I started my personal growth journey in therapy. When I first walked into that office, I was struggling with confidence (among other things) and I envisioned walking out again 3-6 months later with a state of unflappable inner peace, self-assuredness, and certainty around the big questions I was grappling with.
I soon learned—and am still learning—that this is a big old myth. Yes, there are plenty of gurus and self-described enlightened people who might say this is what we should strive for (Never feeling anger! Zero judgements of other people! Detachment from everything!) but let’s be real: it’s bullshihtzu.
I’m happier when I acknowledge that, at times, I struggle. I have those “Who am I to be doing this?” thoughts. I have days where I doubt myself and what I’m doing. I get vulnerability hangovers. I like to be in control (and will give the side-eye to anyone who says uncertainty is a necessary part of life, even though I know—sigh—they’re right.).
And I’ve learned I can have these experiences and still experience confidence—and that’s called being human. At any point, we’re all sitting somewhere on the confidence continuum.
Confidence is a process and a work in progress, not a permanent state of being.
I used to think of confidence like a light switch. With the right formula and the right ingredients, I could flick that switch to “on” and never have to worry about struggling with confidence again. But confidence is something we nurture and, although there are plenty of things we can do to enhance the level of confidence we experience in our lives, it’s something that ebbs and flows for all of us.
Expecting ourselves to feel 100% confidence all the time becomes a vicious cycle, because when we start struggling with confidence, we begin doubt ourselves even more. Instead, think of your confidence like a series of waves—we get to influence how big the peaks and troughs become, but a cyclical flow is natural.
Confidence comes from action (not the other way around)
Nonono. If I had a pound for every time I heard someone say “I want to do X, but I need to feel more confident first,” I would be writing this from my luxury cat sanctuary in Bora Bora right now.
This is one of the biggest misbeliefs about confidence out there and, if there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s this: confidence comes from action, not the other way around.
I will repeat that because it’s important and it can take a while to digest:
Confidence results from action, it’s not a pre-requisite for taking action. The idea that we need to feel confident before we can do that thing we really want to do is a clever justification for staying comfortable and keeping ourselves small.
Arrogance is the opposite of confidence
Many people want more confidence, yet they fear crossing the line into arrogance and alienating the people around them. In reality, if you’re worried about appearing arrogant, chances are you’re fine because people who emanate arrogance don’t tend to worry about it.
Arrogance often masquerades as confidence, but it’s a thin shell of inflated sense of self-importance hiding deep-rooted insecurities underneath. When we work with the basic belief “Confident person = good person, unconfident person = bad person,” we’re a lot more likely to, borrowing a popular phrase, “Fake it ‘till we make it.” Making it in this context involves getting other people around us to believe we’re confident too, regardless of how we feel deep down.
Confidence is rooted in growth towards and belief in our capability to be the best version of ourselves. Arrogance is rooted in avoiding uncomfortable feelings and truths about ourselves.
As psychologist and author Amy Cuddy says in her TED talk on body language, a better alternative is “Fake it ‘till we become it.” Arrogance is rooted in appearances and power plays, confidence is rooted in how we feel about ourselves.
True confidence involves acknowledging we don’t always feel confident, that we’re not always right or the best, and feeling at peace with that. When we are confident, we have nothing to prove because knowing that for ourselves is enough.
Struggling with confidence isn’t a reflection of your abilities
Something I often tell clients is “just because we think something about ourselves doesn’t mean it’s true.” While it’s true that sometimes a lack of confidence can be an indicator we need to brush up on our skills or experience, more often than not there’s something (or things) else affecting how we feel.
Our self-concept, experiences we’ve had in the past, childhood messages, our evolutionary wiring (thanks, lizard brain), whether we’re in victim or creator mode, our feelings of worthiness and deserving… all of those things can present as “I can’t do this,” but that’s not reality. Our levels of confidence aren’t necessarily reflective of our abilities, which is why it’s also important to look for the evidence we can do the task at hand.
One way to tell if your confidence is rooted in reality or fear is to look for “When… then…” thinking (for example, “When I’ve done X, then I’ll be ready.”) First ask yourself “Is it true I need this thing before I can start?” (90% of the time, the answer is no). Also look for the criteria changing. Once you complete X, is it immediately replaced by Y? If so, that can be a sign you’re misattributing your lack of confidence to a lack of ability.
There is more than one way to deepen your confidence.
Lots of people tout techniques like affirmations, journaling, coaching, therapy, standing naked in front of the mirror, and so on. If those things work for them, that’s great.
At the same time, it’s important to remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach to confidence. If you try to apply things that feel unreal, un-genuine or fake (for me, conventional affirmations and mirror self-talk are two of those things), they will hinder you more than they help.
A key component of true confidence is being able to choose your right path, even when it might be different to the path other people are taking. And that starts right now.