Confidence can be an elusive concept, despite how often we are told to have it. “Just be confident!” is well-meaning advice given to us all the time. During a job or school interview, when dating, when signing up to a class, or considering taking up a new activity, there is a notion that “being confident” will help us. Sometimes, confidence is perceived as a placeholder word for bravery, vanity, or self-esteem.
How do you define confidence? Is it having a certain ability? Is it feeling like you’re the best person for the job, whatever the job maybe? Is it liking yourself? The truth is that confidence looks different on everyone. There are stereotypical markers of confidence, but as we know, many people “appear confident” but are not. Sometimes, we see someone living boldly – pursuing goals and dreams, giving their phone numbers to attractive members of their preferred sex at the coffee shop, walking tall, voicing opinions. Inherently, we suspect that that person is confident. We may be correct, but we may also be wrong. To develop confidence in yourself, it is important to know that it may look different on you than it does on everyone else. It is important to remember that those who seem to have high self-esteem may not.
The best way to be confident is to know in your heart that you trust yourself, even if that knowledge is quiet and secret.
So is confidence a feeling or a mindset? Overall, it is a mindset. When we consistently work to respect our intuition and boundaries, trust our judgment, and believe in our abilities, we develop a confident mindset that allows us to feel confident.
Why is it important to foster healthy self-confidence?
Self-confidence is such an important part of having a healthy relationship with oneself that the absence of it is highly linked to anxiety and depression. When you struggle with self-confidence, you can engage in people-pleasing and avoiding confrontation because you may not believe that you are worthy of having your needs or requests met or respected. When it comes to tasks, low self-confidence can lead to procrastination, indecision, and delaying tasks, as you doubt your ability to accomplish what you desire.
Fostering self-confidence allows for honest and open communication and facilitates taking on tasks and clearing them off your plate. Both of these things enable peace of mind and self-knowledge, which then leads to more confidence. As with any thought pattern that can become a behavior, nurturing self-confidence becomes a self-fulfilling act that leads to increased confidence. If we fail to foster our confidence, we fall into the opposite spiral.
Factors that negatively affect your sense of confidence:
- You have a hard time tolerating mistakes and accepting failure:
The idea that you should be able to achieve great results can be a marker of high self-esteem. Believing in yourself and your abilities is generally positive and should be supported by habits that celebrate your achievements. It is when you begin to hinge your self-worth on every detail or give unnecessary mental weight to setbacks that this mindset becomes an issue. This can occur when black-or-white thinking is employed, usually a symptom of high stress and/or high pressure. Sometimes, this is the result of letting the celebration of milestones or smaller goals slide. Other times, this is a symptom of having impossible expectations of yourself. If you struggle with accepting mistakes because someone in your life is reinforcing your feelings when you experience setbacks, that is another story. It is helpful to do our best to maintain a supportive network around us and not engage with people who speak to us or behave in ways that don’t facilitate self-confidence and self-esteem.
- You have high expectations of yourself that are never met:
You think your achievements are never good enough for you to feel confident enough. This might be something you learned from family or school, where your inability to deliver what was expected of you (whether it was a valid expectation or not) became a breeding ground for self-doubt. Though your formative years may be long gone, those memories and that pressure can very well remain in your thought patterns and view of yourself. Having excessively high expectations may come from working in a competitive
industry or having participated in high-pressure academic or athletic competitions in school. It could also be a part of your innate temperament to feel that you are constantly under a lot of pressure to excel.
- You think self-confidence will make you arrogant:
Sometimes, values such as modesty and being humble can get in the way of us building a healthy sense of self-confidence. We may have mistakenly believed that confident people are “too arrogant,” “full of themselves,” or “all they do is just talk about themselves.” When we equate having the confidence to being arrogant, we can unknowingly and unintentionally avoid feeling confident out of fear of being arrogant. In actuality, it is possible to be confident in yourself while still being modest and humble. Arrogance tends to come from a place of comparison to others, whereas confidence comes from belief in yourself.
- You always compare yourself to others, and in turn, make negative conclusions about yourself:
It can be difficult to separate our goals, self-perception, and expectations from what we see others doing or are told we should be doing. We cannot know any other person’s true private life, innate skill set, circumstances, or resources, which means we could not ever truly compare what we are doing with what anyone else is doing (or not doing). Confidence is an internal engine that fuels and facilitates success; when it is properly supported and nurtured, we can understand that it doesn’t rely on any external competition with others.
Because confidence is worn and expressed differently in everyone, the idea of finding it in yourself might have you thinking that you’ll never feel confident. But the truth is that you probably already feel confident in some ways or about some things. Perhaps you are a shy or reserved person who finds it difficult to make ‘small talk’ with strangers. This doesn’t mean you don’t have confidence in other areas of your life; it just means you’re not confident in your social skills. If you think about things you do that you feel are fun or come naturally to you, you may discover that you feel confident about them.
