Flavour of the month in my professional work right now is Confidence Coaching! People are fed up of their crappy self-confidence holding them back from creating the life they want; they want to finally break free from their self-imposed restraints and are seeking solutions to make the shift from shy and passive to bold and courageous. But what is self-confidence and how does it differ from self-esteem?
Self-confidence refers to “the feeling or belief that we can rely on ourselves” and self-esteem refers to confidence in our abilities and worth and is synonymous with self-respect. As an introverted extrovert myself - or ambivert as it is officially known - I can stand on either side of the confidence fence; projecting high confidence in social situations often to the point of intimidation (or so I have been told lol) while maintaining some degree of self-doubt and insecurity in almost EVERY SINGLE AREA of my life. Imposter Syndrome runs rife in my world, but I feel I do well to manage it; with a knot in my stomach I often make the jump into unchartered territory just to gage how far I can actually push myself. If I fall it can take a while to dust myself off, but I get there eventually.
While we may all aspire to unshakable self-confidence, I believe that as humans we all carry some degree of low self-esteem at certain times or in certain situations. But why is that, does it serve us in any way, and how can we override it ?
1. Negative Bias for Human Survival
Evolution has conditioned the human brain to automatically assume and prepare for the worst. It is how we anticipated risk and danger in our early history when we lived in caves, and our lives were vulnerable to attacks from wild animals, other tribes, and extreme elements on a daily basis. If you have seen the animated movie ‘The Croods’, you will recognise the dad’s motto “never not be afraid!” which echoes this limited mindset, one many people still hold onto today and is linked to anxiety. Back then negative bias served to keep us humans alive; while a more positive, carefree, and confident approach would have resulted in injury or death – and we are programmed for survival!
We hold ourselves back from progressing and taking reasonable and measured risks because our DNA carries this negative bias program, which will take generations to unlearn. The threats of today are unlike the threats we experienced tens of thousands of years ago. Surely applying a negative bias and holding onto doubt in our own sense of worth and capability isn’t serving our best interest or promoting our evolution as a species?
Override: We can ask ourselves if this fear based pre-programming is still working in our best interests, is it still relevant today, and if not to challenge our assumptions. How would greater confidence serve us better? Do the benefits of confidence outweigh the costs? What are the risks associated with being more confident? What evidence is there that confidence can be exercised safely? Awareness is key!
2. The Ego's Need to be Right
The ego is the mask we wear for the world to see. Some people think its bravado but its more complicated than that. The ego is responsible for protecting us from shame, guilt, and social rejection. This includes protecting us from OURSELVES, by stripping us of our confidence and self-esteem! The ego strives to protect us from the embarrassment of failure using various strategies including convincing ourselves of the following:
That we do not have the ability to achieve what we want in the first place
That we are not worthy or deserving
That the world is against us and nothing goes the way we plan
That our goals not realistic or achievable and so there is no point trying
It makes the process of trying to change or achieve something new and out of our comfort zones appear futile and a waste of time.
The ego likes to think that it knows things, including objective reality and the truth, when in actuality what the individual mind knows is very limited, because it has such a limited reference base. The ego doesn't know what it doesn’t know – ignorance is after all bliss – and this includes our true self-worth and capabilities which have been developing (or getting destroyed) since early childhood. If we do not feel worthy of having, or capable of achieving, what we want, then we will create obstacles to prevent ourselves from entering unchartered territory and failing.
Override: Being clear on what we want and why we want it and addressing the concerns of the ego, are key to overcoming the fear it is trying to protect us from. Exploring both the conscious and subconscious obstacles is essential, if the ego is going to allow us to risk social rejection, shame or embarrassment in order to go for what we want.
3. Limiting Beliefs
Beliefs are just ideas and opinions that we are certain are true, even if they are not. They are based on what we were taught and experienced early in life, and to what extent these ideas were reinforced by subsequent experience growing up. If we were told as a child that we sucked at art, for example, we would take on that idea and look for evidence to prove that the adult (who we would look upon as though they were a world expert) was correct. And the more evidence we collected over time, whilst simultaneously ignoring any evidence to the contrary, the firmer the belief would become that we did indeed suck at art and shouldn’t try doing anything too creative if we want to avoid further criticism and judgement. If we believe that we can't learn or change or that our goals are too hard or unachievable, we will most likely do whatever it takes to avoid them.
