Have you had an experience where your self-confidence suddenly deserted you?

What happened? How did you feel afterwards?

In response to a prior blog post, I’ve had several requests to write a more general article about self-confidence, so here it is. It’s for anyone who’s experienced a sudden loss of confidence, regardless of the cause.

I hope it helps you. If you know someone else it would help, please share it with them.

The Self-Confidence Trap

There are many myths, mistakes, and misconceptions about self-confidence. They create unrealistically high expectations about how we should feel, and this isn’t good for our self-confidence. I call this the Self-Confidence Trap.

To help you recognise the Self-Confidence Trap, I’ve catalogued some of these myths, mistakes, and misconceptions below.

Self-confidence IS NOT

Something you either do or don’t have.

We tend to think of people as being either self-confident or not self-confident, but this isn’t true. We all have self-confidence. Whether we feel it depends on circumstances. Self-confidence can come or go – it’s not permanent.

Never feeling uncertain, nervous, or afraid.

It’s human to feel these emotions. Even people who seem very self-confident feel this way at times. What’s important is what you do with these emotions.

Given to you by someone or something else.

How we feel is a result of our reactions to our environment in combination with what’s happening in our inner world. You may have a positive reaction to people or circumstances and feel more self-confident as a result. These people or circumstances didn’t give you the feeling, you did.

Necessary to have before you can act.

Imagine a world where nobody acted until they were 100% confident they were going to succeed. We wouldn’t learn basic life skills such as walking if we didn’t dare to try before we were confident we wouldn’t fail.

A magic spell which guarantees success.

Have you ever felt confident about what you were doing, only to have it go wrong? Self-confidence doesn’t equal success. Sure, it helps, but there are no guarantees.

Something successful people feel all the time.

Think about some people you deem to be successful. Have they taken risks, had setbacks or suffered failures? They most probably have, and since they’re human they’ve probably had moments of self-doubt and lacked confidence.

What Is Self-Confidence?

The answer to this question is: ‘it depends’. Whether you feel self-confident at any point in time depends upon a combination of the following:

  • Environment:     Your level of comfort with the situation/context.
  • Emotions:           Your general emotional state.
  • Skill:                     You level of skill in the activity.
  • Inner World:      Your conscious and subconscious mind.

Self-confidence may not be easy, but it is EESI!

If you look closely at the list above, you’ll see that you already have self-confidence, at least sometimes. These are your Comfort Zones – the Environments you’re comfortable in and the activities you’re Skilled in. Comfort Zones rarely trigger negative emotions or thoughts.

Take another look at EESI.

Unless you spend your life in your Comfort Zone, it’s nearly impossible to feel self-confident all the time. I call the circumstances that challenge your self-confidence your Discomfort Zone.

Identifying Your Discomfort Zone

Did you answer ‘yes’ to the opening question? (that is, Have you had an experience where your self-confidence suddenly deserted you?)

If so, it’s possible you were in a Discomfort Zone at the time. Let’s examine what made the situation a Discomfort Zone by reviewing it using EESI.

Take your mind back and ask yourself these questions:

  • Environment     Was I comfortable in the situation/context? If not, why not?
  • Emotions:          Was my emotional state negative, neutral, or positive? Why?
  • Skill:                   What was my level of skill in the activity? Why?
  • Inner World:     What self-talk did I hear? Write it down.

What did you discover?

Repeat this exercise as often as you need to, and pay close attention next time your self-confidence drops. Take note of the situation and look for any patterns or themes. Write them down and discuss them with someone you trust.

Building Your Confidence

Building your self-confidence is like building your fitness at the gym. You start with exercises you can do but which are challenging, and then you increase the level of difficulty and start adding new exercises.

Now it’s time to go to the self-confidence gym. We’re going to identify steps you can take from within your Comfort Zone into your Discomfort Zone. By doing this you’ll expand your Comfort Zone.

Remember, you already have self-confidence. When you’re in your Comfort Zone you trust yourself, and you know how self-confidence feels.

Once you’ve scrutinized your Discomfort Zone, you’ll understand your triggers – those factors which cause your self-confidence to drop. You’ll also have developed a better picture of your Comfort Zone, so you can safely take steps from here towards your Discomfort Zone.

Let’s start! Review your Discomfort Zone description and analysis (EESI). Choose one top priority area to work on, and then work through the relevant exercise.

  • What’s the most similar Comfort Zone environment?
  • What’s the next step you can take to become more used to the environment?
  • Do it.
  • Keep taking steps.
  • What’s the most similar skill you already have?
  • What’s the next step you can take to become more skilled?
  • Do it.
  • Keep taking steps.
  • Negative emotions?
  • Are they helpful?
  • What’s the opposite of the negative?
  • If it’s a fear, name it. Fear of what?
  • Tell yourself that it’s okay and perfectly natural to feel fear. Everyone has fears.
  • Say hi to your Fear. Give it a pet name (one of mine is called Fred).
  • How can you focus your Fear positively?
  • If you can’t, say hi and ask it to take a seat. If you’re going to hang around together, you both might as well get comfortable.
  • Don’t resist or try to suppress your Fear.
  • What self-talk did you notice?
  • Is it helpful?
  • If it’s unhelpful, what is the opposite of it?
  • Next time you hear unhelpful self-talk have a polite chat with your inner-critic.
  • Thank it for its opinion. Graciously let it know ‘I’m going to choose <the positive opposite> on this occasion’.
    • For example, your critic said ‘you’re stupid!’. You say, ‘Thanks for your opinion. I’m going to choose ‘I’m intelligent’ on this occasion.’
  • Don’t argue with your inner-critic.

How much work you’ve got to do depends upon how far outside your Comfort Zone you’re venturing. If it feels too much, get some help.

Keeping On Track

A good way to keep on track is to check in with yourself regularly. I recommend it. It’s a good habit to have even if you’re working through this with a support person. By doing this you’ll strengthen your self-awareness muscles and be better prepared to recognise and deal with Discomfort Zone situations when they arise.

I suggest the two following options for self-check-in. Choose what works best for you:

Option One is to run through EEZI in your mind and act accordingly.

Option Two is what I do when I want to quickly check in on my current level of self-confidence. Ask yourself this question:

‘Do I trust myself at this moment?’

If not, why not? Take things from there.

Keep it simple. The important thing is to practice, the more you practice the better you’ll get.

I’d like to acknowledge the work of Dr Russ Harris ‘The Confidence Gap – From Fear to Freedom’ © 2010 and Susan Jeffers ‘Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway’ © 2006 Ballantine Books. These works have helped me and informed the content of this article.

Did this article help you? What worked and what didn’t? I’d love your feedback because it helps me help you.

 Please share your thoughts and any constructive comments in the section below.