Be confident—it’s a message we hear from an early age: “Believe in yourself,” “You can do anything,” “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” (often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt). While these quotes are certainly inspirational, they don’t provide much direction for how to make their messages a reality in your life. When it comes to being confident, it's easy to feel a little lost. There seems to be a disconnect between wanting to be confident and actually feeling it. How does one actually become confident? Is there a checklist? Is there a power pose? What’s the secret?
It’s not about what you do
First of all, society has it all wrong. Confidence doesn’t come from what you do. Instead, it comes from who you are. The message we hear from society is that if we do more, we’ll become more confident. It’s almost as if by doing more, we prove that we can be confident. “See, I’ve accomplished this, this, and this,” we say, “so I have earned the right to be proud and confident in my abilities.” The trouble with this mentality is that there is no endpoint. When you focus on accomplishing things, there is always something more to achieve. For example, you might tell yourself, “I would feel so much better about myself if I got a promotion at work,” but then you find out that that promotion isn’t as fulfilling as you thought it would be. Or maybe you tell yourself that you will feel better about yourself once you are in a relationship only to find that those insecurities are still there once you start seeing someone.
Instead, authentic confidence comes from within and is based on who you are. Yes, this can seem intangible or elusive, but it has much more staying power than collecting a list of accomplishments because it doesn’t depend on how successful or unsuccessful you are. What does it mean to be confident based on who you are? It means that you have a strong sense of self-worth that is based on your values and self-knowledge. For example, confidence that is based on who you are doesn’t waver when you make a mistake at work or embarrass yourself on a date. It’s the type of confidence that knows that these mistakes don’t determine your worth as a person.
How do you become this kind of authentically confident person? In order to answer that question, it’s important to acknowledge that cultivating confidence is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The process will look different for everyone. However, there are some common practices that we can all embrace in our quest to be more confident.
Evaluate your thinking patterns
The way that you think influences how you feel about yourself. In my work as a psychotherapist, I spend a lot of time with my clients identifying how their thought patterns affect not only their emotions but also their behavior. For example, if you believe that confidence equals checking accomplishments off a long list (i.e. “I am confident only when I succeed”), then you will feel disappointed, discouraged, and less likely to work towards other goals when you miss the mark. So evaluating your thinking patterns and the impact they have on your actions is an important part of cultivating confidence and eliminating any roadblocks that stand between you and your most confident self.
Deal with criticism effectively
Are you overly critical towards yourself? This could also have a negative impact on your confidence. For example, if you find yourself using phrases like, “I always fail,” or, “I never succeed,” you are likely being overly critical and talking down about yourself. Instead of using critical phrases to describe yourself, try to use neutral statements. For example, instead of saying, “You mess up everything. Why even try anymore?” try saying something like, “Mistakes happen but that doesn’t mean I’m a terrible person or that I’ll never succeed at anything.”
Don’t look to others
And finally, don’t base your confidence on the approval of others. You are the best judge of yourself and what you need, not those around you. While looking to others to provide you with a boost of confidence certainly feels good in the moment, it doesn’t have the same staying power that confidence rooted in self-knowledge has. Know who you are, what’s important to you, and what your values are, and look to these when reflecting on yourself rather than referencing the standards, opinions, and expectations of others.
Cultivating confidence is a tricky thing but it’s absolutely worth pursuing. Be compassionate and gentle with yourself, celebrate your successes, learn from your mistakes, and remind yourself that you are a wonderful work in progress.
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