Why Courage Is The Secret To Confidence – And How To Start Believing In Yourself Right Now
Have you ever wondered what self-confidence actually is? And what’s the difference between someone who genuinely has self-belief and someone who doesn’t?
Most of us know someone who seems to possess a sense of ease and confidence in their ability to accomplish in life as if they were born with it. Maybe it’s that they’re calm and self-assured around people and seem to make friends easily; that they don’t appear to second-guess their abilities when it comes to challenges, decision-making or learning new skills; or that they stand their ground when voicing their opinions or asking for what they need. These people often stick out in a crowd and radiate confidence like natural-born leaders. And for those with anxiety and a strong inner critic, it’s especially frustrating to wonder, “Why can’t I be like that?”
But here’s the thing: no one is born confident. Instead, we develop confidence by having the courage to face challenges and be ourselves. In this article, we’ll deepen your understanding of confidence and self-belief and show you the roadmap to get there.
Everyone wants self-belief and self-confidence, but most of us don’t get what it really is.
That sentence pretty much sums up high school and a lot of my twenties for me. I spent a lot of time feeling anxious and wondering why I couldn’t just believe in myself. With a couple of decades under my belt battling with this feeling, I’ve figured out that a much more useful question to ask is, “What does it take for someone to feel at home in themselves?” I’ve become more and more fascinated with topics like self-belief and self-confidence and although everyone wants them, I can’t help but feel like most of us don’t understand them.
In developing self-belief and self-confidence we’re often told to just ‘fake it ‘til you make it’, but I couldn’t disagree more. Developing self-belief and self-confidence doesn’t happen overnight and can sometimes be a difficult journey as you confront your feelings about your own worth and value. If you’ve ever tried to ‘just believe in yourself’ when you weren’t really feeling it, you’ll know that genuine self-belief can’t be faked. People often end up making major gaffs because they’re trying to be confident without knowing what it means – like talking over someone in a meeting and coming off as an arrogant prick – and ends up eroding confidence further. That’s why understanding what both these things actually are is so important. So big ups to you – by getting curious, you’re already halfway there!
What are self-belief and self-confidence?
Self-belief and self-confidence are often used interchangeably, the most common definition being ‘to believe in oneself’. They’re closely related but there’s actually a subtle difference between the two. Self-confidence is a deep trust that you can handle what life throws your way and it comes from experience with overcoming challenges in a particular area or areas. On the other hand, a person with strong self-belief is someone who knows his or her worth and value. This is a little trickier for many of us.
Benefits of having self-belief and self-confidence
Believing in yourself is a prerequisite for taking meaningful action in your life and feeling fulfilled. It allows you not only to motivate yourself but also to inspire others and has a strong influence on your sense of wellbeing. Self-confidence leads to better health, thriving under stress and increased energy, motivation, concentration and performance. It’s different from arrogance in that arrogance is abrasive and comes from a place of insecurity, needing to put others down to lift themselves up. People with higher levels of confidence on the other hand are perceived as more attractive, have better relationships and have high levels of humility. Unlike arrogant people, they make great leaders and have an enhanced sense of feeling valued.
The secret to real self-confidence
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
The word “confidence” comes from the Latin root confidere meaning ‘to have full trust’. I clearly remember the pieces of this puzzle coming together for me at a yoga teacher training a few years ago. I was going through a particularly tough time, fighting with myself constantly and finding it hard to accept myself after a series of events that had led to a breakdown the size of Canada. Both my self-worth and self-trust were at a cool zero.
The group was made up of mostly older women in their forties and fifties, while I was a puny 26, miserable in what I thought were supposed to be the most carefree years of my life, wondering if I was defective and where I could apply for a refund on my twenties.
Being in a particularly raw state of self-doubt, I was blown away by Louise’s sense of ease. You know when people are on guard and defensive because they’re super insecure? Well, she seemed to be the opposite of that and I was floored when during a group discussion, she openly said, “I know and trust myself completely. And when I make a decision, I never ever second-guess myself.”
How many people can say they genuinely feel that way in their day-to-day?
Even though Louise had a good few years on me to develop that kind of confidence, it made me hate her just a little. It was an affirmation of all the qualities I wanted but didn’t have. But at the same time, she had given me a destination I could plot a map for. To me, knowing and trusting myself completely became the epitome of what it meant to be confident. I like to think of it as being unshakeable.
If you’re feeling like you’re not capable of that, I’ve got a newsflash for you: you already know what it’s like to be confident and unshakeable.
Being unshakeable is that delicious, relaxed feeling you get when things are flowing, when you’re at your best and sense that you’ve got this. It can happen in small bursts at times when you’re doing something you love. It’s easy to think that you have no self-confidence and you need to fake it when you feel insecure about something or have a strong inner critic. But that’s not true – you already have it! It’s there in those moments when you feel the most like ‘yourself’.
