Confidence is something we believe that others have – and we don’t. We also believe that we need to have confidence before trying anything new. And we definitely blame lack of confidence for not trying anything new. We envy those who appear to have it in bucket loads, convincing ourselves that life is easier for them; after all, they possess that magical quality that makes the world their oyster. Over time, our perceived lack of personal confidence can become a major stumbling block… as demonstrated by this heartfelt request I received recently from a returning customer:
I’ve been struggling with insecurities, jealousy, lack of confidence, feeling like I’m not good enough etc. I would really like to overcome it and stop feeling less than. It doesn’t feel good at all. Do you have any guidance on this? Mostly I think it’s because I don’t feel like I’m working to my potential or figuring out how to motivate myself to be ambitious in the things I want to do and aim to be – it is really difficult for me.
It is clear that this person (let’s call her Jennifer) is absolutely overwhelmed by her own feelings. Apart from lack of confidence, she also talks about insecurity, jealousy, inferiority, and a lack of motivation and ambition. No wonder she is feeling so bad about herself and her life! Imagine having that miserable and destructive dialogue going on in our head, hour after hour, day after day? Nothing good can possibly come of it – ever. All we are doing is needlessly subjecting ourselves to a lifetime of inner-world misery, frustration, and disappointment – and who wants that legacy?
So, what I did with Jennifer’s email was to break it down and pick it apart. Most of us think and talk to ourselves in a vague, confusing way – and we love to generalise! I am an absolute believer in the power of the bottom line – it tends to simplify things and you can’t sink any lower. The big question is, is Jennifer lacking in confidence? And if she had more of it, would that prevent her from feeling insecure, jealous, and unworthy? In order to be able to answer, we first need to understand what is meant by confidence. It is a word that, like many others, is bandied around willy-nilly without much thought. It can mean different things to different people. If I was to ask Jennifer to define exactly what she means when she talks about confidence, would she give a clear and definitive response? I very much doubt it. She knows how what she perceives to be a lack of it feels like – but she probably can’t explain it… at least not without using other words that could also mean anything to anyone. It’s all as clear as mud… isn’t it?
The truth is, Jennifer is not lacking in confidence. Like the rest of us, she goes through her day confidently doing all of the things she knows how to do. She probably doesn’t even think about most of them, either. Making a cup of tea or coffee; driving a car; buying the ingredients for, and cooking, a meal; carrying out whatever it is she does for a living; meeting friends for a drink; planning a trip or holiday. The list goes on and on. However, if I was to ask her to do something with which she is unfamiliar, the chances are that she’ll say she can’t – because she lacks confidence. And it becomes clear that what’s actually going on is that she is afraid of the unknown. And of appearing incompetent to others and failing at the task. However, if I put a gun to the head of someone she loves and threaten to pull the trigger if she doesn’t comply, you can bet your bottom dollar she’ll find the ‘confidence’ in the blink of an eye! Without even caring if she fails.
Most of us are unconfident when approaching something that is new to us and potentially challenging, and we are all confident when we are engaged in something that we believe we can do acceptably well. Therefore, none of us are lacking in confidence – and yet we persistently insist to ourselves that we are! It is natural to be nervous about that which is unfamiliar to us – especially when we see others approaching it with ease (because they’ve already experienced it). You might think that I’m nitpicking, but I’m not; words can carry great power, and what we consistently tell ourselves can make or break us.
