No Confidence? No Problem. Use These 7 Strategies Instead

Build inner strength and express your best self with these powerful strategies.

Posted Jul 11, 2018

Photo by Meg Selig
Source: Photo by Meg Selig

“Self-confidence? Well, that’s something I’ll never have.”

If you feel this way, you are not alone.  Since self-confidence is about 50% genetic, according to this research, some of us may never possess the DNA for high levels of self-confidence. No matter how many accomplishments and successes we might list on our resume, we may not be able to call upon the reserves of self-assurance that come naturally to those lucky ducks with inborn self-esteem. (The difference between “self-esteem” and “self-confidence” is described more fully here. In this blog, I'll use them synonymously.) 

Of course, if 50% of our self-confidence is genetic, then that means we have some choice over the other 50%. In their fascinating book The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman suggest that self-confidence can be expanded through deliberate choice. You can fuel it by such actions as speaking up, seeking out leadership roles, taking risks, and learning to accept and grow from mistakes. Adopting certain thinking habits (described here and here ) can also increase your self-confidence.

Image by Geralt, pixabay, CC0.
Source: Image by Geralt, pixabay, CC0.

But what if you shy away from the traditional ideas and images of self-confidence—“putting yourself out there,” risk-taking, and leadership? These 7 strategies will give you inner strength and help you feel at home with yourself and your core personality. The strategies also jibe with the unorthodox definition of confidence offered by author Caroline Webb: “how you feel when you are being your best self.” Here they are:

1. Practice “wholeheartedness.” 

Sharon Salzburg, a well-known Buddhist practitioner and author, was asked by Kay and Shipman to define “confidence.” Salzburg’s unique definition describes “confidence” as “almost like a wholeheartedness, where we’re not holding back.”

This definition departs from the traditional image of “self-confidence” as involving an impressive self-presentation. By contrast, Salzburg’s idea of confidence involves the determination to fully enter into life as it is happening.  Instead of shrinking from the reality around us, we choose to “meet our circumstances, whether they are wondrous and wonderful or really hard and difficult” with all the attention and energy we can muster.  

Salzburg challenges us think about confidence as a form of mindfulness rather than as a skill of self-assertion.  The very word "wholehearted" encourages us to embrace our experience and  approach life with curiosity, attention, and caring.

2. Experience the power of your authentic self. 

If you are being “authentic,” you are being true to your values, goals, emotions, attitudes, and preferences. "Authenticity" means expressing your real self rather than conforming to the expectations of others or saying something just to fit in. 

If “authentic self” sounds like meaningless psychobabble, I assure you it is not. An intriguing series of studies described here by PT blogger Arash Emamzadeh illustrates the power of being your authentic self and describes how to do it. In one study, participants used their imagination to rehearse behaving in an authentic way; as a result, they felt more powerful. In another study, the simple act of recalling past situations in which participants felt authentic (as opposed to inauthentic) increased participants’ sense of personal power. In both these situations, participants felt more powerful AND were perceived by others as more powerful.

The skill of “mental rehearsal" has been used to improve performance in sports, assertive communication, drama, job interviewing, and many other endeavors. It's amazing that it could also help you be your true self. 

3. Throw yourself into mastering something. Anything!

With enough preparation, hard work, and practice, you can learn to do something well. The sense of mastery you experience will then become transformed into self-confidence. As Kay and Shipman explain, “The confidence you get from mastery is contagious. It spreads…mastering one thing gives you the confidence to try something else.” Knowing you have mastered certain skills gives you a feeling of emotional security that is kin to confidence.   

4. Think of your higher purpose.   

Any time I give a talk, I am filled with emotions ranging from anxious excitement to abject terror.  But if I can bring to mind a higher purpose—such as helping others or furthering a worthy cause, I can manage my fears and give a pretty good talk. I will never become a sparkling public speaker who can command multitudes; still, I can get the job done if I focus on my higher purpose. 

Kay and Shipman describe a related phenomenon, which they call “from me to we.” “You might think that focusing more on yourself would be the natural stepping-stone to confidence,” they note, but turning your attention instead to how much your contribution will help the team or company “will liberate you to be bold and assertive.” They cite research that suggests that women, in particular, can get a boost of confidence by focusing on “we.”

5. Practice "radical self-acceptance."

I first heard the beautiful words "radical self-acceptance" from works by Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. Radical self-acceptance means loving and accepting yourself rather than fighting your natural tendencies. It begins with knowing yourself—your values, interests, temperament, strengths, and weaknesses—and defining your most important goals. Once you know yourself, you can orient toward the people, places, and activities that help you flourish.  Paradoxically, once you accept yourself, it is easier to decide what you might need to change about yourself. For example, if you accept (rather than deny) that you have a quick temper in certain situations, you can make the choice to work on it.

6. To stretch your personality a little, exercise.

Somewhat surprisingly, regular exercise, even in small amounts, has been linked not only to a temporary mood lift but to significant personality changes over time. In a study described here that followed 6,000 middle-aged people over two decades, researchers discovered that people who were physically active became more extroverted, conscientious, and open to new experience as the years went by. These three traits, in turn, were associated with other beneficial traits such as creativity, positive emotions, and success in life.  

Of course, exercise also gives you physical strength and that strength may itself figure into a feeling of confidence.

7. Find the individuals and groups that will keep you strong. 

You can cultivate your self-confidence from within, but you may also need to connect with people who accept you as you are, remind you of your values, and reinforce the best side of you.  At their best, groups, friends, partners, and other allies can bolster your self-esteem when you go through a period of self-doubt, supply skills for your projects that you may lack, and provide opportunities.  (On the dark side, some people bolster their self-confidence by seeking out anti-social groups like gangs, hate groups, and organizations that foster destructive groupthink. One word: Don't!)

In a Nutshell

I recently learned a wonderful French phrase: “Etre bien dans sa peau.” Translation: “To feel good in your own skin.” Even if you don’t experience the high levels of self-confidence that you desire, you can use these 7 strategies to feel much more comfortable with who you are and with what you have to offer.

© Meg Selig, 2018.  All rights reserved.  For permissions, contact the author here.

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