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The word ‘confident’ gets used a lot, often to express how someone feels about their ability to tackle a challenge, or to describe how they feel about themselves. But what does it really mean? Is it a feeling, or a set of thoughts, or a behaviour?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘confidence’ as “the quality of being certain of your abilities, or of having trust in people, plans, or the future”.
The fact that it’s described as a ‘quality’ is interesting. This suggests it’s a character attribute – and some people do seem to have been born with more confidence than others. The good news is that this isn’t necessarily the end of the story: it’s possible to learn, develop and build confidence, much like you can with a skill like communication.
1. Establish what confidence means to you – and where you’d like to be.
On a scale of 0-10, where 10 is ‘very confident’, how confident would you say you were as a person? What does 0 look like, in terms of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Where would you prefer to be? And if you can improve your confidence, how would you think, feel and behave?
2. Acknowledge why you want to change.
This can help with motivation, setting goals, and sticking to the changes. How does your current level of confidence affect your life? What impact does it have on what you do – and what you don’t do? What would be different about your life if you could reach a confidence level of 7, for instance?
3. Don’t let a lack of confidence define you.
People often say “I’m not a very confident person” or “I’ll do it when I feel more confident”. The more you believe that you’re not confident, the more it will impact your actions, while putting things off until you feel ‘ready’ can prevent you making progress and keep you stuck where you are. This can lead to a vicious cycle, knocking your confidence even further.
4. Challenge negative beliefs about yourself.
Instead of fixating on what you consider to be your shortcomings – for example, you don’t have a good sense of humour, or you’re not bold enough to talk to someone – try an experiment! Next time, deliberately do things differently: for example, starting a conversation whereas normally you’d have held back. Notice and remember each time your beliefs are proved wrong – for example you make someone laugh, or you complete a task you found daunting.
5. Acknowledge the discomfort – and step forward anyway.
Recognise when your brain is trying to keep you in your comfort zone. When we leave this zone, we experience uncomfortable emotions. We’re hardwired to avoid feeling discomfort, so our brain does its best to steer us away from it.
If we feel anxious at the thought of socialising or trying a new hobby, or – on a bigger scale – changing job or moving home, we might believe we just don’t have the confidence to do it. But we’re really listening to our brain, which is telling us to avoid the situation.
The unintended consequences might be that we don’t end up with the close friendships we want, or we get stuck in our career, for example. In the longer term, if we don’t live our life in a way that’s meaningful to us we could end up with significant regrets.
It’s very powerful if we decide simply to feel those uncomfortable feelings, and move along anyway. Why not try it? Next time you find yourself thinking “I don’t have the confidence to take this step”, acknowledge the feeling, and take it anyway – and see what happens. After a while it might just become a habit.
6. Challenge your inner critic.
Sometimes people will constantly ‘hear’ a critical voice in their minds, telling them ‘You’re not capable of doing that’, ‘It’s better if you don’t try’ or ‘You’ll make a fool of yourself if you talk to that person’.
Challenge this voice by deciding how you’d really like to see yourself – intelligent, competent, practical. Each day, look for examples that demonstrate these qualities in yourself, and write them down. For instance:
What I did: I raised a point in a meeting that no one else had thought of.
What this says about me: I have good ideas and make valuable contributions at work.
7. Get out of your own head!
Lots of us experience a lack of confidence or heightened self-consciousness in social situations, driven by a fear of being negatively judged. This can make us want to avoid social interactions, which can affect our quality of life and happiness, as well as further dent our confidence (that vicious cycle again).
It can help if we shift the focus from ourselves to the environment around us, by making a concerted effort to notice the details of our surroundings, and really listening closely to the people we’re with.
CBT can help people to overcome their confidence issues. During your sessions, the therapist will guide you in challenging any negative beliefs you have about yourself, and changing how you think, believe and feel so you can enjoy the life you want to live. Find out how to get started here.
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