Do you feel sure of yourself, abilities, achievements, and relationships most of the time? This is self-confidence. Confidence is trust in yourself and others Good self-confidence means you trust your choices, you accept your past as part of your history, you like where you are going in life, and you can decide what works for you and what does not. Confidence is different than arrogance and self-deprecation; two extremes with similar roots—poor self-esteem. Confidence is closely connected with self-esteem; self-esteem is how you view yourself and what you say to yourself.
Lack of confidence is connected to poor mental health, poor self-care, poor choices (or making no choices), anxiety, depression, isolation, hopelessness, physical illness, and relationship issues. Poor self-confidence is really not good for you. Confidence does not mean you expect to never make any mistakes, however. Being confident means that you can look at a stressful situation and self-reflect but you do not hold things against yourself with a negative inner narrative. In short, confidence means you can learn from mistakes. As the saying goes, “If you are not making any mistakes, you are not learning anything.” Confidence means you do not expect yourself to be perfect, but to grow, be accountable where you need to be, adapt, improvise, and change.
Where does confidence come from?
Confidence is created and accumulated from early childhood by having good “mirroring”—caring adults who reflect back valued parts of you. This can be a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher, or other community member. Mirroring happens when someone notices and cares enough to mirror back to you the positives they see. They do this by recognizing, validating, and supporting your specific goals, skills, and desire to try things. Right from a baby’s first steps (clapping and encouragement make a baby beam), to a high school student who has failed a math test and, with encouragement and support, retakes it. Having an image of someone who was available for us, seeing how they dealt with others and negative emotions, is the framework for your own self-confidence.
If you have had a different experience growing up, or if you have been bullied, confidence can be hard to come by. Also, big life events can pull the confidence rug out from under your feet—death of a pet or loved one, relationship problems, business troubles, a car accident, or health issues. When life shakes you to your core, rebuilding confidence is a step-by-step journey.
How do you become more confident?
The acronym STEFAN is good way to assess and rebuild confidence:
S – Self Care: The things we do to take care of ourselves help us feel more confident. Good sleep is closely connected to feeling good. Some studies on sleep deprivation show a dramatic increase in depression with multiple nights of interrupted sleep. We feel better if we sleep better. (See me for information on SRT, Sleep Restriction Therapy if sleep does not come easily to you). Eating well, getting a haircut, looking at yourself in the mirror with kindness, listening to good music, going for a walk, taking time to breathe and absorb things, meeting friends, are all aspects of good self -care.
T—Trust: Practice small acts of self and other trust. Trust and self-compassion go hand-in-hand; the more we trust and see good results (most of the time), the better we feel about ourselves. Trust that is received and returned as kindness helps us feel that we matter. You do need to choose who you confide in but having realistic expectations is important here—others have their own worries and availability and just because a friend or family member does not always get you does not mean you that cannot trust. Having people on your team helps you feel confident.
E—Effort: Social isolation increases depression, anxiety, and overall poor health. When you lack confidence, keeping to yourself, isolating is a natural instinct. There is a saying, “Feelings are not fact”; just because you feel like isolating does not mean it is beneficial. Isolating does not help you feel better, and overcoming this requires effort. You will need to put yourself out there. If life has wiped your confidence clean or if you never had good mirroring, you do have to try and see yourself succeeding. This is much more successful with a self-compassionate attitude rather than a self-judgmental one. Finding something you’re interested in and becoming good at it is the recipe for creating self-confidence. Focus on your gains, not the strongest person in the gym, the worker with the highest salary, the person who looks like they are brimming with self-confidence. Your journey is just that—yours, not someone else’s.
F—Friends: Poor self-confidence can be lonely. Anxiety and depression can make you self-absorbed; the more you focus on yourself in a negative way the worse you feel. One of the antidotes to this negative cycle is to pay attention to others, volunteer, care for animals. Most studies on healthy aging point out one key is good friendships; good connection helps every cell in our bodies function better. When we are available for others and others can be available for us, confidence grows. You can call up an old friend, practice Random Acts of Kindness with strangers, notice and engage with the people in your life.
A—Activity: Our bodies are built to move. Even when injury limits movement you can learn new ones, like stretching, Tai Chi, or practice daily walks. “Forest Bathing” is a term used to improve mental health in Japan by walking through a green forest; and there is “Star-bathing”. Movement helps with delivery of our feel-good chemicals. Strength training is a good example—lifting progressively heavier weights can be a real confidence boost. Being active is a step forward to better mental health. You can try a new activity, join a group or rejoin one you used to belong to.
N—Notice: Notice the patterns of thoughts and feelings you have about yourself and about life in general. Pay attention the narratives you have about yourself and the triggers, and practice kinder, self-compassionate responses. When you miss a turn, notice any automatic negative patterns, “Oh crap,” or “That was so dumb,” and practice kinder responses, “Oh, I am learning to make that turn,” or “Guess I need to check my map and mark my turns beforehand next time.” Also, notice progress you have made. When working with severe depression and deep lack of confidence, I encourage clients to start with the smallest thing they have within their control—take the blankets off your feet, try to get your feet over the edge of the bed; see if you can sit up. If you sit up, blood pressure changes and you will feel a little better; and if you notice you are making an effort you feel even better.
Clinical depression and serious lack of confidence can require good psychotherapy to unearth negative patterns and reset. Getting help counts as “effort,” and I have some unique tools that I use in my counselling practice to help build confidence and help you feel better. See me for more details.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” – Anais nin.