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18 August 2010

Improving Self Confidence

Asma Zaineb. 
CommLab India. 
August 17, 2010, 05:34 AM

This entry original posted 18 August 2010, revised 25 August 2010.

We all differ in motivations, what lacked in our upbringing, what challenges have tripped us, or what chemicals our brains lack, have in surplus, or metabolize incorrectly. Different remedies, therefore, might build self esteem for different people. At the end of any method, though, success leads to self confidence.

Many who do not have confidence issues think that in only takes success to build self confidence. Pep talks about "believing in yourself" sound trite, frustrating people who lack the inner knowledge or belief that they can succeed. The discouraged may try but then lack the confidence to perform with excellence. They may succeed but then see only the flaws in their product or service. They might even rejoice in their success but then lose that joy after viewing their "success" in light of a long track record of what they perceive as a downward spiral of failure, mediocrity, and growing obsolescence. How do you establish that which has eroded to nothing?

This discussion takes a more sympathetic approach. It identifies some ways to lower perceived barriers to success and to increase the drive to attack or bypass those barriers.

Do not let the many suggestions get in the way; pick what sounds right for you and try it. Also, be patient with yourself and allow yourself to build desired traits gradually. It took you a lifetime to get this far; don't expect change overnight.

Before addressing self confidence, one needs to distinguish between lacking self confidence and being lazy. Doing the most important but more challenging task requires exertion and sometimes pain. The lazy mind prefers the comforts of non-productive behavior or of easier tasks. Lazy minds can use insecurity as an excuse and blow it out of proportion. How to deal with one's own laziness is off topic here, but recognizing it is an obvious first step.

(Continued after the caution.)
Caution: A lack of self confidence may link to depression. Depression can have a lot of causes such as upbringing, genetics, diet, abnormal sleep, or side effects of medications. It goes beyond mere discouragement. You may not be able to will yourself happy, affirm your way out of it, or wait it out. Don't let any person or any thought embarrass you out of seeking help. It's not your fault. You don't need to be a hero and live through the pain. If you think a lack of self confidence might link to depression, get professional help.

Start with your primary care physician to check for physical causes. If your doctor recommends further action such as visting a sleep clinic, dietician, psychiatrist, or counselor, do it. Maybe you just need to change some habits or a prescription. Maybe you need antidepressants. You don't have to choose between living with the pain, self-medicating, or escapism. You know the long term cost far exceeds the short term cost of treatment. And you know you are worth it.

Zaineb, the author of the linked article, gives some good advice but lacks consistent logic. You almost know what to expect after reading the title. He advises,

 o Prepare. Good. We each have the opportunity through study and hands-on practice to become an expert at what we wish to do. Knowledge is power, power becomes success, and success becomes confidence.

 o Know your desires and goals. Eh, so-so. Zaineb says, set your own criteria for success rather than duplicating others' goals. There's a lot more to be said about goals that I'll say elsewhere.

 o Emphasize your body posture. Good. In Psychology 101, I learned that feelings often follow behavior; so the same advice applies to how you talk about yourself. Humility and self-deprecating humor may charm and endear, but it traps those lacking self confidence. In addition to Zaineb's suggestions about posture, smile at yourself in the mirror while getting ready. Smile at everybody you see. Smile and act glad to see everybody you meet. Smiles are contagious, and you might just catch it back.

 o Overcome your fear. Zaineb offers nothing about what this implies. I may have addressed it below.

 o Teach yourself to be happy. Zaineb tritely advises us to list our positive attributes to remind us that we are special and unique. Being special and unique does not give me confidence, however. Having some strengths does not mean that I have all the strengths that I need to accomplish a victory. Zaineb should instead focus on using affirmations and on how, to some degree, we can choose our moods.

 o Observe others. Good, although Zaineb unnecessarily limits this bit of advice to public speaking. Speechifyin' ain't the only task what needs confidence.

 o Believe in your abilities. Huh? The cure for not believing in my abilities is to believe in my abilities?

 o Examine your past failures. Good, but very poorly written. Mr. Zaineb contradicts himself and fractures logic by saying that we should forget the past, and therefore should examine past failures to gain experience (insight would be a better word choice). Perhaps he means, Learn from failure and then leave it in the past. To reinforce this, consider starting a journal titled, "I Learned Something Today," and inside the back cover, start a list of questions and subjects to study, with stars next to the really important subjects.

