Developing confidence during life’s challenges

Developing confidence during life’s challenges

It is common during challenging times to feel that our confidence fluctuates depending on the situations and the level of energy available to deal with them. When there is a lot of uncertainty, we are likely to have many questions and wonder about our ability to deal with challenges.

Confidence builds by developing our knowledge and skills. As we learn to deal with uncomfortable feelings and focus on what we can do to prepare for situations, trust in our abilities increases.

What is confidence?

Confidence is believing that we are capable and can persevere with our efforts.1Harris, R. (2011) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd. This is our sense of agency, or self-efficacy.

When we trust that we can take the necessary actions to achieve our goals and deal with the consequences of our actions.2Bandura, A. (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

While self-esteem refers to the view we have of ourselves – the belief in our self-worth. Maslow3Maslow, A. (1998) Toward a psychology of being (3rd Ed.). New York: Wiley & Sons, Inc. argued that we need self-belief, self-respect, and respect to reach self-actualisation.

How confident we feel is influenced by how we view ourselves. Whether we like ourselves enough and acknowledge our strengths and vulnerabilities. Having a sense of humility allows us to rethink situations and acknowledge when we do not know something. Having an open mind allows us to learn and develop our skills.4Grant, A. (2021) Think again. The power of knowing what you don’t know. London: Penguin

What affects it?

When moving through transitions such as moving to a new job, starting a degree or a business, it is common to feel unsure, not knowing what to expect. We may have doubts about our ability to navigate the changes.

It is normal to have these feelings when facing an unfamiliar situation. Initially, we may react with apprehension and worry about potential negative consequences. Unfamiliar situations can trigger these feelings because we dislikeuncertainty.

To manage the situation, it is helpful to remind ourselves that it feels uncomfortable because we are stretching beyond our comfort zone. When we learn to deal with discomfort and frustration, we can focus on making progress.

Having a setback can affect our confidence, causing frustration, regret, and worry about the future. We can manage setbacks by reframing the meaning of failure and mistakes. By acknowledging these errors and reviewing the steps we took, new ideas or learnings can appear that we can apply to future situations.

Having unrealistic expectations and focusing on negative thoughts can be very stressful as they add pressure. Furthermore, if some of the thoughts are self-critical, worrying about failing, it can lower our confidence level.

What can we do to develop it?

Develop self-awareness: Reflecting is essential to managing challenging situations. By pausing, we can prevent reacting before considering our response, particularly when we feel stressed.

Reflecting on our experiences and acknowledging our feelings are some steps we can take to turn things around. To review our decision process, it is helpful to pay attention to what happened – the circumstances, what information we had available, and how we felt at the time.

Negative thoughts can lower our mood and prevent us from considering alternative options in these situations. To get unstuck, we can ask ourselves: ‘What other ways could I interpret this situation?’ What would I be thinking about if I were not focused on the negative side of this situation?”

To manage our thoughts and feelings, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the bigger picture, to gain perspective. It enables us to focus on what we want to do, and as we notice the progress we are making, it will boost our confidence.5Gilbert, P., & Choden (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson.

Being present: It means paying attention, breathing mindfully, and grounding ourselves in where we are at that moment – simply observing what happens with curiosity. It is a skill we can develop to regulate our emotions.

The fact that we have self-doubt does not mean we cannot deal with the situation. We just need time to restore our inner balance (Neff, 2011), and by adopting a flexible and optimistic attitude we can manage our feelings.6David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.

As we practice applying this approach, we strengthen our belief in our ability to problem-solve and deal with situations.7Bandura, A/ (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. Just like we practice lifting weights to increase our physical strength and exercising to strengthen our core, we can also enhance our confidence through practice.

Valuing ourselves: Creating boundaries is essential to maintaining our balance. For example, by learning to say no when the request does not feel comfortable, or if it is against our values. It is also important to connect with our values when making decisions to balance our needs with those of others’.

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 inner balance.8Joseph, S. (2016) Authentic. How to be yourself and why it matters. London: Piatkus.

