Believe it or not, improving confidence is one of the most common goals that people identify wanting to work on. Having a desire to increase your confidence is a normal and common part of life and I would even argue that that desire shows self awareness and a growth mindset (hooray!).
The good news is that it’s actually pretty simple. Sometimes we like to think of confidence as a personality trait; you either have it or you don’t. This is absolutely not true. Think of confidence as a muscle. If somebody told you that it was impossible to increase the size of your biceps you would call them a liar. Same goes for confidence. If you can jack up your biceps, you can absolutely jack up your confidence.
There are some really basic and practical tools that you can add to your life that will help with confidence. If you take care of your body, you will learn to love all of the things that your body does for you. If you learn new skills or increase competency at work, your confidence will increase when you engage in those activities. There are really cool ways to hack confidence too, like practicing gratitude or changing your body language. Research even shows that listening to music with bass can increase confidence. These strategies definitely help, but they don’t address the root of insecurity. Most often our low confidence in ourselves comes from the thoughts and beliefs that we have about who we are. Low self esteem is driven by the fear that you’re not good enough, an absence of love towards yourself, and/or feeling like you don’t belong.
Let’s talk about uncertainty. Specifically our FEAR of uncertainty. To feel solid in who you are, you have to embrace the fact that nothing in life is predictable. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The truth is, we live in a world where everything is up for grabs. We can’t control whether we’re born into wealth or poverty. We can’t control whether our parents outlive us or whether we find our life partner at age 19 or 45. The only thing we have control over is ourselves. That’s it. We get to control how we respond to the shit that life throws at us. We get to control how we care for our bodies and our minds. We decide how we want to treat people and how we view the world. All of this is up to us, and while that is the greatest gift we could possibly be given, it can also be the birthplace of insecurity. Either we try to predict and control everything around us and wind up feeling overly responsible for things that are not our fault, or we become hyper critical towards ourselves in an attempt to make ourselves perfect because we believe that bad things don’t happen to perfect people.
Do you get insecure and anxious because you feel like you aren’t living up to your full potential? It happens to the best of us. The key thing to recognize here is that everybody has a different idea of what success looks like. You might not care about your waist-to-hip ratio as long as your bank account is flush and you can’t understand why your friend Dave spends all of his extra income on expensive protein drinks and exclusive personal trainers. Simply, you’re telling yourself that your worth is contingent upon how much money you make, but Dave is telling himself that having chiseled abs is the true key to happiness. Even worse, you falsely believe that wealth is the only way to gain acceptance and belonging. To make this a total mind-bend, you convince yourself that Dave also values wealth and therefore Dave must think you’re really really cool because of all of the money you make. But guess what? Dave doesn’t care about money. Dave thinks you’re an out of shape workaholic. Hinging your self worth on external validation is not only harmful, but it doesn’t always get you the acceptance that you crave.
Ok so, how did we start thinking this way? When you were a child your ultimate life goal probably wasn’t to be a NY Times Best-Selling Author. Your goal was to be a writer because you liked making stories. Your five year old self wanted to be an astronaut or a carpenter or a dancer or a mom and he/she/they simply wanted to learn and grow.
Somewhere this got messed up because you decided that external factors are a reflection of internal self worth. Somewhere along the way you learned that you had to be something in order for other people to like you.
Think about it: if you were the only person left on the earth would you care about half of the weird shit that you care about now? Probably not.
Thanks to the efficiency of our brains we get stuck in these thought patterns. Once upon a time you thought to yourself “I need to work hard because wealth equals status and people with status have a lot of friends and get invited to all of the cool parties.” Your brain begins to see that connection everywhere. You see lamborghinis and first class flights and highrise condos as a sign of somebody’s self worth. You believe that people with money are happier than people with less. Whereas before you used to value the process (AKA hard-work and accomplishments) you now value the outcome (AKA fancy shit). You used to be satisfied with a job well done but now you’re only satisfied if that job allows you to buy Yeezy’s. Weird, huh?
