-confidence and trust.

Walk quickly. Busy, successful people usually walk quickly.

They have places to go, things to do, and people to see. When you walk quickly, you join the ranks of these accomplished people, and others will automatically look at you as if you must be successful, too.

Hold your head up. Show your confidence by holding your head up high. Insecure people look down far too often.

Make eye contact. When you look at someone in the eye, you’re projecting honesty, sincerity, and self-assurance. On the other hand, avoiding eye contact makes people think that you have something to hide or that you’re unsure of yourself.

Smile and the world smiles with you. Smiles are contagious. They make everyone feel good, including you. Studies show that putting a smile on your face can actually activate pleasant emotions, including confidence.

Consider what a warm smile can do by reading this short, but true, reflection a colleague said recently:

I remember you. Last year, when I was having one of the most horrible days of my life, I passed you in the hall and you gave me a smile. That smile made me feel better the rest of the day!”

Just imagine how you’d feel once you realize how easily you can make a difference in the life of a stranger – and all you had to do was smile.

Smile at yourself in the mirror every morning as you begin your day. It will put a spring in your step and give you confidence to meet the challenges of the day.

3. Use Positive Self-talk

We talk to ourselves inside our mind all day long. It’s a running dialogue that never ends.

The things you say to yourself forge energy pathways in your subconscious that control your attitudes, beliefs, and actions. How you react to your experiences is also part of this self-talk.

When your self-talk is positive, it can move you to accomplish great things.

When it’s negative? You already know how that goes.

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves…” ― Cheryl Strayed

Use these tips to help you form the attitudes that can bring you success and confidence:

Make use of affirmations. Affirmations can literally change your life, one thought at a time.

Use them to reinforce your positive behaviors and override mental attitudes that hold you back. For best results, repeat them several times a day.

Follow the 3-P Method for effective affirmations:

• Positive. State your desired behavior in a positive manner. Avoid the words “not” or “never.”
• Personal. You’re speaking to your subconscious, so use the word “I.”
• Present Tense. Write your affirmations as if they’re attitudes and behaviors you already exemplify in your daily life. Use words like “I am” or “I feel” or “I believe.”

Here are a few affirmations that can encourage greater confidence:

• I accomplish my daily goals with ease.
• I am prepared to meet any challenge that comes my way.
• Confident radiates from me at all times.

Keep your inner dialogue positive. As you go through your day, ensure that what you’re saying to yourself is something you want to hear. After all, nothing good will come from beating yourself up for making a mistake. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on.

4. Set SMART Goals

Confidence comes easier to people who know exactly what they want. Where they’re going. How they’re going to get there.

In Wild, though her route is mapped out well, Strayed sets herself a rather unfocused goal, one that she dedicates to her late mother Bobbi. Her mission statement was “I’m going to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was.”

What the successful achieving of that goal would actually look like is subjective and changes as she approaches it.

Setting SMART goals is different. It almost guarantees your success, and every time you achieve one of your goals, your confidence is kicked up another notch.

Use the SMART strategy for setting goals you can achieve:

Specific. Describe exactly what you want. Make it crystal clear and leave no room for interpretation.
Measurable. You must be able to measure your progress so you’ll know when you’ve succeeded.
Attainable. Plan a series of easily achievable steps, or micro-goals, that lead to your objective. Reaching these micro-goals on a regular basis will encourage you, fill you with confidence, and build momentum towards your overall goal.
Realistic. Ensure your goals are realistic for you, not Superman or someone else.
Timely. Always set a time for reaching your goal so you can make an action plan that’s complete by your desired date.

For example: “I will earn an extra $200 seven days from now by working an extra 90 minutes each day.”

This goal meets every criterion in the SMART strategy. It may look rather simple, but achieving those small steps on your way to your big goal adds up and instills you with the confidence and motivation to keep going.

5. Maintain Positive Relationships

Our relationships can fill our lives with rich rewards.

We aren’t poor,” my mother said, again and again. “Because we’re rich in love.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Relationships have the potential to either invigorate or devastate our self-esteem. Incorporating these strategies into your relationships will ensure that they’re positive and beneficial.

Give compliments. Make others feel good about themselves.

Accept compliments graciously by simply saying thank you and nothing more. There is no need to put yourself down to appear modest.

Follow the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Be honest. Everything you say should be grounded in truth.

Show kindness and love. Let others know you care.

Sandwich constructive criticism in between good points. Focus on how they can improve.

Look for the best in others and bring it out. Focus on the good in others.

Admit your mistakes and apologize when you’re wrong. Refuse to make excuses.

Eliminate gossip. Gossip is toxic and detrimental to your confidence.

6. Look for Clarity Within Yourself

Self-assessment is an important part of building your confidence. Analyzing your unique talents and passions along with determining where you want to improve can help you create action steps based on your findings.

Self-knowledge results in a stronger, more confident you.

Perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant that I too could be undesecrated, regardless of what I’d lost or what had been taken from me, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Strengthen your strengths. Identify your talents and build on them. Take advantage of what you do well to help you set and achieve your goals.

Determine your passions and pursue them. What are you passionate about?

Spending more time pursuing your passions will refresh you, bring you another strength you can depend on, and give you more energy for all aspects of your life.

Write a “me” speech. List all the things you like about you: talents, skills, and past successes, then give yourself permission to feel good about these accomplishments. Every morning, recite your speech while looking in the mirror with a big smile.

Improve your weaknesses. Realize that no one is perfect.

Expecting perfection can only lead to disappointment. After all, there will always be something you’d like to improve upon. Determine where you’d like to improve and design a plan to make this improvement.