Being yourself brings us to the core of self-confidence. I love the way author, TED speaker and vulnerability researcher, Brené Brown sums it up when she says, “Vulnerability is the cornerstone of confidence.”
Vulnerability is the foundation of self-confidence and self-belief
To be confident, we must be willing to be seen by others and treat our authentic selves as sacred, not something to be ashamed of. Most of us spend our lives building up walls, terrified of allowing others in for fear of rejection. I know I was. Trusting myself to remove those brick layers one by one trusting that I’d be fine in turn lead to more and more self-trust and self-confidence. It takes a lot of courage to allow yourself to be seen for who you are – but it’s also the most liberating feeling. Because what’s the alternative – be who we think we’re supposed to be and never really live? Who wants to read a self-improvement book pushing that title? Not I.
P.S. Vulnerability is a massive and important topic. If you’d like to read more, check out the Queen of Courage and Vulnerability herself.
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”Marilyn Monroe
While self-confidence is about trusting yourself, self-belief has more to do with knowing your worth and value. ‘Belief’ has its roots in two different words – ‘be’ and ‘lief’. ‘Be’ relates to ‘being’, and ‘lief’ comes from the Indo-European word ‘leubh’, which means ‘to care, desire, love, to hold dear’.
So to have self-belief implies that you love and treasure yourself. It means that you are kind and compassionate towards your own heart and that you appreciate and care about you. Isn’t that beautiful? And it makes perfect sense. What animal flourishes under hateful words rather than compassion?
I think Dr Kristin Neff, a leading researcher and author on self-compassion, puts it best:
“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings — after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”Kristin Neff
Caring about yourself – or having self-belief – is an act of affirming that you are worthy of love. And approaching the world from a place of worthiness is what gives us the courage to be authentic, instead of striving for impossible levels of perfection. This is where self-belief and self-confidence support each other.
But unfortunately, as critical as it is to our self-worth and self-belief, being self-compassionate is often associated with self-pity, being weak and not getting off the couch. You might even think of loving yourself as awfully self-indulgent, self-centred or just plain selfish.
In an insightful article for Greater Good Magazine, Neff says: “Most people don’t have any problem seeing compassion as a thoroughly commendable quality… But we seem less sure about self-compassion.”
Why then do we encourage kindness to others but not ourselves?
Self-criticism: the enemy of healthy self-belief
A common misconception is that to motivate ourselves we need to be critical, harsh, blaming or even punishing lest we land up in our sweats in front of Netflix forever. But again and again, science has shown us otherwise. Stanford Professor Kelly McGonigal challenges this long-held view in her book The Willpower Instinct, saying, “Study after study has shown that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control.” One study has even shown how self-criticism can lead to behavioural inhibition, preventing us from taking action.
Self-criticism and negative self-talk are probably the biggest enemies of self-confidence and self-belief and if you’re anything like I was, you feel frustrated at the inner conflict and the constant questioning by your inner critic that undermines your abilities and even your worth. And if like I did, you compare yourself to those ‘self-believers’ and have gone as far as to question whether there’s something wrong with you, I’m here to tell you there’s not. I repeat. There’s nothing wrong with you. You are magical and magnificent and you deserve to know that.
Not a single person who trusts or believes in themselves was born that way or cruised through life on smooth waters. Most confidence and self-belief are acquired over time through experiences that reinforce our trust in our capability to handle situations and knowing our worth and value. The greater the variety of challenges we overcome, the more confident we feel. That’s why engaging with challenges and expanding the boundaries of our comfort zone is so important. But we’ll come back to that in a bit.
How to believe in yourself and develop unshakeable self-confidence
“Small consistent actions over time lead to great and glorious changes.”Robin Sharma
Habits are probably the most fundamental part of building a successful and fulfilling life. Believing in yourself happens only when you have set habits in place that nurture your self-belief and boost your self-confidence instead of tearing them down. Often the latter happens unconsciously and until we become aware of what they are and what habits to replace them with, we’ll be stuck playing the same record over and over. Developing unshakeable self-confidence comes down to affirming your worthiness and capability with each decision you make. After all, according to the author of ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear: “the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our habits.”
Your state of being lies in the balance of your good habits versus your bad habits. Or put another way:
State of being = (total good habits) – (total bad habits)
You’ll know you’re in the negative when you have more bad habits than good. When it comes to self-belief and self-confidence, some unhelpful habits include:
- Perpetuating a victim’s mindset
- Comparing yourself to other people
- Playing small, being apologetic
- Being self-critical, self-punishing or self-flagellating
- Judging others
- Not doing what you say you’ll do
- Living out of alignment with your values
- Taking things personally
Make a commitment to stop doing these things. They only serve as a distraction and break you down instead of building you up. You deserve so much more than the pain that all these habits inflict. Commit to exploring, bringing awareness to each one of these areas and finding ways to eliminate them.
