Confidence, self confidence, self belief and self esteem are often linked. Confidence relates to knowing your own abilities. Self confidence is learnt and externally driven and self belief is a trust in your own abilities and positive regard for yourself irrespective of your achievements (internally driven). The greater our self confidence, the more we believe we can meet the demands of a situation or task. Self esteem is seen as a more stable personality trait – our belief in our own inherent value, worth, and how deserving we are of love, happiness and success in life.
There is broad scientific agreement that confidence, self belief and esteem are important for happy lives. Self confidence and belief can be negatively impacted by childhood encounters and setbacks in life. Self confident individuals have better overall health because they deal with stress and difficult emotions better and they have more time for their families and friends, since they tend to set healthy boundaries and can leave work behind. Their relationships benefit from the time accrued through boundary-setting which also yields improved performance at work, greater ability to concentrate and improved commitment to tasks. Conversely, individuals with low self confidence and self belief, struggle in relationships, are less happy, don’t cope well with stress, lack energy and motivation and struggle to optimize their performance. They also are more likely to suffer from self-limiting beliefs and unhelpful thinking patterns which limit what they do or want to do in future. In addition, negative self belief and thinking can run havoc in relationships. Now, more than ever in this Covid pandemic, our confidence and self belief are challenged. Our autonomy, competence, certainty and support at work and home may have been tested recently, unsettling our self esteem and confidence.
There are things that can help make you more positive about yourself to tackle these problems. A good start to improve your sense of self is to write a list of all your strengths. If you struggle, behave like a researcher and look for evidence; check your appraisal reports, peers’ comments, family feedback and remember yourself when you felt proud and what you were doing. Consider your context too; the limitations on what you can achieve and challenge unrealistic expectations!
Having confidence recognises that you know what your abilities and qualities are. Identify strengths and qualities that apply to you. Some of the headings below might help you think more widely.
Go beyond qualifications. Can I write well? Can I problem solve? Can I explain ideas well? Do I think through decisions and use reasoning to make my mind up? Can I work numbers in my head? Am I good with facts, general knowledge, specific knowledge areas or logic?
Am I good at repairing things? Can I see what needs to be fixed and work out how it should be done? Have I an eye for detail? Can I design, make, decorate or create?
Do I have a musical ability, can I sing, dance, move in rhythm, write poetry, paint, sculpt?
What do I do in my spare time and what do I gain from doing that? What do I learn or other people are interested in?
Do you do any voluntary work? Are you involved with neighbours? Are you trusted and reliable/punctual? Are you helpful?
Do you meet people easily or put others at their ease? Do you have a sense of humour? Are you interested in others? Are you a good listener? Can you see things from another’s view point? Are you a peace maker?
Are you honest? Kind? Determined? Patient? Calm? Steady? Happy? Contented? Caring? Fit? Gentle? Sensible? Fun? Have initiative? Creative? Reliable? Positive? Do you try hard?
Some of the values we hold inform our confidence and self esteem levels. Often values translate into rules or sayings for life that we may have learnt in our families. Some of those can be helpful and others may limit our growth.
Are there phrases or sayings that you find less helpful or more helpful?
Take the time to sit with these strengths and feel pleased. Suck it up! Then move onto consider how these strengths have supported you in areas in your life whether they be work, home or in crisis situations. Do not write anything negative if you catch yourself having a negative thought. Practice revisiting your list to challenge the old narrative of yourself and replace it with a more accurate one.
Next, consider your core beliefs which may be self limiting (eg. I am not good enough; I am stupid; a bad or worthless person or I am undeserving etc. This is the material you need to reframe to make the change you seek, to see yourself more positively. From this list, spot the linked thinking errors that both derive from and maintain lower self belief such as a requirement to be perfect all the time, everything is your fault, a tendency to discount the positive in a situation or to catastrophize events so we can remain justified as bad, worthless or not good enough. If you practice rebalancing thoughts to identify situations when you are good enough or less stupid; this counters the original blunt diagnosis of yourself as never/not good enough or stupid. When we change our perception of ourselves to be more realistic ‘Sometimes I do this well and sometimes I struggle to do it well’, we undermine the truth of these damning scripts (in our heads) that limit what we do.
Assertiveness can also influence our learnt perception of ourselves through changing our communication style and improving our ability to organize our lives and manage boundaries. The assertiveness framework is underpinned by a bill of rights that are: to ask for what I want; the right to say no to requests demands I can’t meet; to express all of my feelings positive or negative; to change my mind; to make mistakes and not be perfect; not to be responsible for others behaviours, actions feelings or problems; not to give excuses or reasons for my behaviour; to my own needs for personal space and time and to be happy. Use these rights, to challenge some of our limited beliefs. Notice how the bill of rights is not linked to success, in recognition that essential learning usually begins with mistakes. Assertiveness also enables us to learn how to take criticism and compliments. A useful position from which to receive criticism is as a researcher in life, stepped back to evaluate the feedback for its merit in order to teach us to do it better next time. For compliments, this is a free gift to challenge our unhelpful self core beliefs in future. Compliments come from a position of positive regard; further validating yourself through others’ eyes.
In summary, low confidence and self belief can be changed by the effort we put in to some simple but not easy actions. Using strengths lists, challenging unhelpful thinking, harnessing assertiveness skills to guide you with others, are useful. These techniques can support you in strengthening your sense of positive self which ripples out into the rest of your life. If you still struggle to manage your confidence and self belief, consulting a counsellor can be helpful.