8 Confidence Building Exercises for Primal Success

When it comes to going Primal, there’s lots to enjoy. But on the way to success, it’s inevitable we’ll hit some dips in the road. Life intervenes, challenging our newly minted Primal routines. At some point or another, we’re bound to reach a confounding impasse and lose our mojo. When it happens, we’re presented with two choices: take it as an intractable character flaw (not recommended) or take it in stride, recognizing the inherent need for a reboot. Many readers write in for a pick-me-up, a pat on the back and some reassuring words of support to keep them going (keep those coming, since I learn from every person’s experience). So how can we find a confidence foothold to keep climbing on these days? Or, to put it a different way, how can we mentally fortify ourselves when we’re feeling our weakest?

First off, I don’t want to trivialize confidence or treat it like some kind of emotional accessory. Confidence, as most of us understand it, is more of a complex psychological experience than a one-dimensional feeling. It’s not something you either have or don’t, and the nature of it can vary for different people. Some people (for a host of reasons) might have an easier time feeling it than others. Yet it matters for all of us. True confidence is more substantive than bravado. It can be a centered comfort with oneself, a relative perception of self-efficacy, a grounded sense of self-reference, or all of the above.

Suffice it to say though, a lack of confidence can naturally present a big obstacle when you’re trying to overhaul your diet and lifestyle or take up new fitness challenges. No matter what your specific goal, a healthy dose of self-confidence is pretty key to getting the job done. For the days when it feels like the motivational well is dry, let’s look at some ways we can shore up our store of confidence.

1. Suit up for the part

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who wait to buy the things they want and need to get healthy until they “prove” to themselves that the investment won’t be wasted. They consider this a reasonable, even prudent approach. I say more often than not that it’s a confidence-killing choice. You don’t need to succeed your way into a place of deserving. You’re already deserving of what helps you enjoy and feel good about your process.

Now, let me say I’ve seen the opposite—people who are all too happy to go shopping for the “look” of health without any of the commitment to live it.

That said, there is no better way to shoot yourself in the foot than to hedge your bets, which amounts to wagering against your own success.

There’s nothing wrong with holding off on big ticket equipment or long-term gym contracts. In fact, I’ve counseled people to do exactly this—but not because I think they should see if they’ll stick it out to justify the expense. Rather, it’s about experimenting for a while to truly find the best resources for your own personal interests, which tend to reveal themselves over time rather than match preconceived “must have” lists.

Going Primal can be shockingly cheap, but that doesn’t mean you have to hold off on useful, motivating resources. No one can buy confidence, but it’s amazing what good workout clothes can do for some people’s motivation. Likewise, a great set of knives or pots makes it a pleasure to spend time in the kitchen. There’s no shame in appreciating nice things: enjoying a higher end road bike, pulling out a quality yoga mat in your favorite color, eating off the nicer china, slipping on a pair of minimalist running shoes that fit like a glove, suiting up with a flattering swimsuit or gym outfit.

Whatever the desired “accessory,” lose the guilt about investing in the enjoyment of your process. If it makes you happy and boosts your confidence, there you go. End of story.

2. Cut any negativity off at the pass

When the negative internal scripts or mental scenarios start playing, cut them off immediately. There are some things that are absolute truths for sanity and self-worth. This is one of them. If you keep giving the negativity space in your head, you’ll always be living with it. Give up hosting sabotaging self-talk. Divert yourself with a simple mantra or single word (“Grok, Grok, Grok, Grok”) as soon as it begins playing. It might feel strange to do it that way, but the decision alone could be dramatically pivotal.

3. Differentiate what’s yours and what’s not

This is a key practice if you’ve found yourself plagued by self-doubt on an ongoing basis. Ask yourself to identify the sources behind the voices in your head. Where did this static come from? What were your parents’ insecurities or a sibling’s hangups? What old family “wisdom” has been subtly undercutting your self-efficacy all these years? What cultural messages toy with you? Distinguish what baggage doesn’t belong to you and keep making the commitment to return it to sender.

4. Put yourself at the center of positivity

Make a list of the whom, what, where and how of whatever makes you feel confident. When you’re running low on faith, who makes you feel like you’re succeeding? What places inspire you to eat well, move more or just enjoy the wild like Grok did? What activities make you feel centered with your Primal intentions? How have you personalized Primal ideas to make them fit your preferences? Do more of this—every day.