Of course, it is human nature to only focus on what we perceive as a shortcoming and to shrug off any of our skills that don’t match the one true skill we desire to have. This can cause us to fixate so much on our struggles that we don’t see our wins. You might be confident in ten different ways, but be telling yourself that the one area where you lack confidence is the only one that matters. In a case like this, you may say to yourself, “I have no confidence. What do I do?”
While working on undoing the all-or-nothing thinking that can make one shortcoming seem more important than all the positives in your life, some habits can be employed and practiced to boost, affirm and reassure your confidence in any given situation.
3 ways to boost confidence:
- Take action:
One of my favorite books on fear and anxiety is called “Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway” which is written by Susan Jeffers. The book gives insight into fear and anger and tools to push through those feelings and instead empower yourself to live the life you want to live. The book’s title itself is a great motto or mantra to carry with us when we approach new activities or any uncomfortable situation.
We often think we need to feel a certain way before we can take action. We wait until we feel ready and motivated to do something. We wait until we feel less anxious or fearful to take action. What if our efforts were not dependent on those feelings? What if we learned to feel the fear, anxiety, and doubt and still take that first step? What if the goal isn’t to be fearless but to learn to feel the fear and be courageous at the same time?
The best way to start is simply to start. Join that hiking group and meet new people. Sign up for that online course you’ve been putting off. Say hello to that cute person who smiles at you at the coffee shop every Sunday. At the very least, you’re practicing taking action. Best case scenario, something amazing happens!
- Change your inner dialogue:
Often we wait until we feel a certain way to change the way we view ourselves. We think we need to feel confident before we can start to praise ourselves or be forgiving of any shortcomings. However, our negative self-talk only limits our ability to feel good about ourselves. In order to start feeling confident, you need to change the way you talk to yourself.
You can start by examining the ways your negative self-talk is getting in the way of you feeling confident. For example, does your self-talk often focus on what you need to do next? Yes, it is good to know what is coming up and make a plan, but moving on mentally to the next task without stopping to celebrate the completion of this one is a recipe for feeling overwhelmed, which is not a confident state of mind to be in. Allow yourself time to reflect on whatever you just completed, accomplished, succeeded at before heading back to your list of to-dos.
Does your self-talk often examine what has been accomplished and then criticizes you? When our inner voice undermines our achievements, it can be disheartening and depressing. When talking to yourself about your accomplishments, focus on what worked and what was learned. For example, if you ran out of time to make some of the graphics you had wanted to for your slideshow, you might say that you learned that you needed to give yourself more time to make your graphics, rather than telling yourself you missed an aspect of your goal. Viewing setbacks as a learning opportunity doesn’t blindly ignore them, but it makes them far more palatable.
While you are talking to yourself and learning how to talk to yourself with more kindness, practice self-compassion. Employ it not only in the way you speak to yourself but when you are re-learning how to speak to yourself. Be patient with yourself. At our practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we facilitate and support the tools you can employ to speak to yourself kindly, gently, and honestly.
- Focus on the present time:
Practicing mindfulness is an important step in staying grounded and centered. It is the art of not moving on to the next thing and overwhelming our system. It is also the art of self-acceptance, as it can help you avoid comparing yourself to other people or comparing yourself to the way you were a week ago. The closer we keep our thoughts to ourselves in the present moment, the less opportunity there is for them to spiral out of control. This doesn’t mean that we never think about or plan for the future. It just means that we don’t spend our time mentally in a place that doesn’t exist; the past cannot be changed, and the future is unknown. Being centered and at peace can quiet our anxious thoughts and support feelings of confidence and self-esteem. There are so many different ways to practice mindfulness! Often, we think of meditation that includes sitting on the floor doing breathing exercises, but other activities, such as gardening, cooking, walking our dog, or coloring, all can be activities that help us stay in the present moment.
At the end of the day, true confidence is self-trust over anything else. Trust that you will make the right call for you, trust in yourself that you will communicate and uphold your boundaries, trust that you can achieve your goal, and trust that you can recover from negative events or disappointing results. Having self-esteem and self-worth play into your ability to trust yourself, which supports your ability to be confident.
Truly confident daters are people who trust themselves to walk away from a toxic or unfulfilling relationship. Truly confident employees are those who trust their skills. Confident people trust themselves. It’s not about adoring themselves or constantly congratulating themselves. It’s about the inner peace that comes with self-acceptance, self-knowledge, and behaviors that boost, support and maintain a life that reflects the presence of mind, positive self-talk, and willing action.
Embracing You Therapy Group Practice
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.