4 Self-Practices to Improve Confidence
It’s easy to think that everyone around you except for you has it all figured out. Now that we can compare our lifestyles with strangers’ with just a quick swipe of the finger, it seems as though our consciousness is consistently flooded with images of people who just have it “together”.
I hope you’ll still read this even if I offer a spoiler here: no one has it all figured out. Life isn’t a prize to be won or a game to be mastered. It’s a chance to figure out who we are, what we want to contribute to society and which relationships we want to nurture along the way.
This is where confidence — or, in Latin, “self-trust” — comes in. When we trust ourselves, our own intuition and our own ability to make ourselves happy, we can navigate life’s obstacles with more dexterity. This doesn’t mean we won’t have challenges; it means we know we can listen to our inner voice to get us through those tough times.
But if confidence isn’t so complicated overall, then how does it become so elusive? How can we grab hold of it and make it work for us? Below, I’ll walk through four practices and mind-shifts that can point you in the direction of self-confidence.
Let Go of the Idea that “More” Would be “Enough”
Consumerism has done a wonderful job at convincing us that we need “more”: more 0’s at the end of our bank account, a newer car, fuller lips, a designer dog. Don’t get me wrong — investing thoughtfully in something meaningful can work wonders in boosting your confidence, especially when you know your most authentic self made the decision. I am all for a good shopping spree or an emotional support animal.
What we need to be wary of, though, is the “not enough” language we incorporate into these experiences. You know — words like “I won’t be happy until I make this salary.”
In Laurie Santos’ widely popular Yale Course “The Science of Well-Being”, she tackles the misconception that having money to buy material things will make us happy. She notes that in the 2005 American Freshman Survey for National Norms, which typically surveys over 200,000 freshman students, the students ranked financial success very high in importance. However, Santos also shows us the actual correlations between life satisfaction and income: it’s low, a 0.1. Of course, the correlation between income and life satisfaction was greater for poorer nations, Santos adds, but in her words: “Once you get money for basic needs, money has negligible effect.”
This research has huge implications for the idea of confidence. It can take a large psychological burden off of us to know that having “more” isn’t necessarily the answer, and it frees us up to make peace with the imperfections in our life.
It is okay that you don’t love every aspect of your job. Your self-worth as a person isn’t dependent on your paycheck. Most importantly, it’s understandable, and even expected, that you do not feel happy or grateful all the time! It doesn’t mean these things can’t or shouldn’t change, but it also doesn’t mean you’re doing life wrong.
Confidence is knowing that you have your own back, and loving not just the successful, shiny parts of you but also the human, raw parts.
Fake It ’Til You Make It
Impostor syndrome is the ultimate confidence thief. As this 2018 Time article by Abigail Abrams so aptly puts it, this phenomenon occurs when we believe luck is the reason we have succeeded rather than our talent or qualifications. It affects men and women from all walks of life and primarily occurs because people cannot internalize their own achievements.
As a green, anxious and inexperienced therapist starting in private practice several years ago, our practice owner explained to me that sometimes I would be expected to speak to potential clients over the phone before scheduling a first session with them. This was a 15 minute opportunity for me to “sell myself” and quickly establish a connection with a client so they would feel comfortable speaking to me in even more depth.
Coming from a hospital background in social work, I was used to being assigned patients with no say. How was I supposed to sell myself when I wasn’t even sure of my own strengths or approaches in working with clients yet? I quickly fell into impostor syndrome, unfairly comparing myself with more seasoned colleagues who just seemed to have that “it” factor. I overlooked my many strengths, including my own personal experience in therapy and various niche therapeutic interests.
As I learned and grew, I realized that repetition is key in rewriting the stories you have told yourself about your abilities, your strengths and your weaknesses. This repetition applies to both your thoughts and your behaviors. Abrams’ article supports this, citing psychologist Audrey Ervin who suggests asking yourself whether the impostor-like thoughts are helping or hindering you. I suggest adding the following reflective questions as well:
- What would a confident person do in this situation?
