The Mystery of Self-Confidence
If you suffer from a lack of self-confidence, you know that it truly is a kind of suffering. You may feel “less than” others, unsure of what you think and believe, or unaware of your own strengths. These feelings may cause you to approach life with timidity, defensiveness, or an excessive need to please others.
Some people can project confidence without really owning it, but the kind of self-esteem that is important is not just an act. It is a positive feeling about yourself, your ideas, and your worth that enables you to take good care of yourself, stand on equal footing with others, and feel pride about yourself and how you live your life. (Note: For the purposes of this blog, I am lumping “self-confidence” and “self-esteem” together, though distinctions are sometimes made between them.)
Not all self-confidence is under your control. In fact, by some estimates, about 50% of self-confidence is genetic. Fortunately, you’ve got the other 50% to work with!
When you use the method described below, you will gradually acquire more inner confidence along with the ability to take actions that will improve your life. You can do this fun mental exercise by yourself, privately, and in very little time.
The easy exercise for confidence-building is a Daily Success Review. It is a cousin to the famous gratitude exercise Three Good Things in which you take some time at the end of the day to focus on three good things that happened to you that day and why. In this variation, you will focus on three successes, large or small, that you had on a particular day.
The process is straightforward: Take three minutes or less to make a mental note of (or write down) one to three successes of your day.
By “successes,” I do not necessarily mean major achievements, although if you have them, by all means, bask in their glory. But don’t overlook the power of your everyday small wins. By focusing on daily victories, you reinforce your constructive actions and thoughts, thus making it likely you’ll have more small wins on subsequent days.
Some of you may be thinking, “Successes?! I don’t have successes. My life is a mess.” I suspect that many people may not realize all the possibilities there are to feel good about themselves on a given day. So, just to give you some ideas, here are 25 possible small wins to notice as you go through your day:
- You made a good decision.
- You took the time to exercise.
- You felt compassion for yourself when you made a mistake instead of beating yourself up.
- You responded to a situation in a better way than you normally would.
- You took a break when you got tired instead of pushing yourself in an unhealthy way.
- You refrained from making a bad situation worse.
- You helped someone.
- You refrained from helping someone because you needed to focus on your own projects.
- You completed or made progress on a project.
- You decided that something was not worth doing and quit doing it.
- You persisted with a task, even when it was unpleasant.
- You did something healthy for your mind, such as meditating for a few minutes when under stress or... doing the Daily Success Review!
- You were able to find just the right thing to say to a family member, friend, or colleague.
- You made a mistake and learned from it.
- You made a mistake and didn't let it ruin your day.
- You took the initiative to set up a social occasion or strengthen a friendship.
- You said no to unreasonable demands or set a boundary that needed to be set.
- You apologized when you did something wrong and didn't apologize when you didn't.
- You lived up to your values, even though it was difficult.
- You set goals for your day and adjusted them when necessary.
- You got an idea about how to move your life forward in some way.
- You got an idea about your next work project.
- You prepared for an event ahead of time so you wouldn't have to rush the next day.
- You accepted the reality that something couldn't be changed, thus conserving your energy.
- You paused and reflected on something before you acted, instead of reacting impulsively.
Of course, there is an infinite number of things you might feel good about on a given day. The list above is meant only to give you ideas. With or without the list, can you think of three successes you’ve already had today?
To see if a Daily Success Review will work for you, try it for a few weeks. Feel free to skip it sometimes, just to keep it fresh. Your goal is to develop a small-success mindset so that you are on the lookout for the many positive things you do as well as the courage you show when you learn from mistakes.
After doing a Daily Success Review on a regular basis, you may learn to recognize a small success immediately after it occurs. When you notice a little victory, you could give yourself an inner compliment, using self-talk like this:
- “Hey, I handled that pretty well!”
- “Good decision!”
- “Way to go! You kept your cool under pressure!”
It Should be Easy
If you can’t seem to find successes in your day, you may be searching too hard for extraordinary and dramatic achievements. Remember the small wins!
Given our brain’s negativity bias, you may also find yourself focusing too much on failures. Of course you can learn from failures, setbacks, and negative events as well as from successes. If you decide to review one of these, give yourself credit! It’s not easy to take a hard look at our personal flops. And if the whole day was one mishap after another, just forgive yourself and move on.
Building self-confidence is a process, not an event. But if you’ve tried this exercise for a few weeks and you still find it difficult to notice your good qualities and actions, you may want to see a therapist for help.
Other Benefits of Focusing on Successes
A Daily Success Review is a great way to know yourself. As you do it, you will begin to see patterns in your successes. You could realize that you have a strength in one area and a weakness in another. You may realize that your passions lie this way not that way. You could notice what you value. You will more easily recognize people, places, and things that lift you up, and people, places, and things that it might be better to avoid.
Just thinking about past successes and values has surprisingly positive effects on behavior, thinking, academic performance, and even IQ. Dr. Jeremy Dean, in this blog, cites research that suggests that recognizing your own successes can raise your IQ about 10 points. Similar types of self-affirmation were shown in other research to increase the test scores of often marginalized students such as African-Americans and female math students.
In a nutshell, being able to savor your successes will make your life more pleasant and more meaningful. Since pleasure and meaning are two essential ingredients of happiness, you will feel happier, too.
Yes, your daily successes may seem small, but often small victories are the sweetest. And maybe those positive actions you took are not so small after all.
© Meg Selig, 2018. All rights reserved.
Burton, N. "Self-Confidence Versus Self-Esteem," psychologytoday.com.
Dean, J. “A Quick and Easy Way to Boost IQ 10%,” PsyBlog.
Selig, M. "Know Yourself? 6 Specific Ways to Know Who You Are," psychologytoday.com.
Selig, M. “The Amazing Power of ‘Small Wins,” psychologytoday.com.
Contie, Vicki, “Gene Linked to Optimism and Self-Esteem,” NIH.