We need to remember that our beliefs have been influenced by other people – be it our families, community, the education system, the media – and that this input isn’t always correct, objective or in our best interests. Fortunately, all beliefs can be adapted, replaced and upgraded. In order to learn and change and grow, we must be aware of and challenge our beliefs, hold onto those that serve us well and replace those which hold us back or bring us down, especially when it comes to our sense of self-worth and confidence.
Override: The next time you find yourself putting yourself down, ask yourself: where did this idea comes from, is it 100% true all of the time, is there evidence to the contrary of this? If you want to think and feel better about yourself, what would you need to start telling yourself, instead of echoing the opinions of people from the past? Develop affirmations that feels comfortable for you and repeat them at the times when the subconscious is most receptive i.e. upon waking, just before sleep or in meditation. For example you can repeat: I can learn, I can improve even if I suck at first, I can try, I can do this! With consistency and repetition the subconscious will start to take on this new mindset.
4. Secondary Benefits
This is going to touch a raw nerve with many people, but it needs to be said. Everything that we do has a pay-off, even the negative stuff...especially the negative stuff! Very often people are not aware of the pay-off or secondary benefit that they receive through a negative action or mindset, because it meets a subconscious need, usually one that is not being met in other ways. Low self-confidence and low self-esteem tend to be unwanted characteristics we try to improve on, because they hold us back from stepping out of our comfort zones, trying new things and creating the kind of life experiences we dream of. Yet they can serve a purpose, or meet a subconscious need, which makes changing them even harder. Secondary benefits can include:
Receiving love, care and attention from others – when we feel low about ourselves, people will often try and console us by praising us and trying to boost our confidence and self-esteem which then makes us feel good.
Justification for handing over responsibility and control to someone else – when we don’t feel confident in doing things e.g., giving presentations (admittedly I am guilty of this), people will often offer to do these things for us, which saves us time, effort and emotional energy.
Avoiding short-term pain or discomfort – there is a cost to everything we want to achieve e.g. if we want to lose weight, it will cost us the enjoyment of foods we like to eat and we may experience the pain of cravings and possibly hunger pangs while our body adjusts. Low self-esteem justifies not even trying to lose weight, and therefore avoiding the pain and hassle.
Override: By identifying what the pay-off may be for our low confidence and self-esteem, we can ask ourselves why the secondary benefit is so important, and how else it can be met in a positive and heathy way? Weighing up the long-term cost of not being able to achieve the goal we have in mind, with the short term cost of giving up our secondary benefit, will also help provide perspective and motivation to make the necessary shifts in mindset and behaviour.
5. Self-doubt as a Tool for Success
Whether we like it or not, low confidence and self-doubt can actually serve a clear and positive purpose (shock horror!). It can motivate us to work harder to ensure our success and limit our risk of failure. Thanks to self-doubt and insecurity, many of us push ourselves to research more, to ask more questions, to analyse, to seek support and expert advice; we study more, explore more, problem-solve, weigh-up options; we acquire knowledge and wisdom, we develop and practice new and existing skills; and if we want it bad enough, we keep going until we succeed. For many people, the driving force behind any great achievement is the fear of failure, at the heart of which is self-doubt and the need to prove self-worth and capability. And it is through our successes that we can truly begin to develop core confidence and self-esteem.
Override: The phrase “fake it till you make it” isn’t about manipulation, it is about providing ourselves with the opportunity to prove our worth and abilities so that we can eventually “make it” legitimately. So the next time you find yourself doubting your worth or abilities, take a deep breath, tell yourself what you need to hear to put one foot in-front of the other, and start to WORK THE PROBLEM! As long as you keep moving forward eventually you will arrive somewhere new.
If you are interested in measuring your confidence/self-esteem, there are several free questionnaires online including the following: Self-EsteemQuestionnaire.pdf (happymindformula.com)
For some great tips on promoting confidence and self-esteem check out the link: 20 Great Questions to Help Increase Your Confidence | Psychology Today
And if you are thinking about accessing Confidence Coaching through The Mindful Life Coach UK, then be sure to complete the Consultation Form on the front page of the website to request a call back. A minimum of 4 sessions are often recommended to address both conscious and unconscious barriers to confidence and include life coaching techniques, NLP, guided meditations, and EFT.
You are worthy...you are enough...and you are loved just as you are!