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How to Build Your Self-Confidence

Challenge unhealthy thinking, validate yourself, and build on your successes.

Key points

  • Reframing negative thoughts helps consciously create a new path to self-esteem.
  • Leveraging current strengths in one area can help build confidence in another.
  • Using others for external validation is not sustainable for long-term self-confidence. It's best to find ways to recognize oneself.
  • Building confidence helps improve multiple areas of life, including encounters with others and recovery from setbacks.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Building your confidence and self-esteem is a daunting task. Yet building your confidence can benefit you in many areas of your life—the better you feel, the more you're willing to say yes to new activities or challenges, and the less likely you are to fall into vices for comfort.

To begin to build your confidence, start by challenging your unhealthy thinking, building on your existing successes, and finding ways to validate yourself. Here's how.

1. Challenge unhealthy thinking.

We each have an internal dialogue running in our heads all day. Yet we are mostly unaware of what we're saying to ourselves.

Say, for instance, that you forget your cell phone and start cursing under your breath that you're "stupid." It might seem like an inconsequential moment of self-scolding—but every time you say something negative about yourself, it strengthens the neural pathway between your concept of "stupid" and your concept of "self."

To break this, you have to consciously create a new path. You might instead say, "It was a stupid thing" (meaning: you are not stupid) or "Man, I must be stressed to have forgotten that."

Additional tips include:

  • Make an additional point to challenge instances of black-and-white thinking, such as "I always do this" or "I never do this"
  • Reframe global statements to local ones—for example, reframe "I'm forgetful" to "I forgot this one thing"
  • Say these reframes to yourself in a mirror, aiming for three "reframes" for every negative statement

To help track your progress, assign a friend or a partner to call you out on your negative self-talk language. Notice if you are gradually getting fewer call-outs.

2. Build on your successes.

Utilize your strengths. Find an area you already feel confident in and leverage it to help you solve other issues. If you don't feel confident with managing a budget, for example, but you have strong relationships, leverage your people skills to help you. For instance, you can set up a working meeting or have others walk you through the process rather than you trying to learn it alone.

Other ways to build upon your successes are:

  • Connect a task to your passion (e.g., gamify something if feeling competitive gets you excited).
  • Identify your personal values and connect them to your day-to-day activities.
  • Ask others what they think your strengths are. (You may be surprised by the answers!)
  • Mentor others who need help in areas you are good at.
  • After receiving positive feedback, ask for a referral or new projects in similar areas.

To see if you are progressing, ask a boss or colleague whether they feel you are closing your development gaps.

3. Find internal validation.

Using others for external validation is OK in the short term, but it's not sustainable for your confidence or self-esteem in the long run. Our brains are wired to see the bad first, so it takes conscious action to notice the positive.

To build internal validation:

  • Fake it 'til you make it. Hyping yourself up or telling yourself you got this may seem silly, but it will help your brain remain calm and actually increase your chances of success.
  • Start your day positively with gratitude, writing down your successes and/or things you like about yourself.
  • After a performance conversation or receiving feedback, write down at least one positive comment you heard.
  • Build a shrine to yourself with things like your degree, an award, or thank-you cards. Have it as a go-to place to look at when feeling low.
  • Build small rewards and recognition for yourself daily—even if you didn't achieve a task, reward your effort.
  • Reflect on your achievements at the end of every day.

To see if you are developing this skill, when someone gives you praise, does it feel random or out of the blue? Or does it feel deserved and an act of recognition? When it feels like recognition, this shows you have already praised yourself for the work.

Building your confidence will help you across other areas of life. That is, feeling good at work is likely to have spillover effects on your encounters at home and with friends. People will see you as more competent, problems won't seem as daunting, and you will recover from setbacks faster.

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