Understanding confidence: How to maintain it during challenging times

Understanding confidence: How to maintain it during challenging times

Understanding confidence: how to maintain it during challenging times

It is common during challenging times to feel that our confidence fluctuates depending on the situations we face and whether we have the physical energy to deal with them. We may doubt our ability to do things as we experience self-doubt. When dealing with uncertainty, it is normal to have questions and wonder what we can do as we are unsure of the outcomes.

We can develop our knowledge and skills to boost our confidence in our ability to deal with problems and manage uncomfortable feelings. We can use them to plan and prepare to help manage the feelings we experience when facing uncertainty. As we practice and develop our skills, our ability to manage new situations increases. 

Maintaining an optimistic attitude can strengthen our ability to deal with challenges. Having hope that we can make changes and achieve positive outcomes with our effort develops our self-efficacy, which is our belief and our ability to problem solve and deal with situations (Bandura, 1997).

Our confidence can be affected when we experience setbacksbringing feelings of frustration, regret or disappointment, and worry about future negative scenarios. We can manage setbacks by reframing the meaning of failure and mistakes. We do not make these on purpose. Acknowledging them and reflecting on what happened by reviewing the steps we took, we can learn from them and apply the insights in future situations.

We can view setbacks as opportunities to learn. We are likely to feel negative feelings at first, which can reduce our confidence for a while, but we can restore our balance by taking time to reflect. Sometimes, we may find it more challenging to deal with setbacks because we regret decisions we made that led to an adverse outcome.

As a result, we may get stuck thinking about what we did not do or could have done differently, feeling frustrated that now we cannot change things. Taking time to reflect on our decisions and reviewing our steps can help identify what we can do differently next time.  

Feelings of regret can affect our confidence temporarily until we work out what went wrong and determine what we can do to make changes. However, this is a misunderstood feeling. Regret can be a sign telling us of something that is important to us (Pink, 2022). 

Regret is the feeling that we experience when something we recognise is gone against our principles and values. Maybe we decided based on intuition, not having enough information, or when there was too much uncertainty, and it was challenging to work out what would be best to do. Often, it is only in hindsight that we can view the options clearly once we know how things worked out. We can look back and think that we made a good enough decision based on the information we had available at the time.

Learning to deal with setbacks helps us restore our confidence. When things do not work out as we hoped, we may be disappointed and wonder whether we can achieve our goals. Dweck’s (2006) research on the growth mindset helps us to view setbacks as a normal part of the learning process where challenges and difficulties are viewed as learning opportunities.

Reflecting on our experience and acknowledging our feeling are a few steps we can take to turn things around. We can reflect on what happened – the circumstances, what information we had at the time – to review our decision process.

Learning to take a moment to reflect is an essential skill to manage challenging situations. A pause helps us get out of autopilot, particularly when we feel stressed, to prevent reacting before considering our response. We can ask ourselves: what other ways could I interpret this situation? Often, worry thoughts can lower our mood and prevent us from considering alternative options in these situations. To get unstuck, we can ask: What would I be thinking about if I were not focused on these thoughts?

The more we focus on negative thoughts, the more distracted we are. Our thoughts are not the problem but how we react to them. We can write down our thoughts to gain some distance and clarify our thinking. Writing allows us to articulate our thoughts and identify the themes that emerge (Pennebaker,  )

Another strategy we can use mindful breathing, where we pause and take in a deep breath and observe our thoughts. They are just thoughts, not facts ( Williams & Penman, 2011). As Dr Harris says, “hold yourself kindly”, as we do when we support our friends. We want to be there for them, let them know we care and that we will make time for them (Harris, 

“Mindfulness is a serene encounter with reality.” (Thick Nhat Hanh).



Bandura, A/ (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company..

David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.

Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Updated edition. New York: Ballantine Books.

Harris, R. (2011) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Kross, E. (2021) Chatter. The voice in our head and how to harness it. London: Vermilion.

Pink, D. (2022) The power of regret. How looking backward moves us forward. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.

Williams, M. & Penman, D. (2011) Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. London: Piatkus.

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