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Self-Confidence: Build, Use, and Enjoy It

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Stress often begins when you lack the resources or competence to take care of a situation that must be dealt with. Some of those resources will be external—training, tools, knowledge—and some will be emotional. Self-confidence helps you fight through, find resources, and increases the physical and emotional ability to use them.

Self-confidence is affected by your belief in our own competence, your previous experience with success, and your belief in our ability to bring about future successes.

A study of medical students found that self-confidence spilled over from one situation to another even if the situations were not related. Students who were chosen as a house officer at their college grew in “confidence in their clinical skills, belief in their ability to cope with uncertainty and feeling able to work as a team member.” Thus, a strong performance in one area increases your self-confidence in other areas.

In interviews with top professional athletes, researchers found that high self-confidence increased the individual’s sense of control and positive attitude even in the midst of competitive anxiety, while a lack of self-confidence decreased the sense of control in the situation and led to poorer performance. They found that self-confidence improved when the athletes practiced visualization, stopped negative thoughts, and gave themselves positive pep talks. Thus, self-confidence is something that you can build, and the more you build it, the more experiences you will have that justify it.

Four Ways to Build Self-Confidence

If you are working to improve your own self-confidence or those of a team member, these studies give you four avenues to explore:

  • Seek out opportunities to experience self-confidence in other situations. The boost to your self-confidence from exercising control and succeeding in any task at all will spill over to the areas where you lack self-confidence. For a team member who lacks self-confidence, you may want to begin by delegating tasks where the potential for success is high—the resources are available, and the individual has the necessary skills. From there, you can provide training, tools, and information as needed to enable the team member to handle more challenging situations.
  • Use visualization to imagine yourself in control and succeeding. Self-confidence is difficult to maintain in the midst of a crisis, but you can imagine what you would do or say if you were a different, confident person. You may imagine possibilities that you eluded you before, and by visualizing yourself achieving a good ending, you are mentally preparing to do just that. Visualization, a SMaRT practice that helps to build a can-do, growth mindset, also helps with the next step.
  • Reframe the negative. Oddly enough, one of the best reframings you can do is to consider what positives may come out of failure. This exercise in stopping negative thought removes the taint of failure: something good may come out of this after all, and at least you tried. Once the taint of failure is removed, once you stop beating yourself up for what you cannot do, you free yourself to consider what you can do. When helping a team member, you might ask directly, “What can you do about that?” to bring the situation back into their sphere of control and demonstrate your confidence in their ability to figure out a solution.
  • Believe in yourself. Self-confidence is mostly a matter of belief: you believe you can do something and you do it. Your belief in yourself increases if you act as if you have self-confidence, with a strong stance, eye contact, and clear, unhesitating speech. By focusing on your goal, rather than your limitations, you begin to build self-confidence. Belief in your goal and yourself frees you from depending entirely on the opinions of other people to determine your capabilities and self-worth—a dependency that magnifies stress since you can never completely satisfy everyone.

TIP: Focusing on the perfect response or the perfect solution will prevent you from finding the “good enough” that allows you to move forward. Self-confidence embraces the belief that you will grow in competency.


Three Ways to Use Self-Confidence to Overcome Stress

A lack of self-confidence reveals itself when you feel a constant need to explain or justify your actions (the keyword being “constant”). Your stress increases under the weight of disapproval, skepticism, or misplaced guilt. When you have self-confidence you are able to:

  • Say no to unreasonable demands. In defining “unreasonable,” play attention to what your body is telling you. If you are having trouble sleeping, feel you are being taken advantage of, or are skirting burnout or depression, then “no” is the best word you can use when further pressure is put upon you. Self-confidence gives you the ability to set boundaries without descending into elaborate excuses (that people can pick apart) or losing any chance of taking care of your own needs because you are always meeting everyone else’s.
  • Encourage someone else’s self-confidence. Self-confident people know when a problem belongs to someone else. By encouraging self-confidence in those around you, you relieve your impulse to solve their problems. Your self-confidence turns you into a role model for others; in turn, their approbation and your success in bolstering their self-efficacy boost your self-confidence. When a team has individual self-confidence, the group self-confidence also soars.
  • Give yourself credit for your successes. When your self-confidence is flagging, looking back on past successes helps you recover your ability to take control and plow through a stressful situation. A physical record or diary is best and is, in itself, a sign of self-confidence: you know when you have achieved a goal, and you are willing to celebrate and remember the occasion. Referring to your past successes may generate ideas about how to respond to the current crisis. You cannot replace this physical record by boasting to others; you should be willing to share credit and wait for recognition from others even as you remind yourself of your own worth.
  • Take small steps. Stress ignites a feeling of overwhelm: the situation is too complex, too critical, too time-sensitive, too important for your limited resources and abilities. While that may be true, taking that small first step allows you to experience control and competency. You might review SMaRT tactics or consult your record of past successes or reach out to a professional. But each step you take will build self-confidence.

TIP: Try something new. It will take your mind off of your stress, and give you a chance to grow competency and self-confidence in one area of your life, and—if you fail—demonstrate that success is not the only way to value yourself. Effort and the willingness to take a risk also count.

Key Takeaways

Researchers have found that success in one area of life increases your self-confidence in other areas; that you can build self-confidence by seeking out opportunities, visualization, positive thinking, and sheer belief in yourself; and that self-confidence relieves stress by preparing you to find solutions and trust in your competency.

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