As our world continues to be affected by Covid-19, we are experiencing ongoing uncertainty. It is changing the way we live and how we work.
We now need to take care of our health and our wellbeing. We can start by giving ourselves time to restore energy, to focus on what is meaningful and nurture our relationships with the people around us.
Often, when living with uncertainty, we can experience more worry thoughts, self-doubt and even question our ability to manage challenges. We often hear people say all we need is to have confidence – to believe in ourselves – and we can achieve anything we want to do.
So, what is confidence?
Researchers describe it as our belief in our ability to deal with challenges and achieve a positive outcome (Shrauger & Schohn, 1995). Bandura (1997) focused on the concept of self-efficacy, which refers to our belief that we are capable and that we can achieve our goals.
Developing our self-confidence is necessary for our health and wellbeing, and it is a factor that can make a difference in our personal and professional life.
We are all confident in some areas, e.g. when we are familiar with a particular task such as riding a bicycle, typing or doing jobs around the house (Harris, 2011). As our level of confidence grows, we are more able to manage challenges, pursue our goals, and derive a sense of achievement.
Self-esteem is another concept used when talking about confidence, although these concepts refer to different things. Self-esteem refers to our overall view of our self-worth – how we think of ourselves.
You also may have heard extroversion mentioned when talking about confidence. Generally, people assume that a confident person is extroverted, outgoing and likes to participate in social situations. They are described as being comfortable with others in public spaces and are perceived to be successful.
It is easy for people who are not comfortable in the limelight, and who prefer to have 1:1 conversations, or that prefer to take time to reflect before participating actively, to feel as if they lack in confidence. However, this is not so. We all have a different way of engaging with the world and what we find energising or motivating (Cain, 2012).
In addition, different cultures can influence how we behave in a social setting. In some cultures, it is expected and encouraged to be expressive and direct, whereas others promote politeness and being reserved.
It is not helpful to label anyone as we all feel and behave differently, depending on our mood, the situation and our previous experiences can also influence how we think and act in a particular situation.
Generally, extroverted people are motivated by talking with others and engaging with their environment, whereas introverted people are energised by drawing their energy from their inner world. They prefer to think things through before communicating their thoughts, and in conversation, they tend to take their turn in a conversation (Cain, 2012).
An introverted style differs from shyness. When people experience feeling shy, they are referring to feeling self-conscious and worried about how others might think of them.
They tend to worry about saying something silly that will cause embarrassment, criticism, or fear of rejection. Often, they worry about being misunderstood and anticipate potential conflict, so they tend to avoid difficult conversations (Harris, 2011).
When experiencing a sense of unease, it can be excerbated by self-doubt and worry thoughts. A rigid pattern of thinking, where there is no flexibility to consider alternative options, can reduce the ability to manage feelings of fear and prevent from taking action (e.g. participate in activities that can provide evidence of progress and contribute to skills development).
So, they tend to be cautious and reflect on their communications, considering other people’s points of view. All of these are important aspects of good communication. And to manage social situations, we can pay attention to what we want to communicate rather than letting worries about how others might perceive us interfere with what is important to us.
So, to build our confidence, we can start by focusing on our efforts and the progress we are making. Gradually, our belief in our capabilities will grow, which, in turn, will strengthen our ability to regulate our emotions.
As we learn to trust ourselves that we can maintain our efforts to pursue an activity, we can start to build our belief in our capabilities. As we see our progress, we can hold the hope that we can make the changes that will enable us to keep motivated as we pursue what matters us in life.
Strategies to build confidence:
Developing a growth mindset: We can do this by challenging fixed ideas about our capabilities, such as thinking that we are not good in a particular subject. We then can redirect our views to reminding ourselves that our brains are continually being shaped by what we learn and by our experiences. It is good news as it means that we are capable of learning and developing skills at any age and that with practise, we can grow and become more confident (Dweck, 2010).
Identifying negative thinking patterns and challenge them: Notice the “all-or-nothing” thinking pattern, where we tend to go from one extreme to the other.
Notice “should” statements, for example: “I should get everything done right the first-time round”, or “I shouldn’t make mistakes”. Or, when we imagine possible adverse outcomes and feel sure that these will become true. These thoughts lead us to further self-doubt that can erode our confidence and prevent us from learning from our mistakes.
This pattern prevents us from dealing with challenges. Taking a bit of time, so that we do not jump to conclusions, will prevent misinterpretations or unfair judgments, and it will allow us to identify different perspectives so we can view a situation in a more hopeful manner.
Learning to acknowledge feelings and accepting the range of emotions that we experience as part of our everyday human experience allows us to develop mental agility. A skill that enables us to manage our emotions and maintain a sense of emotional balance (David, 2016).
Stretching beyond the comfort zone: A helpful exercise is to look at the story we are telling ourselves about who we are, and reframe it. Identify obstacles and assumptions about what we believe to be true – is it that I cannot do good work? It is more likely that we are experiencing doubts and that we fear failing?
These thoughts and feelings are normal reactions whenever learning something new as we are putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone. It means that we are taking a risk to understand and learn new skills, and this includes making mistakes. So if you notice these feelings remind yourself this is part of the process of learning. It means that you are stretching beyond what is familiar and that there is no guarantee of success (Harris, 2011). Take the view that you are exploring and learning new things.
Practising self-compassion: When we adopt an understanding view of ourselves and others, and we accept our vulnerability as part of the human condition, we are more able to recognise that we can make mistakes.
We can view these as part of the learning process so that we can correct errors to improve our work. It helps to acknowledge our feelings to reduce distress, and it motivates us to persevere with our efforts (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).
By being kind and patient with ourselves does not mean that we are selfish or lazy. On the contrary, it is essential for our wellbeing. When we treat ourselves like we treat our best friends, and we focus on our values we are able to restore balance and be more understanding of others (Henderson, 2010).
Developing a flexible mindset: Having an open mind enables us to look for alternative ways of looking at situations. By focusing on our values to guide our thoughts and actions, we can restore balance so that we can begin to identify what we can do to manage the situation (Dweck, 2010). It allows us to be more patient with ourselves, and with consistent efforts, we can grow our confidence.
Cain, S. (2012) Quiet. The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. London: Viking.
David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life. Great Britain: Penguin Life.
Gilbert, P. & Choden, (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson
Harris, R. (2011) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.
Henderson, L. (2010) The compassionate-mind guide to building social confidence. California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Shrauger, J. S., & Schohn, M. (1995). Self-confidence in college students: Conceptualisation measurement, and behavioral implications.Â Assessment, 2, 255-278.