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6 Mental Mistakes Unconfident People Make

Feel happier — and perform better — by recognizing these self-sabotaging traps.

Source: Tmcphotos/Shutterstock

I recently wrote a post about 7 self-sabotaging things unconfident people do. Continuing on the same theme, I thought I'd outline some more of the "thinking mistakes" unconfident people make. Some of these are subtle patterns, but when you become aware of them, you'll notice them cropping up repeatedly.

1. Don't assume that when other people present their idea, it means they're not open to alternatives (i.e., your ideas).

My project manager on an investment property I'm rehabbing recently sent me a photo of a paint color she thought I'd like for the exterior of the house. It was a blueish-grey, and my initial thought was "OK, she thinks I need to choose this or something very similar." In fact, this was just a conclusion I had mentally jumped to. There was nothing to stop me from exploring other colors, and no evidence she would be mad, disappointed, or lack enthusiasm about another idea.

Notice if you do this too. You may assume that other people don't want your feedback, or that you need to stay within a particular box (you think) they've given you. Coming up with ideas is draining and takes a great deal of mental effort. When people are relatively secure themselves, they're often open to fresh perspectives and eager to hear them.

2. Don't assume that if other people let you down it's because they don't care, or you're not worth caring about.

In busy modern life, it can be a struggle for people to always follow through on everything they've said they'll do. If someone you care about seems to forget about you or lets you down, it may not be that they don't care. They may be overwhelmed or have overcommitted themselves, or they may be experiencing pressures you're not aware of. Sometimes the reason people "flake" is related to their depression or other mental health factors. It's common for people to react to feeling embarrassed about this by becoming avoidant. When this happens, people typically fail to clearly communicate when they're not able to follow through in the time frame they've indicated. If you're prone to a lack of self-confidence, it's easy to personalize this, rather than see it as their issue. Try not to jump to the conclusion that you're low on someone's priority list.

3. Don't assume what will be a big deal (or not) to someone else.

Unconfident people often get extremely stressed out if they need to change a plan, or if they want to change their mind. You might find yourself ruminating about whether the other person/people involved is/are going to be mad at you. It's really difficult to accurately gauge when you're being a pain in the butt to someone else. There will be times you think you're being annoying, and the other person isn't bothered at all. Equally, there will be times when you're driving someone nuts without realizing it. Keep in mind that it's very difficult to guess someone else's perspective. There are certainly times when someone else wants to change a plan, and the change suits me better. Or, perhaps you might raise a concern that has also been bugging the other person, or that they didn't think of, but they're glad you thought of it.

4. Don't assume that correcting a problem will be a huge undertaking.

People often feel stuck in problem patterns that feel too big to fix. In fact, you may be able to make very simple changes that greatly improve whatever your problem is. For example, you could start improving your teamwork by making one positive comment at every meeting you attend. Solutions that improve a problem by only 1 percent can have a big impact. When you start making very small changes, it can open your eyes to other easy changes you could make with very little effort or sacrifice.

This problem pattern happens on a relationship level too. For example, your spouse wants you to be more helpful, and you think they'll never be satisfied with anything you do. Relationship happiness is largely sentiment based. When we're generally happy in a relationship, small things don't bother us much. When we're generally unhappy, everything irritates us. Small amounts of effort can completely change the emotional tone in your relationship and put it on a much better trajectory.

5. Don't assume other people know how much you like them.

There are people from my past who I regularly think of as having played a special role in my life. Likewise, there are lots of people I encounter in everyday life who I really enjoy in some way. For example, colleagues I like collaborating with, or just people whose work I enjoy. This happens even in customer service situations, like you love your mail carrier or the staff at your local bank or supermarket. Let people know when they're a positive presence in your life. You can do this in a way that doesn't freak people out — you might mention, for example, that you like patronizing a particular store because of the staff.

Sometimes we have casual relationships with colleagues without the other person knowing we really like them and would welcome more frequent contact or more collaboration. The same pattern can happen with friends of friends, where you'd like to develop a closer tie to that person directly, but you might assume they're not as interested in that as you are. You never know unless you attempt some communication!

6. Don't assume that other people know what you know.

This is a point I've mentioned before, but it's an important one. If you have any level of imposter syndrome, you'll probably tend to assume that whatever knowledge you have is common, and that everybody else shares your knowledge base. Making this assumption can lead to not sharing your ideas, and therefore other people not realizing your value.

Assuming other people know what you know can also mean you don't communicate clearly enough, which can lead to other people making mistakes or not doing what you intended. If you think there is a reasonable chance something you have to say/share will be useful, speak up. You don't need to be 100 percent sure of this. Try speaking up when you think there is a greater than 50 percent likelihood that what you have to say will be helpful. For more on this topic, see point #5 here.

Wrapping Up

You can stop a lack of confidence from negatively impacting you if you're aware of the thinking errors and behavioral patterns associated with it. For another take on this topic, check out my colleague Meg Selig's recent post containing 7 strategies for building your inner strength.

Want more? Get the first chapter of my book, The Healthy Mind Toolkit, free when you subscribe to my Psychology Today blog posts.