You start to feel insecure because you become sensitive to things that are outside of your control. You lose your job because the economy sucks and you falsely believe that this means that you are less valuable today than you were yesterday. Maybe you even begin to worry that your friends will abandon you or that you will never find another job. Instead of accepting that life happens and moving on, you dial in on the one thing that is in your control. You. Now you’ve convinced yourself that if you make yourself better this will never ever happen to you again. Big mistake. Now the problem is you and you become hyper focused on fixing it. No wonder you become insecure!
Think of it this way: imagine your best friend made a mistake and did something to upset her partner. This friend values relationships and does everything in her power to make the people around her happy (your friend probably needs to learn how to set boundaries, but that’s another article in itself). She filters out all of the good things about her, and is focusing on the negative. Do you believe that she’s as terrible as she believes herself to be? Probably not. You are able to see the situation with more clarity because you aren’t looking at it through a fog of insecurity. You understand that she can’t be responsible for other people’s feelings and that she can’t make everybody happy all of the time. Her insecurity about her ability to be a good partner is born out of her irrational belief that she can control how other people feel. It’s the same self-defeating cycle of worry and shame, it just looks different.
If you want to get out of this negative thought pattern you have to accept that there are things that are out of your control. Learn how to go with the flow, capiche?
Long story short, expect the unexpected.
Once you’ve bounced that around in your brain for awhile, I want you to ask yourself this: how do you speak about yourself to yourself?
Basically, do you have self-compassion?
Self-compassion is crucial when it comes to building confidence. Not only do you have to practice resilience but it’s also important that you’re nice to yourself when you’re at fault for the curveballs life throws at you. Because that happens, too. You will not always be an innocent bystander in the shitshow that is your life. You cheat on your wife and she leaves you. You skip work to go to a Jays game and your boss finds out and you get fired. You gamble your money away in Vegas. You party too hard your first year of University and fail all of your classes. It happens.
Everybody everywhere will fail to live up to their own values and standards of conduct at some point in their lives. I won’t get all Freudian on you, but it really is true that we are driven to seek pleasure. Sometimes that pleasure causes pain in the long run, but our brains aren’t always thinking logically. And that blows, but it’s okay. The goal is not to beat yourself up about these things, it’s to understand that you made some decisions that left you with consequences that don’t feel good. Now it’s your job to do your part to clean up the mess. Take responsibility, apologize, accept the outcome, and move on. That’s it. If you want to increase your confidence you have to accept that you are not perfect. Once we accept that we’re flawed it’s easier for us to take responsibility for our own lives. It’s hard to fess up to our wrongdoings if our self image dictates that we’re perfect.
So this next step is about breaking the shame cycle and learning to accept yourself as you are. Exactly as you are, right now. How radically different would your life look if you accepted that you are okay as you are? The paradox of this is that the more you accept yourself the better able you are to grow into the person you want to become. Have you ever noticed that the minute you stop dieting you lose weight? Part of that is because your stress levels decrease, but another major factor is that you’re no longer caught in a vicious cycle of restriction and reward. If you allow yourself to eat pizza tomorrow you’re not going to eat the whole pizza today. Or maybe you will, but after a while you’ll get real sick of pizza. Believe it or not, eventually you’ll choose to eat better. When we focus too much on change we tend to restrict ourselves. Then we feel cheated and we binge. Then we feel guilty and we numb. Eventually we feel like we’ve failed and this failure becomes a part of our self concept.
Need an example of how self compassion looks IRL?
Meet Jimmy. Jimmy is 24 years old (Jimmy is also totally made up) and really loves relationships and flirting and sex. Jimmy wants to have the freedom to see more than one person at a time but he grew up in a family where monogamy was the norm. He feels conflicted and doesn’t know what to do. Jimmy let’s shame drive the bus and chooses to marry a nice young woman named Mary. He really loves her and respects her and hides his desire for multiple sexual partners from her. He doesn’t act on his desires but he feels shameful for even wanting to sleep with other people. His internal dialogue begins to tell him that he’s not worthy of her love. He feels insecure and this insecurity leads to jealousy and frustration. Jimmy also comes to resent Mary because he feels like he can’t be his true self with her. Mary has an affair because Jimmy is closed down and disconnected. They divorce.
