Confidence is defined as a feeling of certainty or of self-assurance. But unfortunately, we live in a world where young people lack confidence. The Sky Academy surveyed 1,600 young people and found that only 60 per cent of girls and 67 per cent of boys reported feeling confident. However, knowing our human tendency to sometimes exaggerate things in our favour (also known as the ‘fudge factor’ according to the book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty), I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the true numbers are actually lower than that, and that closer to only 50 per cent of young people truly feel confident.
In addition, there’s a false perception that you need to feel confident in your abilities before you can take action. But the truth is that you actually need to take action before you can feel true and genuine confidence. You need to be able to feel comfortable while experiencing discomfort when you try something new for the first time, otherwise you might find yourself staying idle forever. In the event you do stay stagnant and idle, you’ll never truly evolve and you’ll never become the optimal version of yourself.
When it comes down to it, I believe there are two main factors that cultivate a lack of confidence, and that’s a fear of failure and perfectionism. The two of these can paralyse you into staying stagnant and failing to evolve instead of taking action and progressing. But fortunately, there are a few steps that you can take to overcome a fear of failure and any perfectionistic qualities that you might have in order to earn a true sense of confidence.
- Change your relationship with failure. Sometimes you’ll find that your motivation to avoid failure exceeds your motivation to succeed. If you have a mindset like this, you’re inadvertently sabotaging your chances of being successful because you’re not taking action, and you’re not making progress. So what you need to do here is focus on making progress instead of being perfect. Recognise that you’ll always be more successful, and you’ll make more progress (most importantly, you’ll also learn more) if you take action and fail (or at least don’t meet your initial standards) than you will if you don’t take any action or don’t try at all. It’s better to do something rather than sitting idle and do nothing. It’s better for you to try and not succeed right away than it is for you to never try it at all.
- Become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Chances are that you’ll always feel a sense of nerves when you’re trying something new for the first time. In some cases, it might not even be nerves that you’re feeling, but rather it’s a sense of excitement. Much like stepping on a hot pavement and perceiving it to feel almost cold, sometimes your mind can’t always decipher the difference between feeling nervousness and excitement because the sensations are similar. More often than not, you’ll experience this sensation when you’re trying something new, and it’s a perfectly normal feeling.
- Practise. Anything that you’re good at, you became good at by practising it. The same is true when it comes to feeling confident. If you want to become a confident person, you need to take action at what you want to become confident in, practise having that new confident mindset, and in time you’ll find that you possess genuine confidence. Keep taking action and keep practising, and you’ll become more confident.
- Take lessons from negative experiences. The truth is that your life will never be absolutely 100 per cent positive all the time because we’re all subject to the periodic bad day, or series of bad days. Even positive psychologists experience negative feelings sometimes. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t take valuable lessons from the setbacks and roadblocks that you encounter. It’s actually better for you to not try to fight negative emotions, because this just amplifies them and makes them worse. Allow negative feelings to come and go freely, understand that they’re a part of life, and build upon the positive because if all you ever focus on is eliminating the negative, you’ll never be able to maximise the benefits of the positive in your life.
- Change your mindset. We often think in terms of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ thoughts, but it’s more beneficial for you to think in terms of ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ thoughts. Not all negative thoughts are unhelpful, nor are all positive thoughts helpful. For example, you might think about your fear of possibly having to declare bankruptcy, which on the surface seems pretty negative. However, when that thought motivates you to save money and take the necessarily steps to avoid bankruptcy and move toward financial freedom, then it turns out to be a pretty helpful thought after all.
- Focus on progress, not perfection. Be mindful. Live in the moment, and recognise that life is a process and that you’re never a truly finished project. Focus on the process of life and the contribution that you’re making rather than the outcome you’re striving for and the accomplishment. Remember that it’s better to do something, and do it imperfectly, than it is to sit there and do nothing at all.
- Get rid of unrealistic expectations. This doesn’t mean that you’re not striving for excellence, but rather you’re just being more realistic. You’re dropping your perfectionist mindset, setting a new benchmark for what’s acceptable, and choosing to be happy.
- Stop needing approval. You set the benchmark for what you consider success in your life. You don’t need the approval of another person to live your life when you already have it within yourself.
- Recognise that past failure doesn’t guarantee future failures. Just because you didn’t succeed the first, or maybe even the second time around, it doesn’t mean that you’re never going to succeed. Your ability to persevere and understand the role that failure plays in your life dictates how confident and successful you’ll be.
In order to be genuinely confident, you don’t need to be perfect; you just need to take action. Change the way that you perceive failure, and allow yourself to experience some discomfort when trying new things. Accentuate the positive aspects of your life, shift your mindset from positive and negative thoughts to helpful and unhelpful thoughts, and focus on progress instead of perfection. When you’re able to do this, you’ll find yourself developing true confidence, which allows you to become the optimal version of your successful self.
Matthew Buckley is an Organisational Psychologist. He received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2010, and received his master’s degree in Organisational Psychology with a concentration in Conflict Management from the University of New Haven in 2015. His main areas of interest include career counselling, conflict management, emotional intelligence, employee retention, leadership and management, morale and motivation, personnel selection and recruitment, and self-promotion.