There are a few different things I want to say about confidence and how to cultivate it in ourselves and with our work, but first I think it’s important to address the two different sides of confidence: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Having intrinsic confidence is being totally content with yourself as a human being. It’s realizing that you are enough just the way you are, and that while it’s great to have goals and dreams and things you want to improve on, you don’t need to tie your self worth to them.
To be totally honest, I haven’t quite nailed the intrinsic type confidence thing yet. Like at all. I get what it’s all about and I think deep down I know that I’m “enough.” But my brain is always saying things like “I’ll be successful when… I’ll be happy when…” etc. And I haven’t figured out a way out of that trap. SO… I’m just going to leave it at that for now.
This is the confidence you gain from external factors such as the things you do and the people you interact with. You can feel extrinsic confidence when your family, friends, professors, bosses or peers say something complimentary to or about you. It isn’t bad to gain confidence this way (in my opinion), but it is contingent on the external world, which is usually completely out of your control.
That’s why I like to think of confidence as a personal practice.
Confidence as a Personal Practice
At least for me, in order to feel confident in a certain area of my life, I need evidence. Evidence supporting that I’m kicking ass or at least improving. So collecting this “evidence” and coming back to it during times of self-doubt can be really helpful. Until now, I’ve really just done this practice in my own mind. But if it resonates with you, you could start a confidence journal or confidence jar where you write down your “evidence” (your reasons to be confident) and compile them to read later.
It’s a very literal way of exercising your confidence muscle, but it works because it’s totally representative of what our brains do. Simply put, our brains form habits of thinking via neural pathways. The more a pathway is used (or the more a thought is thought) the more likely the brain is to default to it again and again.
So by practicing the act of choosing a thought that builds you up rather than tears you down, you’re weakening that negative neural pathway and creating a new, more positive one. A great way to do this is by focusing on those pieces of evidence that prove you have reason to be confident.
If you’re having trouble coming up with reasons to be confident, here are a few prompts to think about:
Nice things your friends & family have said about you
Times you’ve helped someone out and they’ve thanked you
Kudos you’ve gotten from a professor, boss, client or peer
Times you’ve gotten good feedback on a project
Times you’ve worked really damn hard and come out better
Times you’ve put yourself or your work out there and one person said they resonated with it
Times you got a good grade on a project
A piece of art or design that brings you joy
Awards you’ve earned or contests you’ve won (big and small)
Interviews you’ve crushed
Jobs you’ve landed
Times you went above and beyond on a project
Times you’ve worn a new outfit and someone gave you a compliment (yep, that counts)
These are all extrinsic… and that’s okay! We can make them a bit more intrinsic by actively choosing to think about them and conjure up feelings of confidence.
You are in control of your thoughts.
Chances are, if you’re lacking confidence, you’re not going to find it helpful if I tell you to “believe in yourself and stop caring what anyone else thinks.” Even if that’s good advice, it’s never helped me. What helps me feel confident is remembering times when I’ve felt confident in the past; times when I’ve felt appreciated, lifted up, loved, powerful, and smart. The more I remember those times, the less likely I am to default to feeling unworthy and spiral downward into a fearful mess of a human.
Hopefully some day I’ll have some advice on how to actually just believe in yourself and not care what people think. But until then, I really hope this practice helps some of you who are feeling stuck in a cycle of self doubt. And if you know someone who might benefit from this, feel free to share it with them!