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Confidence. The word alone oozes a coolness.
I used to imagine that if I were just more confident, everything would fall into place. No more worries, no more fears, no more anxiety, no more extreme awkwardness or sweaty palms, especially in social situations.
I felt like I never fit in. When I met new people, I would assume they were cooler, more intelligent, and more mature than me. I navigated life with this constant fear of sounding stupid. I never answered the phone. I was awkward when it came to making small talk. Public speaking had me running to the hills. I used to think, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just have a different personality — one where I look and sound cool and confident?” I didn’t care if I really was confident, I just wanted to appear confident.
What I didn’t realize back then was that low self-confidence isn’t just about lacking coolness. Low self-confidence can impact your thoughts, emotions, career, social life, relationships, and intellectual and physical growth. Low self-confidence can cause you to feel less happy, cope poorly with stress, lack energy and motivation, and struggle with beliefs that constrain you from thinking, saying, or doing the things you want to do and that help you grow. But, there are strategies that can help you gain more confidence.
Today, I have the confidence to shout in front of hundreds of people while leading movement classes. I start conversations first in new situations. I no longer second guess my decisions or compare myself to peers. The change took time. I adopted a growth mindset, drastically changed my self-talk, and practiced the actions that made me uncomfortable. These are some of the strategies that helped me and that I now share with members:
Collect new data about yourself.
Humans tend to have a negativity bias, giving more importance to negative experiences instead of positive or neutral ones. Practice gathering new positive information about yourself that encourages you to focus on your strengths and to challenge preconceived notions about yourself. This can help you overcome self-limiting beliefs, which helps boost self-confidence. To do this, start by collecting compliments — both from yourself and from others. Write them down and read over them frequently.
Reframe your mindset from fixed to growth.
Your mindset is a set of beliefs about yourself. A growth mindset means you believe you can develop your abilities through dedication. You are willing to rise and meet the challenges, even when you feel overwhelmed. A fixed mindset causes you to see your qualities as traits that cannot change. It makes you believe you are either good or bad at something based on your inherent nature.
To change these limiting beliefs, try the following:
Train your mindset to be centered on growth. Avoid judging yourself based on negative views. Train yourself to think in terms of growth, regardless of outcomes.
Work on identifying areas of improvement. Ask yourself questions such as, “Am I fully prepared?,” “Am I making my best effort?,” and, “What can I do to learn more and improve my skillset?”
Challenge automatic negative thoughts by reframing them. Ask yourself if your thoughts are fact or based on beliefs generated from low self-confidence.
Practice positive self-talk.
Your thoughts can influence your actions. If you tell yourself that you can never progress or that you have fixed skills and talents, then it might feel impossible to take the actions needed to build confidence. Repetitive actions can help build your confidence. Changing your self-talk changes what actions you take. Healthy self-belief is not narcissism. It is a realistic but optimistic evaluation of yourself and your abilities. It is a sense of trust in yourself.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Feeling scared is normal. As long as you’re not putting your physical or mental safety at risk, taking action when you’re scared is important. Think about ways you might practice an action that makes you feel more confident. Start to practice the action in small ways and incrementally build on them. For example, start with mental imagery of the action, then practice it at home, then in a safe space in public, then in a more public setting, and so on.
Know your strengths and values.
Identifying your strengths and values can help you make decisions that you feel confident about. Values provide direction and give meaning to life. Your values, however, might differ from your actions and thoughts. For example, having low confidence in body image might lead to thoughts like “I’m too fat,” which might conflict with values such as kindness and honesty. If you know your values, you can more confidently choose thoughts or actions that support them.
Two of my values are honesty and kindness. Yet, I often found myself saying things that conflicted with these. I realized that even though I valued kindness, I wasn’t being kind to myself and would beat myself up for saying “dumb things” after a social situation. By aligning with my values, I was able to recognize those conflicts and make changes to live more by my values.
The act of building confidence can feel like trekking through mud, which is why adopting a growth mindset can be so helpful. As you begin on your trek, I encourage you to remember that confidence is a skill that can be developed through repeated action. It is not an innate talent someone is born with, and taking action — acting as if you’re already the person you want to become — is an extremely important component to building self-confidence. It takes practice, even if the process or outcome feels scary.
If your confidence is lower than you’d like it to be, it’s OK. It takes work, but you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to a coach or other mental health care provider who can support you so you can build your confidence and become the person you want to be.