WHAT IS SELF-CONFIDENCE, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT, AND HOW DO I GET IT?

A note on self-confidence.

I would expect the majority (if not all) of you have experienced a lack of confidence at some point. Yep, of course you have. It is only human to at times doubt our abilities. I can’t count the number of times I have felt severely out of my depth in social and professional situations, and that’s okay. But what isn’t okay is for me time after time to gasp a sigh of relief on my exit from an uncomfortable situation and flee my feelings of inadequacy. It’s also not okay for you either.

Let’s stop running away, and let’s start asking questions.

Why did I feel out of my depth? What made me feel less worthy than those around me? Why do I feel unable to interact with that environment and those within it? Why do I struggle to sustain one on one conversations? Why do I feel awkward? Why do I feel unlovable? Why do I feel anxious before and during unfamiliar situations? Why do I feel incompetent?

The reality is that many us lack confidence because we don’t want to appear foolish. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of others. You don’t ask for the promotion, you don’t stop the local on the street and ask for directions, you don’t ask the waiter what that element of food is on the menu that you don’t recognise, you don’t speak up when you are the minority, and you don’t ask that special individual out on a first date. And when we don’t, we don’t because many of us are riddled by imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome largely occurs through the comparison of yourself with others. Honestly, comparison with others simply entails the death of the self. Stop doing it. Comparing yourself with other people is dangerous because our perception of others is 99.9% always false. We convince ourselves that those around us are better than us, our brains are negatively biased in this way.

Others aren’t above you, so why do we convince ourselves they are?


Its because at first glance, it isn't evident that others are flawed as well. Too often we look at others through rose tinted glasses, bolstered by them only showing us want they want us to see- edited information. It is worth remembering that you only know others from the outside, yet you regularly ponder on your own internal inadequacies. This damages your self-confidence and ultimately your ability to internalise your own successes and accomplishments. Imposter syndrome induces an anxiety that we are not worthy in the eyes of others, and it is this fear of embarrassing ourselves in front of those we mistakenly deem better than us that makes us feel out of depth in unfamiliar social and professional situations.

Source: LSE


But I have good news. You can learn to be confident. Self-confidence is a skill, not an innate gift that you are born with. Like anything, if you don’t train it, you are going to be rather crap at it. Yes, there is no doubt that confidence comes more naturally to some than others, but it is likely that confident people have repeatedly been thrown into uncomfortable situations with no choice but to sink or swim. At some point YOU have to decide if you are going to sink or swim. If you constantly flee from uncomfortable situations and experiences where you could appear foolish, you will be doing yourself a great injustice. You might miss that conversation that propels you into your dream career, you might miss stopping the local on the street that could of directed you to the best local bakery in town, you might lose the one you wanted to ask on a date to another, and you might miss the best dish the chef was serving up because you didn’t ask the waiter what the unrecognisable food element was on the menu.

Life is short and failing to train the skill of self-confidence could very well mean you might waste it. Isn’t the thought of wasting your life more daunting than embracing those uncomfortable social and professional situations? I hope you agree that at some point, you have to swim.

So how do we train the skill of self-confidence? Well, Alain de Botton (the founder of The School of Life) posits that self-confidence comes from a place of realisation. To develop self-confidence, you must realise some truths about the world and those around you:

1. YOU ARE AN IDIOT AND SO IS EVERYONE AROUND YOU.

If you are going to take one thing away from this article, let it be that you understand you and everyone are idiots. Increasing your self-confidence means dismantling your view of how a ‘normal person’ should be. No matter how ‘elite’ a person may seem, everyone can be an idiot- they too make mistakes and embarrass themselves. They wave back at people that weren’t waving at them, they have a few too many drinks and make a tit out of themselves, they trip over in the middle of the street, they play their music full blast before realising their headphones aren’t plugged in, they don’t recognise the person that bounds up to them in the street looking for a catch up, they spill things at elegant dinners, and SO ON. Why? Because that is part of being human. Normality isn’t possible, just because you are regularly exposed to the respectable sides of others doesn’t mean its truth. Realise that you and everyone is an idiot and perhaps you won’t feel as inadequate and fearful of embarrassing yourself in front of others …

2. HISTORY IS EVER-CHANGING.

History is constantly in the making. Nothing, absolutely nothing is set in stone. There is no right or wrong way of living, keep imagining alternatives to the status quo, be confident in being your unique self with your own path. Traditions around how we should lead our lives can make us wary and feel unworthy when we do not meet these expectations. Train self-confidence through reminding yourself that the world is constantly being remade, there is a lot of respect and admiration for people that choose to live differently. Belong to your own narrative, not everyone else’s.

3. RECOGNISE THAT SUCCESS IS NOT EASY.

Granted, everyone defines success differently, however it still stands that anything worthwhile is NOT easy. It is difficult, really difficult. Failure to acknowledge this could really set you up for failure, and more importantly do lasting damage to your self-esteem. Please disconnect yourself from false stories of success. There is a lack of transparency around arduous labour processes. The artist isn’t going to exhibit all the failed attempts of their masterpiece, the novelist doesn’t publish the gibberish drafts before producing a best-selling novel, the social media influencer rarely ignites conversation of the sedulous years they put into creating their personal brand with no more than 300 followers. All success stories come with failures, they bring anxious sleep, tears of despair, repeated rejection, and mockery. Recognise this is part of achieving any goal; don’t let self-doubt manifest itself in feelings of ineptness as you perceive those around you to be excelling frictionlessly and you aren’t. It’s not true.

4. YOUR ENEMIES CAN BE WRONG, AND YOU MAY BE RIGHT.

It’s hard right, when someone doesn’t take a liking to you. A lack of self-confidence can arise from listening too closely to what others have to say about you. It is common for us to give enemies too much power and align the verdict of ourselves with the verdict of others. As humans we naturally seek approval, and when we receive the opposite it can be hard to shake off. However, to train your self-confidence you must realise that your enemies can be wrong, and you may be right. Enemies can dislike you for unjust reasons, sometimes because they are jealous and you remind them of their own inadequacies, or they feel that they fall short of your achievements, or they desire the stable relationship that you have. It could be anything. If you want to build self-confidence stop giving enemies so much trust and instead trust yourself. Don’t self-sabotage.

5. BE CONFIDENT OF BEING CONFIDENT.

Embrace being confident. Rightly so there is a fine line between arrogance and confidence, and some are at risk of developing the former rather than the latter. However, remember that being confident is compatible with traits of kindness, wittiness, and sensitivity. Do not perceive confidence as an offensive, brash or unappealing state of mind. Self-assertion is a trait that you should not shy away from. Developing self-confidence makes your talents active in the world, it lets you jump outside of your comfort zone, step forward not back, and offer a firm handshake and a welcoming hello to what would have previously made you feel inadequate.



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