“Hi Celes, how do you keep enough belief in yourself to be self-confident? Sometimes I find myself filled with so much self-doubt that it becomes crippling.” — Mike
Today I will be covering the topic of self-confidence, triggered by reader Mike’s question. Over the years, many readers and clients have consulted me on achieving self-confidence, and this post shares important mindset shifts to achieve it.
Are You Self-Confident?
“Self confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.” — Samuel Johnson
For the next minute, think about how you see yourself. On the whole, how much self-confidence do you have? How confident do you feel regarding your work? How about when you are with friends? Your partner if you have one? Your family? How confident do you feel when it comes to your finances? How about other things, such as making a presentation at work or talking to a stranger? Do you feel fully confident in all of the above situations? Do you feel confident regardless of the situation you are in?
What Is Self-Confidence?
Self-confidence means being assured in your own worth, ability, and power, regardless of the situation you are in. Someone who is self-confident has a strong sense of self-belief and certainty in him/herself. He/she exudes calmness, composure, and is self-aware.
Self-confidence is often linked with having certain knowledge, skill sets, and abilities, whether acquired or innate. While having aptitude in a particular area can help boost your self-worth, it is not a necessary prerequisite for self-confidence. Someone with absolutely no competency in something can still be confident. We will explore this in detail in the later half of the article.
Lack of Self-Confidence Cripples You
Have you ever known someone with low confidence? How does this person come across to you? A person who lacks confidence has a lack of self-belief, usually caused by a sense of uncertainty about something.
Here are 8 typical behaviors of people with low self-confidence:
- Undervaluing what they are capable of
- Taking blame even when it is not their fault
- Being overly shy and reserved
- Overly critical of themselves, for example neurotic perfectionists
- Being hung up over negative outcomes and past ‘failures’
- Preoccupation with the negative outcomes and failure even though they have not happened yet
- Having a fearful and adverse attitude towards most things
- Doing things to please others
People with low self-confidence tend to repel people around them. Their limiting mindsets and behavior make them feel ‘heavy’ and a ‘drag’ to be around. These people usually vibrate in consciousness levels of fear, apathy, shame, and guilt.
Lack of self-confidence is a crippling trait because it limits you in your opportunities and jeopardizes your chances of success, which leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Imagine you are tasked with a project. Say you lack confidence and you predict that you will not meet others’ expectations. What do you think will happen next? This lack of belief will influence your thoughts and action, both consciously and subconsciously. When you are constantly thinking about a negative outcome, it takes your focus off what you should be doing to achieve your ideal state, which leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. And when an undesirable outcome gets manifested, your (negative) belief gets enforced and you continue to have low, if not lower, self-confidence.
On the flip side, what if you are a self-confident person placed in that exact same scenario? What do you think will happen? Chances are things will pan out differently. Because you are certain of an imminent success, you do everything needed to make it happen. If you don’t have the skills, you acquire it. If you don’t have the knowledge, you learn it. If a misshap happens, you crack your brain for a solution. This confidence sets you up for success, which subsequently enforces your self-worth, leading you to more success. Even though you may have started from the same spot as others, just having the confidence will take you much further than someone who doesn’t have it.
Thus, self-confidence is clearly an asset in life. Not only does it make you feel better emotionally and mentally, but it also sets you up towards achieving your goals. When you’re confident, it helps you fearlessly pursue your goals. It gives you the belief to conquer your challenges, no matter how insurmountable they seem.
However, most people have low confidence because of past events in their life. They are placed in an endless cycle where they feel unsure of themselves, think about all possible bad results, and attract bad results due to this thinking, which then reinforces their negative self-belief.
How can we then break out of such a cycle?
How to Increase Self-Confidence
There are different ways you can use to increase your confidence. While some websites may go into lengthy “101 ways” or “50 steps” to increase confidence, they are really all the same tips with different nuances. All in all, I have found three main strategies to improve self-confidence.
The first is conditioning to impose a sense of self-belief. It’s an extrinsic, outside-in approach, where you adopt actions to induce confidence in yourself. This is the most popular method within the self-help community and also the quickest method to get results. Ever been to motivational seminars or read any self-help books on increasing confidence? Usually they will ask you to do various things like repeat a positive affirmation, pretend that you are already of a certain stature, speak and act confidently, and so on.
