Confidence is not something you can directly acquire. Trying to be confident is as futile as trying to be happy. In fact, the more you focus on actively seeking confidence, the more likely you are to make yourself anxious and insecure – the opposite of confidence!
What if we need a completely different approach to boost our confidence? What if building confidence is more about what you should refrain from doing than trying to do more?
As a psychologist, I interact with individuals who grapple with significant confidence issues and low self-esteem daily. This gives me a unique perspective on the realm of confidence and its dynamics. I observe distinct patterns and habits that lead people to lose confidence and experience insecurity.
1. Avoiding Seeking For Reassurance
When confronted with worries or fears, it’s only natural to seek reassurance that everything will turn out fine:
- For instance, if you sense tension and irritability in your wife, you might repeatedly inquire if everything is alright and if you’ve unintentionally upset her.
- Furthermore, when facing an important interview, you might spend the evening before calling friends and family members, seeking advice and reassuring them that the interview will go well.
- Or asking people if they can play golf because golfing is such a rich sport and lifestyle, would they be allowed to the field if they were not rich people?
This reassurance-seeking behaviour does provide some relief, but it’s a temporary fix.
When anxiety sets in, and you seek reassurance only to receive it, your anxiety and fears temporarily dissipate, much like how a fast-acting painkiller alleviates emotional distress and uncertainty in the short run. However, like any pain medication, reassurance serves as a temporary remedy, addressing the symptoms rather than the root cause.
You might experience relief for a few hours, minutes, or even seconds, but inevitably, your fears, worries, and insecurities resurface, often stronger than before.
While seeking reassurance may provide momentary comfort, it worsens your long-term anxiety and insecurity.
Here’s the mechanism behind it:
- You worry about something, such as a forthcoming performance, others’ opinions of you, or someone’s safety, triggering anxiety—a discomforting sensation.
- Although anxiety, no matter how intense, is not inherently dangerous, seeking reassurance signals to your brain that anxiety is perilous and must be eradicated to prevent negative outcomes.
- Consequently, even though reassurance-seeking may offer temporary relief, it ultimately exacerbates your anxiety and undermines your self-assurance by teaching your brain to fear being anxious.
- Consequently, the next time you encounter a worrisome situation, you’ll experience heightened anxiety and reduced confidence, making you crave reassurance even more.
This perpetuates a vicious cycle.
The remedy for this cycle of seeking reassurance and diminishing self-confidence hinges on a subtle distinction regarding fear:
Feeling frightened does not equate to actual danger.
To bolster your confidence, you must convince your brain that anxiety, while uncomfortable, is not life-threatening but rather something you can endure. However, your brain won’t internalize this if you continually turn to others for reassurance.
The next time anxiety strikes, acknowledge the discomfort but remind yourself that feeling fearful isn’t synonymous with danger. Demonstrate to your brain that you can tolerate anxiety without resorting to reassurance-seeking, and in return, it will reward you with increased confidence in the future.
2. Avoiding Fretting Over Uncontrollable Matters
Worrying is the opposite side of the coin from rumination. Just as rumination involves unproductive thoughts about past mistakes or unfavourable events, worrying entails unproductive thoughts about potential future hazards:
- Picturing the moment when you must confess your mistake to your boss, repeatedly replaying various worst-case scenarios.
- Contemplating all the negative, judgmental thoughts your friends might harbour about you during a social gathering.
- Fixating on an unusual pain in your leg, convincing yourself it’s a sign of cancer, and mentally preparing for the hardships of chemotherapy.
We’re all familiar with the fact that worry makes us feel terrible—causing short-term anxiety and stress, while eroding long-term confidence and self-esteem. Nevertheless, we persist in this behaviour. Why?
The key to understanding worry lies in recognizing that, akin to rumination, it provides a fleeting sense of comfort in the very short term. Worry creates the illusion of control.
On a primal level, we believe that if we dedicate enough time and thought to anticipate every conceivable negative outcome, things will improve—our loved ones will remain safe, catastrophes will be averted, and so forth. Furthermore, worry occupies our minds, offering a distraction from the raw emotions of fear, helplessness, or uncertainty.
However, the issue arises when worrying ingrains in our minds the belief that these imaginary negative scenarios are not only plausible but likely, ultimately perpetuating our anxiety and fear.
Persistent anxiety and fear pose significant barriers to cultivating confidence.
None of us relish the sensation of helplessness. Nonetheless, it’s an undeniable reality that we cannot control everything, particularly the two aspects that most worriers fixate on: the future and the actions of others.
To break free from the cycle of worry, reduce chronic anxiety, and bolster your confidence, it is crucial to come to terms with the reality of limited control.
If you aspire to be more confident, refrain from worrying about the life beyond your control and, instead, assume responsibility for the aspects you can influence.
3. Avoiding Sinking in Past Errors
Rumination entails a style of thinking where we repetitively revisit and replay past mistakes or unfavourable events, despite the lack of any tangible benefits and the side effect of fostering negative self-perception:
- Spending hours lying in bed, replaying the mistake you made during your work presentation.
- Mulling over and over again the conversation with your husband in which he accused you of being overly critical, while you believed he was being insensitive.
- Brooding about the parenting mistakes you made when your children were younger.
However, if rumination proves to be so unhelpful, only serving to diminish our self-esteem and drain our confidence, why do we engage in it? What makes it feel so irresistible?
