When my son was in the first grade, his teacher pulled me aside one afternoon while volunteering. “Linda, I don’t get it. John has everything in life—he’s smart, handsome, athletic and tall, but he lacks self-confidence. He trembles when it’s his turn to stand up in front of the class and recite the morning calendar. We're supportive of him, but it doesn't help."
Many thoughts raced through my head, such as studies on temperament: Isn’t personality primarily set by seven years old? (it's not!); beauty as a buffer: Maybe he won’t be made fun of as much?; social anxiety, and society’s penchant for platitudes: 'Just do it!'
At the conclusion of our conversation, I thanked Mrs. Smith for her compassionate attempts at a solution. The truth is we can try and reason a person into believing they’re worthy or present cogent examples to discount their insecurities, but it’s like nailing jello to a tree.
While it’s difficult to watch someone we love suffer, it’s not our job to bolster their self-esteem. Because we can’t. In fact, the more we try, the worse they may feel. A better strategy may be to teach and model mindfulness.
“Self-compassion also entails a mindfulness. In order to have self-compassion, we have to be willing to turn toward and acknowledge our suffering. Typically, we don't want to do that. We want to avoid it, we don't want to think about it, and want to go straight into problem-solving.” —Dr. Kristin Neff
The good news is that research findings about neural plasticity show that it is possible to rewire our brains in ways that affect our thoughts and behavior, regardless of age. (Health & Social Work). No matter how shy or self-loathing you’ve been up to now, building self-confidence is highly "volitional" (by choice).
For some, self-confidence means withstanding rejection from a romantic relationship, for others, it's not falling apart during a public speaking event, while some wish to quiet their “you’re not good enough” inner critic.
1. Ask, ‘what would I say to a loved one in this situation?' We’re often kinder and more compassionate to others than to ourselves. Additionally, we're not so quick to mull or analyze all that’s going wrong when helping someone else.
Questioning entails mindful awareness to a problem. Too often, people lacking in self-confidence brush off a mistake or a lost opportunity as a character flaw, not as a chance to gain insight into a problem area.
2. Expand your circle of potential. Visualization is a powerful technique of creating an image of yourself as you want to be, within your mind. When we struggle with low self-confidence, we have a poor perception of ourselves that is often inaccurate. When visualizing a positive version of yourself, several areas converge helping you to: a) activate your creative subconscious which increases creativity, b) program your brain to recognize internal and external resources c) manifest the law of attraction, thereby placing yourself in the purview of positive people and opportunities, and d) increase your motivation to take the necessary actions to achieve your dreams.
3. Notice what you’re doing well. This step loosely fits into the “think positive” mantra, and with good reason. When you’re lacking confidence, it’s easy to focus on mistakes. The trick is to catch yourself before a bad mood threatens your day. For example, a while back I noticed when I awoke my mind quickly scanned all the things I didn’t accomplish from the day before. Once I caught myself, I reframed with, “what am I doing right?” This was a game changer in starting my day on a healthy note.
4. Give negative thoughts the boot. This ties into the tip above, as unhealthy thoughts pervade an insecure mindset. A hallmark of an emotionally healthy mind is vigilance around what enters your sacred mental real estate. For an in-depth article on using the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy to affect positive change, click here.
5. Get curious about your inner world. When you become self-aware about your thoughts and how they impact your feelings and behaviors, you’ve set the stage for reducing insecurities. “Hmm, that was an interesting reaction…wonder if there’s something deeper I’m avoiding.” Or, “if I was to let go of my need to control the outcome of situations, how would that feel?”
6. Take risks. As Wayne Gresky wisely said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Regret is a huge theme in psychotherapy, especially as we age and our lives become more narrow. Bottom line: You will never reach your potential if you don't execute a plan.
7. Act “as if” you possess the confidence your aspire to have. When life doesn’t go well it can seem like there’s no rhyme or reason. This is a good time to behave “as if” you’re where you want to be. It’s getting up early, showering, putting on nice clothes and going out in public and networking even though you don’t have a job. Building self-confidence means taking action despite your fear of failure. If things work out, then you now know you’re more confident than you think. If things don’t work out, you now know the experience didn’t break you. Either way, you’re better off.
8. Get organized. Have a system in place for problem-solving. If career advancement is hindered because you didn’t pass an important test, set daily goals for learning the material. Every problem has a solution, and a disorganized mind is the enemy of momentum. Study like there’s no tomorrow and adjust your priorities, accordingly.
The good news is research reveals that self-confidence isn’t fixed at a certain age, but tends to increase with self-awareness and life experience (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology). To quote Sam Ullman, “You are as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fears; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.” For me, this means showing my son he’s loved, identifying areas of competence and engaging in problem-solving. The rest he will have to learn on his own.
For more information on building your self-confidence, you may find this article helpful.
© 2017 Linda Esposito, LCSW