We all want optimal self-confidence.
Too high and it becomes arrogance.
Too low and it becomes a neurosis.
But it’s a fine balancing act; one that determines the quality of our personal and professional relationships.
(Check out The Confidence Gap if you want to dive deeper down the psychological rabbit hole).
Self confidence starts to form in childhood, the nurturing we receive in this critical developmental period frequently dictating how we feel as adults.
Childhood trauma or the lack of emotional support during our younger years can cause a crippling loss of self-belief with significant negative effects.
While people might intermittently be overconfident, a lack of self-esteem seems more prevalent.
Symptomatically, this might present as social shyness, anxiety, overthinking and decision-making difficulties.
Low self belief often results in constant second-guessing.
Firstly, it can seem almost impossible to make a decision, often because we don’t trust ourselves enough to make the right one.
When we do act, it’s from a place of constant fear, anticipating impending failure at every turn.
This becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, as we incite the worst-case scenario, bringing it into being.
Even when we do muster sufficient courage, low self-confidence creates high sensitivity to external opinion as we constantly try to meet extrinsic expectations, berating ourselves for falling short.
While we can obviously unpack our psychological history with the help of a trained professional, it’s also important to take personal control where possible.
Let’s consider for a moment, how optimal self confidence might look.
- You have the courage of conviction to decide on your life purpose and plan for making it happen
- You make decisions swiftly and confidently, assured that you’ve done your best with the available evidence
- You don’t obsess over external expectations and rather than people-pleasing, stay true to your internal compass
- You aren’t overly fearful of failure, knowing that it’s an inevitable part of life and an engine for growth
- You’re happy to surround yourself with like minds, who share your vision for life and provide integral emotional support
In other words, you believe in yourself.
Belief is a powerful force – it can help people heal through the placebo effect, result in religious fundamentalism or create extreme professional success.
In contrast, low self-confidence sufferers actively believe in their perceived shortcomings, manifesting them even in the absence of supporting evidence.
So how can we harness the power of belief to encourage optimal self-confidence?
Paradoxically, I’ve found it easier to build self confidence by becoming less dependent on the entire idea of a self.
Meditation has been an invaluable tool, teaching that our concept of self is really a mind-made phenomenon.
While this can initially be disconcerting, I’ve actually found it an empowering discovery.
If the self is a mirage, any limitations I place on it are also an illusion, a liberating insight, allowing me to act freely and with less inhibition.
People can often be divided into two camps; those with a fixed or growth mindset.
It’s easy to feel our abilities (and therefore performance) in life are predetermined, influenced by nature and genetics.
While it might be impossible to become a professional basketball player when you’re 5 feet tall, humans are incredibly adaptable, with neuroplasticity permitting learning and personal growth at all ages.
Therefore, rather than condemning our lack of confidence as a fixed condition, we can continue to evolve.
We spend our lives trapped in our heads, constantly judging and self-criticising, which predictably leads to fear and inaction.
The antidote? Exposure therapy; feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
Self-confidence issues, magnified by overthinking, might partly be addressed by improving our experience and abilities.
If social situations make us nervous, for example, it may be tempting to shy away from such interactions.
Like any new skill, however, we can only excel through diligent, deliberate practice.
As soon as we start socialising, our fear will diminish and our communication skills will improve.
We’re often highly biased towards the negative.
While this has undoubtedly kept humans chugging along from a survival perspective, it doesn’t build self-belief, as we often diminish our wins or discount them entirely.
Engaging in a regular reflective practice on the results of our actions provides a vital feedback loop, helping to identify faulty mental models and maps of reality.
Comparing feelings and results in this way can highlight the frequent disparity between the two and help us bring our self-confidence into alignment, allowing positivity to precede action.
In a way, building from a place of low self-confidence is beneficial.
People lacking self-esteem often seem to be highly attuned to the needs of others, scoring high on the empathy index.
This is a wonderful trait, which can be supplemented, rather than suppressed, by our confidence gains.
Building self-belief while remaining sympathetic to the needs of others is a true hallmark of emotional intelligence.