Clients come to me all the time wanting to get a promotion, perform better in their jobs, grow their businesses, or feel more proud of who they are and the work they do. While the exact nature of their challenges differ, they’re all essentially looking for support with the same challenge: combatting confidence building myths.
Self-confidence is something nearly everyone strives for at work, and with good reason. Typically the number one thing standing in the way of greater success is ourselves. Nevertheless, confidence can feel hard to achieve and hold on to. This is due in large part to the many misconceptions we hold about it. No, you don’t need to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Nor is confidence something you’re born with. Confidence is a skill like any other.
Those two misconceptions are just the tip of the iceberg, so let’s dive into five more confidence building myths and separate them from the facts.
Myth: You Have to Feel Confident to Take Action
Truth: You have to take action to feel confident
Most high-achievers operate under the assumption that you have to feel confident before you take action. The problem is, if you wait around waiting to feel confident, you’ll never take the necessary steps or risks you need to be successful.
Waiting until you feel ready may feel like the safe option, but it’s actually a losing bet. Instead, you have to reverse the equation. In other words, you have to take action in order to feel confident. Taking courageous action results in a sense of competence–proof that you are resilient and have knowledge, skills, abilities, and strengths.
Confidence is a byproduct of success. It’s an outcome, not a prerequisite.
Myth: Confidence is Achieved Through Epic Success
Truth: Confidence is achieved through small wins
We’re used to equating confidence with flashy displays of success, such as winning an award, landing a client, or even being on the cover of a magazine. The problem with this approach is that it can result in a perfectionistic addiction to achievement.
Many Sensitive Strivers fall into the habit of “moving the goalpost.” It’s like trying to kick a field goal from the twenty-yard line, only to move back to the thirty or forty-yard line when you miss it. You make it more difficult for yourself and tire yourself out in the process. You might notice that you do the same with your goals: before you’ve even accomplished one goal, you have already raised the stakes on what qualifies as success.
Authentic confidence doesn’t have to be showy. In fact, it comes from sustainable progress over the long term. The science of small wins suggests that you should instead seek small wins, consistently. A whopping 91 percent of people say focusing on smaller goals increases or greatly increases their confidence. That’s because the momentum you gain gives you motivation, energy, and self-belief to crush bigger goals.
Myth: Confidence Equates to Unwavering Self-Belief
Truth: Confidence fluctuates depending on the circumstances
Don’t hold yourself to the impossible standard of being confident 100% of the time. No one feels that way, and if they say they do, then there’s a good chance they are lying.
It’s normal for your confidence to waver, and you should expect it to. If you are a top performer who is continually pushing and challenging yourself, then you will naturally have highs and lows.
This is due to the change curve–a predictable pattern whereby your confidence temporarily dips before going back up. While in this period, you may be more doubtful, irritable, skeptical. While many people quit while in the depths of the change curve, what my clients discover is that seeing through the hard times eventually gives way to strength, growth, and new opportunity.
For example, think back to the last time you started a new job. Even though you were probably excited, you probably harbored reservations about whether or not you could do the role successfully. Maybe you even felt overwhelmed in your first weeks or months. The fact that you didn’t feel confident at first doesn’t mean you had imposter syndrome. It simply meant you needed to give yourself time to adjust to the role. I’m willing to bet that within six months to a year you settled in and began to feel more comfortable.
This example goes to show that confidence is a fluctuating resource. It changes depending on your life circumstances, energy levels, your work environment, and the people you surround yourself with. All the more reason to be intentional about your boundaries, self-care, career path, and relationships.
Myth: Confidence Involves Being Pushy, Loud, and Aggressive
Truth: Confidence requires assertiveness, but is often understated.
We have been conditioned to equate confidence with bravado and outgoingness. Confident people are portrayed as gregarious, fast talkers, who hold their head high and can instantly command a room.
While that is absolutely one version of confidence, it’s not the whole story. You can have a quiet confidence. This requires:
- A willingness to speak up for what you believe is right, even at the risk of rejection
- Bring humble enough to learn from others and not make it mean you’re inferior
- Accepting your mistakes without chastising yourself or self-sabotaging
- Advocating for your needs and setting boundaries
- Giving yourself praise and validation instead of constantly seeking it from others
Myth: Confidence is Motivated by Self-Criticism
Truth: Confidence is motivated by self-compassion
Many people try to motivate themselves to be more confident by judging themselves harshly (I need to be doing better. I should be further along by now). If you hold yourself to exacting standards, your negative self-talk may be particularly vitriolic. For example, all through my academic years, I can remember berating myself for “only getting an A” and telling myself “you should’ve earned an A+”.
Using self-criticism as a motivator is usually ingrained at a young age, whether through the school system, societal messages about success, or even by growing up in a home with demanding caregivers. But negative self-talk is not an effective way to motivate yourself.
In fact, self-criticism is associated with less motivation and worse self-control because it shifts the brain into a state of inhibition, which prevents us from taking action to reach our goals.
A growing body of research points toward self-compassion as a path to resiliency, emotional strength, and confidence. Self-compassion doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook. It means being kind and understanding of yourself and is associated with a number of mental health and performance-enhancing benefits, including:
- Lower levels of depression, anxiety, and rumination.
- Greater ability to cope with negative emotions.
- More positive emotions like happiness, wisdom, and connectedness.
- Increased optimism.
- Showing more personal initiative.
To try self-compassion yourself, take an example of a recent situation in which you beat yourself up. Examples might be sending an email to the wrong person or botching a work matter. Consider how a self-compassionate response would differ. This is a form of cognitive reappraisal. What would you say to a friend or family member who made the same mistake?