Some people seem to stride through life with confidence, strutting around like Victoria’s Secret models on the catwalk of life. For most people, however, confidence seems hard to find, but they get along well enough without it. Yet, confidence is still a big deal in self-help literature. Why?
Self-confidence is related to performance: confident people do better in school and at work, and those achievements make them even more confident. It’s a perfect positive feedback loop. Confidence also predicts subjective happiness, which shouldn’t be surprising: it’s easier to be happy if you feel sure about your place in the world. So how can you get in on all that good stuff and be more confident?
There are some surprisingly simple ways to grow your confidence if you know what you’re doing. In this article, I’ll discuss what confidence is and give you tips on how to be more confident.
- What is confidence exactly?
- What's needed for confidence
- Why are you not confident?
- How to be confident?
- Wrapping up
What is confidence exactly?
Confidence - or self-confidence if you want to be pedantic and psychological about it - is the belief in your own ability to succeed. There are two other concepts that are similar to confidence: self-esteem and self-efficacy.
- Self-esteem is the evaluation of your worth, not the trust in yourself and your abilities.
- Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to perform specific tasks under specific conditions, while self-confidence refers to a more general trust in yourself.
These three concepts are distinct, yet closely related to one another, affecting each other in different ways. A person can be generally confident but lack self-efficacy when it comes to a particular task, and vice versa. Self-esteem and confidence usually go hand in hand: research on athletes has shown that people with lower self-esteem have lower self-confidence.
It’s important to achieve a healthy level of confidence. A lack of self-confidence holds you back and stops you from fulfilling your potential. Overconfidence, however, may cause you to run headfirst into situations you’re not really prepared for. People who are too confident also tend to come across as arrogant and selfish, which is not a good look on anyone.
What's needed for confidence
Like most psychological constructs, self-confidence is made up of and influenced by a myriad of factors, including, but not limited to:
- Life experiences, including traumatic events
- Physical and mental health
- Gender, with men being often more confident than women
- Quality of relationships
Ideally, in order to be confident, you should be in good mental and physical health, have had positive life experiences and supportive parents, you should generally be surrounded by people who build you up instead of those who knock you down, and your life shouldn’t be too stressful, while still being challenging and rewarding. Oh, and being a man also helps.
Another fun fact: research has shown that self-confidence and self-esteem rise with age. As you grow older and gain more experience, your faith in yourself will grow. If you’re reading this in your late teens or early twenties, please know that feeling unsure and confused is the norm. I can promise you that other folks your age don’t have it all figured out either - they’re just acting like they do.
Why are you not confident?
With so many factors at play - and with some of them out of our control - it’s no wonder that many people struggle with confidence. The list above should give you some ideas about why you’re not as confident as you’d like to be. Maybe there are health problems zapping your confidence, or maybe you’ve been a victim of bullying or abuse.
However, these are not the only reasons why you might be low on self-confidence. There are plenty of other factors that can negatively affect your confidence levels.
The inner critic
“The inner critic is the archenemy of confidence.”
Everyone has an inner critic. It’s the nagging, negative voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough or that you’ll never amount to anything.
For some people, the inner critic is just an annoying little voice that is easily blocked out. But others may never do the things they want to do because the inner critic is stronger than their wants or needs.
For example - and mind, this is a relatively harmless example - I have a yellow blazer in my wardrobe. I bought it a few months ago and patiently waited for the perfect opportunity to wear it. When the first opportunity presented itself, I put it on... And promptly took it off, because my inner critic told me I looked ridiculous. This exchange between me and my inner critic has occurred twice more, and I haven’t managed to silence that voice yet, but in the end, it’s not a big deal. It’s just an outfit.
But sometimes the inner critic can stop you from pursuing a career or a relationship. Being confident is incredibly difficult if your inner critic is all you can hear.
Fear vs. confidence
Another thing that’s definitely not helping your confidence is fear. Fear is a very important emotion that ultimately serves the purpose of keeping us alive by keeping us away from danger. However, most of the things we fear - like humiliation, negative feedback, or failure - are not actually dangerous or deadly.
Fear and a “what if a bad thing happens” mindset stop you from reaching your full potential. As mentioned above, achievements help to build confidence. However, if you never achieve anything, you have nothing to nurture your confidence with.
Constant worry about what others think is also bad for your self-confidence. If you spend every moment worrying about how others will react, you will never understand your own feelings about something.
