Not a Life Coach: Push Your Boundaries. Unlock Your Potential. Redefine Your Life. This is the follow up to James Smith's international number one bestseller, Not a Diet Book.

Do you love your job? Does your future excite you? Are your relationships working for you? James Smith is back to challenge everything you thought you knew about the path to fulfilment and happiness. With hard-hitting home truths and a helping of tough love, be prepared to re-set your outlook, redefine your goals and truly consider: What does success truly mean to you?

Here, we are sharing an extract from Not A Life Coach by James Smith.

The Confidence Paradox

Having said all of the above, I can appreciate that a qualification may amplify confidence for some. Take this scenario, for instance: when you pass your driving test you're only forty minutes more experienced as a driver, but once you’ve got the nod and you’ve passed, you feel uplifted and more confident – you’re no longer a learner and your status has changed. You hit the road a new person. How can such a small shift in experience and a qualification in itself have such a profound impact?

It’s about belief: someone else believes in you and that is something powerful. The driving instructor is backing your ability in the form of passing you. But to me, it’s equally important that we believe in ourselves. Confidence is such a powerful tool, yet we’re never taught about it in school. Confidence is a secret weapon and if you master it, you can get paid better, get laid more often and succeed in whatever you want in life. I know it sounds clichéd, but we can’t sit around and wait for people to instill a sense of confidence in us like we would when learning to drive. It’s an internal battle, an internal dialogue and a daily fight with our own protective mechanisms within our heads.

Confidence is a state of being clear headed either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Confidence comes from a Latin word 'fidere’ which means ‘to trust’; therefore, having self-confidence is having trust in one’s self.

Confidence isn’t just about what you say; it’s how you say it, your body language, your course of action and how you present or market your- self in every moment. It begins with self-belief and again, you can’t buy self-belief or top it up overnight – it comes from your identity and how you perceive yourself. Many people play into the idealism of ‘fake it till you make it’ but unfortunately that’s about as helpful as shouting ‘calo- rie deficit’ to an obese person or ‘cheer up’ to a depressed person.

I see confidence as a skill, just like learning to do a snatch in Olympic lifting or practising a golf shot. You must be overzealous at times and a degree of audacity is imperative. Carry yourself tall, walk with your chest out, shoulders back and don’t worry about being wrong. Practice confidence; hold people’s gaze and don’t be afraid to wait until they look away first.

Imagine confidence as a fabric; you must stretch it or it will stay the same. It takes repetition, too: the more frequently you stretch the fabric, the more you will grow. There are no rules as to the elasticity of this fabric. The way it acts is not governed by physics and there is no fixed amount of strength required to pull on it. I’ll speak about worst- case scenarios in the following chapter, but at every opportunity we should look to stretch the fabric, not too fast, but at the right rate. A stand-up comedian stretches theirs at the small venues, repeating the same jokes, night in, night out, building up to the grand tour in front of thousands in an arena.

You see a comedian without fear, oozing confidence, but you don’t see the hours of practice when they stretched their own fabric through repetition. We’re exposed to and experience other people’s confidence and we think that they’re born with it (or that they’re great pretenders), but behind every skill set is repetition. The fabric of confidence is within our imagination and it plays to no rules. The rate at which you stretch it is governed by you and you alone. If you get nervous speaking in front of only a few people, I’m here to tell you that speaking in front of thousands would only be blocked by any feelings you choose to feel about it. You’re more than capable of doing it, you just need to tear down the self-imposed rules that you’ve created in your head to stop any stretching of the ‘fabric of confidence’.

Some people interestingly think that standing in a toilet cubicle with your hands over your head as a power pose before a big event is going to increase your confidence tenfold, but I think that attitude does a huge disservice to the small battles won each day on the way to becoming the confident person who wins the job interview.

Without stretching the ‘give’ of the fabric of confidence, it will stay the same. Fitness is all about pushing boundaries to evolve performance, incremental increases over time with progressive forms of over- load. It sounds oversimplified, but some people stretch their fabric and many others don’t. If you’re not willing to push your boundaries no power pose is coming to save you. This is on you and how you act from the turn of this page all the way up until the day you’re no longer able to turn a page. Morbid, I know, but it’s coming, so don’t wait around.

Stretching the fabric: self-worth

Self-esteem is an individual’s subjective evaluation of their own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself (for example, ‘I am unloved’, ‘I am worthy’) as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride and shame.

Jump on to Instagram and it’s not long before you find a picture of someone in perfectly acceptable shape pinching their fat with a caption that mentions something to do with self-esteem, self-compas- sion, self-acceptance, self-respect, self-confidence, self-love and self- care. What on earth are people talking about?
It’s how we feel about ourselves, simply. But I want to broaden the scope of this topic here to more than just how we look with our tops off. Ultimately, feeling worse about ourselves is profitable. Think about it: from anti-wrinkle cream to falling behind on fashion trends or not being in good enough shape to fit in with a perceived norm. If we have poor self-esteem, we’ll make very good consumers.

