“Kindness in words creates confidence.” ~Lao Tzu
Does your life feel like an endless experience of struggle and stress? That while you have moments of reprieve, they are transient and short lived?
It may be that the problem lies with your confidence—in your belief in your ability to bring about successful outcomes when you experience challenges.
For many of us, our attitudes toward ourselves continually undermine our confidence.
That was my experience for most of my life. My confidence was dependent on how I felt I was doing.
If I did well, I felt good. If I struggled, I lost confidence very quickly.
It didn’t seem to matter how many times I succeeded, doubting myself was just one slip up away. And I was exceptionally hard on myself when I failed.
So I drove myself harder and harder. I overworked. I was determined not to feel that awful feeling of not being good enough. So I read, studied, and experienced. My confidence was always on the other side of the next book, course, or program.
Until I burned out.
I couldn’t keep up the pace. And I’m so grateful for that. Recovering from the health difficulties that come with burnout required that I change the way I was relating to myself and challenge the basic assumptions that I was making about what I was capable of.
I had to pay close attention on a minute-by-minute basis to the choices I was making and my self-talk. How was I treating myself? How did I respond when I made mistakes?
Most of us have been taught to have conditional confidence. We can feel good and confident when things are going well, but we struggle to keep motivated when things are hard. We are hard on ourselves when we slip up. We are critical, judgmental, and harsh.
So we up the effort. We overwork, over-prepare, needing to keep ahead of the possibility of failure that we imagine is just around the corner.
We become anxious and risk-averse. When we experience success, we don’t fully allow ourselves to experience the joy of accomplishment.
Changing our attitude toward ourselves is the key to building confidence that is not dependent on external signs of success. An unshakable confidence that allows us to be resilient in the face of adversity and to trust ourselves enough to keep taking the next step, even when circumstances look dismal.
Imagine that you could go through life trusting in your capability, in your ability to meet the challenges in a way that could bring about a successful outcome.
What a relief that would be!
Instead of trying to control the world and avoid failure, you could take risks and stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone. When you made mistakes (which you inevitably will as part of the growth and learning process) you would pick yourself up quickly, acknowledge yourself for your effort, and make any changes that we needed, based on your new learning.
And you would keep going.
Life would be full of possibility and hope.
So how can you do that?
Changing your attitude toward yourself is essentially about changing habits. So it requires patience, attention, and effort.
Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher, believes that changing from self-criticism to self-compassion is the key to resilience in the face of challenge.
People who respond to themselves with compassion are far less likely to be depressed or anxious, and they have greater confidence in their ability to succeed.
Self-compassion involves three components:
- Being kind and caring toward yourself rather than harshly self-critical
- Framing imperfection in terms of the shared human experience
- Seeing things clearly without ignoring or exaggerating problems.
How to Become Kinder to Yourself
1. Start by noticing the way you speak to yourself.
Especially when you slip up (in your eyes). Increasing your awareness of existing patterns is an important first step. Don’t be tempted to skip it. Most of us want to rush ahead and make changes instantly.
2. Gently start practicing a different response.
This may seem a bit silly at first, depending on how deeply entrenched your critical and judgmental response is. Mine was very well practiced, so it did feel awkward for a long time. But do persist. Even tiny changes can make a huge difference to how you feel and what you are able to do.
3. Surround yourself with kind and supportive voices.
Sometimes when you are stuck in a judgmental pattern, it can be very hard to make changes in the moment. What I found worked in these times was to have someone else hold that voice for me, so I would spend time with someone who embodied kindness, compassion, and self-acceptance.
4. Practice, practice, practice!
Change happens with the consistent efforts made over time, not the big once-off attempts. Stay with this; it will make all the difference in the long run.
This is the path to unconditional confidence. Put in the effort. Pay attention and develop new ways of relating to yourself. Surround yourself with encouraging people who can help you remember your intention.
Confident pose image via Shutterstock