A soldier in an ill-equipped revolutionary army lost his rifle, so he went to his group's leader for a replacement.

"What am I going to do?" asked the soldier. "We are going to have a big battle tomorrow and I don't have a rifle."

"Don't worry," said his leader. "The other side doesn't have very good weapons either, and they are so brainwashed that they believe anything they hear. Just pretend you are pointing a rifle at them and say, 'Bang! Bang!' It will have the same effect as if you fired a real rifle at them."

"OK," said the soldier skeptically. "But I lost my bayonet too."

"Do the same thing," said his leader. "When the hand-to-hand combat begins, just point your fingers like this and say, 'Stab! Stab! Stab!' You'll see it has the same effect as using a bayonet."

The soldier was even more skeptical of this advice, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. As the sun came up, the enemy came charging over the hill right at him. And he held out his imaginary rifle, saying loudly, "Bang! Bang! Bang!" To his amazement one of them dropped, then another and then another.

But suddenly he saw a particularly fierce, huge enemy soldier coming right at him. Despite his best imaginary efforts, the enemy soldier kept coming right at him until he was just a few feet away.

"Stab! Stab! Stab!" said the frightened soldier, waving his fingers right at his adversary.

But nothing worked. The enemy soldier rolled right over him, kicking him in the stomach and stepping on his face. As he went by, the enemy soldier grunted, "TANK! TANK! TANK!"

Self-confidence alone won't help you succeed, but it's hard to get started or push through the inevitable obstacles without believing in yourself first. Do you struggle with self-confidence? Almost everyone does at some point.

And while you won't likely come up against any real tanks, the obstacles can set you back if you let them. Before that happens, you need to do a few things.

Review your accomplishments. You've already achieved some successes in your life, right? List them, on paper if necessary, and identify the skills and strengths you've used to succeed.

Seek new knowledge. If you're lacking any of the skills you need to achieve your goals, focus on learning them. The process will remind you that you're capable of growth, and mastering the skills will give you a mental boost.

Face your fears. Identify and examine your fears so you can take action against potential setbacks.

Adjust your thought patterns. Negative thinking never yields positive results. Reboot immediately if you catch yourself doing any of these: all-or-nothing thoughts ("If I don't get this job, I'll be a total failure"), seeing only the downside ("I finished the project, but what if people see how tough it was for me?"), jumping to conclusions ("Bob didn't reply to my e-mail — he dislikes me"), or putting yourself down. Look for positives everywhere.

Pay attention to your appearance. You don't have to buy a lot of expensive clothes, but devoting some time to your wardrobe and overall grooming can make you feel better about how you present yourself. A neat, professional look inspires confidence from others.

Know what you want. Specific goals inspire your best efforts. You'll feel more confident and capable with a clear idea of what you want to achieve in your life and career. My friend Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking," offered this advice: "Believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers, you cannot be successful or happy."

Mackay's Moral: You can't buy confidence, but you can sell it.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.