Everything that Jennifer expresses in her email points not to lack of confidence, but to self-consciousness. She’s aware of herself and she finds herself lacking. And because she believes that she’s lacking, she doubts her own attractiveness and competence. Therefore she compares herself to others and believes them to be better than her. Hence the feeling of not being good enough… which in turn creates the fear that her partner is viewing other women as more attractive than her. She attempts to be a better version of herself by focusing on the things that she believes she should achieve, but because other stuff is weighing heavily upon her she can’t quite muster the motivation. Which leads her to criticise herself even more, and a vicious circle is created. The problem isn’t about a lack of confidence – it is about the way in which Jennifer sees herself… and what she believes to be true about herself. In other words, she is suffering from poor self-image and unhealthy self-belief. Confidence is a by-product of healthy self-belief – and that is where the work needs to begin
Too many people mistakenly confuse strong self-belief with arrogance, often viewing confident high achievers in a negative way. So many times I have passionately defended my ‘heroes’ against unfair accusations, such as believing that they’re ‘it’, or being too big for their boots! I find that kind of attitude really unattractive and wonder why we can’t just celebrate genuine hard work and success. Okay, being human like the rest of us, my heroes are likely to throw tantrums occasionally, or speak without thinking (which I think can be forgiven if it’s only every now and then) – and will immediately be gleefully leapt upon by those who just can’t wait for them to mess up… so they can say, “See! I told you that he/she is an arrogant, self-important piece of work!” I have learned to simply shrug and respond with “Well, even if that is true, at least they have achieved something to be arrogant about!” I’m not talking about the obviously ridiculous, whose ‘fame’ is questionable and likely to have a short life-span. Or the wannabes who constantly talk the talk whilst lacking the will and determination to walk the walk (it appears that some people can’t tell the difference between those who have earned the right to be respected and those who haven’t, and therefore tar them with the same brush… which speaks volumes about them). No, what I am saying is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being in possession of healthy self-belief – and never let the resentful losers tell you otherwise!
Anyway, going back to Jennifer, what would be the best course of action for her? Well, first and foremost, to stop trying to tackle everything at once. She needs to break it all down into chunks and prioritise, by asking “what is the most important thing on my list, right now?” I would say that feeling a bit better about herself and her life – consistently – has to be number one… which can only start with the way in which she thinks and how she communicates with herself. She needs to have specific, defined goals (that are inspirational to her) to work toward – like stepping stones that take her closer and closer to feeling and being the way that she says she wants. And she needs to see it as a long-term plan, not a quick fix. Which is going to require commitment and patience. However, as this is her life, what could possibly be a more important use of her mental and emotional time and energy? I am not suggesting that she abandon all of her duties and responsibilities and go off and live like a contemplative hermit. She has a partner and a small child, and practical stuff she can’t ignore. However, she can start with what goes on in her head on a consistent basis, and by deciding upon the order in which she is going to deal with things. If, for example, she feels that her physical appearance is causing her undue unhappiness, she could make weight loss and fitness one of her main goals… being mindful to break it into manageable chunks so that she doesn’t become overwhelmed and give up.
Jennifer also needs to re-examine some of what she has been telling herself for too long, so that she isn’t being negatively influenced by non-truths. She talks about living up to her potential and figuring out how to motivate herself; well, first, it would be a good idea to double-check what it is that she wants to achieve, now, at this point in her life – as opposed to what she thinks she should achieve, based on who she used to be at a previous point in her life. It’s a fact that what is important to us one day isn’t always the next – something we won’t recognise if we don’t periodically check in with ourselves. To sum up, Jennifer absolutely has the capacity to help herself to feel permanently better and happier, starting with the appropriate way of thinking. She will benefit from training herself to stop communicating with own mind in a vague, overly-emotional language, flowered by generalisations and exaggeration (something we human souls are so good at!). By getting down to the bottom line, brass tacks, etc, she can sort the wheat from the chaff and work out what matters the most to her and what she can scratch off the list for now. And then take that first step, followed by the next and so forth.
But there is one more really important action for Jennifer to take, something I haven’t yet mentioned: positive affirmation of herself. She has to remind herself about everything she has already achieved up to this point – and not just the obvious things, either. If all of her focus is on the struggle and where she believes she is failing, Jennifer stands no chance whatsoever of improving her battered self-belief. She will be banging her head against the same old brick wall again and again, without seeing it shift an inch. She has a duty to herself to recognise and celebrate every little achievement and victory, and to make sure that her inner-dialogue is supportive and encouraging; after all, that’s only what she would do for others. It is something that I myself have learned is of utmost importance, for the sake of my mental and emotional well-being, and my ongoing progression. It develops and nurtures self-belief, which creates greater confidence – which in turn leads us to be brave enough to try some of those previously unnerving, ‘unknown’ things! Which improves our confidence. ‘Nuff said.
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