It’s not easy, however, to communicate with our emotions or to  get an accurate gauge on where we are at. Self-worth and self-esteem are the foundations of our mental health, just as sleep and nutrition are the foundations of our fitness or ‘wellbeing’ regimes. But self- esteem is not a fabric that can be stretched like confidence – you can’t count to three and step outside your zone like you can with confidence-building exercises. And there are ample links between poor self-esteem and depression. 

So, what determines our self-esteem? Interestingly, this ties in closely with our values and is defined as net worth for many people. How much they’re worth is usually based upon their place within a social hierarchy, which is fed by income, material possessions or the acquisition of as many assets as possible, like a financial monopoly.

Who you know and your social circle can have big impacts on your perception of your self-worth. Some people can rate their status on who they know, who’s important and what influence they have. Some people think the reason for the growing selfie culture is that posting a picture with someone of influence or fame can raise their perceived status. I’ve yet to find a study on celebrity selfies, but people taking pictures of themselves to fulfil basic human needs like popularity and self-expression is a well-researched area, showing that it makes people feel better about themselves.

What you do is often a big factor in self-esteem, and this is hugely influenced by culture, but there’s often a stigma with certain professions (such as teaching, although hugely important for the development of future generations), while some may consider a doctor or banker to be at a more important professional level. What you achieve is also a big player in self-esteem; for some people, being the most qualified in the room is of the utmost importance in improving their self-esteem and therefore perceived self-worth.

Then there’s appearance. Although one of the more relevant factors, I have left this till the end, as it ties into the next part of the book. We all know about the peculiar obsession with how much we weigh. Most of the world’s popular weighing clubs build a business model around it. And I can quote from Not a Diet Book, where I said, ‘Your self-worth cannot be quantified by your relationship to gravity.’ Weight fluctuates not solely according to our success or our efforts, but so many other factors from, yes, fat loss to bowel movements, hydration and where you are on your menstrual cycle (for half of us, anyway). Clothing sizes are also a big thing, more so for women, and there’s even stigma surrounding certain sizes.

One of the biggest factors surrounding our self-worth and how much store we place on our appearance is what happens, for example, when someone flirts with us, asks us out or we hear a murmur that someone finds us attractive. This has a huge beneficial impact on our self-esteem – much greater than any arbitrary weight loss or a drop in clothing size. Losing a few pounds is one thing, but having three attractive people ask for your number in one week? I know which I’d pick.

I have drawn many conclusions from modern-day social media and its diminishing effect on self-esteem, but what do you think about this for a hypothesis: are we relying so much on dating apps that we’re damaging our ability to boost each other’s self-esteem by no longer approaching people, flirting or asking anyone out? Which brings me to a very interesting point where we could bring two elements together and think about the potential outcome for confidence and self-esteem, or the ‘worst-case scenario’.

Worst-case scenario: Stretching the fabric in practice

That’s it. Ask yourself that, all the time.

Let me tell you this: I have over a million followers, a TED Talk, a best-selling book and a multi-million-dollar revenue online business. You’d think I’d have the confidence to ask a stranger for their number, but lo and behold, I still [s**t] my pants every time. Every time. Suddenly, my mind will be racing with thoughts, most of which I have no evidence to back up when I challenge them: she’s probably married and not wearing her wedding ring; probably got a boyfriend who is going to get super angry and beat me up from behind … Your mind fills with fear and anxiety, your heart rate increases and your palms begin to sweat. I make up all these wild excuses – every excuse possible – to not make an approach: maybe next time, this doesn’t feel right, she will see I’m nervous, what if she doesn’t speak English?

Then my inner pragmatist pipes up: ‘James, what is the worst that can happen here? Like actually the worst? Let’s say I go over: "Hello, I think you’re really attractive and I would love to take you for a drink. Here’s my number if you’re keen."’

Scenario 1: ‘I’m really sorry, I have a boyfriend.’ Whether true or not it’s a kind decline. We never know circumstances, so we can’t produce our own to fit the agenda.

Scenario 2: ‘Sure.’ But then she never texts me. OK, cool. Is this really a bad thing? With email marketing, if 99 per cent of my email list do not buy from me, I still have a very successful campaign. With one in a hundred buying my cheapest product, let’s say, on a list of 260,000 people (which it is at current), that’s £23,300 (42,514 AU$) from a single email. Not bad from a 99 per cent failure rate.

Either way you look at it, it’s a win. Worst-case scenario, you’ve complimented a stranger, perhaps making their day; best case is they say yes (even if you get ghosted down the line). Either way, you went  for it – you won’t be mocked, you’ll be admired as a go-getter, a do-er. In the modern world of constant distractions and technology, the simple art of talking to a stranger is dying.

Whether we lose a job or don’t get a promotion, perform poorly in a workout or break up with a loved one, I don’t think we really appreciate the worst possible outcome. Going for a job that you’re not quite ‘experienced’ enough for, you may not get a second interview, but at least you went for it. You ended up in the same position before you applied and walked away a couple of hours poorer, but that little bit more experienced in the uncomfortable situation of being interviewed. These risks compound interest in your identity. Each is an opportunity to stretch the fabric of what you are comfortable with, an opportunity not everyone will take. An opportunity to inch ahead of everyone else.

