Building self-confidence through self-awareness, vulnerability and practice.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how is your self-confidence today?
Believing in ourselves, in our abilities and capacities, is the basis for truly fulfilling life. The list of rewards related to self-confidence includes, among others, reducing fear and anxiety, increasing motivation, growing resilience, stronger relationships and greater sense of your authentic self (1). It is even said that many people fail to fulfil their potential not because they are not smart enough or lack opportunities or resources, but instead they do not believe enough in themselves (2).
I have always believed that self-confidence is magic. But like for most of us, self-confidence has been a bit of a struggle also for me throughout my life. The higher the risk of failure and judgement (especially the judgment), the higher the fluctuations in the levels of my self-confidence. However, with years passing, the amount of experience and knowledge piling up, also my levels of confidence seem to be rising. I have been investing time into increasing my self-awareness, taking stock of my strengths and accomplishments, while fighting consciously against my negativity bias (it is so human to focus on the lack and failures while forgetting all the goodness and greatness of our life and accomplishments). There is also no doubt that starting to own fully my story and getting comfortable with vulnerability have made me way more courageous than ever before. Well, we are all forever work-in-progress, right? I am sure if I (starting out as an introverted timid perfectionist child) have managed to come this far, so can you!
Lack of Self - Confidence
When you are lacking self-confidence you most definitely, one way or another, limit yourself from living to the fullest. You might self-sabotage your success, you might skip opportunities of growth and adventures simply because you are too afraid not to be good enough to join. Not to mention the overwhelm of related thoughts and anxiety when opportunities (do not) show up. And once you get into action you might be analysing your (and others´) behaviour and performance into detail long after the moment is gone.
When you lack self-confidence you might also have difficulty to say "no". You might not be courageous enough to fight for your needs, instead put others´ needs in front of your own. You might also experience lack of clarity regarding expectations - you might be living up to others´ expectations and not your own.
Building That Self-Confidence Muscle
While large part of the architecture of our brain, where self-confidence similarly to other personality traits resides, is predetermined, our experiences and choices shape us (3). Our experiences create new connections and pathways in our brain (neuroplasticity) throughout life. Positive thinking and feeding to your brain positive scenarios is really important. You have to be careful with what show you are running in your mind as your thoughts and expectations of future happenings seem to have a similar impact than real events. A study about self-esteem and the impact of others´ opinions about us found that self-esteem is not only impacted by whether other people like you, but also by your expectations of whether you expected to be liked (4).
Neuroscientist Stacie Grossman Bloom says that if we make a decision to be more confident, and then keep practicing it, the learning is reinforced and similarly to anything we practice regularly, also confidence can become on a cellular level of our brain "hard coded" as part of who we are (5). And when we feel confident, we feel good as we stimulate parts of our brain related to reward, motivation and pleasure and at the same time it is kind of "contagious" as it promotes others around you to become more engaged with you (3).
What a great news to know that You can actually build your self-confidence by practice and turn it into part of "who you are"! While self-confidence is not something you are fully readily born with, it is also not something you can learn from a manual. It is a mix of self-acceptance, your well-being, your previous experiences and your belief in yourself. It is something that you can develop and make grow and it most definitely benefits form experience and time. And as Dr. Brene Brown suggests "vulnerability is the cornerstone of confidence"and that "you can´t get to courage without walking through vulnerability", meaning that if you courageously open yourself up to others, facing risk of failure and judgement, you do start developing the confidence to be yourself.
In case you are not fully convinced or ready to decide to "be confident" and start practicing it, there are at least few steps you can take to start focusing on positive aspects of yourself and boosting your self-belief. "Practice makes the master" and soon self-confidence will be part of who you are!
6 Practical Steps Towards Stronger Self-Confidence
Self-awareness is the non-negotiable starting point for any aspect of personal growth and development. Before starting to take steps to grow the muscle of self-confidence it is important to take some time to understand in what situations your lack of self-confidence shows up. How does it look like? How do you feel in these situations? What are the stories you are telling to yourself? You can start by asking: "Who am I?" - Understanding who is that authentic you (without all the roles you hold and the expectations from others)? What are your core values and why are they important to you? Answering these questions is the foundation for getting comfortable with who you are - for getting to know, accept and love yourself. Self-acceptance and self-love have a ripple effect. They are also cornerstones of self-esteem and self-confidence.
Most often self-confidence is in high need in situations that require courage, such situations challenge us and carry some sort of risk of failure or risk of being judged by others. Whatever it is we are challenging ourself to do (e.g. to speak up in a meeting, to give a public speech, to change our career, to start a deep conversation in our relationship) there is always the possibility that things do not work as good as we wish to. There is always the fear that others disagree or we get judged.
