Updated: Jul 23
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I won't lie. It has taken me a really long time to build up my confidence. Most of my teens and early twenties were spent languishing in my failures and feeling like I would never measure up.
But over the past few years, something changed. I started to adhere to a way of thinking and behaving that really changed the way I saw myself, my failures, and my abilities. I think part of why it took so long for me was because I stumbled my way into confidence.
But as I found what worked and practiced, things got easier and my confidence slowly built over time. So, if you are feeling insecure, struggling with low self-esteem, or just wishing you could increase your confidence, here are some of the tips I've learned:
1. Confidence doesn't mean you never feel anxious or unsure.
This is important because it impacts the way you approach the things that you don't feel confident about. So many people think that confident people never worry, doubt, or fear. But they do.
The difference is that confident people know that they are big enough to have those worries, doubts, and fears and still move in the direction of their values.
In other words, confident people may not always feel ready, but they understand that most people have doubts. And they know that anxieties and insecurities are something they can manage.
2. Confidence requires embracing failure.
If you want to grow, you will fail sometimes. End of story. Sorry, but it's true.
The only way to avoid failure is to remain firmly planted within the very center of your comfort zone. And growth doesn't happen within your comfort zone.
The sooner you come to terms with the fact that you will fail, the more confident you will become. In fact, confidence comes from embracing failure wholeheartedly. When you fail, try and view it with excitement and look to learn from the experience. Analyze your failures and shortcomings so that you can maximize your growth and confidence.
3. Confidence doesn't come from beating yourself up.
We tend to engage in self-criticism when we feel insecure. We often believe that we can criticize ourselves into excellence, and if we are good enough (whatever that means) we will finally be confident.
But self-criticism only worsens confidence. Instead, we have to practice self-compassion by being kind to ourselves when we fall short.
An easy way to understand this is to think about a child working on a school assignment. Which is more likely to inspire long-term confidence: a teacher who is critical, blaming, and unkind when the child answers incorrectly, or a teacher who is kind and supportive in helping the child figure out the right answers? The child who feels supported is going to learn more and trust themselves more in the process.
4. Confidence means letting go of perfectionism.
When we demand perfection, our confidence plummets. Why? Well, we know we can't achieve it, so we immediately lose faith in our ability to meet our lofty expectations.
And it doesn't just stop there: we assume that if we aren't good enough to meet our perfectionistic standards, that we must be "not good enough" in general.
Instead, embrace the idea that progress is more important than perfection. As long as you are moving forward, that is more than good enough.
5. Confidence requires that we step back from our thoughts.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, nonjudgmentally, to the present moment. Mindfulness is an incredible skill for so many reasons, but one of the biggest benefits of mindfulness is that it allows you to engage in something called "cognitive defusion" (also known as "deliteralization").
Cognitive defusion is the practice of stepping back from our thoughts so that we are less likely to automatically buy into them. This can be a great way to deal with the kind of negative self-talk that degrades our confidence.
There are many different cognitive defusion techniques, but the simplest is just the practice of labeling your thoughts as thoughts. For example, when you find yourself worrying about a speech you just gave, notice that and say to yourself "I'm having the thought that no one liked my speech." rather than allowing yourself to think over and over again, "No one liked my speech". Adding the qualifier, "I'm having the thought that..." helps you to realize that it is a thought, not an automatic truth.
6. Confidence requires experience.
Sticking with the example of public speaking, who is likely to be more confident: a professional speaker or someone giving their very first speech?
This isn't a trick question. The professional will probably be more confident, simply because they have given more speeches.
As you gain experience, you learn how to improve. And (perhaps more importantly) you start to realize that you can do it.
Now, the hard part is that to gain experience you have to start. Let go of that perfectionism and self-criticism, realize you might not "feel ready", and jump in anyways. That professional speaker once gave their first speech too.
If you struggle with criticism and want to read more, here are a couple of my favorite books on the subject:
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