SELF-CONFIDENCE: What It Is And How To Get It
By Dawn Ferrara PsyD, LPC, LMFT

“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.” (Denis Waitley)

This quote sums up the role of self-confidence in our ability to pursue our goals. Being confident in our decisions and actions is the foundation of moving through life purposefully and positively. It is the inner strength that lets us know that we can do what we intend to do.

Some people seem to have confidence in abundance and seem to rarely doubt themselves. Most people, however, struggle to some degree with their feelings of confidence and belief in their ability to navigate through their world successfully. Sometimes it seems like certain people are just born with it. Does this mean that our confidence level is what it is? Not at all! While we are all born with certain traits of temperament and personality, many of our qualities can be nurtured and shaped through intentional action. Self-confidence is no exception.

So what exactly is self-confidence? Self-confidence is a term used to describe a specific aspect of one’s self-concept. It is different from self-esteem although the two are closely related. Self-esteem refers to our cognitive or emotional impression of our own worth, how we feel about ourselves. Self-confidence refers to our trust in our abilities, skills, qualities and judgments. It is a realistic belief that we can accomplish what we set our minds to both in the present as well as in the future.

The foundation of self-confidence is established by our early learning experiences and influences along with our unique disposition and resiliency. Children who are encouraged to move towards independence and self-reliance tend to feel more positive about their abilities. Children whose opportunities for practicing self-reliance were limited or struggled with mastery of skills may experience a lack of confidence in their abilities or opportunities. As we get older, our friends can exert a tremendous influence on our self-confidence. This results from being overly concerned with unrealistic expectations or standards of others—who we should be, what we should do. When we try and try in vain but can’t reach that ridiculously high bar, our confidence crumbles. Self-confidence is not indicative of our ability. It is about our belief in that ability.

It is normal for our self-confidence to wax and wane. Sometimes we can feel invincible, like we can do anything. Other times, we may doubt ourselves and fear that we don’t have what it takes to succeed. It may also vary across situations. For example, you may be very confident in your work setting but insecure in your ability to manage your family life. It is when our lack of confidence starts to hold us back that it becomes a problem.

Low self-confidence undermines our ability to move forward. It quietly manifests itself as negativity, doubt and fear. Fear is the most powerful barrier to success. Fear convinces us that we cannot move forward. It can stop us dead in our tracks. Strengthening self-confidence means mastering that fear and fostering a realistic belief in ourselves and our ability to be successful.

Overcoming a lack of confidence is about redefining how you think about yourself and your abilities. You have the power to change your state of mind by restructuring how you think about things and the actions you choose to take. The important thing is to take small and deliberate steps rather than trying to change everything all at once. Confidence is gained over time with each small success.

Focus On Your Strengths
Part of self-confidence is believing in you and your abilities. We all have things we are really good at. It’s important to know what skills and abilities you have at your disposal and can rely on. What are your strengths? What are those things about you that just come naturally? Instead of trying to create something new, use what comes naturally to you. For example, if you have a really great sense of humor, then keep using it. Express your own style in ways that reflect who you genuinely are. Likewise, if you have a special talent or interest, take the time to develop it. Placing a focus on your strengths reinforces your inner sense of self and what you are capable of doing.

Have A Plan
When you are prepared for something, you naturally feel more confident. This can be especially true when faced with a situation that is stressful or anxiety-provoking. Knowing that you have a plan you can rely on going in alleviates some of the fear and allows your confidence and courage to come through. Yes, courage. When fear is moved aside, it is courage that comes forward.

Take Small Steps
Confidence comes from taking action. Your plan gives you a roadmap for success. When making the plan, it’s important to break your task or goal down into small, manageable action steps. Making the steps too big can be overwhelming.

Identify your steps and take the first step no matter how small it is. Where you start is up to you and will depend on the goal. The most important thing is to take the first step. Each step reinforces the “yes I can” attitude and the way you think about yourself. One step leads to another… and another.

Act As If
There’s a strategy in therapy based on the idea that we can create outer circumstances by acting “as if” they are already real. For example, if we act happy, we can feel happy. Another example is smiling. Smiling, even when we don’t feel like it, can enhance feelings of happiness.

Acting “as if” can also be helpful when working on your confidence. Acting the part of someone who is successful and confident can help you to think about yourself in that way and strengthen you faith in your abilities. One way to do this is to find a role model. Think of someone who has had success similar to the kind you are seeking. What are this person’s actions that convey confidence to you?

Another strategy is to be an observer. Watch people who create powerful impressions. They might be friends, co-workers or even a movie character. What are they doing that creates the impression of confidence? Imagine yourself behaving in a similar way. How could these qualities help you in moving forward towards your goal?

Talk To Yourself
It’s hard to feel confident when you have a negative commentary playing over and over in your head. Excessive self-criticism leads us to focus on our shortcomings and all the things we are not.

Poor self-confidence is exacerbated by a pattern of negative thinking and self-talk. Take a moment and really think about what you say to yourself. Is it positive and affirming or is it negative and critical? If it’s the latter, it’s time to change that thinking!

When you find yourself thinking negatively about yourself, challenge yourself! Change your thought process. Take a moment to remind yourself of your strengths. Say what you’re grateful for today. Another strategy is to practice daily affirmation. Each day remind yourself of some of your strengths that you rely on. Developing a positive inner dialogue takes time to nurture but will help you to develop a more positive and hopeful attitude. That's the foundation of a new and more confident outlook.

Dress Rehearsal
One of the most effective ways to boost feelings of confidence is to be prepared. Rehearsing or visualizing yourself performing a task successfully creates a mental imprint and a feeling of familiarity. When the time comes for the actual event, your brain is likely to respond confidently as if you’ve already been there and done that.

Managing anxiety is critical for getting through a new or stressful situation successfully. While a little stress can be motivating, too much anxiety can be paralyzing in the moment. Rehearsing can help to reduce the anxiety associated with the event. While you’re rehearsing, pay attention to the physical responses you might have. Is your heart racing? Is your breathing slow and steady or fast and shallow? If so, practice controlling your breathing as you rehearse.

With a little time and patience, you can nurture a sense of positivity and boost your self-confidence. As you begin to strengthen your confidence and experience those small victories, an interesting thing may start to happen. Once you realize what you’ve accomplished, you may find yourself asking, “If I did that, what else can I do?” The answer is anything you set your mind to.


Dawn Ferrara
About Dawn Ferrara PsyD, LPC, LMFT
Louisiana | United States

As a therapist-coach, Dr. Ferrara specializes in personal and lifestyle coaching with special interest in Stress Management and Weight Loss/Fitness. She is an ACE-certified Health Coach and a licensed mental health clinician (LPC & LMFT). Her practice is currently limited to personal and wellness coaching.

Dr. Ferrara is a workshop presenter, blogger and author. She is available for speaking engagements as her schedule permits. To read more and for information about speaking availability, please contact Dr. Ferrara at her website.

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