5. Keep a regular list of celebrations

Some people like to do a daily gratitude list, which isn’t just about the things, events or people in their life that they’re thankful for. You can also include the choices you made in a day that you feel good about—especially those decisions that didn’t come as easily. Take the time to be grateful for things you do now that you wouldn’t have been willing to do even a few years ago.

Whether you call them gratitudes or celebrations, note the day’s or week’s experiences and choices that demonstrate your progress and/or commitment. Maybe you devoted an hour to needed self-care today, tried something new at the gym or made some homemade jerky for the first time. Give it the attention and celebration it deserves.

6. Make an “I want credit for” list

I’d consider this a slightly different take on the above and an option I’ve suggested to people who find themselves in a frustrated, resentful or discouraged mindset. (After all, a dip of confidence isn’t always the most harmonious of sensations.)

Maybe they’ve hit a plateau lately or are struggling to see progress as quickly as they want. When we get in that place, we can feel like it’s all for naught and our efforts aren’t getting us what we feel we deserve for our input. We want the payoff as we’ve defined it for ourselves—or at least some kind of commendation.

The point of this activity is to write down all the efforts and choices we wish someone or something would acknowledge for us, would give us credit for, would reward us for. If we can’t have tangible, appreciable progress right now, some recognition might soften us. Call it entitlement if you will, but sometimes a bad mood is just a bad mood. Take care of it a little, and you let the air out of it enough to let it go and move on. The key is to learn to give ourselves credit when we need it. This truth holds for going Primal or taking on any endeavor in life.

Think of all the things you’d like to give yourself credit for. There’s the day you resisted eating the latest birthday treats at work and went for a walk during your break instead. And then there’s living with your non-Primal spouse’s food in the house, which periodically challenges your willpower. You exercised every day on vacation. You get up early six days a week to fit in a workout before the kids wake up. Since you got your treadmill desk, you’re walking an extra two hours a day. You stuck to your guns at your in-laws’ anniversary party and ate what you wanted despite relatives’ comments. You hosted the last family holiday so you could be sure to have Primal options. You’ve kept up on your dinners this week despite the added stresses of school starting again. And so on, and so on, etc.

Without slipping into victim mode, grant yourself meaningful, genuine acknowledgment. Witness your own discipline. Feel good about it. Recognize it a psychological milestone, and use it to renew your resolve.

7. Take the chance to lighten your approach

A dip in confidence can indicate we might be imposing too harsh of a standard on ourselves. Pull back for a while. The Primal Blueprint can be a great design for losing weight or getting in shape, but it’s not just a means to an end. At its fullest implementation, it can be an end to itself: an energetic, balanced, healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. Consider just enjoying what you can sense right now in yourself, not to mention around you.

Just go outside and feel the sun for a while. Forget about goals. Forget about progress or no progress. Just be as you are in the current moment. Do something fun. Repeat for as many days as needed until you feel recharged. Joy is the easiest confidence booster I know of, and there’s nothing more Grok-like than digging into the present moment.

8. Affirm your strengths—and offer them to someone else

Sometimes we need to spend some time putting pen to paper in the interest of self-study. There’s unappreciated power to knowing and affirming who we are. Write down your strengths—the abilities, values, achievements and characteristics you’re proud of and encouraged by. These are your tools. No one gets by in life by sheer will alone.

Our character has a lot to say about how far we get in life, but the assets behind that character are diverse as people are different. Your sense of distractibility can also be your sense of adventure. On the other hand, maybe you’re not the boldest or most ambitious, but maybe you’re steady. Get to the heart of what you have to offer to yourself and to your process. And then put it into double practice by supporting someone else—at the gym, in your neighborhood, on the forum. Seeing our strengths mirrored in another’s gratitude and success can be the most convincing, most powerful step we can take to reclaiming our own mojo

Thanks for reading today, everyone. What do you do when your confidence is in short supply? Share your thoughts and support a Primal newcomer (or anyone having a rough patch, for that matter).

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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31 thoughts on “8 Confidence Building Exercises for Primal Success”

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  1. Good tips, Mark. I’ve been frustrated at a few points (who hasn’t), but keeping stock of all the progress I’ve made, no matter how small, is always what kept me going.

