The annoying thing about confidence is how simple and effortless it looks in people who have it:
- That confident coworker who has no problem speaking up and expressing their ideas in meetings
- Your confident spouse who slides right into dinner parties and immediately starts chatting with new people
And while some people may well be more naturally confident — at least in certain situations — it’s always possible to improve your own confidence.
Of course, there are a lot of factors that go into learning to be more confident. But in my work as a psychologist, one of the biggest obstacles to confidence I’ve observed that most people seems to miss is this:
You struggle to feel confident because of your beliefs about confidence itself.
In the rest of this article, we’ll look at 3 limiting beliefs that may be holding you back from developing more confidence. If you can learn to identify them, you’ll be well on your way to replacing them with healthier, more confidence-promoting beliefs.
1. I need to feel confident to act confident.
No, you don’t.
And in fact, you’ve got it completely backward:
You’ll only feel confident once you start acting confident despite not feeling it.
Whatever thing it is that you’d like to feel more confident doing, it’s literally untrue that you need to feel more confident to do it:
- Want to finally suggest that risky idea at your team meeting? Sure, it would be nice if you felt confident pitching it, but you are actually capable of doing it regardless of how you feel.
- Want to finally hit publish on your first YouTube video but terrified what people will think? It would be nice if you felt confident that everyone would love it, but that has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to hit publish.
Of course, doing hard things is certainly hard! But just because it feels hard doesn’t mean anything about your ability to do it.
Feeling confident is nice, but not necessary for action.
No matter how you slice it, you’ll only be able to start doing the hard things if you embrace the belief that you can do difficult things without feeling ready.
But here’s the trick…
You can read that and think to yourself: Yes, that’s true. I’m not going to let this limiting belief hold me back anymore! But your brain won’t really be convinced of it — won’t believe it — until it gets proof, until it sees you living out that new belief.
Actions, not words, change beliefs.
And the belief that you can do difficult things despite not feeling ready will only appear once you prove to yourself that it’s true with your actions.
If you want to feel more confident, make your actions more courageous.
2. I care too much about what other people think.
As a psychologist who specializes in anxiety, I’ve spent A LOT of time around anxious people, including socially anxious people.
And despite what you might think, often the root of that anxiety isn’t actually fear of what other people will think. Instead, the fear that really crushes people is the fear of being too socially anxious.
Anxiety’s not the problem. It’s your anxiety about anxiety that’s killing your confidence.
Our culture is infected with the idea that to be confident and authentic you shouldn’t care at all about what other people think.
Human beings are fundamentally social creatures. Our distinct competitive advantage is our ability to form complex social relationships and coordinate together. But the reason we are so good at complex social relationships is that we’re really good at understanding (and feeling) what other people are thinking and feeling. In a word, empathy.
For most non-psychopaths, it’s completely normal to care about and feel anxious about other people thinking badly of you!
What’s really holding you back from confidence is the belief that you shouldn’t feel anxious about what other people think.
Here’s an example:
- Your spouse asks where you want to get food on your date night.
- You’ve really been craving Indian food. But you know your spouse doesn’t like Indian, so you start thinking maybe you should just say “Italian.”
- At this point you’re anxious but it’s not that bad. It’s the next step that really kills your confidence….
- In addition to worrying that your spouse won’t like Indian if you suggest it, the following thought crosses your mind: “God, why am I always so indecisive?! I wish I was confident enough to just make a decision.”
- Now you’re really going to start feeling anxious and not confident. And the reason: You’ve taken your lack of confidence to an existential level…
- Initially, you just felt a little anxious and uncertainty. But now, after activating your limiting belief that you shouldn’t feel anxious, you’ve made a judgment about your character and who you are as a person.
If you lack confidence in social situations, the most important thing you can do is not judge yourself for caring about what other people think.
You can’t control whether you feel a little anxious or indecisive initially, but you can control where you go from there… Do you get judgmental about your very worth and character as a human being or do you acknowledge that it’s normal to care what other people think and make a decision despite feeling a little anxious or indecisive?
The secret to being socially confident is the willingness to accept some initial anxiety as perfectly normal and healthy.
3. I’m not as confident as people think I am.
The third limiting belief that holds people back from confidence is a combination of the first two limiting beliefs. Let’s review:
- Our first limiting belief holding back your confidence was this: I need to feel confident to act confident.
- The second limiting belief was this: I care too much about what other people think.
The third limiting belief on your confidence is the idea that confidence is relative:
That your confidence hinges on other people’s beliefs about how confident you are.
Many people refer to this as imposter syndrome. But here’s what mostpeople get wrong on the topic of imposter syndrome:
Imposter syndrome isn’t a lack of confidence. It’s the belief that your confidence isn’t good enough compared to your peers.
A few quick examples:
- You know that you’ve prepared well for your monthly presentation to the department, but you’re worried people will “see through you” and realize that you’re not as good as the other project managers.
- You believe that you’re qualified for the job, but you’re afraid the interviewer will think you’re not confident enough.
- You feel confident initially walking into the dinner party, but you quickly see how accomplished and ambitious everyone else there is and start to worry that you won’t fit in.
In all these cases, there’s one common theme:
The real problem isn’t your lack of confidence — it’s that you judge the validity of your confidence based on external factors.
The solution is to resist the impulse to use external standards and other people as a yardstick for your own confidence. And instead, allow yourself to be the one who decides what confidence really is.
You are the final authority on your confidence. Don’t outsource that job to someone else.
All You Need to Know
If you want to feel more confident, it’s important to identify and eliminate any limiting beliefs that might be interfering with your confidence. Here are three of the most common limiting beliefs that hold people back from feeling confident:
I need to feel confident to act confident
I care too much about what other people think
I’m not as confident as people think I am