The best advice I’ve ever had: the silver-lining effect

What happens when things do turn out bad? I’ll never forget the wise words I heard from Scott.
Scott trained at Fitness First George Street in Sydney with one of my best friends, Diren Kartal, as his coach. ‘Hello, James,’ he’d say in his American accent, having heard me from wherever I was on the floor. Scott was blind but still trained four times a week. (Next time you are a little bit sore and considering skipping the gym, just think of Scott, fully blind and still making more trips to the gym than most of us.) I’ll never forget Scott telling Diren and me his story.

Scott sold companies to IBM and made a fortune in his early twenties only to find out at twenty-six that he had a rare eye disease and would very soon be blind and no longer able to drive the fancy Porsche he’d just bought. Scott has forever been in my mind since I met him; if I knew I only had my eyesight for a few more years, I think any financial savings would be shunted down the priorities list and I’d set my sights (pardon the pun) on seeing as much of the world as I could, so that I’d always have the memories when I was older.
The thought of a debilitating condition really prompts us into action to accomplish things we want to do. We shouldn’t need to think like that, but unfortunately, it’s probably our default mindset. If you were going to go blind next year, would you leave tomorrow via a myriad of dodgy cheap flights to go see the sun set over the Rocky Mountains in the USA and Canada?

I bet you’d think that Scott was pissed off. Well, he wasn’t; he was one of the nicest and happiest guys I have ever met. And he gave Diren and me some of the best advice possible which has got us both out of a lot of mental sticky situations. I had in twenty-four hours not only broken up with my girlfriend who I was about to move in with, I’d also lost my visa to Australia where I was living and setting up a life. Diren had decided to exit an eight-year relationship and, well … what Scott said in one sentence changed everything.

‘Guys, no matter what happens, you will be just fine.’

Now, if you’re going to take some advice from someone, I’m not sure anyone is better qualified than a very intelligent, successful man who lost his eyesight through no fault of his own. I have applied his thought process to so much. Whether I tear my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in my knee rolling in my next jiu jitsu session, whether I get sued for speaking out against charlatans or if no one buys this book. Guess what? I’ll be just fine.

My lawyers need bills to get by, after all; I’m sure they have mouths to feed. And during my rehab I could listen to a lot of audiobooks and study Brazilian jiu jitsu in my spare time – the amazing thing about the sport is that you can become a better athlete away from the mats, too. A setback is only a setback if you see it that way. A setback can be a set-up for a comeback. It’s all about perception, isn’t it? I could find out how my ACL went, how to prevent it happening and even raise awareness for my peers to ensure they don’t make the same mistake that I did. I could even go down the rabbit hole of preventative measures and sell an ebook on it, make a [s**tload] of money and donate the profits to pay for operations for jiu jitsu athletes who don’t have private cover. The worst-case outcome from training can be effortlessly spun into a positive with just the right thinking. I can’t make my knee bullet-proof any time soon, but I can alter how I see the ‘worst-case scenario’. I guess the truth is that things that happen to us can only negatively impact our mental wellbeing if we let them. The worst-case scenario mindset is a choice, like so much in life.

Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed.
Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.
Marcus Aurelius

I can’t help but think that doubtful what-if thoughts of worst-case scenarios are a protective mechanism from our primitive mindset, a throwback to when the objective was to stop us falling out of trees and breaking our necks. But many of these instincts counterintuitively hold people back from doing things that can feed into the good life, such as approaching someone attractive for a date or going for an interview for a job you may like more than your current one.

This, to me, is the ‘silver-lining effect’. Every single negative thing has a silver lining, a positive to it. Moving back in with the parents because I’m skint? More family time. Your dog sadly having to be put down? One less mouth to feed and to worry about until you give a new dog a perfect home. Gained a load of weight? A chance to take some time to work on you – having a lot of fat to lose is a tremendous incentive if you think about it. Just remember that our problems are only as big as we make them; they only affect us when we let them. There is a posi- tive behind every negative, and if you seek it out, you’ll find it. Also, when your problems really get on top of you, think about this:

If we could all put our problems into one big pile, we’d take our own problems back every single time.
Lucy Lord, great friend and even better baker.

It’s very important that we have this approach to the worst-case scenario with our problems because – and this can be a very hard pill to swallow – we will always have problems. I’ve noticed that people brought up without real problems are some of the first to struggle with anxiety and sometimes depression. This isn’t to say that all depressed and anxious people were brought up with a silver spoon; more that we should sometimes count our problems as a blessing.

Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them.
Charles-Louis de Montesquieu

A single coin makes the most noise in an empty jar, so they say. Having one single problem in life I am sure makes it feel amplified. That’s only normal. Another key to the good life, I suppose, is to enjoy your prob- lems and to appreciate all the good things that come with solving them.

There’s a silver lining in every problem and issue we face; we must look to find it. Again, it’s up to you to choose to do so. We cannot wish for a life without problems, so I hope you understand the importance of discovering the lessons or opportunities that lie hidden within them.

Not A Life Coach by James Smith is available now.