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The 7 Thought-Habits of Highly Self-Confident People

To gain self-confidence, practice these 7 research-based thinking habits.

"Thinking woman." Image by Free-Photos. Pixabay, CC0.
Source: "Thinking woman." Image by Free-Photos. Pixabay, CC0.

Are there mental habits that will increase your self-confidence? Most definitely. You’ll read about seven such powerful thinking habits below.

My last post revealed the very best mental habit I know for building self-confidence: "The Daily Success Review.” This short and simple three-minute procedure nudges you to tune in to the little things you do right every day, instead of over-focusing on what you think you did wrong. I have nicknamed this daily technique “The Small-Success Review" to counter the destructive mindset of thinking that only huge and dramatic successes and accomplishments really “count” when it comes to bolstering self-esteem.

In addition to the Small-Successes method, there are other ways to increase your self-confidence just by altering your mindset slightly. (It is also important to practice behaviors that will increase your confidence and to learn to project self-confidence to others; those will be the topics of upcoming blogs.) This post spotlights the thinking activities you can do right now to build a self-esteem mindset. The following are 7 of my favorites:

1. Don’t worry if you don’t feel confident all the time.

It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But Dr. Alice Boyes, in her useful book The Healthy Mind Toolkit, describes her realization that she needs both self-confidence and self-doubt to do her best work. A little self-doubt can keep you humble enough to realize you may need to learn more or work harder at something. It may even give you the dogged determination to keep going and “show people what you’re made of.” Doubt, according to Boyes, “causes us to question what we’re doing, mentally prepares us to accept change, propels us to work harder or differently, and can lead to us taking more cooperative approaches in dealing with people who disagree with us.”

I love this reminder that your feelings of confidence will ebb and flow during the course of a day—or a lifetime—and that this fluctuation is normal. Not to worry!

2. Show compassion toward your Future Self.

Caring for your Future Self could involve actions as small as filling up your gas tank this afternoon because you have a busy morning tomorrow, and as far-sighted as exercising now for better health as you age. “I may not want to exercise,” you could say to yourself, “but my Future Self sure would appreciate it.” In this post, habits guru Leo Babauta points out that people who don’t procrastinate are also likely to be people who want their Future Selves to be happy. Can you decide to be one of them?

3. Practice compassionate and realistic self-talk.

Being able to realize when you are suffering, to comfort yourself, and to tell yourself that “tomorrow is another day” will help you accept yourself even when you haven’t been able to handle yourself the way you would have preferred. Being supportive and kind to yourself when you have made mistakes will not only boost self-esteem; it will also boost your motivation and self-control, according to research cited by psychologist Kelly McGonigal in her book, The Willpower Instinct.

Some examples:

  • "It's true that you didn't do as well as you wanted on the talk, but given that you didn't feel well, you were a hero just to get through it."
  • "Yes, you feel bad that you didn't say no to your friend's request. Think of what you could say next time, and put it in your mental file."
  • "You don't have to be perfect."
  • "Don't let it get you down. This too shall pass."

4. Relabel “failures” as setbacks, challenges, opportunities, or learning experiences.

Relabeling “failures” as “challenges,” for example, will immediately lower the level of stress hormones in your body. How could you meet this latest "challenge?" Changing one word can initiate a cascade of problem-solving thoughts. Analyzing past mistakes and setbacks may also improve your future performance, according to this research. Strike the ugly word "failure" from your mental vocabulary. Practice enough, and you will develop a "growth mindset," as psychologist Carol Dweck calls it.

"Idea." Image by Tumisu. Pixabay, CC0.
Source: "Idea." Image by Tumisu. Pixabay, CC0.

5. Don’t assume that other people know what you know. Own your expertise.

This reminder is also from The Healthy Mind Toolkit by Alice Boyes. Do you know… the best places to find inexpensive clothing? Your city’s ordinances about trash, permits, and large-item pickups? The best restaurants for any occasion? Think about the times when people have turned to you for information; your friends realize that you have numerous areas of expertise, both career- and life-related.

6. Know your strengths.

Think back on compliments and positive feedback from others. Notice how much you enjoy or dislike certain kinds of tasks. Take in the way you contributed to a situation and made it better. When you’ve had a success, mentally replay it again and again. Remembering and savoring positive feedback from others will help you internalize your strengths. Likewise, remembering other positive experiences will ingrain your special qualities into your brain. (Many readers have found this post on “knowing yourself” a helpful way to focus on strengths.)

7. Remember your higher purpose and your meaningful values and goals.

Reminding yourself of your most important values, goals, and life mission can give you more willpower, persistence, and self-confidence, according to considerable research. Your values keep you oriented to your “true north,” pointing to the core of who you are.

If nothing is working, and you fall prey to constant feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred, find a good therapist, who can help you challenge any deep-seated negative beliefs about yourself. Yes, therapy involves time, money, and work, but it's worth it to improve your self-confidence. There’s a lot of truth in this quote by Maxwell Maltz: “Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand brake on.”

Facebook/LinkedIn image: mavo/Shutterstock


McGonigal, K. (2012). The Willpower Instinct. (NY: Avery), p. 148.

Boyes, A. (2018) The Healthy Mind Toolkit. (NY: Tarcher), p. 66, 205, 206.

Babauta, L. "Two Simple Habits of Non-Procrastinators."

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