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Confidence is the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something. Such a beautiful concept and an idea at the root of our self-esteem (one’s own worth). So thinking of it in those terms, self-confidence is the idea that we have faith in or can rely on ourselves; a simple concept, yet one many people struggle with.
I don’t think confidence is simply just a trait, as in “he’s a confident person”; its more fluid and complex that that, because it can ‘move around’ and ‘come and go’. A psychologist might refer to confidence as being both a personality trait and a person’s state of mind.
Confidence as a trait is someone’s baseline confidence. Think of this like natural athletic ability (something I cannot boast). As an example, some people just have more natural athletic ability hard wired in, while other people do not. However, this trait is either built up or worn down through experiences. Someone who is good at athletics who then adopts sporting hobbies will have many moments where they feel successful, and these successful moments will build their feelings of competence and achievement. However, put this athlete into non athletic activities, and instead enrol them in art classes, and their confidence will erode (if they are not also artistic) through many experiences of failure.
No, this isn’t about loving the state of the country you live in, it is about how feelings of confidence can be changeable depending on your circumstances.
Confidence, then, as a state, is the situational confidence we feel in environments in which we feel secure, able, and supported. So our hypothetical athlete knows and feels confident doing sporting activities and when placed in a situation in which they need to use their body, will feel confident.
So a person could have a base confidence (trait) that they are wired to have or have grown into it; be it low or high. Also a person can have moments of heightened confidence (state) when achieving something. They can grow their trait confidence through positive state experiences, not just winning experiences but also challenging experiences they feel they overcame or handled well.
How then can you increase your feelings of self-confidence and self-worth?
Silence that inner critic. Do look at your mistakes but not in a self-berating way. It’s all too common to hear people report that when they are stressed, their internal dialogue is not very nice. When you’re feeling a hot moment do not examine mistakes. Chances are you will bump up against your emotions, not logic. Unless there is true immediacy to solving a problem, only examine your mistakes when you are in a calm frame of mind and that you are approaching this to learn and actively problem solve.
Silence that inner critic:
1. Hear your inner critic, shutting it down doesn’t work, but don’t treat the thought as fact. Some people like to do this by labelling the inner critic character, e.g., “Oh, hi, inner critic.”
2. Respond in a detached way, as though from a caring, but separate, person, e.g., “Sarah, what just happened is not a reflection on you as a person. It is just an experience. Now you can learn and grow.” For some people, it helps to think about what you would say to a best friend or a child in this situation.
3. When you’ve cooled off, change the narrative around the negative event, e.g., “This is the moment I started to learn that I can handle harsh criticism and still get on with my day.”
4. Affirm your strengths.
5. Think of your inner critic as a sign post to something you view as important. Ask yourself, what am I scared of here? What am I placing a lot of importance on here? What can I learn from this situation? Your inner critic can signal of place for self-growth.
6. Find other ways to meet with your inner critic through experimentation. You are the expert on your life and no one way works for all.
Be in your body. Do act calm and confident. Do not fidget, slouch, or avoid eye-contact. To the best of your ability (but again, don’t chastise yourself for not getting this right all the time), own your space. In doing so you are giving your body and brain the signals that you feel cool calm and collected. Slow your breathing, breathe from the belly, stand tall, and treat your anxiety signs (e.g., fidgeting, avoiding eye contact) as information, not fact. In doing so, this doesn’t make the nervousness or unpleasantness go- away, but it does go a long way to not making your feelings heighten and giving you a sense of control.
This does not mean you should not ignore your feelings of anxiety or sadness. All of your feelings, like hunger, joy, or needing to breathe when you’ve been at the bottom of the pool for too long, are important signs that something has crossed a boundary and that you need to pay attention. However, sometimes we don’t need to place as much immediate focus on them as we do. Write it down, use your distress tolerance skills, and move on with your day, come back to it if it repeats and choose a change to make. You will think best when you are calm.
Steps to solving a problem when you’re calm:
1. Define the problem as clearly as you can. Try to identify the maintaining factors, what is helping the problem along, not just what the problem is itself.
2. Identify who else is affected by the problem and who will be affected or recruited in your solution. If there are key people you identify, you may want to get them involved, or not. People will have different ideas about what a problem is and how to solve it. These may be helpful or not. If there are key people involved, identify their interests. This may be time for active listening.
3. Set some goals for the problem. How do you want it to be afterward?
4. Write down all the possible solutions. Try to set yourself a goal of 20 solutions, this actually makes it more fun as it stretches your creativity. Select your preferred solutions, list 3, and evaluate these for pros and cons.
5. Decide which plan you want to enact and then write it out. Give yourself solid action steps and put them in your diary with a date and a time. Ensure you book things or people up when you need an extra bit of motivation to get something completed. You may want to document your agreement, especially if it has many steps or other people need to be part of the solution. You could place it somewhere everyone has access to it.
6. Think of problems to meeting this solution and prepare.
7. Then enact your plan, step by step.
Do something that you can master. Are you doing something somewhere that gives you the feeling of mastery or so you feel overwhelmed at home, work, and at play? Find something that gives you the sense of mastery. This may mean doing something different. What about that pottery class you’ve always wanted to join?
Adopt a growth mindset. A mindset that says, “confidence is a skill and I can develop it”. We need to think of situations in which we feel our confidence to be lacking as ‘chapter 1’ moments. Importantly, not compare ourselves to someone else’s ‘chapter 24’ moment, and remind ourselves that we can build this skill.
Learn to be vulnerable. Do learn to be okay with your imperfections and fears. Learning to be okay with being vulnerable, by saying, “I can’t do that, yet”, or “I am afraid and need support”, in front of others can be incredibly powerful. If you’re okay with not being everyone’s everything, and know that you are still worthy, then there is a lot less to be afraid of. Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor who examines courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, writes and speaks beautifully on this topic in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
Journal about gratefulness. Do focus on the positives in your life, even if they feel few and far between. You are wired to detect threat and so therefore negatives will stand out more and invade more of your mental world. To make the positives stand out you need to put effort in. Journaling about gratefulness can be one way to bring your mind to focus more on the things you are good at, the kind things people did for you, or the strengths that you have. Emily Roberts provides 23 journal prompts for boosting self-esteem on her website, A Healthy Place, to get you started.
Visit a psychologist and talk about underlying mood conditions. If you’ve experienced low mood, anxiety, or low self-worth for a while and nothing seems to budge it, you may want to meet with a psychologist to talk about a possible long term mood problem. Depression can result in low self-confidence and feelings of guilt.
I do hope one or some of these thoughts has helped, if not, it’s not you, everyone is different, keep searching for something that works for you. If you want to see change, try something different.
Michelle, on behalf of the myThereo team.
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