  2. I’ve certainly had my share of struggles before going primal. And yes, there were some difficulties getting things dialed in. But my confidence actually went up substantially, since I kept seeing such great results. 😀

  3. To maintain confidence, I definitely try to compare my own achievements against my past ones, instead of anyone else’s. That keeps me looking inward for improvement while working for yourself, instead of against yourself and others.

  4. I like the idea of affirming your strengths, but offering them to others. It’s the second part that’s really helpful. Anyone can try to enumerate what they think they’re good at. But when you see your strengths in action, you get a real sense of what you’re capable of/how people value it.

  5. Definitely guilty of needing to lighten up at times. When I get too wrapped up in the minutiae of getting things “right,” I’m miserable/lose my bearings. Not that I should just give up on my goals, but I could definitely roll with things more easily if they’re not perfect.

  6. Brilliantly stated, Mark! And applicable to all areas and stages of life. One thing I’d paraphrase from another brilliant teacher: You’ll never get it done, and you can’t get it wrong, so let go of both of those criteria and keep moving forward as you can in this minute, and this minute, and this minute…)

  7. OK I am sold on this one:

    “You don’t need to succeed your way into a place of deserving. You’re already deserving of what helps you enjoy and feel good about your process.”

    I am buying that nice Korg keyboard

  8. I am happy to see the Suit Up For the Part on the list – slowly I have been doing that, but you are correct, it is difficult to do it when you think you are going to fail and you don’t want to waste money on another fad.
    Last year when I started my Primal journey, I picked up a pair of Vibrams. I now have 3 pairs and wear them constantly from April to October. They make me happy even if they do look a bit goofy around the office. They also are a constant Primal reminder, and have been a great conversation starter. Similarly, I convinced my husband to take a SUP lesson with me and much to my delight, I now have my own SUP and I use it at our lake every chance that I can. This week, out of the blue, my hubby surprised me with a slackline. 18 months ago, I would have had every excuse in the book not to use it, but we had it set up and in use the next day. What a hoot!

  9. Love all of these tips, and think they are great for building confidence in every area. I totally believe in surrounding yourself with positivity everywhere you can. I even set alarms on my phone that are labeled with positive affirmations that give me a little boost. I also totally agree with number 7…sometimes you need to lighten your approach and go easy on yourself. I have been traveling a lot lately. I am doing the best I can, but know that when eating out the ingredients are not typically as high quality as what I prepare at home. But that’s ok…I’m enjoying myself and staying active. And still eating really well. Right now I’m on the way home from my last beach trip of the summer. I’m looking forward to getting into more of a regular routine. And thinking a whole 30 might be in order soon too 😊

    1. “I even set alarms on my phone that are labeled with positive affirmations that give me a little boost.”

      I love this idea and I’m stealing it!

  10. Part of being primal, IMO, means dumping as many of the prescription and OTC drugs as possible. Sometimes they are necessary, but often there are better choices. It’s important to know the difference between the two categories. It takes a lot of confidence to tell one’s doctor, “I don’t want to take that drug (or test, or procedure). I’d rather try diet and lifestyle changes first.” Doctors can be bullies, particularly with female patients who lack assertiveness. It’s important to stick up for what you believe is best for your unique self. Your body is solely your own responsibility.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. I have RA an autoimmune disease. I was put on every drug under the sun. Never completely working actually many making me worse. I stumble upon Primal sites when doing searches on how to end the chaos. I got rid of my doctors who by the way never asked what I ate or how I lived. I feel that should be one of the first questions….I told my now doctor what I was doing and she praised me. And even offered up some great recipes and said “Sugar is the Devil”. Said she lives that way too but can not advise her patients to do so. I now feel like new person. The incredible pain that kept me laid up in bed for days at a time, swelling, weight gain, foggy brain and many other things are gone. I love the primal workouts. Cancelled memberships at my 2 gyms. One a regular type gym and one a cross fit gym. I am stronger, healthier then I have been since I was diagnosed 15 years ago. Better workouts in less than half the time I did before with greater results. I have more time for me to enjoy other things I like. I am not completely where I want to be but I am so confident it is in the horizon. NO DOUBT OUT IT!

      1. Yay you! That sounds like a success story that I’d love to read about! All the best to you.

  11. My strength and foundation to stay focused and confident in all areas of life are strongly attributed to my faith and family. I am so fortunate to have great sources of influence, optimism and creativity in all that I pursue in life. Wonderful article!

