Being quiet in a loud world
We live in a world that celebrates those who are outgoing, talkative, that like to be in the spotlight and appear to be comfortable in large groups. We often hear people say all we need is to have confidence – to believe in ourselves – and we can achieve anything we want to do.
So, what is confidence?
It is common to refer to it as believing in oneself (Bénabou & Tirole, 2002). Bandura (1997) focused on the concept of self-efficacy, which refers to our belief that when persevering with our efforts, we are capable of achieving our goals.
We are all confident in some areas, e.g. When we are familiar with a particular task such as riding a bicycle, typing or doing jobs around the house (Harris, 2011). As our level of confidence grows, we can pursue our goals, and we are more able to manage challenges.
Self-esteem is another concept used when talking about confidence, although these concepts refer to different things. Self-esteem refers to our overall view of our self-worth – how we think of ourselves. You also may have heard extroversion mentioned when talking about confidence. Generally, people assume that a confident person is extroverted, outgoing and likes to participate in social situations. They are described as being comfortable with others in public spaces and are perceived to be successful.
It is easy for people who are not comfortable in the limelight, and who prefer to have 1:1 conversations, or that prefer to take time to reflect before participating actively, to feel as if they lack in confidence. However, this is not so. We all have a different way of engaging with the world and what we find energising or motivating (Cain, 2012). And it is not helpful to label anyone as we all feel and behave differently, depending on our mood, the situation and our previous experiences can also influence how we think and act in a particular situation.
Generally, extroverted people are energised by talking with others and engaging with their environment, whereas introverted people are energised by drawing their energy from their inner world. That is, they have a preference for being in one-on-one or small groups. They prefer to think things through before communicating their thoughts, and in conversation, they tend to take their turn in a conversation (Cain, 2012). So to others observing it may appear as if they are not confident because they assume that self-assured people speak all the time and seem not to be concerned about what others think.
There are cultural differences that can influence how we behave in a social setting. In some cultures, it is expected and encouraged to be expressive and direct, whereas others promote politeness and reserved. Introverted people generally do not want to draw attention to themselves. It is different from shyness, where we are self-conscious and are worried about how others might think of us. When feeling self-conscious, we tend to worry about saying something silly that will cause us embarrassment, or we fear rejection. Often, we worry about being misunderstood and anticipate potential conflict so avoid difficult conversations.
When feeling uncomfortable with oneself, we may worry that we’re not good enough and we criticise ourselves. We may doubt ourselves and our abilities. When we have a rigid pattern of thinking, where we do not have flexibility to consider alternative options, or when we jump to conclusions, it can prevent us from overcoming our feelings of fear and take action (eg. participate in activities that can contribute to our development).
So, to build our confidence, we can start by focusing on our efforts and on the progress we are making. Gradually, our belief in our capabilities will grow which in turn, will strengthen our ability to regulate our emotions. When we feel we can trust ourselves to take action, and we maintain the hope that we can make changes, is how we learn and improve. We feel more motivated to pursue goals when they give us a sense of purpose and are meaningful.
Strategies to build confidence:
Develop a growth mindset: We can do this by challenging fixed ideas about our capabilities, such as thinking that we are not good in a particular subject. We then can redirect our views to reminding ourselves that our brains are continually being shaped by what we learn and by our experiences. It is good news as it means that we are capable of learning and developing skills at any age and that with practise, we can grow and become more confident (Dweck, 2010). Having an open mind enables us to look for alternative ways of looking at situations. Instead of comparing with others, focus on your values to guide your thoughts and actions.
Focus on strengths: Review values, acknowledge efforts to be thoughtful and considerate of others. Valuing individuals for who they are, without judgment as we want others to appreciate us for who we are so we want to be supportive.
Challenge negative thinking patterns: Notice the all or nothing thinking pattern, where we tend to go from one extreme to the other. This pattern prevents us from considering alternative perspectives that could allow us to view things differently so that we do not jump to conclusions, which could lead to misinterpretations or unfair judgments.
Notice” should” statements, for example, I should get everything done correctly, or I shouldn’t make mistakes. Or when we imagine possible outcomes and feel sure that these will become true. These thoughts lead us to further self-criticism that can erode our confidence and prevent us from learning from our mistakes.
Adopt a flexible attitude: Learning to acknowledge feelings and accepting the range of emotions that we experience as part of our everyday human experience, allows us to develop mental agility. A skill that enables us to manage our emotions and maintain a sense of emotional balance (David, 2016).
Practising self-compassion: When we adopt an understanding view of ourselves and others and accept our vulnerability as part of the human condition, we are more able to recognise that we can make mistakes. We can view these as part of the learning process so that we can correct errors to improve our work. It helps to acknowledge our feelings to reduce distress (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).
By being kind and patient with ourselves does not mean that we are selfish or lazy. On the contrary, it is essential for our wellbeing. When we treat ourselves like we treat our best friends, and we focus on our values (Henderson, 2010).
Cain, S. (2012) Quiet. The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. London: Viking.
David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life. Great Britain: Penguin Life.
Gilbert, P. & Choden, (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson
Harris, R. (2011) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.
Henderson, L. (2010) The compassionate-mind guide to building social confidence. California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.