- What kind of thoughts would a confident person have about this?
- How can I rewrite the story I tell myself about my confidence, my experience and my abilities?
The most important message you want to send to your brain is that you understand what you’re doing is uncomfortable and you are going to do it anyway. To this point, repetition of behaviors is just as important as changing your thought patterns. In other words, keep doing the things that scare you the most — making phone calls, managing assertively, speaking up in meetings, and the like. This decreases the threat of discomfort as well as your anxiety about the situation.
2:1 Ratio Technique
Our self-confidence and self-esteem are also very tied up in the way we evaluate ourselves and our experiences with others. We may have had an inner critic present in our minds since we were very young, perhaps internalized through our parents, bullying in our peer group, or difficulty in school. Over time, these experiences create well-worn grooves in our brain which pave an easy route for more negative thoughts about ourselves to flow through. As a result, we feel worse, and believe these thoughts must be true if they keep occurring. We engage with the self-critical thoughts and end up reinforcing them instead of getting rid of them.
Dr. David Burns, author of Feeling Good, works from a cognitive behavioral approach with his patients which aims to increase the awareness between thoughts and feelings and help people gain greater control of their thoughts. Once a self-critical thought has been identified, his first suggestion is to “Talk back to that internal critic!” He breaks this down into three steps:
- Train yourself to recognize a typical pattern of self-critical thoughts (usually through journaling or a thought record)
- Learn why these thoughts are so distorted
- Practice talking back to them to change the way you evaluate yourself
I usually take this a step further with my clients and encourage them to counter every negative thought with at least two positive thoughts. Because our negative thoughts tend to hold more weight than positive, if we think of our minds like a scale, we need to balance it out!
When we practice the 2:1 ratio, we must first become mindful of our thoughts. When are we most likely to have negative thoughts about ourselves? Is it in front of the mirror? Before performing at work? During a workout? Getting ready for a first date?
When you notice yourself having a negative thought, take a brief pause. Don’t try to change the negative thought, but instead, gently start tipping the scale by telling yourself two positive things about yourself. It can be something specific to the situation. For example, if you’ve just told yourself “I wish my thighs were more toned”, you can counter with “I am getting stronger every day,” or a general statement like “I am resilient.”
If you’re having trouble coming up with an authentic statement on your own, imagine your best friend or another loved one by your side. What would they say to boost you up? It is totally okay to internalize their kind voice if you’re having trouble internalizing your own. For the best effect, write down the more positive or neutral self-evaluations to really cement them in your mind.
Take Care of Yourself
Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatrist and renowned trauma researcher, discusses the importance of self-care for our bodies and minds in his book “The Body Keeps the Score”:
“If you are not aware of what your body needs, you can’t take care of it. If you don’t feel hunger, you can’t nourish yourself. If you mistake anxiety for hunger, you may eat too much. … Simply noticing what you feel fosters emotional regulation, and it helps you stop trying to ignore what is going on inside you.”
Every time we do an activity to take care of our bodies or our minds — such as yoga, a bath, cooking a healthy meal or taking time off of work — we send the messages to ourselves that we matter, that our emotional and physical well-being is important. It also gives us a sense of self-efficacy because we are the only ones who really know what it is we need in a given moment.
The more we internalize that message, the quicker we start to believe in ourselves and all that we have to offer. Plus, when we set time aside for taking care of ourselves, regardless of what activity we’ve chosen, we are telling ourselves “My needs matter”.
Having confidence is not like winning the lottery; it isn’t based on luck or chance. It’s a skill that you can grow and nurture by actively training your mind and your behaviors. It might show up in different forms; sometimes it is the ability to be bold during a job interview, try a scary new a yoga pose or speak up and take some time to yourself amidst a hectic day at home with your family. But other times, it comes from the ability to glance around at your life, imperfections and all, and remind yourself that you are enough.
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