What comes first – behaving and thinking confidently or achieving some success?
Do you hope you’ll feel confident someday, perhaps when you’ve become more competent? When you’re more successful? When you’ve accomplished an important goal?
Or maybe you believe that a person is either born confident, or is not?
Self-confident people trust in their own abilities, capacities, and judgments; they also believe that they can successfully face day to day challenges and demands. Confident people acknowledge their OWN achievements and efforts. They are their own cheerleaders, without needing validation from someone else. Being confident not only helps them to seek new opportunities but also to trust themselves more. Psychologist Abraham Maslow might suggest that individuals need inner self-respect as well as esteem from other people.
It seems to me that feelings of confidence can come and go, varying to some degree day to day. Perhaps confidence is not an all or nothing condition. As you develop skills and achieve success in one area of your life, confidence grows. In contrast, having an off day, making embarrassing mistakes, or encountering criticisms or put-downs can create self-doubt. Everyone has some insecurities. Thus, circumstances can have an effect on your self-esteem and viewpoint.
‘Jug On The Butt’ry Shelf’ Watercolor.
Although external events may temporarily affect your sense of self, confidence actually comes from INSIDE YOU. Your thoughts and beliefs about yourself determine how confident you are. Even if you have a difficult and discouraging day, you can remain confident that tomorrow will be better and that you’ll be able to overcome any demands you might meet.
Do you believe that you could never be a confident person? Do you feel that you don’t deserve to be confident? Perhaps you fear that if you appear confident, other people will feel you are showing off or acting like you are better than they are. Are you afraid others will be jealous if you behave confidently? In fact, most people like being around those with confidence. Your doubts about your own worth are just thoughts that are NOT necessarily justified! Maybe you deserve to be happy and confident. I’m suggesting strongly that you do and that believing you do can help you achieve confidence.
A belief or thought is in your head. In other words, feeling confidence is a frame of mind, an attitude. It is NOT solely dependent on how others see you, but on how you see yourself. You can choose to feel confident.
Therefore, since you can choose what to believe about yourself, you can also learn to develop the skills or practices that will help you sound, act, and feel more confident. How specifically? Let me share a few things that have helped me build up some confidence. Believe me, as a child, I was insecure in my abilities, shy, and hesitant.
1. First, be kind, patient, and understanding with yourself, as you would be to a good friend. Speak to yourself with COMPASSION, kindness, and encouragement. Take time to nurture and care for yourself. You deserve it. Don’t pressure yourself to be perfect or say you’re useless. Stop comparing yourself to others. (There will always be people who are both better AND worse at things than you.) The most important relationship you have in your life is with yourself, so make it a positive relationship.
2. Master your inner critic, the inner voice that expects you to be perfect and not make mistakes. That voice may say you have no talent or can’t do anything right. Don’t believe it! Self-criticism is shaming. NEGATIVE thoughts are toxic and discouraging. Instead, encourage yourself – you’re learning and improving every day.
‘Forsythia in Vase’ Watercolor.
3. Don’t automatically seek approval from others. Always seeking approval from outside yourself is an easy TRAP. Decide for yourself what you think about things.
4. Avoid dwelling on your mistakes; try to concentrate your thoughts on things you have actually done well, on strengths. You have undoubtedly accomplished much in your life. Emphasize your successes, and celebrate them in your own mind. You attract more of what you pay attention to. What you focus on will actually increase. As singer Johnny Cash said, “You build on failure, [but . . . ] use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
Start to create a “SUCCESS SPIRAL” where one good outcome lays the groundwork for more and then more. The more you achieve success, the more you will come to expect it, the harder you will work, the more you will accomplish, and the more confident you will become. POSITIVE EXPECTATIONS will result. And what you expect, you get.
