We get intimidated by life at every turn. Think back to the many times you’ve said ‘I can’t do it.’ A job interview gets our legs trembling, getting behind the wheel for the first time leaves us in cold sweats and the thought of speaking in public – no, thank you. This is completely normal, till you accidentally convince yourself you’re not good enough and give up.
Confidence is a slippery companion. It comes to us when we are skilled at something and vanishes as soon as we’re one foot out of our comfort zone. We rarely make that connection, though. More confident people will coolly assess the gap in their skills and sign up for public speaking classes, while the less confident are convinced there is little room for improvement.
Building confidence goes beyond the trite ‘fake it till you can make it’ attitude. (Though, there is some truth to it, we’ll learn.) It’s a science, one that involves a few tricks and tips to wave away the cloud of self-doubt for good – experts tell you how.
No such thing as a confident person
But first, what is self-confidence? Dr Claire Lewis, Dubai Health Authority licenced clinical psychologist at Insights Psychology DMCC clinic, says it is a belief we have of our own abilities. When asked what you’re confident and not confident in, you’ll be able to instantly draw a mental list of things you think you are good at and things you think you’re not good at. The operative word here is ‘think’.
Take this scenario as an example. There is a vacancy at work, but you choose not to apply for the promotion despite checking all the boxes on the job description. From an outsider’s point of view, you fit the bill. From your point of view, you’re not sure you could do the new role justice. What if you failed miserably?
It is better that self-confidence be considered on a continuum where some individuals may have a great deal of confidence, others may have little and the majority fall somewhere in between.
This bubbling self-doubt could be because of a fear of failure. And deeper still, you’re underestimating the skills you use at work. Not feeling secure in a certain ability doesn’t mean you lack confidence across the board. In fact, there are various shades of confidence, applicable to various situations.
“It is better that self-confidence be considered on a continuum where some individuals may have a great deal of confidence, others may have little and the majority fall somewhere in between,” said Dr Lewis. “It is not possible to state that individuals are either confident or lacking in confidence.”
It’s only human to feel like you can’t perform well in some areas of your life, more than others.
When low self-esteem bleeds into self-confidence
The alarm bells should ring, however, when you’re uncertain of more than just your abilities. This is a sign of low self-esteem, an underlying problem where your own opinion of yourself is poor.
“Lacking in confidence across a range of settings can be indicative of more intrinsic low self-esteem and self-worth, and it might be helpful to address this issue at a deeper level, such as looking at some of the root causes like childhood issues,” said Dr Lewis.
It’s also worth noting that people with low self-confidence do not necessarily have low self-esteem. You might hesitate to apply to the best school in town out of fear of rejection and still know that your reluctance does not define you as a person.
Stuck in a rut
Once we turn down an opportunity out of fear, it becomes easier to do it again when the next one arises. Dr Lewis calls this “a vicious cycle of fear and avoidance” that will only worsen with time. New challenges and goals seem daunting; familiar situations, you decide, while carrying this wave of low confidence with you, are far better.
“It will keep you in your comfort zone because to you that’s where you feel safe with little risk of failure,” Jessica De La Torre, a French-Mexican life coach in Dubai tells Gulf News.
You will probably think a 100 times before taking that defining step. Self-confidence and self-image are basic requirements for one to start moving towards a goal.
A business idea that’s been buzzing around in your head may never come to fruition – all because you think you don’t have it in you to do it. You will spend more time in your head then actually working towards your goal.
Another Dubai-based life coach and co-founder of Mind Muscles, Masoud Khalili, echoes the same sentiment: “You will probably think a 100 times before taking that defining step. I think this is one of the basic things we need to improve. Self-confidence and self-image are basic requirements for one to start moving towards a goal.”
6 practical ways to build confidence
Good news is that self-confidence can improve with a bit of conscientious effort. It’s a commitment built brick by brick, where you gradually train your brain to stomp out the fear.
1. Find your alter ego
Surprisingly, sometimes it’s okay to fake it – as long as we’re not pretending to be an unrealistic version of ourselves.
You might be excellent at creating a presentation, for instance, but presenting in front of an audience could feel like a nightmare. Your confidence levels differ in both cases. At times like this, borrowing a new skin can help, says Khalili.
“In coaching, we build a character and give this character all the qualities you wish you had when presenting. ‘I want to be confident’, ‘I want to have a loud voice’ and so on. Then we name it, and when the client goes to present, we tell them to embody the energy of that character,” he said.
2. Stop comparing yourself to those who do it better
“We live in a world in which people are spending significant time comparing themselves to others through social media,” said Dr Lewis. “It may be that taking a break from social media for a period of time may help reset our perceptions of ourselves.”
We can’t expect ourselves to ace everything in life. Accepting some truths about yourself and working with what you’ve got is key to improving self-confidence.
3. Give your inner critic a voice of reason
Don’t jump to conclusions about what you can and cannot do. Dr Lewis says to calmly and objectively trace the cause of your uncertainty. Then solve it.
“If you feel nervous when speaking at meetings, for example, sign up for public speaking classes to develop better communication strategies,” she said.
4. Set achievable goals
Give yourself the experience of achieving goals, no matter how small. Small successes can build confidence, as well, says Dr Lewis. Taking on a new project and expecting to deliver stellar results from the get-go is setting yourself up for a low confidence blow.
But also, failed ventures do not define you nor will they set a precedent. “It all depends on the mindset. If you start something and fail, do it again. Apply the lessons you’ve learnt this time. The more you do it, the easier it gets,” said Khalili.
5. Demand evidence
“Watch your thoughts – they’re like affirmations. Replace that negative thought with a positive one,” Khalili said.
The best way to go about it would be to demand evidence from yourself. You could cower from a deadline, thinking you’d never be able to make it – but where’s the proof? Debunk the cloud of self-doubt with solid reasons that you can, says Dr Lewis.
6. Write down your achievements daily
This list is a good reminder of the fact that your shortcomings are temporary. Leech confidence from other areas in life to give yourself a boost. If you can sing on stage, then you can definitely speak to a live audience. Dr Lewis advises listing three things that you have done well every day to get started.
Reach out for help
Doubts can quickly sound a lot like ‘what could’ve been’ and ‘had I been better’. Khalili stresses that confidence, more than anything, is about being yourself. When you turn down that background noise, you will quickly learn to see your own potential. For some, though, it’s easier said than done.
“Sometimes it can be helpful to contact a professional to help identify thinking patterns that lead to the negative assumptions we can make about ourselves,” said Dr Lewis, adding that underpinning the root cause could require Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
This is a proven psychological treatment that can help fix unhelpful ways of thinking we resort to, based on a distorted reality. If not dealt with, negative thoughts can lead to a worsening mood, outlook on life and self-image.