If you’ve been around for a few decades you probably know that confidence is something that comes easier for some than it does for others. The tricky thing though, is that you can’t always tell who it comes naturally for.
We live in a culture that prides itself on knowing the answers, being productive, and forging ahead even in uncertain times. That leaves little room for second-guessing, being indecisive, or wondering if someone else would be better suited to your leadership position. And yet, these are the feelings that come up naturally for many of us.
I recently read a revealing profile in the New Yorker in which Sheryl Sandberg admits she’s felt like a fraud all her life.
Sheryl is a two-time NY Times Best-Selling author with the role as COO of Facebook on her resume, and 270K Twitter followers. If she’s not confident in herself what does that say about the rest of us?
Where does confidence come from?
I suppose what that says about those of us who haven’t worked in leadership at a Fortune 500 company, is that we have more in common with the perceived elite than we think.
Whether that’s refreshing is up to you.
Personally, I find myself wondering if she feels that way because she’s a woman? There’s something to be said for coming up in a patriarchal culture that plants nearly invisible seeds of doubt in women’s minds through the media, political and corporate structures (more on that another day). Regardless of gender, if our roles, accolades and success don’t make us confident in ourselves, what does?
Could it be that confidence is a ruse? As in, it starts out as a mindset you create for yourself and then you live into it until it feels real? The affirmations and positive self-talk of the personal development world would like to have us think that.
While it’s true that mindset is a powerful way to impact the nervous system (which governs our experience of reality), it seems there’s more to the story. There’s a transparency to genuine confidence which makes it harder to feign and easier to learn.
After all, if you’re reading this you probably want to feel confident, not just outwardly look it to others.
The bottom line is that self-confidence comes from the inside. It’s partly based on your mindset but there’s another important piece: connecting with and trusting yourself.
Confidence can be learned
The good news in all of this is that confidence isn’t something you’re born with (or without). It’s not something that’s bestowed upon you. You have control over your level of confidence and it starts with connecting to yourself.
The more years I spend coaching and doing my own personal development, the more I can see that many desired states all lead back to the same practices. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that slowing down, making time for reflection, mindfulness practices, yoga, and meditation are a few central practices that can help you create a deeper connection with yourself and thus improve your confidence.
Cultivating a strong relationship with yourself does a few things that will get you ahead: first, it allows you to discern your inner voice from outside influences. Second, it enables you to take an honest look at your behaviours, your thoughts and fears and your motivations so you can critically assess your strengths and weaknesses. Lastly, it creates a foundation for self-trust so you’re more likely to act according to your intuition and know (trust) in your ability to make decisions, follow through and be resourceful when facing a challenge.
Without building this inner muscle (of listening to and trusting yourself) you’re much more likely to be wrapped up in what other people think or approve of, instead of trusting yourself. If you’ve ever tried to make an important decision by trying to appease multiple viewpoints, you know it’s extremely difficult to do.
There are plenty of things that get in the way of experiencing confidence. Here’s a good list to look through to pinpoint some of the things that might be holding you back:
- Seeking approval from others
- Trying to please others
- Placing too much importance on things that don’t matter in the given situation
- Personal insecurities (appearance, weight, clothes, etc.)
- Giving too much credit to others’ voices
- Not reflecting on past wins to reference your strengths
- Not asking for help (thinking you should be able to do it alone)
- Not recognizing your strength, talents, and abilities
- Fears that aren’t based in reality
How to build your confidence:
Ready to have a boost in self-assurance? Here are actions you can take to build your confidence:
- Check your negative thoughts. Instead of letting negativity carry you away, return to the facts by asking yourself “is this true?”
- Have a trusted advisor you can talk things out with when you need to be reminded of your abilities.
- Set yourself up for success by preparing as much as possible. This will ease your nerves in the moment.
- Visualize your success. Rehearse the outcome you want in your mind until you can see yourself behaving the way you want to in the given situation.
- Reflect on times you’ve succeeded in the past. This gets your mind used to thinking of you as someone who succeeds.
- Use confident body language. Amy Cuddy has a great Ted Talk on this.
- Use meditation and mindful movement on a regular basis to connect to your body and strengthen your relationship with yourself.
- Make a point to learn from your mistakes. This will take some self-compassion, but you’re more likely to trust yourself if you feel like you’re improving as you move forward.
- Embrace optimism. Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right. Remember, confidence has a lot to do with your mindset.
- Celebrate your successes. Big or small, take time to personally acknowledge your wins to reinforce the behaviour you want to see in yourself.
- Get to know your values. The more you understand yourself and what’s important to you, the easier it will be to make decisions with confidence.