I joined Lumosity this year--the web site that has exercises and games designed to strengthen your brain (based upon the latest neuroscience research). I'm at the age (and with some family history) where I'm thinking more about how to be intentional about how my brain functions best and how to keep it operating at maximum efficiency and effectiveness. As I perform these exercises regularly, I am actually charting my improvement in memory, problem-solving, speed, attention, flexibility. It's been fun and rewarding.
How would you rate yourself on the self confidence scale--what number between 1-10 (1 being no confidence, 10 being complete confidence)? If you're like me, you find yourself moving back and forth on that scale depending on what's happening in your life. If I'm dealing with an area of insecurity, I find myself experiencing low confidence. If I'm dealing with a situation that triggers a past wound, my confidence level decreases. What about you?
Self confidence is an interesting beast. We all want it, need it, search for it, wonder if we've found it. Often it feels like the elusive Abominable Snowman--we hear about some sightings but when we pursue it, we never seem to find it.
As experts tell us, confidence, contrary to popular opinion, is not an attribute that only some people are born with or naturally possess. In fact, research shows that being shy and cautious is the natural human state. Our early ancestors stayed alive because of it--they had to be cautious to survive. So they passed it on in the gene pool.
So all of us have to learn the feeling and state of self confidence. And the good news is, we can learn to boost it and keep it boosted when we need it most.
Here are several ways to boost self confidence that I've learned in my own life and in the experiences of the many clients I work with.
1. Put Your Thoughts Into Perspective
I read a statistic recently that amazed me. The average person has 65,000 thoughts every day. And guess what? Eighty-five to ninety percent of them are negative--things we're worrying about or being fearful of.
Experts state that these worries and fears are warnings to ourselves, left-overs from our cave-dwelling past. Every time our ancestors stepped out of the cave, they were confronted by immediate threats to their very survival. So their brains (the amygdala part, to be exact--the fight or flight response) activated all the time. We have that in our DNA.
What's different now is that, though we don't face bears or tigers when we leave the house, we do face what we perceive as threats to our self confidence, our self esteem, our personhood--the boss criticizes our latest project; the spouse in anger brings up a painful past that hasn't been let go of; we stand up to make a speech and worry how people will respond (will they like us or respect us or laugh or demean us).
The point is to be aware that our brains work this way. And to be able to put those negative thoughts into perspective. We are not our thoughts. They're just thoughts that don't always represent objective reality.
We're wired to anticipate and interpret the worst (like our ancestors had to do). So we simply have to put our negative thoughts, worries, and immediate fears into perspective.
We have to call on the higher part of our brains (the prefrontal cortex) via contextualizing and evaluation of the threat. Is this thought-fear-worry really true? Am I simply being triggered by a painful experience in my past? Just because people are responding to me like I feared doesn't mean this is a reflection on who I am or a direct threat to my personhood. I can learn to reframe my negative thoughts and experiences.
2. Remember You Are Not Your Thoughts
I am not my thoughts. I am not other people's thoughts. Thoughts do not define who I am.
As Eckhart Tolle suggests, the very fact that you and I can observe our thoughts shows that we are not our thoughts. We have a higher self beyond all of that that remains unsullied by all of those 65,000 thoughts flowing through our minds every day. And what's more, not all of those thoughts reflect reality.
The next time you find a negative thought popping up in your brain, remember: this thought doesn't define you. It's just a thought. Whether the thought is true or not isn't the issue. The truth is, you are not this thought. So simply acknowledge it. Observe the thought. And then let it pass along like the rest of the thoughts.
Our immediate tendency, when we have a negative thought, is to place a value judgment on it. We label the thought and then file it in a folder of similar thoughts. And our tendency is to allow that folder to define us. "I am the sum total of those negative thoughts."
Wrong! I am not defined by those thoughts. I have a higher self that can observe, evaluate, and attach meaning to all my thoughts. My higher self is my true identity. Confidence always emerges from this true identity.
3. Know Your Strengths and Activate Them Regularly
I worked with a very competent health professional who came to me with a very low self confidence level. She wanted to learn how to be a more confident person in her relationships and even in her work.
Turns out she had parents who never acknowledged her personal strengths. They observed what they labeled as personality flaws and continually warned her that she would never be successful. She grew up feeling a tremendous lack of self and of confidence.
So as an adult, whenever something happened in her life that was negative, her past wounds were triggered, and she heard her parents' voice in her head telling her she wasn't enough, she wasn't good.
Her self confidence consequently took a beating--a lot.
I had her take the StrengthsFinder assessment. We spent weeks together unpacking her top five strengths, emphasizing the power of how her brain was wired (her natural preferences), helping her become more conscious of how she was strong, how she was using her strengths, how she could activate them more and more regularly.
Her self confidence began to grow little by little: she was seeing herself, instead of through a prism of weakness and lack, through the lens of her strength and power The more aware she became of how she was wired, the more she saw the beauty, and the more she learned to trust herself and affirm her strengths.
Confidence increases with a conscious awareness of how you are wired for strength and competence and your willingness to activate those strengths instead of fixating on lack and weakness.
Self confidence doesn't have to be the elusive beast in the woods. If you would like additional help boosting your confidence, email me.
Looking for a Speaker or Coach?
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in strengths coaching? Feel free to email me at email@example.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.
Success is a double-edged sword. It produces great things. But it also exacerbates busyness and over stimulation. The pressures and demands increase dramatically with success. And the proverbial “burning the candles at both ends” becomes more and more a reality with painful consequences. What have many successful people learned to do about this?