Yet, confidence seems elusive to so many of us.
If you’ve ever not liked the way you look…
If you’ve ever wanted to try something but were scared to fail…
If you’ve ever wanted to speak up about something but been too afraid…
“Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective.” In other words, confidence is being sure of yourself, or believe that your thoughts or actions will have positive results.
If you’re wondering how to have confidence, know that there are many ways to feel and express confidence. It’s not just about how you look or what you can do in the gym. It’s not just about how smart you are. It’s deeper than that. Having confidence is knowing your worth, believing in your ability to take action and succeed, and knowing you are resilient enough to rise above failure or obstacles.
As women, our confidence is challenged daily by so many things:
Overcoming these challenges is a giant key to living a fulfilling life.
The amazing part is that as impossible as it may seem, you can bolster your confidence in all of these areas with a little concerted effort and practice. There are a number of opinions or tips on how to boost your confidence out there that range from things as simple as sitting up straighter, to volunteering to help others, to reading books about people who inspire you.
Psychology Today looked at years of research on what people who consistently project confidence, or “confidence attributes” have in common, and found themes throughout people’s lives, or critical events, that determined their confidence in their abilities. These included things like an accurate self-assessment, a supportive background, engaging in positive visualization, and taking criticism productively. These are obviously harder to do from day to day than sitting up straight, but if you are lacking confidence and don’t understand why, this may help you to realize that it isn’t always as simple as making a choice.
From the time we are little girls, we are taught to hate ourselves. It may sound a little harsh or exaggerated to say “hate,” but think about it. These messages are coming at us non-stop, whether it’s passively, when we hear our own mothers talk negatively about themselves, or more in-your-face, when advertisers point out all the ways we’re just not stacking up to some shifting ideal. Too often we are taught that our value and our worth are based on external factors, like our appearance and what other people think of us. In fact, it is estimated that 80 percent of ten-year-old girls in America have been on a diet.
It starts so early, and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to achieve a certain ideal and finally be ______ enough. It’s hard to feel confident under those circumstances. We strive to be pretty enough, thin enough, worthy enough… and we think that if we can just be enough, then we will be happy. The problem is, when we get “there,” wherever “there” is, it’s still not enough because at the end of the day, we’re still looking outside of ourselves to measure our worth. The standards we’re relying on are fleeting and can change at any moment.
It is impossible to develop confidence without first having self-worth, or self-esteem. Confidence is different from self-esteem, in that while self-esteem is about how you feel about yourself, confidence is your belief in your success. They may sound very similar, but self-esteem is about feeling that you have value in the world. It seems you can feel that way, without thinking you will perform well at work, or accomplish a task successfully. However, confidence can exist without self-worth, and is often specific to one area. For example, you may get excellent grades and know you will do very well on your next exam, but not feel inherently worthwhile as a person, and doubt your abilities in many other areas of your life. Confidence is considered “domain-specific”, while self-esteem translates to all areas of your life.3
Turning your focus inward, toward yourself, and recognizing that you are enough as you are right now, transforms everything. Even if you do want to change something, you must foster that change from a positive place of wanting more for yourself, rather from than a negative place of feeling that you’re not good enough or that you’re not meeting someone else’s expectations.
One of the reasons we avidly promote strength training for women is because as women become physically stronger and more capable, their confidence also becomes stronger, and it spills over into other areas of their lives.
Wondering how to be confident? Know this: there’s something magical about lifting a heavy loaded barbell off the ground, or pulling yourself over the pull-up bar that just makes you feel like you can do anything. You feel strong, capable, and independent, and when it comes to conquering tough tasks, your inner dialogue switches from, “I can’t do that,” to, “I bet I can do that!” Suddenly everything changes. The same confidence could be found in finishing a race, or accomplishing a distance or time that you didn’t expect, learning a new yoga pose, or doing any new activity that gives you a sense of achievement. Unfortunately, many of us are don’t revel in our physical achievements, but do wallow in our perceived failures and flaws. Take yoga, for example. Fitness or appearance is certainly not the major goal of the physical practice, but a deeper understanding of your mental and spiritual life, and a connection of the mind and the body.
Mindful exercise is a recent development in the field of exercise research, particularly in individuals recovering from eating disorders. In short, it advocates performing specific types of exercise for a purpose.6,7 When exercise is performed this way, it is not performed out of a place of anxiety, or perceived deficiency, and will be less likely to lead to overuse injury or fatigue. In fact, weight loss or desire to change body shape is often the driving force for most women to exercise, rather than for overall health and function.
Confidence will never come from fighting perceived flaws, or chasing an imagined “perfect” or “better” version of your body, because even if you do come close to what you imagined, how you feel about yourself will still be tied up in maintaining that goal. Many advisory board members and friends of Girls Gone Strong have shared their stories about letting go of the quest for perfection, and the happiness, and confidence, that comes from self-acceptance, or at least, the road to self-acceptance.
