We all have certain areas of our lives where we’d like to feel more confident:
- Maybe you wish you were confident enough to speak up more often at work and express yourself.
- Maybe you want to be more confident when it comes to dating and romance.
- Or maybe you wish you had enough confidence to finally start that new business you’ve been dreaming of.
And while everybody knows what it feels like to lack confidence, here’s the thing most people don’t realize about how confidence works:
Feeling confident is often about what you do less of, not more of.
Specifically, many of us have subtle habits in our lives that chip away at our self-confidence and add to our insecurities. But, if you can learn to identify and eliminate these confidence-killing habits, you’ll find that you’re naturally more confident than you realize.
Trusting your feelings
The core dilemma when it comes to confidence is that your feelings override your values:
- You want to ask that cute guy out (value), but you feel anxious and self-conscious (feelings). So you keep talking to your friends, the moment slips by, and your opportunity is gone.
- A great idea occurs to you during your weekly meeting and you want to share it with your boss (value), but you immediately start worrying that she’ll think it’s silly or dumb (feeling). So you keep quiet and don’t mention it.
One way to look at these examples is that if you had felt more confident, you would have been able to act on your values.
The trouble with this is, you can’t just make yourself feel confident anymore than you can make yourself feel happy or in love.
Feeling confident comes from acting on your values despite feeling afraid.
If you habitually avoid asking people out, you’re going to habitually feel anxious about it. And if you habitually avoid speaking up during meetings, you’re going to habitually feel nervous about it.
On the other hand, if you ask someone out despite feeling anxious—or speak up during a meeting despite being afraid of getting criticized—you will start to feel more confident.
One of the reasons it’s so hard to act on our values when our feelings are pulling us away with fear is because we’re in the habit of trusting our feelings implicitly.
Our culture tends to glorify feelings and emotions (think of any and every Disney movie you’ve ever seen). Unfortunately, this unqualified trust in feelings is misguided…
Your feelings will lead you astray at least as often as they will help you.
It’s important to listen to your emotions, but never trust them. Give up the habit of trusting your feelings blindly and be prepared to ignore them and follow your values instead.
Once your mind sees you acting on your values despite how you feel, you will start to feel truly confident.
Most people don’t like conflict. In fact, most people are so afraid of conflict that they’ll go to some pretty extreme lengths to avoid it…
- I worked with a client once who turned down a major promotion at work because she was afraid it would cause too much “friction” with another coworker.
- Another client basically gave up spending time with his friends because his wife would get jealous and judgmental almost anytime he spent time away from her.
But sometimes fear of conflict leads to many smaller—though not necessarily less significant—sacrifices:
- Never eating at your favorite restaurant because you “just go with” whatever you partner suggests
- Always saying yes and taking on too many tasks because you don’t want to say “no” and disappoint people
- Never watching your favorite type of movie because your roommate or friend hates that type of show
Whatever the details of your specific situation, here’s what you need to know about being a people pleaser:
When you habitually prioritize other people’s wants and needs before your own, you train your mind to devalue itself.
Think about it: if you never stand up for yourself, of course you’re not going to feel very confident!
Luckily, becoming more confident is often just a matter of being a little bit more assertive with people about what you want (or don’t want).
One of the simplest ways to boost your confidence is to practice asking for what you want and saying no to things you don’t want. But the key—that most people miss—is to start VERY small. Then once this becomes more comfortable, gradually work your way up to bigger things.
It’s good to think of others. But if it always comes at the expense of yourself, no one will end up happy in the long-run.
Worrying about the future
Our capacity to think about the future and imagine hypothetical scenarios is a wonderful skill and tool.
From anticipating your opponent’s next move in a game of chess to landing a person on the moon, it clearly benefits us to be able to think about the future. It’s especially useful to anticipate problems so we can address them early before they happen. Just imagine how many hypothetical problems all those engineers as NASA had to imagine before putting men in a spaceship to the moon!
But like so many of our most impressive tools and abilities, thinking about problems in the future can be unhealthy if done for the wrong reasons. This is especially the case with our tendency to worry.
If you spend time thinking about something that either A) Isn’t really a problem, or B) Isn’t a problem you can do anything about, you’re likely to end up worrying. Which means you’re getting all of the side effects of negative thinking like stress, anxiety, or panic with none of the benefits of genuine problem-solving.
Here’s a specific example:
Your spouse goes on a trip to visit a relative. After seeing a news report of a plane crash in another country, you start worrying about your spouse’s plane crashing.
Even though you know that thinking about your spouse getting in a plane crash isn’t helping anyone, you feel compelled to continue thinking about it—playing scenarios over and over again in your head and worrying. And as a result, you feel increasingly anxious and tense.
So why do we do it? Why do we worry if it only makes us feel bad without accomplishing anything good?
Here’s the thing about worry:
Worry gives you the illusion of certainty. But in the end, all it does is fragilize you.
Even though you can’t actually solve some hypothetical problem (your spouse getting in a crash, for example) thinking about it gives you the illusion of control. It makes you feel like you’re at least doing something.
But it’s all a mirage. And in the end, all that worry and anxiety just chip away at your confidence.
If you want to feel more genuinely confident, you must accept the fundamental uncertainty of life. There are simply some things that we can’t control. There are some very bad outcomes that we simply can’t prevent. And often, no amount of thinking and worrying will change that.
Better to face up to your fear of uncertainty with confidence than live in denial about it.
Ruminating on the past
Just like worry gives the illusion of control over the future, rumination gives us a sense of false control over mistakes and losses in the past. Unfortunately, it can also lead to self-criticism, depression, and low self-esteem.
Of course, reflecting on the past—including mistakes and negative events—can be a helpful activity. When you intentionally make time to consider the past in a balanced and objective way, it can often be a source of great relief and learning.
But it’s all too easy to end up dwelling on the past and thinking about it in an unhelpful way—this is called rumination:
- If you’ve ever found yourself replaying the same mistake over and over in your mind without learning anything new, that’s rumination.
- If you’ve ever found yourself obsessively imagining alternative histories and how you could have averted some tragedy or loss, that’s rumination.
- If you’ve ever found yourself missing out on good things in the present because you’re stuck dwelling on negatives in the past, that’s rumination.
One of the many problems with getting into the habit of ruminating on past mistakes is that it erodes your confidence in the future.
When you invest all your attention into yesterday, you have nothing left to invest into today.
This leads to a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy: Because you spent all your attention and energy ruminating on the past, you can’t put as much into today. This leads to poor performance which then becomes evidence to support your already low self-confidence.
To stop wasting attention and energy with rumination, you must learn to accept and make peace with past mistakes and loss. Nobody likes feeling helpless to fix mistakes, but pretending you can change them by ruminating on them obsessively isn’t doing your confidence any favors.
Accept that you are helpless to change the past and you will have an easier time letting go of your tendency to dwell on the past. And when you do that, your confidence is sure to rise.
All You Need to Know
To feel more confident, focus on identifying and undoing the habits in your life that are depleting your confidence:
Stop trusting your feelings
Stop people pleasing
Stop worrying about the future
Stop ruminating on the past