Most of us would like to feel more confident in certain areas of our lives:
- You might wish you were more confident about speaking up and expressing yourself at work.
- You might want to feel more confident about dating.
- Perhaps you’ve been dreaming of starting that business you’ve always wanted to start.
Everyone knows how it feels to lack confidence, but here’s the thing most people don’t realize:
Confidence is often about doing less, not more.
Specifically, many of us have subtle habits that make us feel insecure and chip away at our self-confidence. Learn to identify and eliminate these confidence-killing habits and you’ll find that you’re naturally more confident than you think.
1. People pleasing
Most people don’t like conflict.
Most people are so scared of conflict that they’ll go to pretty extreme measures to avoid it…
- A patient I worked with once turned down a big promotion at work because she was afraid there would be too much “friction” between them.
- One friend quit spending time with her friends because her husband got jealous and judgmental whenever she was away from him.
Some sacrifices are smaller – but not necessarily less significant – because of fear of conflict:
- You never eat at your favorite restaurant because you “go with” what your partner says
- Taking on too many tasks because you don’t want to disappoint people if you say “no”
- You never watch your favorite movies because your roommate hates them
No matter what, here’s what you need to know about people-pleasing: Your mind starts devaluing itself when you habitually think about other people’s needs before your own. It’s obvious that you won’t feel confident if you never stand up for yourself!
It is often just a matter of asserting yourself more with people about what you want (or don’t want). Asking for what you want and saying no to what you don’t want is a simple way to boost your confidence. Starting small – that’s the key – is what most people miss. Once you get comfortable with this, move on to bigger things.
It’s good to think about others. However, if it always comes at your expense, no one will be happy. You won’t feel more confident either.
2. Worrying about the future
Our capacity to think about the future and imagine hypothetical scenarios is a wonderful skill and tool. From anticipating your opponent’s next move in a game of chess to landing a person on the moon, it clearly benefits us to be able to think about the future. It’s especially useful to anticipate problems so we can address them early before they happen. Just imagine how many hypothetical problems all these engineers at NASA had to imagine before putting men in a spaceship to the moon!
But like so many of our most impressive tools and abilities, thinking about problems in the future can be unhealthy if done for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. This is especially the case with our tendency to worry.
Worry is unproductive problem-solving.
The more time you spend thinking about something that is either A) not really a problem, or B) not something you can fix, the more likely you are to be worried. So you get stress and anxiety without any benefits of genuine problem-solving.
Here’s an example:
Your spouse visits a relative. You start worrying about your spouse’s plane after seeing a news report about a plane crash in another country. Even though you know thinking about your spouse getting into a plane crash isn’t helping anyone, you keep on worrying about it. You feel more anxious and tense as a result.
Why do we do it? What’s the point of worrying if it just makes you feel bad?
Worry is like this:
It gives you the illusion of control. In the end, it just makes you weak.
Despite the fact that you can’t solve some hypothetical problem (your spouse getting in a crash, say), thinking about it gives you an illusion of control. You feel like you’re doing something at least. Sadly, it’s all an illusion. Your confidence just gets chipped away by all that worry and anxiety. You have to accept that life is unpredictable and unknowable if you want to feel confident. It’s just that some things are out of our control. Some bad things just can’t be prevented. No amount of thinking or worrying will change that.
Instead of living in denial about your fear of uncertainty, face it with confidence.
3. Dwelling on the past
In the same way, worry gives us the illusion that we have control over the future, dwelling-or rumination-gives us the illusion that we have control over mistakes and losses in the past. However, it can also lead to low self-esteem, depression, and self-criticism. There is no doubt that reflecting on the past – including mistakes and negative events – can be helpful. Time to consider the past in a balanced and objective way, it can often be a source of great relief and learning.
The problem is that you can easily end up dwelling on the past and thinking about it in an unhelpful way. That’s what we call rumination.
Here’s an example:
- Whenever you replay the same mistake in your mind without learning anything new, it’s rumination.
- Imagining alternative histories and how you could have averted a tragedy or loss is rumination.
- If you’ve ever missed good things because you were stuck dwelling on negatives from the past, that’s rumination.
When you ruminate on past mistakes, it erodes your confidence in the future. You can’t invest in today when you spend all your time on yesterday. It creates a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy: If you spend all your time and energy on the past, you can’t focus on the present. Poor performance leads to low self-esteem, which leads to poor performance.
Rumination wastes energy and attention, so accepting past mistakes and losses is the key to stopping them. Nobody likes feeling helpless, but ruminating on mistakes obsessively won’t make you feel better about yourself. You’ll be able to let go of your tendency to dwell on the past if you accept that you can’t change it.
Your confidence will rise as a result.
4. Trusting Your Emotions
Confidence comes from letting your feelings take precedence over your values.
- You want to ask that cute guy out (value), but you’re nervous and self-conscious (feelings). You keep talking to your friends, the opportunity passes, and you’re out of luck.
- You have a great idea during your weekly meeting and you want to share it with your boss (value), but you’re worried she’ll think it’s dumb or silly (feeling). So you don’t talk about it.
In these examples, you could have acted on your values if you had felt more confident. It’s hard to control how you feel because you can’t make yourself happy or confident if you don’t have control over how you feel. The feeling of confidence comes from acting on your values in spite of feeling afraid. If you avoid asking people out, you’ll feel anxious about it. You’ll feel nervous if you avoid speaking up during meetings.
You’ll feel more confident if you ask someone out despite feeling anxious – or speak up during a meeting despite being afraid of criticism. When our feelings are pulling us away with fear, it’s hard to act on our values because we’re used to trusting our emotions implicitly. Emotions are glorified in our culture (think of any Disney movie). Sadly, this unqualified faith in feelings is misguided… Almost as often as they’ll help you, your feelings will lead you astray.
Listen to your emotions, but don’t trust them. Instead of trusting your feelings blindly, follow your values instead and ignore your feelings.
Only when you start acting on your values despite how you feel will you feel truly confident.