Confidence is key. What is it, and how can we be more confident?
Updated: May 1, 2021
‘Know your worth.’
‘Know your value and add tax.’
‘You are enough.’
Some of a plethora of motivational quotes we see all over Instagram every time we open our feed. A window into the growing issue of confidence and self-esteem, and lack thereof particularly in the era of social media. But do pretty quotes really make us feel good? Or make us more confident? Maybe.
Affirmations (a cousin of motivational quotes) have been shown to help people overcome anxiety and feel better about themselves. Prior to studying counselling and understanding how deep-rooted certain beliefs are, I believed affirmations to be slightly embarrassing nonsense, however having done the research I’ve changed my mind and can see that they can be an important step in changing our self-beliefs and self-talk.
Some good affirmations are:
· What I have done today is enough.
· Just because I CAN fit something in, doesn’t mean I should.
· I am trying my best.
· I am a good person.
· My worth is not calculated by weight.
How does self-talk shape our self-esteem and confidence? Because, we are often our own harshest critic and would never in a million years speak to someone else the way we speak to ourselves. I know I’ve heard my friends speak about their weight or appearance in a way that if someone said that exact thing to a person they loved, they would be disgusted and appalled. And yet, we think it’s OK to berate ourselves for the tiniest perceived flaws.
Negative self-talk can often be formed from what’s called a ‘cognitive distortion’. There are several types of distortions but what it boils down to is that our brain is processing the information we receive incorrectly. We all have them, and we are all prone to them. This is nothing to be ashamed of, just something to be aware of.
An example of this would be seeing someone who is a size 18 and thinking ‘god she’s fabulous’ while simultaneously berating ourselves for being a size 14. How is it that she, who is in inarguably bigger can be beautiful and fabulous, but we are disgusting and lazy solely because of our size?
Picture: Dove Campaign for real beauty
You can see how illogical this is. I use this as an example because it is one of the most common distortions we experience. Particularly in the world of ‘Insta perfect’ selfies and diet culture fads, it’s easy to feel ‘less than’ a lot of the time. We see picture perfect images thousands of times per day, posed and filtered, the perfect family, the perfect holiday etc. It’s no wonder so many people feel they’re not making the cut.
A commonly used tool in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to counteract these distortions is a ‘thoughts diary’. A thoughts diary is there to bring awareness to our automatic thoughts and responses, and to help us challenge them. In it, we look at:
Situation: e.g., getting ready for a party alone.
Thoughts: e.g., I won’t know many people, no one will talk to me. It will be awful.
Emotions: e.g., Nervous. Sick to my stomach
Response/Behaviours: e.g., Calling my friend to say I’m sick and I can’t make it.
Outcome: e.g., Sitting home alone, feeling like I’m missing out and feeling guilty lying to my friend.
You can download your own thought diary here:
By challenging these thought patterns, we can challenge our negative beliefs and increase our self-confidence. Confidence is built by doing things outside our comfort zone and realizing ‘hey, that wasn’t so bad’. Take the party example, is it really likely not a single person would talk to us? No, of course not. Is it more likely we’d go, feel awkward at the start, get talking to someone and actually it wouldn’t be so bad after all? Yes, that’s very likely. Challenging these cognitive distortions and fears is a key step in soothing our anxieties and becoming more confident.
A good rule of thumb when a negative thought pops into your head is, to ask yourself 'Would I talk to my best friend this way?' if the answer is no, use your thoughts diary to examine this thought and reframe it.
Self-image plays a huge part in our self-talk. How many people have you heard berate themselves for gaining weight? Especially during COVID? Are you guilty of saying mean things to yourself? Things like:
· I’m so fat,
· How did I let myself get to this place?
· Why am I such a failure?
· Why can’t I control myself?
· Everyone must be judging me,
· X person commented on my weight gain, it must be obvious to everyone.
I use weight as it’s one of the most common areas where people struggle with self-image. If you’ve read our eating disorders post here, you’ll know it’s a slippery slope to harmful behaviour. Interestingly, losing weight will not actually help our self-image unless we work on our underlying lack of confidence. We need to hold ourselves in high esteem, REGARDLESS of our outward factors such as, appearance, financial status, fancy possessions, or great holidays. Outward factors can always change, it's our intrinsic worth i.e., being a kind person that we can count on.
Feel free to get a sheet of paper, and list out some things you really like about yourself.
· I always send my family birthday gifts,
· I try my best to be kind to those around me,
· I’m a good partner,
· I’m a good cook,
· I’m good a pushing myself to try new things, even when I’m afraid.
Most people are struggling with self-image this year as most of our usual anchors have been taken away. Not being able go out a lot of us are living in trackies and t-shirts, spending a lot more time in front of screens and feeling a bit ‘meh’. While there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s your jam, it can bring you down if that's all that's happening. So, if you're feeling down, change it up. Next Saturday night host a kitchen party in your best outfit. Take a tonne of pictures, have a dance, and have FUN. Wear your favourite jeans to do the groceries. Hell, wear a ballgown to get coffee if it makes you feel good. It’s hard to feel confident and sparkly when were flat on the couch in our PJs for what feels like the 5 millionth day in a row.
This has been a tremendously tough year on everyone, and we could all use a little TLC. So, let’s start with ourselves. Starting a thoughts diary is a really positive first step, often when we write our negative thoughts and beliefs down we can see how illogical they are. Watching how we speak to, and perceive ourselves is a key factor in growing our confidence and self esteem, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on it.
A brilliant way to build confidence, especially when we’re feeling down is to do something quantifiable for example,
· build a desk,
· cook a new dish,
· paint a wall,
· make a website,
· get a certificate from an online course. Coursera has a huge selection and they’re free.
When an achievement is quantifiable i.e., ‘I built that desk’, nobody, not even you in your worst moments can take it away from you. Things like ‘I am popular’, ‘people at work like me’ etc., can be argued when we slip into a dark place. When our cognitive distortions take over, it is harder to argue ‘I am popular’, because there’s little or no evidence either way. Whereas a table or a website you built is sitting there, staring at you, proving your negative thoughts wrong.
The more quantifiable skills and achievements you have, the more confident you will be.
Filter your news sources:
This is an important one. I’ve mentioned the ‘Insta perfect’ rhetoric a number of times now, but it is such a key factor in our confidence. How often have we been going about our day and then seen a picture of someone’s new car, or fabulous holiday or ‘perfect’ aesthetic and immediately felt worse about ourselves?