Creating empowering habits and processes helps to bolster mental health, self-worth and your overall feeling of confidence. If you commit to just one thing you’ll start seeing unmistakable benefits quickly!
1. Get curious
If the first step to developing self-belief is a commitment to yourself, then the second is developing self-awareness. Get curious about your thoughts. Learn to observe them without analyzing, justification, condemnation or judgment.
Letting go of these habits will allow you to see things as they are – not as you think they should be. Journaling can be a very helpful process to untangle the brain spaghetti and spot patterns or if that’s not for you, try a thought log. Write down your regular or recurring thoughts, reactions, behaviours and observations without getting entangled in the story. Notice how the mind’s movements are exactly that – stories.
2. Develop a growth mindset
“Effort is one of those things that gives meaning to life. Effort means that you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it.”Carol Dweck
Study after study has shown us that a fixed mindset – one that believes that we are born as we are and cannot learn or grow – is correlated with depression and anxiety. But developing a growth mindset that believes in your ability to cultivate qualities and skills through persistence leads to reduced levels of depression and high levels of self-confidence and resilience.
Transforming the meaning of effort and difficulty and engaging with challenges is vital. “That’s when neurons are making connections. That’s when [you’re] getting smarter,” says Carol Dweck, pioneer of growth mindset research in her TED talk, The power of believing that you can improve.
One of the most valuable beliefs you can cultivate in building self-trust is that everything is figure-outtable or “the power of yet,” as Dweck calls it. Believing strongly in your ability to learn means that you trust yourself to overcome challenges and are not so easily shaken by failures or setbacks. It means that you are more likely to take risks, reboot quicker and boost your levels of success… and self-confidence!
So if you’re struggling with self-belief and self-confidence, remind yourself that you just haven’t figured it out – yet!
3. Get to know your Authentic Self
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”Paulo Coelho
The most important promise you will ever keep is the one you make to yourself. And like any relationship, letting yourself down, again and again, leads us to a loss of trust, worth and respect – the foundations of self-belief and self-confidence.
Take the time to ask yourself what’s important to you. What makes you, you? When do you feel at your best and with whom? When do you feel the most yourself?
These are just some of the questions you can ask yourself to discover what your core values are. When we consistently act out of line with our values it ends with us feeling out of touch with ourselves and easily influenced by others, like we’re not living our own lives and are not true to ourselves.
Remember, trust relies on authenticity and in order to be confident, we must be able to risk emotional exposure and allow ourselves to be seen. That means acting on what’s important to us and setting healthy boundaries. What our hearts really want is to be seen, to express their gifts and passions and share them with the world. That’s why when we follow what’s important to us, we fill ourselves up with confidence and strength.
4. Practice self-compassion and self-care
Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as having three components: self-kindness (treating yourself as you would a friend or family), common humanity (understanding that you’re not alone in struggling) and mindfulness (being present with negative feelings in non-judgmental awareness.)
One way of acting more kindly towards yourself is actively speaking to yourself as you would a friend. Again, journaling is very helpful here. Ask yourself what kinds of things you need to hear.
Some other science-backed exercises to increase self-compassion include: writing yourself a compassionate letter; being aware of words like ‘always’, ‘should’ or ‘never’ (indicators of self-criticism); and reframing situations in a way that is kinder and more accurate and meditation.
Finally, acknowledge your accomplishments and give yourself some credit. While confidence and self-efficacy are based on evidence of our capabilities, so often we focus on all the stuff we couldn’t achieve. Stop focusing on all your failings and what you see as shortcomings. Celebrate yourself on even your smallest achievements. You deserve it.
5. Dispute your negative beliefs and inner critic
Contrary to popular belief, the inner critic doesn’t die when ignored or fought with. It grows louder and louder. This is because one of the jobs of your inner critic is actually to protect you. Imagine if you were to ignore your inner voice back in the cave days when there was a lion around. It would be a disaster of minced human proportions.
The saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” comes to mind, because as well-intentioned as your inner guidance system is, the critic is a lot like a small child and doesn’t always use an appropriate strategy. Some examples include:
- When you become self-assured about something and it chimes in, “Don’t be so sure of yourself!” It fills you with self-doubt when its goal is to protect you from becoming arrogant; or
- When you’re about to try something new and it says, “You never going to be able to do this!” Its only goals are to protect you from hurting yourself, from failing or from disappointment. But it causes all three.