“Self-confidence is boosted by doing things you like, not by doing what you think others will like.”
I spent a big chunk of my teenage years pretending to like the same bands the “cool kids” liked and chasing that sweet, sweet social validation. I know that I’m not alone in this. As you can probably guess, listening to “acceptable” music didn’t make me more confident. Being true to myself and my tastes did. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
How to be confident?
There are some pretty simple ways to become more confident. Let’s take a look at some of the best tips.
1. Accept your insecurities and own them
Everybody has a couple of things that they’re not too happy about.
Whether it’s your body shape or your inability to remember names - both insecurities my students and clients have struggled with - they are as much of a part of you as everything else. Some insecurities are easily “corrected”, but it’s better to think of them as a part of you and to accept them. No one is perfect and you don’t have to be, either.
Think of Shakira, whose distinctive voice has sold millions of albums, despite her teacher banning her from the school choir and her classmates telling her that she sounded like a goat.
2. Don't always agree with others
When you’re low on confidence, you may find yourself bending over backwards to avoid conflict and always agreeing with other people. You should be doing the opposite: voicing your opinion even - or especially - when it conflicts with others is a good opportunity to learn to face the fears we discussed earlier.
Disagreeing on the important stuff may be difficult at first, so practice with the small stuff. Tell your friends how you really feel about pineapple on pizza or let your coworkers know that in your opinion, Game of Thrones is not actually the greatest TV show of all time, and move on from there.
This tip comes with two caveats: firstly, don’t be contradictory for the sake of being contradictory. Only voice your true opinions. Secondly, if disagreeing can lead to a dangerous conflict, it’s better to stay safe and agree politely.
3. Believe in yourself and find your own voice
Remember, by definition, self-confidence is the belief in your own ability. Start building that self-trust by finding your own voice and interests and developing them.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but thinking that you can’t do it or worrying about what other people might think has held you back? If yes, then this is the perfect first step.
For example, I started ballet lessons last year, at the grand old age of 24 (which is practically ancient in ballet student years). I’d always wanted to try, but who starts ballet in their 20s? Besides, I had no flexibility and could barely touch my toes, let alone do an arabesque.
Well, turns out that lots of people start ballet in their 20s (and 30s and 40s!), flexibility can be developed and a little self-trust can go a long way.
4. Be critical of others and you'll find out that you have a strong voice as well
When you’re not confident, it’s so easy to think that other people can do no wrong and it’s only you who makes mistakes. However, if you pay closer attention, you’ll see that other people mess up, too.
And sometimes, it pays to tell them that. Giving honest feedback and constructive criticism helps the other person improve and it also serves to build up your confidence. If you’re not ready to voice your thoughts yet, then you can try thinking about what you would have done differently.
Imagine for a moment that your coworker is giving a presentation on a project and they ask for feedback. Instead of sinking deeper into your seat and trying to will yourself invisible, try to really think about what you liked about their work and what you would have done differently. Develop that kind of constructive thinking and when you’re ready, share your thoughts with the world.
If that kind of experiment seems too scary, then use the joys of the internet to develop your voice. There are numerous forums and subreddits for every single hobby and interest, where people are often asking for feedback on their projects. Find one that speaks to you and try giving constructive feedback there.
5. Write about your insecurities to understand them better
Journaling or letter-writing are great introspective activities that help you clear your mind and make sense of your thoughts. Often, the simple act of having to put your feelings into words can make you see them in a new light.
You can write a "stream of consciousness" journal entry about everything you think is wrong with you. Read it over. Do you notice patterns or recurring themes? If yes, then these are probably your biggest “problem areas”. Accepting these may be quite difficult, but it’s not impossible. Remember - your insecurities are a part of you.
Another great technique that I use a lot with my clients is the letter to the inner critic. Remember that guy from before? Write your inner critic a letter. Tell it what you really think about it. Thank it for being a part of you but let it know that you don’t need it anymore. Be kind and courteous, but firm. The inner critic has outstayed its welcome and it’s time for a more positive voice to take over.
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A little bit of confidence goes a long way in helping you achieve your goals and live a happier life. However, since it is made up of so many different things, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain a healthy level of self-confidence. When you’re running low on confidence, the most important thing to remember is that confidence breeds confidence: believe in yourself and over time, that belief will pay off.