• If you want to sharpen your skills in a specific area, sign up for some classes and get actively involved in the field.
• If your weakness is a bad habit, use affirmations to help with your willpower and make the commitment to refine your self-discipline through daily practice.

7. Feel Gratitude

Being thankful for everything around you puts your mental energies into a positive state and attracts more things for you to feel good about.

It’s a cycle that can work wonders for your confidence and self-esteem.

“Each night the black sky and the bright stars were my stunning companions; occasionally I’d see their beauty and solemnity so plainly that I’d realize in a piercing way that my mother was right. That someday I would be grateful and that in fact I was grateful now, that I felt something growing in me that was strong and real.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Reflect on the good. Give thanks each and every day for your blessings.

• List all the things that are good in your life: big, small, and seemingly inconsequential.
• What special talents have you been given?
• What good things happened today?
• Look for the good in challenges. They may be there to help you in some way.

Keep a gratitude journal. Each day, write about the moments and people that you’re thankful for. When you’re feeling down, reading your journal can lift your spirits.

8. Speak Up and be Noticed

Do you ever wish others would pay more attention to you and what you have to say? There are simple things you can do to make people think of you as a strong leader.

I lay down in the mother ash dirt among the crocuses and told her it was okay. That I’d surrendered. That since she died, everything had changed. Things she couldn’t have imagined and wouldn’t have guessed. My words came out low and steadfast. I was so sad it felt as if someone were choking me, and yet it seemed my whole life depended on my getting those words out. She would always be my mother, I told her, but I had to go. She wasn’t there for me in that flowerbed anymore anyway, I explained. I’d put her somewhere else. The only place I could reach her. In me.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Sit in the front. In classrooms or seminars, sit in the front row and actively participate. You will soon be looked upon as the authority and people will be naturally attracted to you.

Have something to say. In meetings or group discussions, speak up with positive opinions and input. Even if what you say isn’t particularly momentous, people will still begin to think of you as a valuable contributor.

9. Seek the Company of Positive People

When you’re around uplifting people, it’s easy to feel confident. Like-minded individuals help bring out the best in you.

When you surround yourself with positive influences, you know you can be yourself without fear of judgement.

The more time you spend with them, the more good feelings about yourself and others will spill over into the many areas of your life.

He felt like a brother of mine, but not at all like my actual brother. He seemed like someone I’d always know even if I never saw him again.” ― Cheryl Strayed

On the other hand, avoid negative people. They tend to be overly critical and try to drag you down to their level. Don’t let those negative people catch you and steal your self-confidence.

10. Live by your Principles

Allow yourself to feel secure in your beliefs and act accordingly. Others will have more respect for you if you stick to your beliefs, even if they don’t agree with you.

My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. There was the first, flip decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it. There was the quitting my job as a waitress and finalizing my divorce and selling almost everything I owned and saying goodbye to my friends and visiting my mother’s grave one last time.” ― Cheryl Strayed

When you let your principles guide your actions, you can never disappoint yourself.

Know what’s important to you. Always do what you believe is the right thing.

Desire things because you want them, not because someone else does.

Don’t compare yourself. Your worth doesn’t depend on others.

11. Challenge Yourself

Pushing yourself a little more than you’re used to will open up new doors for you. When you meet the challenge, it may take you by surprise to learn that you can do things you never thought you could.

You’ll feel better about yourself than ever and your confidence will soar.

“The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer—and yet also, like most things, so very simple—was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay. As I clung to the chaparral that day, attempting to patch up my bleeding finger, terrified by every sound that the bull was coming back, I considered my options. There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Take a course where you learn how to survive in the wild.

Learn a new skill, such as woodworking or landscaping, and beautify your surroundings.

Set an ambitious goal and work until you achieve it.

12. Celebrate Frequently

Always congratulate yourself for your accomplishments.

When you do something good, pat yourself on the back. Celebrate. Reward yourself. And feel good about it – you’ve earned it.

I didn’t feel sad or happy. I didn’t feel proud or ashamed. I only felt that in spite of all the things I’d done wrong, in getting myself here, I’d done right.” ― Cheryl Strayed

This is more important than you think. Without a little celebration, you will never truly realize every little success that you’ve made along the way.

After a mini-celebration, you’ll be juiced up for your next goal with renewed vigor and confidence.

13. Act Confident

We all have days where nothing seems to go right. When this happens, our self-confidence can suffer. On days like these, when all else fails, act confident anyway.

…and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.” ― Cheryl Strayed

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” With respect to your self-esteem, sometimes faking it actually does make you feel better.

Actions that make you look confident can make you feel more confident as well:

Smile. Giving someone a confident smile will make you feel better, too. Besides, you can only fake a smile for so long before it becomes real.

Help someone. Helping others feel better may also give you a boost. Plus, there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you see someone’s eyes light up because you did something that made a difference in their life.

Following these confidence boosting strategies will uplift you in more ways than you can imagine. With more confidence, you’ll discover that you’re suddenly able to conquer old problems with ease and achieve what you once thought was impossible.

Plus, you’ll feel happier and more fulfilled.

Some of these strategies may seem overwhelming at first, but don’t let that stop you from gaining the confidence you deserve. Plan to implement just one strategy each week into your daily routine.

Soon enough, you’ll be a fountain of confidence, gushing with all the courage you could ever desire.

Photo credits, top to bottom: Thomas Griesbeck, Baba G, Zach Dischner, Iqbal Osman, Porsche Brosseau

Quotes from Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, Published by Knopf ISBN 978-0307592736