Investing in Yourself: Self-Confidence

investRecently, I discussed the value of investing in yourself – putting time and money into improving you, not building assets. Today, we’ll look at one area of investing in yourself as part of an ongoing series on the topic, spread out once per weekday over two weeks.

As I sit down to write about the value of investing in your own self-confidence, I keep picturing one of my closest friends. She’s got a lot going for her, but she often finds reasons to think that she’s a bad and/or unworthy person and she often doesn’t have the self-confidence to step up and grab the ring, even though her talents have entitled her to it.

I’m introverted, but I’m very lucky to have never really doubted myself. I’m pretty confident in my own abilities and thoughts and I rarely hesitate to express them. Yet, at times, I fall prey to a lack of self-confidence myself – things move towards a topic that I don’t know anything about, for example.

Here are some tactics to improve your self-confidence no matter what’s happening around you.

Recognize the things that make you feel less confident and work on them.
For most people, there are specific occasions where one’s self-confidence drains to an absolute minimum. You feel completely unworthy of being in a particular situation and you quite often shrink away – or, at the very least, fail to step up when the opportunity is there for you.

Ask yourself why you don’t step up to the plate, and keep asking “why” until you get a concrete answer. What is the root cause of your lack of self-confidence? For a lot of people, it’s something that can usually be dug out with some introspection. For others, it may require some professional help – a therapist, perhaps. The first step, though, is sitting down and thinking about the situation where your self-confidence failed you, then asking “why” over and over again until you hit something concrete.

Take action on that concrete thing that you discovered. Once you’ve found a specific, concrete thing that diminishes your self-confidence, work on improving it. If you’re self-conscious because of your weight, work on improving your diet and exercise. If you’re self-conscious because of your appearance, practice better hygiene and dress better. If you’re self-conscious because you lack knowledge or technical skill, use your spare time to hit the books. Be proactive and know you’re doing what needs to be done to solve the problem.

Identify your successes – and keep them in mind.
At the other end of the spectrum is the success that you’ve experienced in life. These successes are usually the result of an application of your natural abilities – abilities which you have that are quite strong and quite valuable.

Think about the greatest successes you’ve achieved. Make a list of them. What are the five things that you’ve worked for and accomplished that were the greatest successes? Maybe you completed your college education – or maybe you finally passed organic chemistry. Maybe you were given an award at work for persistence and diligence – or maybe you nailed a long-desired promotion. Make this list and keep it with you.

Recognize that these successes were the result of a lot of positive attributes that you possess. The items on that list were the result of talents and skills that you possess. Persistence. Intelligence. Studiousness. See if you can identify a few traits for each one that helped push you over the edge. These are strong attributes that you already have.

Maximize the focus on the things you know you’re good at.
Once you’ve figured out what your traits are that you’re strong in, the next step is to find activities that maximize those strengths. If you’re a patient person, long-term projects are great. If you’re very good at graphic design, gravitate towards those projects. At the same time, try to minimize projects that don’t match well with your strengths – for example, if you’re terrible at organizing papers, look hard for ways to minimize paperwork.

Working on the things you’re good at will not only hone your skills, but it will improve your confidence. You’ll begin to feel that, yes, you can contribute things of value to society and to your workplace. If you continually fuel that feeling, your confidence will begin to slowly build up and even start to spread to areas where you’re not as blessed with natural gifts.

Minimizing the things you’re bad at reduces the impact that negative confidence can have on you. Reducing the negatives can also be a boost to you. For most of us, there are job tasks that we do that make us feel much less confident. Find ways to minimize your exposure to these tasks at the same time that you’re maximizing your exposure to other tasks.

So, take action! Go talk to your supervisor and suggest that you focus more on the tasks that your skills point you towards and less on the ones that your skills don’t support. It won’t take long for you to feel a big new surge of confidence about your place in the workplace. At that point, start tackling some of the tasks that you don’t feel as confident about. You’ll find that you address them with a whole new light.

Surround yourself with people that build you up, not tear you down.
For a period of time in my life, I had a group of friends that were extremely negative about everything. They were critical of everything outside of the group and were often quite negative towards other members of the group as well. I would often enjoy the sarcasm in the moment, but later on, I would generally feel pretty awful about myself. The best thing I’ve probably ever done in my life is to move on from that circle of friends.

If people in your life only seem to bring you down or always seem to express a lot of negativity and bile, create some separation. Reduce your exposure to the negative people in your life. If your current social circle is leaving you feeling negative, withdraw a bit and see if you can find other sources for socialization. I’ve done this multiple times in my own life, actually.

At the same time, if someone in your life is often very positive and fills you with a positive feeling as well, spend more time with that person. My current circle of close friends and family all support me in a positive fashion. They’d do about anything for me and I for them. While my trusted circle isn’t very big, it is very valuable and positive and I attribute a lot of the success I have in life to their constant support.

Stick to your core principles and values.
Many people, at some point in their lives, face a personal dilemma. Do I do what others are suggesting that I do, which involves abandoning some of my principles, or do I make the choice that’s in line with my own values? Almost every time, the choice that involves abandoning your values is the choice that will leave you feeling far worse about yourself and your confidence in the choices you make.

If you’re about to do something that is setting off warning bells and flashing lights for you, strongly reconsider that choice. Just step back for a bit and think about why you’re making that decision. If those reasons are deeply disconcerting to you, don’t go forward with it.

Trust your heart over your mind. I’ve found over and over again in my life that when it comes to the root of a decision, my heart is usually guiding me the right way. My mind serves to clear the path for my heart. For example, when I stood at the precipice of the decision to quit my job, my heart was telling me to leap while my mind said, “No!” I decided to trust my heart, and then I let my mind do as much securing and preparation for that leap as it possibly could. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made, and it filled me with a lot of confidence that it was the right decision once I made it.

If you don’t know, say so.
This is a common self-confidence destroyer: someone will ask a question, you give an answer you’re completely unsure about, and you’re left afterwards feeling as though you did something wrong. At one of my previous jobs, I was in a position where I had to do this regularly, and by the time I finally left, I felt completely worthless.

Think about it from the audience perspective. Saying “I don’t know” is much more clear and confident than delivering a factually incorrect answer. Even if it’s an answer that reveals the limits of your knowledge, it also reveals that you’re committed to accuracy, that you’re honest, and that you’re not going to load someone up with a nonsense answer.

Offer to figure out the correct facts and deliver them later. If someone asks a question and you don’t know, it’s always better to offer to look up the answer and deliver that answer to the person. Not only will it educate you, but it will give you an opportunity to show that you follow through in what you say.

Act confident, even if you’re not.
If all else fails, putting on an appearance of confidence helps you feel more confident. Try the following tips.

Sit up straight in meetings. Don’t look bored – look attentive. Take notes on what’s being said.

Shake hands firmly. Look people in the eye when they talk, but don’t stare at them. Do the same when delivering an answer. Make eye contact with as many people as you can without being obvious about it.

Be assertive in your answers. If you know the answer, just deliver it firmly. If you don’t know, state that you’re unsure but do it firmly.

Most of all, notice when you do things that don’t exude confidence and try to correct them. If you’re slouching, don’t slouch. If you’re getting bored, start writing something down that will engage your mind. If you’re offered a handshake, take it and shake it firmly – if you’re not offered one, offer your hand. These are signs that you are confident – and when people start reacting to you as though you have confidence, your own true confidence will grow.

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