Being vulnerable is powerful. Following Brene Brown´s advice, in order to live our life to the fullest we should really own our story and get comfortable with our vulnerability. The researcher suggests that if we are willing to choose courage over comfort, then failure can become our most powerful path to learning (6).
3) Strengths and Accomplishments
Once you have got comfortable with who you are and what matters to you, it is time to take stock of all the goodness you have created in your life. You have come a long way, which means you have collected a fair share of life experiences and accomplishments, you have most definitely fulfilled goals and dreams. Be conscious of your negativity bias, the human tendency to give more importance to negative experience than to positive or neutral ones (7). It is important to bring your focus on the positive experiences - the times things went really well and wonderfully rather than to a few unsuccessful moments of your life. It is important you know well and can lean on to your strengths and talents.
In case you are not able to remember it all at once, try to find answers to the following questions:
- What do you love about yourself?
- What are you passionate about?
- What is your zone of genius?
- What are you proud of? What do you consider your most impressive achievement to be?
- What have been your favourite accomplishments?
Do not be shy, bring it all on the table. Feel proud of it and own it. Own all that success. You write your own story, it is you who can choose the parts that really serve you. Reminding ourselves of all the great things that we have accomplished is invaluable as it reinforces our trust and belief into our strengths, abilities and capabilities, into our power. It makes us believe that we can achieve whatever we desire in life!
Life has seasons. We all experience ups and downs and challenges. Think about the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your life. Think about the biggest failures you have experienced. How did you overcome these moments? How did you make it to the "other side"? What was the learning and wisdoms of nuggets you collected throughout these moments? Acknowledge and accept all the experience and wisdom you have gathered. Having a list of positive "recoveries" from the past helps you to feel more knowledgable, calmer and more confident about what is currently happening.
5) Unpower Your Limiting Beliefs
We all carry with us a some limiting beliefs, some ideas that we believe to be truthful even if they are not true. Limiting beliefs (for example: I am too old, I am too tall, I am not smart enough, I will never be able to do that, money comes with hard work etc) are truly powerful. Although we often pick up these ideas from our childhood and family context, our own life experiences and fears are also a great source for such subconscious beliefs.
Limiting beliefs help you to stay in your comfort zone. They can help to protect you from fear - from fear of failure, but also from fear of succeeding. Limiting beliefs get along well with impostor syndrome, a self-fulfilling pattern of thoughts about doubting in one´s abilities and capabilities, feeling like a fraud, even if the evidence shows the contrary.
So how can you overcome your limiting beliefs and unleash your confidence? The first step is to identify the existence of such belief. Ask help from a friend or a life coach to discuss this topic further. Sometimes we are deeply blinded by our beliefs and only an outsider can help us to start seeing things differently. Look at the facts, facts usually hold the truth. If you do not happen to have anybody around for a second opinion, then do try to challenge your beliefs anyway! One of the best ways to unpower a limiting belief is to turn that belief into positive and empowering one!
6) Create Mastery
Lack of self-confidence is often contextual or showing up in specific situations. Usually it has to do with situations you are less comfortable with, for example "first times"and beginnings. Lack of experience and knowledge in specific situations are great destabilisers of self-confidence. Being curious and investing your effort into gaining insights and improving your knowledge can be of great value in such situations. However, the first step, even if with shaking self-confidence, has to be taken!
When you feel lack of self-confidence, you might feel powerless and limited. Improving your general wellbeing in life and mastering the aforementioned steps can make a real difference. Firstly, when we feel good we are more confident. And secondly, taking conscious steps towards becoming more self-confident does bring results.
While you are busy trying to figure out your insecurities and work on growing your level of self-confidence, it often might feel like everybody around you has got this part figured out. It seems that everybody is way more confident than you to speak up in public, to share their opinions, to embark on new adventures, to find ways to overcome challenges and so on. But trust me, it is not always like that. Struggling with self-confidence is a way more common challenge than you can imagine. And way more people, than you can imagine, take courageous steps from a place of self-challenge than self-confidence.
Building self-confidence is an ongoing process, it is a conscious daily practise. The best we have got is to keep building that muscle by working on our self-acceptance, self-awareness, taking stock of our successes and challenging ourself ongoing with new things. Staying always in our comfort-zone might not require expanding our muscle of self-confidence, but it will also not let us experience our life to the fullest. However I can reassure you that our self-confidence tends to rise with our life experience and with the years lived because we simply become more comfortable in our skin. We become more certain about what matters to us and less worried about others´ opinions.
But in the meanwhile, why not to simply choose self-confidence each morning!?