Here are some examples of using conditioning to increase self-confidence:
- Dressing: Dressing smartly, Looking presentable, Having a clean and kempt look
- Body language: Walking confidently, Speaking confidently, Being calm and composed, Holding your head up, Having a good posture, Smiling
- Mental techniques: Positive thinking, Visualization of positive outcomes/scenarios, Focusing on your strengths rather than weaknesses, Repeating positive mantras
- Others: Listening to upbeat music, Exposing yourself to inspirational materials, NLP techniques, etc.
These actions are useful because they give you a confidence boost almost immediately after you do them. However, the effects are rarely long-lasting — you need to repeatedly remind yourself to do them, otherwise the results will dissipate over time.
2. Acquiring Symbols Of Worth
The second is working on the issues that are making you feel low in self-confidence. This is the more practical approach to increasing self-confidence.
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, self-confidence is often linked with possessing certain knowledge, skills, and abilities. Many people lack confidence because they feel that they lack a certain competency. For example, if you feel unconfident about your role in a job, it may be because you lack the information and know-how to perform well. People with a high level of competency in a certain area often develop high self-confidence in that area as a result.
Competency can always be developed through reading and practice. The key to developing competency is to learn and repeatedly do it ad nauseam. For example, you’re dealing with an academic subject, read up everything you can from different sources to broaden your mind. If it’s a sports technique, keep training every day. If it’s a presentation or public speaking, practice continuously in front of different audiences to build up your skill sets. If it’s something social like talking to someone new, just start with small steps like saying hi, then build it up by talking about different topics. Eventually you will find yourself so competent in that area that you feel naturally confident in it.
Besides competency, there are other symbols of worth, of which the most common are:
- Attributes such as level of attractiveness, popularity, grace, drivenness
- Material possessions such as the amount of wealth you own, car, property, luxury brands, and so on
- Status symbols such as your academic qualifications, achievements, job title
- Incidents of Success such as winning in a game; situations where you emerge victorious
Depending on the symbol of worth relevant to you, you can acquire it to increase your self-confidence. For example, you see different people pursuing different things to increase their sense of self-worth. Some people strive to become more attractive and popular. Some people try to acquire material possessions such as earning more money and buying material goods. Some people seek to gain status symbols and titles. Some people strive for success in everything they do.
The problem with acquiring symbols of worth to increase self-confidence is that the boost in self-confidence only lasts as long as the symbols are valid. If they are to be removed from you or lose their relevance as a symbol of worth, your self-confidence will change accordingly.
Imagine a tennis player who measures his worth based on his victories in his tennis games. He keeps practising to increase his odds of success. Whenever he wins, his self-confidence gets a boost; however whenever he loses, his self-confidence gets a hit. This person’s self-confidence fluctuates depending on the outcome of the games.
Or imagine someone who feels low self-confidence working as an entry level executive. He sees his position in his career (a status symbol) as an indicator of his worth. He works very hard in his company and gets promoted to manager level. While this boosts his confidence, his sense of worth becomes tied to his position. In the event where his title is removed from him such as when he gets laid off, he will start to feel low in self-worth again. This is why many people feel depressed after being retrenched — aside from financial concerns, many tie their sense of worth to their job titles. Same for when people lose their wealth due to bad investment decisions — they tie their worth to their material possessions and get depressed.
Let’s look at cases where symbols lose their significance. Because the significance of symbols is very much defined by society, they are open to change. Let’s look at it across different time frames. Think about some of the material goods you bought in the past that made you feel good at that point, but stopped having the effect after some time. Some things that come to mind would be fashion items like clothing and accessories, and the type of car you drive. Another variable would be the context. In the U.S., a car is a commodity. But in Singapore, a car is considered a luxury good due to the extremely high cost of owning one. In different contexts, symbols will have different levels of significance.
Hence, to raise your self-confidence in a permanent, long-term way, we have a third method.
3. Working Directly On Your Belief Of What Represents Worth
The third method addresses lack of confidence directly at its core rather than working on the symptoms.
As shared earlier, while the previous two methods definitely help to a certain extent and can be a quick way to boost your mental state, they are typically short-term and not permanent. Conditioning is like a quick fix to induce a temporary feeling, while acquiring symbols of worth only helps to the extent you have the symbols and they are still relevant. Both address symptoms of the problem rather than its root.
Say you don’t have any friends. While you treat this problem by becoming rich and successful, going to lots of parties, or even paying for companionship, these are all actions to fix the symptom. These actions may help you feel connected temporarily, but they will not solve your problem since the root is not resolved. If you look deeper, you may find the root is because you fear meeting new people because you fear that they won’t like you.
My point is, the feeling of low confidence from supposedly not having enough competency, not being successful enough, etc. are just symptoms of the problem.