5. Set a goal to become more confident, and make your desire intentional and explicit. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t take action. When you state an INTENTION, however, you can then plan ways to take the specific actions that can improve your confidence. Building confidence is an ONGOING PROCESS of building skills and changing attitudes. It doesn’t just happen to you. You resolve; you make a promise to yourself to take action.
6. VISUALIZATION can be an effective catalyst for creating your confident life. IMAGINE having already achieved confidence. Describe to yourself in as much detail as possible what a wonderful confident life will be like for you. What would it mean to you if you achieve your desire? Close your eyes and imagine what it looks like, smells like, sounds like, feels like, how you would behave. The process of visualization directs your subconscious to be aware of the end goal you desire, making a positive outcome more likely. Imagine what you WANT to happen. Remember, what you focus on, you get more of.
‘Red and Green’ Watercolor.
So, how exactly? Having set your intention to become more confident, realize that goal is up to you to achieve. Set up a system or plan to help you take daily ACTIONS. Scientist Martin Seligman reminds us that a positive self-image by itself does not produce anything, but requires positive and productive behavior.
1. Perhaps you could practice talking in a confident manner by speaking clearly and in a straight forward voice, choosing words that a confident person would use. Speak up. You need to SOUND the part. Stop mumbling and apologizing – don’t talk like a hapless victim. For example, DON’T BLAME your difficulty on someone else (or make some other excuse). Admit your troubles, but step up, take responsibility, and say something to yourself like “I can figure this out!” Your words have power.
2. Train yourself to project confident BODY LANGUAGE. In other words, stand tall, take up room, make eye contact, smile and greet others. Feel your feet on the ground; keep your body relaxed and open. Don’t slouch or hunch your shoulders; don’t cross your arms; don’t avoid eye contact; don’t fidget. Social scientist Amy Cuddy has shown that an individual’s posture does not just reflect that person’s level of confidence or insecurity. Posture sends messages to the brain that can actually change your internal chemistry and the way you FEEL. Furthermore, your appearance and presence affect how others see and treat you, and ultimately how you feel about yourself. When you are relaxed and confident, others will feel at ease around you.
3. Similarly, wear CLOTHES that make you feel good and are comfortable, clean, well-fitting, tasteful, and well taken care of. By creating the impression that you are confident and being proud of the way you look, you will begin to feel more confident.
4. In addition, EXERCISE can invigorate and strengthen you. It can boost your mood. It keeps you healthy. A strong and toned body certainly increases your confidence. Try to find a form of exercise you enjoy so you’ll be likely to continue.
5. Allow yourself to be a learner. Have the courage to take a risk and give yourself a CHALLENGE. When breaking out of your comfort zone and starting something new, you are expanding your own limitations. As you successfully complete difficult tasks, you learn, becoming more confident and more resilient. Easy wins usually don’t feel as satisfying.
6. Finally, offer your HELP to others. Doing so is generous. When you reach out to others in a positive way and share what you are learning, your confidence soars; when you encourage learning in others, you recognize what you already know. Teaching my watercolor classes gives me confidence. While I recognize and tell my students that I do not know everything, I offer plenty of ideas for them to try, having done a lot of experimenting myself. I have learned that I can always pivot and try something else if the painting does not go as planned. While I focus on helping others, I worry less about my own inadequacies.
‘Colorful Tulips’ Watercolor.
Being confident is a frame of mind. It doesn’t just happen but takes work to build, develop, and maintain. Make the decision to become more confident, and commit to cultivating that attitude. It is NOT dependent solely on how others see you, but primarily on how you feel and what you believe about yourself.
Choose and practice some of the specific steps mentioned above. Behave and think like the person you want to become. As social scientist Amy Cuddy says in her TED talk about confidence, “Fake it until you become it.” Remember, confidence is a skill that can be learned, an ongoing PROCESS. When you stumble, get side-tracked, or have a discouraging day, don’t give up. Take a breath, give yourself a short break (perhaps a treat), and REFOCUS on taking action to become more confident. Pick up where you left off, and persevere.
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