Much like seeking reassurance, rumination seems to offer a superficial form of efficacy.
You see, rumination closely resembles problem-solving, analysis, and reflection—activities typically associated with productivity and positivity. Consequently, when we ruminate, it often gives us the illusion that we are engaged in something constructive. We convince ourselves that thinking is always a valuable endeavour.
In reality, this isn’t necessarily the case. Even if a fact is indisputable—such as making parenting mistakes or faltering during a presentation—continually dwelling on it isn’t necessarily advantageous.
Herein lies the critical distinction:
Merely because something is true doesn’t mean that further contemplation is beneficial.
Despite the long-term erosion of our confidence and well-being that accompanies rumination, we become entrapped in it because it offers momentary comfort. It temporarily provides us with a sense of competence and proactivity, briefly alleviating the discomfort of helplessness.
It’s vital to grant yourself permission to move forward in life instead of imprisoning yourself in the past.
Once errors have been committed, we cannot alter them. While this fact may appear evident on an intellectual level, it’s a truth we tend to evade and deny vehemently because acknowledging it feels exceedingly distressing.
The key to breaking the habit of rumination and unproductive self-criticism is to recognize what you gain from it and how those gains pale in comparison to the drawbacks.
Is the fleeting reprieve from helplessness truly worth the enduring blows to your confidence? Does that momentary sensation of “I can figure this out!” genuinely outweigh a night of restless sleep and subsequent sluggishness?
Learn to embrace helplessness and uncertainty. Mistakes are an inherent part of life, and often, there’s little we can do to change them. Such is the nature of existence. The best course of action is to strive for improvement moving forward. One of the most effective ways to enhance your future prospects is by fortifying your confidence and self-worth.
Therefore, abandon the practice of rumination and grant yourself the freedom to move forward in life, rather than remaining captive to the past.
4. Avoiding Relying on Emotions for Decision-Making
Confident individuals base their decisions on values-driven reasoning rather than emotion-driven reasoning.
Let’s consider a scenario that most of us have encountered in some form:
Your alarm rings, and you glance at the time, which reads “5:00 AM.” As you look outside, it’s still quite dark, and you have a strong intuition that it’s bitterly cold out there. Meanwhile, your bed feels incredibly warm and inviting. This dilemma presents you with a choice: Should you muster the willpower to get up and go for that morning run as you had planned, or should you hit the snooze button, roll over, and hope to exercise later after work?
After some internal deliberation, you conclude that venturing out into the cold is just too uncomfortable. You pull your blankets closer to your chin, roll over, and quickly drift back to sleep.
This represents emotion-driven reasoning.
Your decision primarily hinges on how you feel rather than what truly matters to you. Your core value was to establish a routine of regular exercise to enhance your health (and perhaps your physical appearance). Your emotions, however, were centred on anxiety about braving the cold and the comforting warmth of your bed. Ultimately, you chose to remain in bed to evade the discomfort of early morning running.
It’s not about whether going for a run at 5:00 a.m. is right or wrong, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. The crucial point here is that you made a decision that contradicted your original intention and then acted accordingly. This poses a challenge to your self-confidence.
When we consistently act in opposition to our own values, we undermine our self-reliance, and consequently, our self-confidence.
Every time you declare something as important and then act counter to that commitment, you communicate to your brain that you are not trustworthy and dependable. The primary reason behind this behaviour is often the conflicting messages conveyed by our emotions.
You see, our emotions are often oriented toward what provides immediate gratification: avoiding discomfort, experiencing pleasure, dispelling uncertainty, and so on. In essence, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these feelings.
The issue arises when the pursuit of immediate emotional satisfaction frequently comes at the cost of long-term beneficial actions:
- It becomes challenging to maintain a healthy diet, manage weight, and reduce cholesterol (values) if you continually opt for the fleeting pleasure of a second serving of ice cream (feelings).
- It becomes difficult to embark on writing that long-awaited novel (value) if you consistently evade the anxiety associated with starting a book and instead choose the easy comfort and immediate excitement of video games (feelings).
On the contrary, when we consistently follow through on what we deem important, our brain begins to trust us more. Consequently, when we encounter challenging situations, our brain is more likely to respond with confidence (Yes, we can handle this!) rather than fear (I’m not sure… It seems too daunting.).
To foster confidence, you have to alter your relationship with your emotions.
Initiate small changes by consistently honouring the decisions you’ve committed to. With each instance, recognize that you are building trust in yourself. As your brain gradually grows more confident in your ability to pursue what genuinely matters, as opposed to what provides momentary comfort or ease, that’s when genuine confidence begins to emerge.
Confidence can be elusive due to counterproductive habits, such as seeking reassurance, excessive worry about uncontrollable factors, dwelling on past mistakes, and letting emotions dictate decisions.
Seeking reassurance may offer temporary relief but worsens long-term anxiety and insecurity. Worrying about things beyond our control and ruminating on past mistakes erode our self-confidence. Decisions driven by emotions often prioritize short-term satisfaction over long-term goals.
To strengthen our confidence, we must break free from these habits. We should resist seeking reassurance, let go of excessive worry, move past mistakes, and align decisions with our values. These changes not only boost confidence but also empower us to thrive guided by our core principles and self-trust.