The actual root of the problem is your belief that you need to be those things before you can experience self-worth.
For example, you think that you need to be good at something before you can feel confident. You need to have certain successes before you can feel some semblance of self-worth. You may see self-confidence as having a good posture, dressing smart, and speaking slowly. And so on.
Yet, contrary to popular belief, someone with absolutely zero ability, no past success, and who has an absolutely poor image in people’s minds can be self-confident. What you need to realize is this:
The only prerequisite for self-confidence is a sense of self-belief.
Think about a symbol or symbols of worth to you. Is it competency? Is it the amount of money you earn? Is it how attractive you look? Identify them first. Then, ask yourself: Why do you perceive these as symbols of worth? Why must you have these before you can feel worthy or confident about yourself? Who said anything about these being prerequisites before you can even feel self-worth?
These presumptions of what represents worth are largely social perceptions. The belief that we need to have this skill or that behavior before we can feel confident has been conditioned into us via society and media, rather than being hard truths.
The problem that needs to be addressed here is the attachment of one’s worth with these symbols. All your beliefs on what represents worth can only be true if you allow them to be true. The key is to break the link between all externalities (such as one’s past, his/her present level of skill/ability, outcomes, others’ opinions, etc.) and one’s own assessment of worth. If you don’t see competency as a representation of your worth, then it won’t. If you don’t see money as a valuation of your worth, then it won’t. If you don’t see attractiveness as what makes you worthy, then it won’t. Remember, these are merely external objects, not you. If you don’t let something represent your worth, then it won’t.
My Personal Example
There have been many times in my life when I felt very confident about myself and the outcome of events, even when there was really no reason I should be.
For example, back when I was in my internship in my ex-company, I was fully confident that I would perform well and ace the internship — even though it was my first internship, the first time working in an actual corporate job, and I knew absolutely nothing about what I was getting into.
Another time was while I was studying at university, as a first-year undergraduate. My peers constantly discussed the monthly pay for fresh graduates, which was around $2,000. This was back in the early 2000s. At that time I simply brushed this aside and was confident that I would get a starting pay of at least $3,000 and above. The funny thing is that this was simply an arbitrary number that I plucked out of thin air, that I felt comfortable with. There was absolutely no basis or research that I did that made me point out this figure.
A more recent example would be when I left my job to pursue my passion. While I had a broad vision of what I wanted to do, I had not developed my plan to specific details. Even then, I was not worried about it. I wasn’t worried about money, how it would work out, or the challenges I would face. All I knew was that I was going to reach my end goal and nothing was going to stop me.
These quotes from John Eliot in Overachievement sum this up perfectly:
“Confidence is a resolute state of mind by which you believe nothing is impossible.”
“Confidence is not a guarantee of success, but a pattern of thinking that will improve your likelihood of success, a tenacious search for ways to make things work.”
In all of these cases, there was totally nothing present that justified my self-confidence. Yet in the end, everything turned out the way I wanted, if not better. In my internship, I was one of the few interns who secured a pre-placement job offer with my ex-company. For my starting pay, I received a figure which was higher than what I targeted. As for my personal development business, it grew very quickly, and my blog became one of the top self-help blogs in the world within the first three years of launch.
Was it just self-confidence that helped me achieve these goals? Of course not. There’s a difference between (a) blind arrogance and expecting results without hard work, and (b) feeling confident and backing up your confidence with relentless planning, strategizing, and hard work. It wasn’t just confidence that helped me realize my goals, but having confidence helped me focus fully on achieving the goal, rather than combating feelings of self-doubt every step of the way — which really does nothing except serve as a form of self-sabotage.
Similarly, confidence is something you can have right now. You don’t need any basis at all for this confidence — even if you have nothing right now, even if you are just starting out in something new. While it’s not the only step to achieving success, it provides an important first step, because rather than combating your own beliefs, you can move forward as one aligned, unified self.
Become a Self-Confident Person
Whenever you get into a situationwhere you don’t feel confident, ask yourself: Why am I not feeling confident? Where is this uncertainty coming from? What am I attaching my self-worth to?
When you become aware of what you are linking your worth to, release yourself of the limiting belief that you can only feel worthy or confident when you meet certain prerequisites. When you do that, you will find yourself filled with a sense of self-worth that is there no matter what happens. You will find that this self-worth is what leads you to the outcomes you desire and helps you become your highest self. :)
Get the manifesto version of this article: The Self-Confidence Manifesto
Also check out: 7 Tips to Overcome the Impostor Syndrome