We are so busy juggling commitments that it may seem strange to take some time away from our responsibilities. Some may feel it is uncomfortable to be alone. However, learning to be comfortable in our own company allows us to reflect on our experiences. It is a space to reconnect with what matters to us and restore our energy.

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 choose to do it.

We may experience a harsh inner critic, particularly after setbacks, affecting our mood. Developing self-compassion, being understanding as we are of our friends – where we can “hold yourself kindly” 9Harris, R. (2011) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd. and acknowledge we are human and can make mistakes. It reduces harsh self-criticism, eases tension, and allowing us to reflect on our experience and identify what we need to do differently next time.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

It is also important to take responsibility for our emotions. It can be very tempting to blame others for our problems and circumstances. When we think things like “they make me feel upset”, or “they make me upset or angry” we let others affect us.

Instead, we need to accept responsibility for our feelings, thoughts, and actions to regain control. As we get to know ourselves, we can learn how to manage our reactions and behaviour.

David10David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books. suggests that we ground ourselves by taking two minutes, even when things feel too stressful or complicated, to ask ourselves – “Who do I want to be? In this situation, what is important to me? 

View setbacks as learning opportunities: Sometimes, we may find it more challenging to deal with setbacks because we regret the 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.

Experiencing regret can temporarily affect our confidence until we figure out what went wrong and what we can do to fix it. However, this is a misunderstood feeling. Regret can be a sign that something is important to us.11Pink, D. (2022) The power of regret. How looking backward moves us forward. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.

Taking time to reflect on our decisions and reviewing our steps can help identify what we can do differently next time. Learning from our experiences restores confidence. Dweck’s12Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Updated edition. New York: Ballantine Books. research on the growth mindset enables us to view setbacks as a normal part of the learning process. A challenge or difficulty is seen as a learning opportunity.

When feeling uncomfortable in an unfamiliar 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.13Gilbert, P., & Choden (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson.

Challenging ourselves: By taking the initiative to do something beyond our comfort zone, and learning to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, we can view obstacles as more manageable. By identifying concrete steps we can take, and visualising starting with a small one, we can see our progress as we move on to the next one, etc.

In the classroom, it might be asking questions, or in the workplace, it might be offering to participate in a project. Then, observe our feelings and reflect on our concerns. “Is it fear of criticism? Or, feeling nervous about being in the spotlight?”Acknowledging these thoughts and feelings allows us to understand what is happening, and identify what we could do differently.

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. Distancing strategies, such as imagining what we would say to our best friend if they were in the same situation, help us gain perspective.

Another is to use our names as we navigate through our work or a challenging situation. This is, rather than referring to ourselves in the first person, using our first name. This will help redirect the inner chatter to focus on what we can do to move forward.14Kross, E. (2021) Chatter. The voice in our head and how to harness it. London: Vermilion.

Sometimes, thinking about what others think of us can be limiting. We can deal with these thoughts by reminding ourselves that these are just thoughts, not facts. And if they have views about us, we can decide whether to let these thoughts stop us or focus on our work. We can motivate ourselves by imagining how we will feel after achieving what we want to do.

 

Footnotes
  • 1
    Harris, R. (2011) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.
  • 2
    Bandura, A. (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
  • 3
    Maslow, A. (1998) Toward a psychology of being (3rd Ed.). New York: Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • 4
    Grant, A. (2021) Think again. The power of knowing what you don’t know. London: Penguin
  • 5
    Gilbert, P., & Choden (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson.
  • 6
    David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.
  • 7
    Bandura, A/ (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
  • 8
    Joseph, S. (2016) Authentic. How to be yourself and why it matters. London: Piatkus.
  • 9
    Harris, R. (2011) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.
  • 10
    David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.
  • 11
    Pink, D. (2022) The power of regret. How looking backward moves us forward. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.
  • 12
    Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Updated edition. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • 13
    Gilbert, P., & Choden (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson.
  • 14
    Kross, E. (2021) Chatter. The voice in our head and how to harness it. London: Vermilion.

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