One of the most common questions we hear as coaches is ‘How can I have more self-confidence?’
So what is self-confidence? What does it feel like? How do we get it? How do we lose it? And what does it look like to others?
One thing is clear: it’s a feeling; it’s very much about what’s going on inside of us. So to begin to build more self-confidence, pay close attention to what’s going on inside, in your inner world. What are you thinking, what are you saying to yourself, what images do you have, what feelings do you have? Because it is these things that lead to the result – confidence or lack of it.
The crucial element is to be aware of what you are doing – if you’re not aware, how can you change?
"Know yourself and you will win all battles" – Sun Tzu
How confident are you?
Think of a situation where you were not very self-confident and would like to have had more. Get clear about the situation, imagine you are there right now. What can you see, hear, touch, smell... Do you see a picture in your head? Is it in colour? Are you moving or still? Sitting or standing? Who else is there? Perhaps you are more conscious of your thoughts. What are you/they saying? What are you saying to yourself? Maybe it’s a feeling. If so, how do you feel – anxious, nervous, angry etc?
Make the situation as real as possible. Now answer the following questions:
- What am I doing physically? e.g. What is my posture like? How am I moving? What's my breathing like (shallow, deep, etc.)?
- How do I feel physically (tense, butterflies, relaxed, heavy, hot, cold, etc.)
- What meaning do I give these feelings?
- Where was my focus of attention?
- What was my internal dialogue?
- How do I know I’m feeling confident or not?
- If I were to give it a score, how do I rate my self-confidence out of 10?
What is Self-Confidence? Confidence is variously defined as:
- “a state of being certain that a prediction is right or that a chosen course of action is the right one.”
- “a subjective, emotional state of mind”
- “trust in the power, trustworthiness or reliability of a person or thing”.
Self-confidence is simply ‘confidence in oneself’. The experts believe that, as babies, we all start off with lots of self-confidence and some people seem to maintain it into adulthood. Many others are not so lucky. So how do we lose it?
- Through bad experiences.
- Lack of positive encouragement and praise.
- Being made to feel we are bad or inadequate.
This can happen at any stage in life, but we tend to start early in childhood, with messages from parents, teachers and other influential adults. For example:
- His brother’s the bright one
- You’re stupid, selfish, lazy...
- Be quiet, you talk too much
- Little boys should be seen and not heard
- Don’t argue with your betters
- You must try harder...
All this has an effect and the result is often that we end up with less confidence in ourselves than we’d like. What's more, it varies according to the situation. Right now you may be feeling fairly confident about yourself and what you’re doing. But you can lose it just when it’s most needed and do poorly as a result… it might be in an exam, giving a presentation, or in an interview.
The Benefits of Self-Confidence
When we ask people why they want more self-confidence, they find it easy to say. Some of the answers we hear are:
- I’ll feel more comfortable speaking to strangers
- I’ll be happy with my own company
- I want to feel like a winner in life
- I want to be able to make better decisions
- I want to be myself without worrying about upsetting others
- I want to be able to put people at ease
- I’ll perform better
- I’ll feel more motivated
- I want to cope with knocks and setbacks better.
These are all good reasons and should help anyone lead a happier, more fulfilled life. But it’s not quite that simple. We often find that people stop themselves changing. There are actually some benefits in not having much self-confidence. For example:
- Avoiding challenges means you don’t risk failure.
- You will appeal to (some) people – they’ll look after you and they will depend on you to maintain their self-image.
- Modesty is often seen as a good thing.
There also some disadvantages in being self-confident:
- Others may get jealous – “it’s all right for you”.
- You may be a threat to others.
- People may withdraw support – “you can look after yourself”.
So we need to be aware that internal contradictions might hinder us becoming more self-confident. And more self-confidence in itself is not necessarily a good thing. Too much of it can get you killed. We need to balance confidence in ourselves with a realistic assessment of our capabilities.
How to Improve Self-Confidence
Listed below are some tips for improving self-confidence. They range from simple, obvious actions, that you can take on your own right now, through to more fundamental changes that you might want some help with. We find a combination of actions usually works best. Our Self-Confidence Check can help establish what’s best for you.
Think about which environments give you problems and which don’t – what can you learn from one that you can apply to the other? Are there particular situations that cause you problems? Certain people?
