Increasing your self-confidence is easier than you think
Perceptions of Confidence
I teach leadership for three Universities in northern Pennsylvania. A great thought exercise I like to do with my class at the beginning of the semester aims to identify my students’ definitions of leadership. I ask the students to write down what they think is the most vital leadership attribute in successful leaders. I then collect the pieces of paper totally them up.
By and far, confidence is viewed as the most important attribute by my students (three years running). Many seasoned leaders may agree with this, some may not. Students in my class, for the most part, are not seasoned leaders, so I understand why they would select confidence as the most important leader attribute — it may be the most important to them at this point in their life.
Although I am referring to confidence in a leadership context, a lack of confidence can have a profound effect on an individual’s life path if not addressed before adulthood.
Confidence is imperative in many areas of life, not just in the business world. Confidence helps individuals seize opportunities, perform on a big stage, or take a risk that may have implications in their life and career.
I liken confidence to a muscle that can be strengthened over time. A lack of confidence can stem from many places, such as a traumatic event, childhood experiences, or dysfunctional family relationships.
Confidence vs. Insecurity
The difference between confident and insecure people, is confident individuals are not arrested by inaction. Typically, they have higher self-esteem, are high performers, and have diverse life experiences. Insecure people tend to have a negative mindset, seek validation, and do not take risks that would jeopardize their reputation or lead to failure.
So, how do we increase our confidence?
1. Identify the fear or root cause
For most people, confidence tends to be a reflection of one or two core fears. For example, if an individual’s confidence is a direct reflection of their fear of social situations, strategies to improve self-confidence should center on social contexts. A good strategy could be to immerse oneself in more social contexts starting off with impacts that are negligible and already a part of their routine.
A great example for a person that fears social interactions could attempt to start a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store, or similar frequented locations until they are comfortable with casual social conversations. As confidence grows, maybe they don’t decline to attend that annual “office Christmas party” or volunteer to take lead on the next project at work.
2. Uncover What Gives You Confidence
Another interesting factor of insecurity is people tend to gravitate to what makes them feel safe when they feel threatened by their environment or situation. What they gravitate to is typically where they feel the most confidence. An example may be a skill, hobby, or anything that gives them a sense of empowerment.
Some folks may feel comfortable playing a sport or writing. This should be coupled with strategies that will help them become more confident. In the example above, an individual may go to their local YMCA to play some pick-up basketball if they feel confident at the sport, which may lead them to gain more confidence in social situations.
3. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other People
Comparing yourself to other people is the fastest way to depression and insecurity — you will always fall short. There will always be somebody better than you at something…unless you’re the best in the world at a given talent or ability.
You should only compare yourself to what you were yesterday, and continually strive to improve. Understand the path for improvement isn’t linear — you will have setbacks.
4. Try New Things, and Don’t Be Afraid of Failure in The Beginning
That’s it, I said it. Fail. You have to get over the mental hurdle that failure is a bad thing. Albeit, sometimes failure isn’t an option. However, failure is the best teacher, and the greatest athletes, performers, and businessmen have a plethora of failure-stories. If they never took risks because they were afraid of failure, then they wouldn’t be successful.
Go try a new hobby, be horrible at it, and laugh at yourself. In short, acknowledge that failure is an essential element of learning new things and honing our craft — just ask Michael Jordan. When you finally overcome the initial learning curve and become increasingly good at the activity you’re learning, your confidence will grow.
5. Practice a Positive Mindset
Making a concerted effort to have a positive mindset will drastically improve your mood, resiliency, grit, and performance in almost every area of your life. Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist illustrates in her book, “Mindset: The new psychology of success,” that mindset can have a profound effect on confidence and performance.
To avoid thinking traps that can affect confidence and performance (fixed-mindset) individuals must understand what triggers their fixed-mindset and replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Encourage yourself and embrace life’s challenges as a way to learn and get better.
6. Surround Yourself with Like-minded People
If you’re surrounding yourself with toxic people or folks that don’t support you, you’re going to have a very hard time developing your self-esteem. Associate yourself with family and friends that will encourage and support you. If you’re in a toxic relationship, that is a whole other topic of conversation, however, you will need to prioritize your efforts for self-improvement.
Studies have shown that social media is responsible for higher levels of depression. Social media platforms are notorious for echo chambers, toxicity, and practices that lead to screen addiction. Limit your time on social media platforms and replace that time with face-to-face interactions with friends and family that support you.
Increasing your confidence is an inherently individual endeavor. It will take some growth, discomfort, disappointment, and failure. However, the only one that can chart the path is you. Start your marathon with small wins, slowly gain your confidence, and enrich your personal life and career.