People often receive conflicting information about how to achieve self-confidence. Confidence seems to have an amorphous quality, which makes the concept difficult to grasp and even more challenging to teach. But rest assured that it can be done—developing confidence is learnable and actionable.
Confidence develops when you have a deep sense that you can handle the emotional outcome of whatever you face or pursue. Another way to put it is that confidence is the felt sense of a “can-do" attitude.
Throughout my years working with clients and teaching and supervising graduate students, I’ve identified six ways that people build confidence, and five of them can be practiced daily. Trusting that you are emotionally strong is the foundation, followed by speaking, taking action, ending self-criticism, and absorbing compliments.
- The first step is to allow yourself to be aware of, experience, and move through the full range of your feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant. Most of us do well with pleasant feelings but can be distracted by unpleasant ones. The key here is that you are choosing awareness, or “knowing what you know,” as opposed to avoidance and “trying not to know what you know.” In this case, it means dealing with eight unpleasant feelings: sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, vulnerability, embarrassment, disappointment, and frustration. Allowing yourself to move toward pain and deal with the feelings that result from disappointment builds emotional strength. When you choose to be aware of and in touch with the full range of what you experience, it is very centering, grounding, and peaceful, and you feel more true to yourself. This is the start of building confidence.
- The second step is speaking up or expressing yourself—with discretion and in a positive, kind, and well-intentioned manner—by telling the truth about what you experience. It is saying what you need to say, with whom you wish to speak, at the time you need. Think about how frequently a therapist or people close to you tell you to speak up. There’s a good reason why they advise you to do so. When you tell your well-intended truth, you’ll find that speaking up gives your confidence a major boost, because it helps you live more authentically.
- The third step is to take actions that move you toward your goals even if it seems hard to take those risks. With both speaking up and taking action, it is not that you have confidence and then speak or do something positive; instead, it is through speaking and taking action that you develop confidence.
- The fourth is to end harsh self-criticism or negative self-talk. This behavior not only fosters doubt but can rob you of the will to pursue your goals. Despite some people's beliefs that being mean to themselves helps motivate them, hurting yourself with thoughts and words is profoundly damaging. When you are tempted to belittle yourself, use your awareness of this temptation as a signal that something harder to know or bear is trying to make itself known to you. Then, ask yourself: What is difficult for me to know or bear? Any insights that emerge can help guide your future actions.
- Though many of us are inclined to dismiss them, the fifth step is to accept the genuine compliments you receive. Compliments act as a mirror and reflection of yourself. As you let yourself take them in, they can help you settle into yourself, perhaps allowing you to see that you are already the person you want to become.
These actions can increase your confidence—the deep sense that you can handle the emotional outcome of whatever you face or want to pursue.