Be aware of what others say to you. Do you get pity or sympathy from a close friend? Do some people make you feel inferior?
Surround yourself with nurturing friends, not overly critical individuals who make you feel inadequate or insecure.
Look after yourself – eat well, get a good night’s sleep, take exercise (walking is great).
Be aware of the thoughts you have about yourself and what you’re doing – and change negative thoughts into positive ones. Remember to pace yourself – make it believable. So for example, changing “I'm no good at interviews” to “I’m brilliant” is probably too big a step. Try “I used to be nervous at interviews but I’m learning how to feel more relaxed”.
Be aware of how you speak. It can have a big difference in how others perceive you. A person with authority usually speaks slowly. It shows confidence. People who feel not worth listening to often speak quickly, because they don’t want to keep others waiting on something not worth listening to. Try speaking slower - it will make you feel more confident.
Think about your posture. Fill the space around you. Try lots of different things and notice which make you feel better about yourself – stand tall, straight, grounded, lean forward, back, move arms, tilt head... check what works for you.
Set a goal you know you can achieve, and then achieve it. You’ll feel good about that. Now set another small goal and achieve that. The more you achieve small goals, the better you’ll be at it, and the better you’ll feel. Soon you’ll be setting bigger (but still achievable) goals and achieving those too.
Change a small habit. Not a big one, like quitting smoking. Just a small one, like writing things down. Or waking up 10 minutes earlier. Or drinking a glass of water when you wake up. Something small that you know you can do. Do it for a month. When you’ve accomplished it, reward yourself.
Focus on solutions. If you tend to focus on problems, change your focus. If you hear yourself saying or thinking things like “I’m overweight” then think - “So how can I solve that?”. “But I can’t motivate myself!”. So how can I solve that? “But I have no energy!” So what’s the solution? Remember not to use this as a way to beat yourself up – look for small steps.
Compliment other people. When we think negatively about ourselves, we often project that feeling onto others. To break this cycle of negativity, get in the habit of praising other people. Refuse to criticise others and make an effort to compliment those around you. By looking for the best in others, you indirectly bring out the best in yourself.
Help other people. When you know you're kind to the people around you, and are making a positive difference in other people's lives (even if it's just being kinder to the person who serves you coffee in the morning), you'll feel better about yourself and boost your self-confidence.
Prepare yourself as much as possible. Think about taking an exam: if you haven’t studied, you won’t have much confidence in your abilities to do well in the exam. But if you really studied hard, you’re prepared, and you’ll be much more confident. Now think of life in the same way as an exam, and prepare yourself.
Increase your competence at anything you are interested in. Think about what’s important for you – speaking, writing, negotiating, arguing, singing, making jokes - and get better at them. By becoming more accomplished at things you enjoy, you will build your self-confidence.
Identify your successes. Focus on your talents. Give yourself permission to take pride in them. Give yourself credit for your successes.
What beliefs do you have? What are your values? Just knowing them can make a big difference. Sometimes we lose self-confidence simply because we have some internal conflict. For example, do you prefer solitude and are always being dragged out to parties by your friends? Do you believe that earning money and doing good are incompatible? Beliefs are not facts and we can change them.
Know your core values. What are the principles that you want to live your life by? If you don’t know, your life may lack direction and you may lose confidence in yourself.
Set aside time each day to mentally list everything that you are grateful for. Recall your past successes, unique skills, loving relationships, and positive momentum. You’ll be amazed how much you have going for you.
Avoid perfectionism: it paralyses you and keeps you from accomplishing your goals. Remember that no one is perfect. Everyone makes some mistakes - that's part of being human.
Identify the beliefs that you learnt as a child that are no longer helpful. What does that voice in the back of your mind say? What is making you feel unworthy, ashamed, or inferior? Identify them, and write them down. Get help in learning new things.
Build a new self-image. We have a mental picture of ourselves which determines how confident we are in ourselves. But this picture isn’t fixed. You can change it. Use your imagination to work on your self-image. If it’s not very good, change it. Work out why you see yourself that way – some out of date beliefs won’t be helping. Talk to your friends – those you really trust – and ask them for their image of you. Write a 30-60 second speech that highlights your strengths and achievements, then recite it in front of the mirror aloud every day for a month.