Concern about our appearance starts at a very young age, with children as young as six years old going on diets. Many of us try to inspire confidence by encouraging women to “not worry about what they look like,” or by reassuring them that “beauty is on the inside.” While this advice is well-intentioned and may work for some women, other women may hear it and feel more disconnected than ever from their bodies as a result, when the majority of messages received from the media and peers put so much worth on appearance.
Unfortunately, many times when women express confidence in their appearance, they are called narcissistic and self-centered, and their bodies are criticized. Building confidence in your appearance is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s nobody’s business but your own. If this isn’t something that interests you, you know what? That’s totally fine, too.
As Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board member Erin Brown says:
“The trouble isn’t in valuing beauty, but in defining it in a context so narrow that we cannot possibly achieve it. We value women in parts and pieces, striving for this celebrity’s glutes and that celebrity’s lips. It’s impossible and exhausting, and every time we achieve a level of beauty we believe we will be happy with, we are presented with a new set of rules and standards to live up to. The solution isn’t ‘not valuing beauty,’ but rather, expanding its definition to include us.”
“What if this doesn’t work?”
“What if I make the wrong choice?”
“What if I fail?”
Feeling insecure about our decisions can be paralyzing, and that paralysis can augment our feelings of insecurity, leading to a vicious cycle of self-doubt, anxiety, and inaction.
According to Erin Brown, in her article 7 Ways To Improve Your Confidence Today, there’s an important distinction to make here. “You aren’t an ‘insecure person.’ You’re simply someone who is feeling insecure, and with practice, you can break out of that mindset and confidently make decisions and take action.”
Erin goes on to say, “Self-confidence… is the one factor that can make or break any action—it’s the difference between I can’t and I’m willing to try.”
And try you must. Brené Brown, in an article for Business Insider about dealing with fear says, “Successful people take risks. It’s the only way to achieve anything of real value.”4 And of course, trying involves making decisions.
One of the best things you can do for building confidence in a decision-making scenario is to use practical pessimism, that is, envision the worst-case scenario of a possible decision, and decide ahead of time how you would handle it.
This is a really powerful tool because it allows you to:
This is also an excellent strategy for students, riddled with anxiety preparing for an exam. Krista Rompolski, PhD, states that she often tells her students who are preparing for an exam and quite nervous about failing, “ask yourself what’s the worst that will happen? Will you have to retake the course? Can you handle that?” If you deal with the outcomes and feel prepared for them, it is much easier to take a step forward.
Remember, no one has all the answers, but learning to take action instead of being paralyzed by fear will change your life. Start small. You don’t have to decide to quit your job and start your own business today. But maybe you can have a conversation with your boss about flex time, or working from home, or cutting your hours a bit so that you can invest time into your favorite hobby and see if it could be a viable business. The more you make small decisions, and the more you trust that you can handle the outcome, the more confidence you will build in your decision-making skills.
How often have you been in a situation where you wanted to speak up about something, but you didn’t because you didn’t want to “make waves” or “cause problems?” How often have you said “yes” to something you really didn’t want to do, but felt an obligation to do it?
These are some examples of what happens when you’re not feeling confident in your communication with others.
Being confident in our communication with others boils down to a few key factors:
Knowing what you need or want is usually the easy part. We all have our preferences, opinions, morals, values, and way of doing things. Learning to speak up and being able to handle the outcome of speaking up takes time and practice. Like anything else, start small, speak up in situations where you don’t have as much stake in the outcome (i.e. if the server gets your order wrong at a restaurant and you’re not OK with what you got, speak up and let them know). Over time, you’ll build more confidence in your voice, and resilience in handling tricky outcomes.
It starts when we’re very young… this constant “competition” with others for the teacher’s praise, the best clothes, the cutest boyfriend, the perfect body, for being the best Mother, and on and on. It never ends. Most often, feelings of jealousy or insufficiency in adulthood are rooted in childhood relationships of not feeling like enough.1 The problem is, this will likely lead to difficult relationships, particularly with other women, whether they are harboring similar feelings or not.
As long as you are looking for it, you will always find someone who has something that seems better than what you have. There is always a woman who just seems to have you beat in some way. She may seem more successful, smarter, more charming, more whatever, and it can cause jealousy to rear its ugly head. Research has shown that jealousy is much more common in female relationships, starting from a young age. This is possibly due to women having higher expectations for emotional needs being met in female relationships than men do.1 Ever see two male friends that have been friends since they were kids, and have a very hard time understanding why they are still friends after all these years, and vast differences between them? There you are.
Feeling jealous is natural and difficult to avoid, but if you know what to do with it, you turn it into a powerful tool that enhances your life. Jealousy is associated with low self-esteem and self-worth, and often translates into anger and aggression, unsurprisingly. If The simplest and most effective way to shift jealousy into a positive tool is to stop and examine why you’re jealous, then use this information to help cultivate the life you want for yourself.
Jealous of a friend who is always traveling? Ask yourself: “Do I really want to travel like she does? Or do I just love the idea of having more freedom in my life?” Use your jealousy as a compass for what you want out of life, and go get it for yourself, remembering that there is enough for everyone.