Motivation. One also needs to distinguish between insecurities and having insufficient motivation to overcome insecurities. To gain motivation, I recommend listing one's life goals, identifying the values that lie behind those goals, and planning the activities, especially the activities in which one lacks confidence, that will accomplish those goals. Don't include just the positives; include the negatives, too. Consider what you want to avoid and what will happen if you let your insecurity stop you from even trying. Keeping in mind the goal-based value of an activity will often motivate one to act and to strive despite insecurities.

Character. Courage is the will to do right, even when it will cause us pain. Honor is the pride that motivates and results from the exercise of courage. In America, many people have pride, but few have honor. For proof, one need only look at divorce rates, the low age of teenage sexuality, and the saturation of political speech with dishonesty. Character can motivate us to do what we need to do even when we lack confidence. Sometimes only character can move us to achieve the successes that will build our self confidence. Try not because you will succeed, but because it is right to try; or as Lt. Worf would say, because it is honorable.

Opposition. One writer stated that his mother always told him, "You can't do anything right. You'll never make anything of yourself." I sometimes hear echos of my foster mom crying, "Richard, you're so destructive!" after I broke plate. A successful lawyer told me, "there are plenty of people out there who try to kick your teeth in everyday - and sometimes it gets to you and you start thinking the problem is 'you', hence the depression. It's a very petty, political world out there - some people can't stand the fact that other people do things well and get the glory - but they don't realize 'Blowing out someone else's candle doesn't make their candle glow any brighter!' ...some people, or all of us at various times, may think 'the whole world is against us.'"

The writer mentioned above used two approaches to overcoming a lack of self confidence due to opposition. First, he worked even harder to prove his mother wrong. This is close to the stereotypical Type A personality who obsesses about his work in a subconscious bid for his father's approval. Second, the writer chose to recall the encouragement of a loving aunt rather than the discouragement from his mother. He intentionally thought about positive experiences and turned childhood opposition into motivation that led to a successful and rewarding career.

Alignment of activities to goals. This goes back to goal-setting and planning. (See my previous entry on Driving Your Time Management.) I will assume you know your goals. Consider whether, in practice, you really pursue your goals. You might execute your to-do list in the wrong order of priorities, or you might even work in the wrong occupation. In a variation on this, a boss or a team member mis-employs himself by performing tasks for which another team member has better skills. Focusing on less important tasks and trying to do a job for which you have the wrong aptitudes or preferences can fast-track you to failure; and failure destroys self confidence. Doing what you were made to do will lead to loving what you do. Self confidence will become less of a barrier, and success will boost self confidence.

Your goal-related activities include more than the tasks you need to get done. They also include preparation, study, and experience. Do you think you left studying behind when you graduated? Ha! Schools gave you a foundation for learning your job. It gave you basic knowledge on which to build a lifetime of learning and the skills to acquire the real-life knowledge you will need. Whatever you do, study and practice to become the expert at what you wish to do.

Lower expectations. As Zaineb points out, unrealistic expectations can erode self confidence, but not everybody, as he implies, gets their criteria for success from others. As a perfectionist who competes against himself, I have learned that I cannot exclude failure and imperfection from my human condition. We must expect shortcomings and pay attention to what goes wrong. A setback is not a failure that shames us; it is an empowering lesson. Prepare better and correct unprofitable tendencies. Think about how many drives it takes to carry a football down the field to score in a typical Superbowl. Or think about how many pitches are received for each home-run hit in baseball. Then step up to the plate again.