Some tips to deal with your inner critic:
1) Fact check it. Is it actually true that you’re becoming arrogant? Will you really never be able to do that new thing you were trying?
2) Dispute it. “That’s not true because even if I don’t get it right the first time, I’ll practice and eventually learn.” (A sneaky shout-out to the growth mindset here!)
3) Talk to it. Ask it questions. “What are you trying to protect me from?” or “What need are you trying to fulfil?” and “Is there a better way we can achieve this?” It’s pretty hard to radiate self-confidence when you’re expending energy battling inner demons. Getting it on your side will help you to resolve your inner conflict and feel more at peace.
6. Self-correct instead of self-criticizing
One of the greatest ways to overcome self-criticism and gain a sense of trust in yourself is to turn self-criticism into self-correction and take meaningful action.
Self-criticism hurts because there’s at least some element of truth to it – to us, at least – and it’s centred around what we value most. For example, my inner critic likes to flare up when it comes to productivity… and while it’s not true that I’m lazy and I never get anything done, what really bothers me are behaviours like procrastination, because meaningful contribution is important to me.
So instead of pushing it aside completely or dwelling on the negative, assess the situation and what you can take action on. You can self-compassion talk the hell out of a situation, but the self-criticism won’t stop until you change something. The fastest way to build self-confidence is to act on your values because you prove to yourself that you’re someone you can rely on.
7. Get sweaty
We all know that exercise leads to the release of endorphins and mood-enhancing effects, but did you know that it helps reduce long-term feelings of depression and anxiety? According to a study by Gallup, people who exercise at least two days a week are happier and have significantly less stress. And with each added day of exercise, people experienced boosts in energy and mood.
But the benefits don’t end there. Exercise also helps you gain mental strength, increased focus and a sense of capability. It improves your self-image, both physically and mentally, because not only do you start to get into shape, but you also get that yummy feeling of accomplishment. Setting targets, overcoming challenges and achieving goals allows you to feel more confident in your abilities.
I almost can hear my 25-year-old self scoffing and rolling her eyes at me, so if you hate the idea of exercise, I get it. Nobody likes that phase between unfit and fit.
Solution: don’t set massive bodybuilding goals if you haven’t hit the gym in 5 years. You’re super unlikely to start. Instead, start stacking habits. Find something you really enjoy. Dance in your underwear for 5 minutes every day and take it from there. Remember, small, consistent actions lead to great and glorious changes.
8. Push the boundaries of your comfort zone
“I have not ceased being fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control me.”Erica Jay
Taking action to be vulnerable and authentic requires a boatload of courage, especially if you’re not in the habit of doing it. Heck, pretty much everything we’ve discussed here takes courage.
That’s because courage is the gateway to growth. When we’re living our life in a loop of negative emotions and beliefs, courage is what allows us to transform and claim our personal power.
Did you know that as babies we once perceived ourselves as strong, capable and independent beings? One major and often hard transition we all went through as we grew older was trading our sense of omnipotence for a sense of reality. I find it funny that having gained that ‘sense of reality’ we now have to push back the other way in order to rediscover how powerful we truly are.
Testing the boundaries of our comfort zone and expanding the area in which we feel capable and powerful boosts our self-belief and self-confidence. So act while you feel fear, and don’t wait for it to disappear – it’s just an indication that you’re reaching the edges of your comfy little bubble.
A lot of people struggle with feelings of low self-confidence and self-worth. For most it’s a big struggle to show up, be ourselves and be cool with that.
It takes a lot of courage to allow yourself to be seen for who you are, and this is the root of where confidence lies.
When we can learn to have trust in ourselves, allow ourselves to be seen, treat ourselves as someone we really care about and cut out the self-criticism we begin to unlock unshakeable self-belief and self-confidence.
Cut out the bad habits. They’re just dragging you down.
Cultivate self-awareness. And remember – it’s all a fantastic story.
Develop a growth mindset. A common characteristic of the most confident and successful people is that they’re stretching their abilities.
Discover your Authentic Self. The most important promise you’ll keep is the one you make to yourself.
Develop self-compassion. Treat yourself as you would a friend, remember you’re not alone in your humanity and be the non-judgmental observer of your thoughts and emotions.
Dispute your negative beliefs and inner critic. Don’t fight it – get it on your side as your inner guidance system.
Self-correct instead of self-criticizing. Taking meaningful action is one of the fastest ways to build self-trust.
Exercise. Increasing your physical strength increases your mental capabilities too.
Push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Test the limits of your power.
Ready to level up?
Did reading this give you ants in your pants (in a good way)? Everything on this list is things we help our clients incorporate through our resilience coaching program, creating that unshakeable mindset we’re so passionate about sharing. Read more about our programs here and feel free to book a free 30-minute Curiosity Call. We’d love to hear from you!