In an alternate life Jimmy embraces that sexuality is different for everybody and that his desires are okay. He meets Mary and he tells her about his outlook on relationships and asks if she’s down with polyamory. Mary is pretty open-minded and likes the idea of having more than one partner so she decides to try it. They enter into a relationship with another couple, but Mary soon discovers that the idea of two boyfriends sounded cool, but in reality it doesn’t feel good for her. Mary doesn’t try to change Jimmy and Jimmy doesn’t try to change Mary. They accept that they are not a good match and they move on. Jimmy continues to date multiple people throughout his life and Mary finds a man who wants to be with only her.
Same situation, radically different result. The only difference is that in scenario B Jimmy had the self compassion to accept himself as he was. If Mary had been a jerk and had shamed him for his desires he probably would have felt rejected but in the long term it wouldn’t have affected him very much. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with his desires so he would have refused to let other people’s beliefs and expectations influence how he felt about himself. This self compassion also lead him to be kind to other people, and allowed him to be understanding when Mary broke up with him. Mary’s rejection of the relationship was not a rejection of him and he understood that.
Okay? So first, accept that you have to go with the flow. This doesn’t mean being laissez faire or not caring about anything, it just means acknowledging that not everything will go as planned.
Then, learn how to accept yourself as you are.
The last thing we will talk about today is community and connection and belonging. Your next objective is to find your tribe. I know that sounds new-agey and everybody under the age of 25 keeps saying it and you might have just rolled your eyes. I don’t care. This one is important. Like mega mega important. You need to find people that love and accept you as you are.
Even the most confident person in the world is going to feel some pressure to be different than they are if they are surrounded by assholes. People wrongly take this to mean that you can only hang out with people who are exactly like you. That might make your life really boring. We need variety and if you’re only spending time with carbon copies of you, you might not discover or explore all of the different aspects of yourself. Your friends don’t have to like all of the same things as you, they just have to like that you like those things. You feel? I have friends that are the polar opposite of me. Some of my closest friends are introverts who make plans and don’t take many risks. They are beautiful and wonderful and remind me that there are many ways to have a fun and rewarding life without dropping everything to move to the coast every year. We push and challenge each other but we never ever make the other feel like they need to be different. And that’s what you’re looking for. Radical acceptance on all fronts. Friends who challenge you to be better without making you feel less than.
If you don’t have these people in your life it’s not because you are not worthy of these people. I repeat, not having accepting friends does not mean you aren’t deserving of accepting friends. Your people are out there, you just have to find them. In order to do this you have to create space for them. It might sound ruthless but if someone is making you feel like shit and they’re not adding to your life, you absolutely have the right to end that relationship. Just because you were friends with Kim in the third grade does not mean you have to be friends with Kim now. Kim is also allowed to end the relationship too, PS. A part of this is understanding that sometimes you might be the toxic person. And that’s OK (self compassion, remember?) This creates more space for new friends and might even give you insight into how you impact other people. You might grow. You might see yourself differently. It’s all feedback, baby.
So welcome what comes. Embrace people who make you feel good and strive to be that person for other people, too. Don’t keep score, just give what you can give. And learn to let go when somebody’s time in your life has come to an end.
I know that’s a lot, and it might feel overwhelming but the concepts are simple. Stop trying to control and predict everything. Breathe. Not everything is about you. Give yourself the freedom to forgive yourself. Surround yourself with people that validate and appreciate what you have to bring into the world.
Easier said than done but it’s worth it, I promise.
If you want some practical strategies or just to work on some of this stuff in depth, book a session with me and we can go from there.
Gisele Plamondon, BSW