Building and Practicing Self-Confidence

By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC

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When you don’t feel particularly good about yourself, it affects areas of your life. One way that it manifests is through your ability to handle stressful situations. The lack of self-confidence may undermine your efforts before you even get started. Let’s look at how to overcome this by practicing self-confidence.


What Is Self-Confidence Anyway?

“Courage + Self-Esteem= Confidence” -Unknown

Self-confidence refers to your sense of self – who you are and what you are capable of doing. It is essentially how you view yourself in the world around you. Those with low self-confidence, for example, may not believe that they have anything worthwhile to contribute to the world, their loved ones or anyone else.

Poor self-confidence may prevent you from living the life you always wanted. As Maxwell Maltz said, “Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on.” Low self-esteem will prevent you from taking risks, putting yourself out there and being vulnerable. Some additional drawbacks of a poor self-image include:

* Lack of motivation – You don’t try for a promotion or a new project at work because you don’t think you can do it so why even try. Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never a mistake has never tried anything new.” Trying something new will definitely include making mistakes.  Strong self-esteem means having the resilience to bounce back from those mistakes, learn from your mistakes and move on with new found knowledge and skills.

There is a quote that says something along the lines that, the more comfortable you are with the decisions you make, the less you will worry about how other people view your choices. “It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else’s eyes.”-Anon. It is an effort to reach that point.

When we are young, we know that we need to do to fit into our family culture. We need our family to survive so we adapt and adjust to gain acceptance. If you’ve been to the zoo, you may notice that the elephants typically have a rope around their leg. We all know that a grown elephant can easily break the rope and get away but it doesn’t even try. Why? When it was small, there was something stronger around it’s leg and it couldn’t get away. Now it doesn’t even try. Are there some patterns that are holding you back that are similar to this elephant? Are you trying to fit into a social structure that you are actually no longer dependent upon for survival? How is that holding you back? You may want to journal to get to the bottom of it or enlist the help of a professional to release those old patterns.


* Lack of assertiveness – If someone puts you down or disrespects you, may accept it without speaking up for yourself.  Again, your reaction or lack of, may have originated in your childhood. You may have had strong willed parents who didn’t allow you to express yourself and you have simply continued to behave that way. It worked for you growing up so you bring this into your adulthood. Now is the time to develop some new skills and learn how to set healthy boundaries. Believe it or not, boundaries protect you and your relationships, whether personal or professional.  


* The “poor me” syndrome – You view setbacks as personal attacks. If you were worth anything then you would be able to achieve all that you set out to do. Why not turn your self-talk around? There is a quote that goes along the lines of, instead of saying “why me?” say, “try me!” Isn’t it interesting how powerful words can be? When your attitude is “try me” you are saying to the problem: I can handle this. I have the tools, the resources, the intelligence and the tenacity to face and overcome all of my problems and challenges. It may be helpful to think back to problems that you solved in the past. How were you able to overcome these issues? What did you learn about yourself as a result working through the problems? How have those experiences helped you now, in the present day?


Stress and Self-Confidence

Stress can be, in part, a lack of self-confidence. Those who have a poor opinion of themselves may be more prone to stress in the workplace as well as in their personal lives. One may set you up for the other.

Stress may show up in a number of ways:


* You don’t ask for help – Because you believe you will be seen negatively, you hesitate to get assistance when you need it. Lao Tzu said, “When you accept yourself, the whole world accepts you.” If you aren’t used to asking for help, it may be difficult to start asking for assistance. Think back to the first time you ever asked for help. What happened? Did you feel rejected? Were you given the impression that you should be able to do it on your own? How did that affect you? How has that changed the way you approach problems? Let’s try something else.

What do you think of people who ask for your help? Does it make you feel good? Helpful? Useful? Important? Capable? If so, try to imagine that others may feel the same way when you ask for help. We all need help at some point and time in our lives.


* You take on too much – Your motivation is to maintain a certain image so you may take on more and more work even though it’s too much. This can lead to burn-out or, if you don’t meet your deadlines, that can give you a poor professional reputation.  It is important to meet your deadlines and keep your word. You don’t want your brand to be someone who is unreliable or incompetent which will happen if you can’t complete your work. If you keep on taking on more work or volunteering, your colleagues will assume it is because you can manage it. They will probably not think the reason you aren’t meeting your deadlines is because you are taking on too much work. Not being able to manage your time can also leave a negative impression and cause your colleagues problems if they are counting on you to complete your part of the project before they can complete theirs.


* You don’t speak up when you need to – At home and at work, you allow yourself to be treated according to someone else’s standards so as not to “rock the boat.” Again, this can be a pattern and technique that you used when you were a child to fit into your family. Now is the perfect time to learn new skills.

Imagine that you ask a friend to help you with something and they say “yes.” You assume they are happy to help you but deep down they are feeling very overwhelmed and they actually feel resentment towards you for asking. How does that make you feel? Most likely, you wouldn’t have asked your friend if you knew he/she had too much to do in fact, you may have offered help instead. It is the same thing for other people. Your family and friends love you so it is up to you to help them understand what you need.

If you want to help but you can’t right now, learn how to phrase that. The way we say things can bring us closer to people or push them away. Be mindful of the words you pick, your tone of voice and your body language. Script out conversations that make you feel uncomfortable and practice them out loud. Don’t be afraid to bring your script with you. You can simply say, “I put a lot of thought into how I would say this and I want to make sure I get it right….” You will probably be happily surprised by people’s reactions, understanding and support.


Building and Practicing Self-Confidence

“It’s not your job to like me-it’s mine.” -Byron Katie

If you are relating to the items listed above, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are techniques that you can begin putting into practice right now to build and increase your self-confidence and decrease your stress levels.

 * Set a schedule – If you have a lot to do, map it out first. At work, you can complete those projects in record time by breaking them down into manageable steps. Have a daily, weekly and monthly to-do list. Review your schedule daily and set aside time each week to plan out your week. Many people find that either Saturday or Sunday is a great day to take time and create a schedule.


* Positive self-talk – When setbacks occur, visualize them as hurdles, like a runner. It may take some time but with practice, you can see yourself overcoming those hurdles. Tell yourself that another approach is needed, but don’t give up. Look at the facts. What are your choices? Which one will work the best for this particular situation?


* Celebrate achievements – As you complete each step towards your goals, celebrate. Keep, not only to-do lists but a list of your accomplishments. It is validating and motivating to look back and see how far you’ve come.  


The lack of positive self-image can increase the amount of stress in your life. Coco Chanel said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” Each problem you face is an opportunity to build your self-confidence by making good choices and succeeding. Swati Sharma said, “The best way to gain self-confidence is to do what you are afraid to do.” Even if you fail, you will learn not only how to deal with failure but also how to do it better next time. So, get out of your comfort zone, discover your hidden gifts and keep evolving into a better and better version of yourself.