There are many definitions of “self-confidence,” but my favorite is “how you feel when you are being your best self,” a beautiful description from Caroline Webb, author of How to Have a Good Day. This blog will describe 13 key action steps you can take to build that kind of inner self-confidence. Since we are all different, use Webb’s definition to test out which of these actions work for you. Does a given behavior strengthen your feeling of being your best self? Then you might want to do more of it! However, if some of these actions are foreign to you, realize that you may go through an “awkward stage” as you develop new skills.
1. Pay attention.
Research reveals that our flighty minds wander about 50% of the time. (Wait a minute…what was I saying? Oh, right.) Whether you are with a friend, lover, or colleague, you can’t process information, listen to others, or argue for your own point of view if you are not “there” to do it. By one definition, confidence is “trusting yourself,” and you can’t trust yourself if you are off in space.
However, I doubt that anyone, except for maybe a Zen master, can be fully present 100% of the time. If you are highly introverted, you may need to make frequent retreats into your own inner world of ideas and impressions. So I suggest you use your values and goals as guides to decide what you will be mindful of. In a work meeting, for example, know what you find worth fighting for and pay attention to that, at the least. Where your attention goes, your actions are likely to follow, as Katty Kay and Claire Shipman note in their book, The Confidence Code.
2. Make decisions and keep your “why” in mind as you do.
Making your own decisions is an indispensable step toward developing self-confidence and a strong sense of self. But you can’t just make decisions willy-nilly. You must know WHY you are making a particular decision. Your rationale is important to express not just to colleagues and friends but also to yourself. A trivial example from my own life: I needed a new pair of black pants. I had to choose between a fashionable pair of skinny-leg pants without pockets and a less stylish pair of pants that had a small pocket at the waistline. Knowing myself, I knew I would feel best if I had a place for a chap stick and a tissue, so I chose the less stylish pants. Now, whenever I find myself looking enviously at women with skinny-leg pants, I remind myself WHY I made my choice. I feel better immediately!
It is easy to forget why we do the things we do. Reminding yourself of your own reasons for your decisions will bolster confidence in your own judgment, even if you have some regrets. And if you have lots of regrets and realize you should have chosen the other path…well, you’ve learned that piece of information for the next decision.
3. Learn job skills that enable you to earn a living.
Whether you are a barista or a barrister, if you have job skills that enable you to take care of yourself financially, you will feel a basic level of confidence. Knowing you can support yourself is priceless! Moreover, you will never be stuck in an abusive or unsatisfying relationship out of fear that you can’t earn a living. Even if you don’t love your job or if you are scraping by on minimum wage, you have a solid foundation for making a transition to something better or more lucrative. (Perspective: Realize that not being able to find the right job is not necessarily something to take personally. Economic cycles and structural changes in the economy play a huge role. Don’t blame yourself for what is not under your control.)
4. Learn skills of all sorts.
Sewing, carpentry, gardening, coding, cleaning, coaching, building birdhouses, making omelets, reading to a child, mentoring a teen…using specific skills, whatever they are, can be a source of confidence. Learn skills, use them, and feel a sense of pride at your competence! And it’s just possible that one of these skills could enable you to transition into a new job or career someday, if that’s your goal.
5. Set and reach goals, large and small.
Establishing, working toward, and achieving your goals for work, relationships, leisure time, and every other domain of life will give you a sense of self-efficacy as well as excitement and optimism about your own future. Knowing you can accomplish things that are important to you is a powerful confidence tool.
6. Work on your assertiveness skills.
Knowing how to stand up for yourself in a variety of situations, as well as when to let things go, is a self-confidence skill worth cultivating. Assertiveness requires an inner honesty about what you are feeling, what you want, what you value, and what your boundaries are, and then the courage to express one or more of those to someone in your world. The strength you gain from being assertive will build your confidence in who you are and what you stand for. (For details on “The Assertiveness Habit,” click here.)
7. Prepare some scripts to help you process negative feedback.
This idea is from fellow PT blogger Alice Boyes’ new book, The Healthy Mind Toolkit. Instead of feeling crushed by negative feedback or criticism, you can learn to welcome it as a stimulus to growth. However, in the moment, you could over-react and come across defensively. That’s why having a few “scripts” to pull out can help you. Try a few of these scripts or create your own:
- “I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Thanks for the feedback.”
- “I’m going to think over what you said. How about if I get back to you tomorrow?”
- “Although I didn’t care for the way you said it, I think you’ve got a point. I’m going to make a change.”
And, finally, the universal and simplest script of all for handling negative feedback:
- “Thank you for your comment.”
Notice the times when you handle negative feedback well and remember these “small” successes at the end of the day (You can find out how to do a “Daily Success Review” here.). “Small” is in quotation marks, because being able to handle and learn from negative feedback is actually a big deal.
8. Prepare some scripts to help you shrug off failure.
You know those people who hover like vultures waiting to pounce when you fail? Well, sometimes “those people” are YOU when you are being your own worst enemy. At other times, colleagues and even friends and intimates will challenge your decisions after the fact…and not always with tact and delicacy.
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Here are a few things you could say to yourself or others if someone points out what a “disaster” you have created:
- “You’ve got to try new things, or you’ll never know how you might have benefited.”
- “It was an experiment. At least we know now what doesn’t work!”
If your actions hurt someone else, apologize. You’ll feel better and so will they.
9. Listen well to others.
Unfortunately, we sometimes think of self-confident people as the ones who are doing all the talking. The ability to respect the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of others is a quality of the truly self-confident person. Unlike the extreme narcissist, who always has to be right, the self-confident person can learn from others and be flexible enough to adapt to their needs and ideas. (I’ll be discussing the difference between narcissists and self-confident people in a future blog.) But of course, it’s equally important to…
10. Talk about your successes.
Talking about your successes, especially in the workplace, will pave the way for new challenges and perhaps promotions. Sharing successes at home will let your family know what is important to you and give your children a positive perspective on who you are as a person, not just as a parent.
11. Help others.
As with #9 above, we don’t usually think of “helping others” as an action-habit of confident people, perhaps because we think of self-confident people as “winners” in the great game of Life rather than as mentors, helpers, and role models. Nonetheless offering and giving a hand is a huge confidence booster. Helping others often reveals the skills you possess, and kindness increases your inner strength.
12. Prepare and practice, keeping your purpose in mind.
Knowing you have done as much as you can humanly do to ensure your success at a particular endeavor will lift your confidence. As Kay and Shipman summarize it, “Preparation and practice melded with a sense of purpose–the zone of confidence.”
13. Get physical.
Becoming physically strong through regular exercise and activity translates into mental strength for many people. At minimum, you will reap the healthbenefits of exercise. In addition, the sense of vitality and well-being that come from physical exercise will lift your energy level and spirits.
In a Nutshell
The 13 actions above can become good habits that get easier and easier the more you do them. Yes, it takes courage to “put yourself out there.” Sometimes you take a risk and things go wrong. But if you adopt an attitude of “I can learn from this,” you will be able to put your mistakes (and those of others) in perspective and launch into your next actions with a reasonable amount of optimism and assurance.