How to manage self-doubt and build confidence in times of uncertainty
Living through the pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. Many feel under pressure with the ongoing demands at home, homeschooling children or caring for relatives, and the increasing workload at work. We may feel drained as the days working from home blend into each other. Add to this, experiencing self-doubt and worry due to the ongoing uncertainty and dealing with many changes due to Covid-19. The lack of energy and continuous pressure can affect our confidence in our ability to be effective in what we do.
What is confidence?
It is the degree to which we believe our actions will achieve a positive outcome. Confidence is having the belief that we are capable and can persevere with our efforts (Harris, 2010). Self-efficacy refers to people’s belief in their capacity to take the necessary actions to achieve their goals and deal with the consequences of their actions (Bandura, 1997).
Self-esteem refers to the view we have of ourselves – do we feel worthy, or do we feel we are not good enough? Maslow (1999) considered that we need to develop self-belief, self-respect, and feel respected to reach a sense of self-actualisation.
When we have a more positive perspective, we feel more confident, and as we learn from our experiences, we build our confidence and self-belief. Whereas, when we have a negative outlook, we focus on the negative side of our experiences, which can lower our mood. It is also more likely that we will question ourselves shaking our confidence.
When going through transitions such as moving to a new job, a new city or starting a new relationship, it is common to feel unsure about the new situation. We may have doubts about our ability to navigate the changes. It takes time to learn and adjust to sudden changes as we have experienced due to Covid-19.
It is normal to have these feelings when we face an unfamiliar situation. Initially, we may react with apprehension and worry about potential negative consequences.
Have you noticed how your confidence level fluctuates? When we focus on our negative thoughts such as “I am not good enough, or what if they do not like me?” it can make us doubt ourselves. Sometimes, we can feel overwhelmed by self-criticism due to unrealistic expectations. The fear of failure can exacerbate the feeling, more so as we worry about not wanting to make mistakes and imagining negative consequences.
David (2016) described that adopting a flexible and understanding attitude enable us to manage our feelings and to adjust to new situations. We can learn new content, develop our knowledge and skills to trust ourselves to manage challenges.
New situations can trigger these feelings because we do not like uncertainty, so to manage the situation, we can remind ourselves that we are stretching beyond our comfort zone. By learning to deal with the discomfort and frustration, we can then focus on what we need to do to make progress.
What can we do to restore our confidence?
Just like we practice lifting weights to increase our physical strength and exercise to strengthen our core, we can also enhance our confidence through practice. We can train our mental muscles by doing some exercises to boost our confidence.
Being present: Pausing to pay attention and be in the moment, breathing mindfully, and grounding ourselves, letting thoughts come and go without taking them personally. It is about being willing to tolerate the discomfort – just noticing what is happening with curiosity—acknowledging that we can experience moments of vulnerability. It does not mean that we cannot manage the situation, but a recognition that we need time to restore our inner balance (Neff, 2011).
Valuing ourselves: Creating boundaries is essential to maintain our balance, for example, by learning to say no when the request does not feel comfortable, or if it goes against our values. It is also important to monitor the feeling of wanting to please others. Giving ourselves time to identify if we want to say yes to a request because we are afraid of the possible negative effect on our relationships or because it is something we agree with and so choose to do it.
Being authentic: Reconnecting with our values to remind ourselves of what is meaningful. When we are consistent in our behaviour, and in harmony with our beliefs, we are more likely to experience a sense of inner balance (Joseph, 2016).
Reframing negative thoughts: It is normal to have negative thoughts, especially when dealing with difficulties and uncertainty. Taking time to notice our thoughts enables us to challenge them. We could use a self-distancing technique, such as imagining what would we say to our best friend if they were in the same situation. Another self-distancing technique is to guide ourselves by using our name to go through our work or a challenging situation. Using our name, rather than referring to ourselves in the first person, we can redirect the inner chatter to focus on what we can do to move forwards (Kross, 2021).
Challenging ourselves: By taking the initiative to do something stretches us beyond our comfort zone, and we tolerate the uncomfortable feelings, we can learn to overcome obstacles. We can start by identifying something we would like to do but feel too nervous about taking action. We can then visualise the steps we could take to achieve our goal (Harris, 2011).
We can start with something small, for example, if asking questions in a lecture or at a meeting feels too difficult, we can reflect on what prevents us from taking the initiative. Is it fear of being criticised? Or, feeling nervous because of not wanting to be in the spotlight? Acknowledging these feelings and understanding them can allow us to focus on what we want to do. To feel more in control, we can think of a few questions about topics of interest, and then we can practise with others until it feels more familiar.
Sometimes, having thoughts about what others might think of us can limit us. Often, we engage in mind reading – imagining what others think about us. We can deal with these thoughts by reminding ourselves that these are just thoughts, not facts. And if they were to have any views about us, we can decide whether we will let these thoughts stop our learning or choose to invest in ourselves and learn. We can motivate ourselves by imagining how we will feel after having achieved what we wanted to do. Like any skill, through consistent practice, we can develop our confidence in social and professional situations.
Learning to tolerate discomfort: When feeling uncomfortable in a new situation, we can remind ourselves of the bigger picture. Learning to tolerate uncomfortable feelings enables us to focus on what we want to do, and as we make progress, the sense of achievement will boost our confidence (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).
Creating some alone time: We are so busy trying to juggle commitments that it may seem strange to take some time away from our responsibilities. Some may feel it is uncomfortable to be in silence and alone. However, learning to be comfortable in our own company allows us to reflect on our experiences, and when feeling insecure, we can acknowledge it as part of the human experience. It is a space to reconnect with what matters to us and time to restore our energy.
Taking responsibility for feelings: It can be very tempting to blame other people for our problems and circumstances. When we think things like “they make me feel bad”, or “they make me upset or angry” we let others affect us. Instead, we need to accept responsibility for our feelings, how we think, and behave to regain control. As we get to know ourselves, we can learn how to manage our reactions and behaviour.
Developing problem-solving skills: Practising ways to deal with challenges can boost our confidence. It enables us to build our self-efficacy – a sense that we can rely on ourselves to deal with challenges
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