Network. Having an accepting, encouraging friend can help if you don't tend to isolate yourself. Don't worry about the number of your friends; you have found a gem if you find just one true friend who sticks by you. Reward your friends by focusing on their problems, by making their lives easier, by encouraging them. What gives you your lasting worth is not what friends do for you, but what you do for others. (Reminds one of JFK!) When you need them, hopefully, they'll be there for you.

Look for a mentor, someone with a teaching, encouraging spirit. Don't limit your search. One of my mentors ranked lower on the career ladder than me; yet he taught me some of the most important lessons in life. You will probably have to try relationships with several people before you will find one that works. One might coach your people skills while another coaches your technical skills and another coaches your spirit. As life goes, you will have many mentors at different times.

For supervisors and coworkers: David Paul, PhD, found that employees respond with greater productivity when they receive a balance of respect, regard, and reward. Respect values people for their abilities, attributes, and achievements, and we usually offer respect by default until it is earned or found to be unwarranted. Regard values the person because of their character, uniqueness, and abilities. It implies a more personal connection. Reward consists of the reinforcement offered, from acknowledgment, praise, or thoughtful, constructive criticism, to increased privileges, responsibility, or take-home pay. Don't forget the reward of demonstrated care -- such as persuading a depressed employee to seek medical help. Different people respond to different rewards. Besides encouraging certain behaviors, respect, regard, and reward can boost self confidence.

A great venue to grow self-confidence is Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging members and supporting their growth in speaking and leadership. Virtually every city has them as do many places of business. You can visit as many times as you like to see if it appeals to you.

Caution yourself against demanding too much time and attention. Nobody enjoys helping whiny, self-righteous, self-centered people, and they cannot help you if you drag them down. Reward your mentor by demonstrating progress in achievements and in attitude.

Self worth. Feeling poorly about yourself can spill over into self confidence, so do something different that raises your self worth. Find a place to volunteer. Make a game of complimenting people. Look for people in need and then help them without being asked. Find ways to pipe oxygen to others' candles, and you will find your own candle burning brighter, too. His candle burns brighter, who lights another's candle.

The Big Why. What motivates you? Aligning your goals and tasks your Big Why, your internal, emotional carrot-and-stick, can drive you through any barriers that low self-esteem creates. (See my previous entry on Driving Your Time Management.)

Affirmations. Affirmations work for many people. For others, they're just fun. Steven Covey, I think, said that one habit of successful people is that they lie to themselves a little bet to encourage themselves. Affirmations remind you of behaviors you want to adopt, such as learning, perspective, choosing the most important tasks, or focusing on serving others. Choosing to act out those behaviors begins to create habits, and habits become attributes.

Practice affirmations. Write them on calendars, make your own 8-1/2x11 poster, carry them around on 3x5 cards to repeat and memorize throughout the day. Read motivational books, listen to motivational recordings, study time management. Take steps to counter the negativity in the world and the negativity that has taken root within us.

I'll list any that you send me, but you should seek other sources for more and better examples. One person offered, More wag, less bark (source unknown). A dog's bark often signals insecurity, so I think it means, set aside your insecurity. Act happier and more friendly, and you will become happier and more confident.

I wrote the following one for you:
Affirmation for *****, in which I lack confidence: 
I will try to ***** as an experiment so I can learn how to better prepare for it. I will use what I learn to train or study and to determine the right decisions and steps that lead closer to success. I will repeat this process until I succeed because, when I succeed, I will be rewarded by ____________ and will avoid ___________.
Thanks to authors mentioned in previous posts. Thanks to LinkedIn Quotivate members Dennis James Deegan, CTM, Steven Weinrieb, Esq., Ray Burchett, Jennifer McGinnis, and W Samantha Newman.

1 comment:

  1. That comes pretty close to spam, but I'll allow it for now while I check it out. -- rw