Image courtesy of suranvalpradid at freedigitalphotos.net/Self Confidence comes down to a simple no-fail formula of putting one foot in front of the other
To be confident, according to Collins dictionary is “to be sure of oneself”. That is, to have a sense of certainty that one can do something. Not that one might be able to do something or wishes they can do something, or that, if they are lucky, it might work.
No, it is that settled feeling that one does have the skills necessary to perform an action competently. In the social arena, confidence in oneself refers to knowledge that one can interact with others in an appropriate way and can feel worthwhile about oneself around others. It doesn't mean you will never question yourself or have feelings of anxiety. You will have the fears of others who don't have confidence. The difference will be that you can, as Susan Jeffer's famous book quotes "Feel the fear and do it anyway."
As we know, babies first initiate movement by sliding along on their tummies. Then they learn to crawl. Finally, in tentative steps, the child takes his or her first steps and learns to walk. Even during the process of learning to walk, it does not happen as an overnight achievement. There is walking interspersed with crawling.
Similarly throughout childhood, the baby starts with sounds, and then simple words like “mum” and “dad”. Eventually bigger words are incorporated into their vocabulary. Eventually, the child learns to string meaningful sentences together.
Everything in childhood development is really in stages when we think about it – learning maths with the times tables coming later than addition and subtraction so that more advanced concepts can be taught later.
In adulthood, we also learn in stages. We might not know how to cook. We start from the simple recipes and become more creative over time.
I don’t know anyone who has runs a marathon, let alone a fun run without any cardiovascular training leading up to it. To the contrary – fitness is achieved in graduated states. Depending on age, and prior activity levels, we achieve bigger successes like fun runs and even marathons, by gradual increases in the demands we expect from ourselves.
When we attempt too much, we are putting our confidence on the line. We are perhaps trying to do what others do, not following our own intuition about where we are at and so may 'over-do it'. And, with the crumbling of confidence from say, trying to run a 10km fun run when we get puffed after one kilometre, comes a loss of self esteem. Also with the robbing of confidence is an increased probability that we will shy away from the activity altogether. So, you are really doing yourself a huge disservice if you push yourself too hard.
Conversely if we allow ourselves to not fail or to make success virtually unavoidable by setting ourselves small and realistic goals initially, we feel good about ourselves. It doesn’t mean we won’t “up the ante” and won’t move onto bigger goals later. No, it is more likely that we will successfully conquer the bigger goals, step by step. We have gained confidence we can do baby steps. So we actually become confident we can feel confidence! That in itself is a skill!
Therefore, the first thing is to give yourself a realistic timeframe in which you set the parameters of the particular accomplishment you wish to master.
For example, at the moment, I am trying to change a few habits to increase my well being. One of these is exercising regularly. The second habit is eating healthily.
Now, there must be about 10 habits I would like to change. However, it would be ridiculous to expect myself to try to change all ten habits at once. Changing a habit takes 3 months according to science. Therefore, I must be patient. After three months of exercising and eating well, it will become a behaviour that’s automatic, the default.
So, the first step to unavoidable acquisition of self confidence is setting yourself small, or realistic goals.
Secondly, we must continue the activity for a sufficient time period that it becomes something you just do naturally, and don’t have to think about too much. As mentioned earlier I learned in my psychology degree that three months is needed to cause a behaviour to be modified.
Thirdly, the behaviour may need to be in only small steps, but it is important these steps or actions are consistently undertaken. For me, this means exercise is something I try to do every day, or at least three times per week. Eating healthily means the majority of the food I ingest will be nutritious and appropriate in caloric intake for my size.
Fourthly, one can’t be a perfectionist if confidence is to be achieved. For example, I love iced chocolate. I eat well in between, but say twice per week, I will indulge in this favourite treat. If I were never to allow myself a treat, and I call having an iced chocolate a mistake, I will see it as a failure. Some days, due to other commitments, I don’t get to exercise. However, I know this is life, and won’t see it as any less a success at all.
Fifthly, to build confidence that lasts, self-reward is necessary. It may seem like something needed only by children. However, as adults, we don’t need so much material rewards. However, a metaphorical pat on the back, and taking the time to feel proud of ourselves is something that trains our brains over time to then naturally feel good about ourselves. Self-reward is also important because psychological science has proven positive reinforcement increases a behaviour. Praise does count as positive reinforcement. Punishment or self-criticism conversely has been shown to decrease desired behaviours. We need the carrot, not the stick.
Finally, when we have conquered that behaviour we wished to gain confidence in, we need to push the comfort zone a bit to grow, and reach that next level. As long as the increment increase is realistic and comfortable we are on the road to just becoming more and more confident.
I would like to add as a final note that I have tried this recipe for increasing confidence and I have never felt so good about myself!
So, start on that yellow brick road towards your dreams – step by step.