  12. Good tips, living a primal lifestyle that’s as close to stress free as possible really helps. A little cannabis every once in awhile doesn’t hurt either haha.

  13. I was getting ready to leave for work today and realized my workout clothes were…slacking in swagger. I said “hell no!” and broke out an outfit that was soaked with swag. Instantly, I felt like going to the gym. It really is amazing how something as simple as an outfit can motivate you. But it has to be for the right reasons. Awesome article!

  14. Great list Mark, not only for sticking with a Primal Lifestyle, but just keeping your chin up in general! I think we could use a nice dose of “take it easy on yourself” 😀

  15. Suit up for the part: I’m envisioning a leopard skin and a loincloth.

  16. Thank you for this great article. building your self-confidence for me is being one of my constant battles, always running low in general life since I remember. But starting a primal lifestyle is helping me to find different sources of motivation and “rules” to live by and make life more enjoyable. Grok on

  17. It’s perfect. I can’t have been the only one today who had the “my life sucks, and I suck, too” blues, but then decided to check this site for inspiration, read this article, took careful notes, and then basically concluded that Wow, this is exactly what the (primal) doctor ordered!

  18. I love the “give yourself credit for”–I don’t do that often enough. Thankfully, I have a supportive spouse and daughter who are quick to remind me to lighten up on myself and my pursuit of goals. We are never as hard on others as we are on ourselves, so it’s great to ask a loved one what they see. Can be a real confidence booster!

  19. Great read! It was very timely. There is so much I can take away from this. I’ll have to read it a few times so it can thoroughly sink in.

  20. Love this post. Now I can jog off and enjoy my new beautiful Garmin Fenix 3 fitness watch from my hubby!! Lol. Felt like it was a bit over the top, but now I’m going to just enjoy. 🙂

  21. “Distinguish what baggage doesn’t belong to you and keep making the commitment to return it to sender.”

    Whoa. Now *that* is well said!

  22. Wether you say you can or wether you say you can’t, you are probably right!

  23. Thank you so much for this post. My primal confidence has been a little low the past several months. Having a baby has set me back a little. I was right where I wanted to be with my habits before I got pregnant, even during most of my pregnancy. But I have been blessed with a baby who does not sleep well, which throws a huge kink in living primally! My primal diet has not suffered too much, it’s more the exercise. Physical activity in general isn’t a problem, we strap on the Ergo and go for a long walks every day. He isn’t a baby who likes to sit still, even from the very beginning, so I really am moving constantly. But as far as having the energy to do my sprints or strength training, it doesn’t happen very often these days! I know I will get back there when I can, but it still lowers my confidence a little and makes me feel like I’m not giving primal living my all most days!

    1. Molly, I hope you can give yourself credit for the amazing strides you have already made, and the benefits your primal living gives your baby. Our first didn’t sleep well either, but he did go out of it, and so will your baby. Patience for now! And extra rest for you when you can!

  24. “And then there’s living with your non-Primal spouse’s food in the house, which periodically challenges your willpower.”

    Fantastic post that came at just the right time for me. Feeling down in the dumps lately.
    I am definitely guilty of being too hard on myself and living with a lot of self-imposed guilt about not sticking to the plan.
    Being a Type 1 Diabetic and eating Primal has been the key to my long term good health. It makes my life much easier and my fitness level at the top.
    Also, since passing the ripe-old-age of 50, (2 years ago) I’m finding sticking to a Primal diet makes everyday clearer thought wise as well as physically more alert. (My body has regained much of the sensation I didn’t realize I had been losing. I thought I had well controlled blood-sugars but not well enough, as it turns out.)
    Anyway, to keep this from turning into a long-winded self pity rant, I believe I’ll give myself that long deserved break from guilty thoughts and just soldier on.
    Thanks again for doing what you do. It’s good to have someone like you showing the way to so many who have needs that aren’t met by the “mainstream” market-place.
    (See what I did there. Started to feel guilty for not saying enough. Shzeesh.)

  25. Number 7 caught my eye: Take the chance to lighten your approach. How many athletes burn out from over-training? Long, long hours or grueling repetition never produced a winning athlete, in my book. Mix it up. Back off. Go play with your kids. Rest. They don’t call it the Off Season for nothing.