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  • Writer's pictureTim Robinson - Counsellor

Foundations for Confidence


For more helpful blog posts or to book an appointment visit: www.timrobinsoncounsellor.com


In this blog I’ll write about what I believe are the foundations for confidence. I’ve used the term “foundations” because I think confidence fluctuates depending on our circumstances but a feeling of sureness in oneself, security and purpose can be much more enduring.


I’m not an expert on the subject of confidence but I know what’s worked for myself and I know what’s worked for my clients. My education in psychology, health and counselling also informs much of what I write. Have a read and see what you think. I hope you find it useful.


Get clarity on who you are, where you want to go and why



This might sound strange but many of us don’t truly know who we are or where we want to go unless we are put on the spot and asked this. I know this to be true both personally, anecdotally and through my counselling work. When I ask men what they want they either don’t know or they will give me an answer that is fairly broad like “I want to be happy” or “I want to be less stressed” “or “I want this circumstance (whatever that may be) to be gone from my life, then I’d be happy”.


There’s nothing wrong with these answers. I’d probably answer the same first time. Many of us have been so busy living our lives or serving others (for example bringing up children) that we haven’t stopped to think about who we really are, what we really want and what that all means in the context of our lives. I think nearly all of us would answer that we would like to be happier or less stressed and that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to want.


The trouble is, it isn’t specific enough. I don’t have to go far under the surface of those answers to realise people either don’t know or can’t articulate what they really want in any great detail. They don’t really give answers that get to the heart of what is really meaningful for them. They also often have trouble articulating who they are beyond the roles they play in their lives (for example parent) or their job title. Yet I’m sure you are aware we are all much more than those things.


Questions like: Why do you want to be happy?” What would that then allow you to do?” How would you recognise you were happy? What impact would that have on others around you? What impact would that have on you as a person? What would it mean to you to finally see yourself as a happy person? And what would that mean in the context of the rest of your life?


They sound like deceivingly basic questions but you’d be surprised how many people can’t answer them beyond a very thin layer of detail. However, I believe they really matter. Otherwise, we are just coasting along with no clear direction and operating on a very surface level rather than a level of meaning and importance.


If you don’t have a clear and accurate view of what kind of “happy” you want or a clear definition of who you want to be, it makes it much harder to work towards it and far less likely that you will get there. It’s not specific enough or compelling enough to motivate you if you leave it at the surface level. Spend some time getting to know yourself again (again, as it’s often changed since childhood, adolescence or young adulthood), what you want and why.


This will give you a “north star” so to speak. When you know where you want to go and why with specificity you can move forward with confidence, purpose and clarity. A person with direction that is sure of where they want to go and why tend to have confidence as a byproduct because they don’t need to “second-guess” or doubt themselves.



Find something truly meaningful in your life



In eight years (at the time of writing) of counselling primarily men, I’ve noticed how wasted unfulfilling and “lifeless” a person’s world can become once meaning is taken away from it. In fact, often when men come to see me it will be because the meaning that was once in their life has gone away. This might be the loss of a job, a partner, a relationship breakdown, being stuck in a rut or feeling that all meaning is lost because of a particular event or illness in their past or present.


 I’m not saying all the meaning in their life is necessarily hinged on one thing (although it can be, career is a common one), but any of these circumstances can definitely impact our sense of meaning in a way that requires us to reorientate our lives so that new meaning can be created in the absence of what was lost. This can feel like quite an adjustment and for a time we feel out of balance or emotionally “unstable”.


In short it “rocks us” a bit. We might cling to things staying the same, not want to acknowledge the loss, feel angry much of the time, despondent, or simply lost and confused without a way forward. I think meaning filters into every aspect of our lives and without it we are just completing a series of tasks without purpose or reason. That’s when life starts to feel dull. That’s when life appears to have lost all meaning.


Whether it is in your personal life or work life try and find something that adds meaning to your life, a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to keep moving forward. Know the overall meaning behind what you are choosing to do with your life. Is it just a means to an end? Or something more than that?  Meaning is what will sustain you and keep you going when things get tough.


While confidence might be a more wavering state depending on the circumstances of your life, having a life infused with meaning will be the solid foundation you need to help you keep staying confident and keep moving forward. That will then give purpose to everything you do, big or small.


Who hasn’t felt confident and aligned when they are moving within their purpose? It usually just feels right. We usually know intuitively when we are on the right track because we don’t feel conflicted. We know what we want and why.  


Then on the “down days” or when you are feeling less confident you can say things like this to yourself: “I know this is hard right now but I’m doing this for….. my kids, my partner, my family, a better future, the community, my health, to be a better person, to give back to society”. Whatever creates meaning for you will be the foundation of your confidence. The great thing about meaning is it is something that can be solid and reliable, a constant. When we feel like we are on “solid ground” we can move forward confidently.


 

Surround yourself with supportive people


 

This one might sound quite obvious, yet many of us spend our time around people that don’t necessarily inspire us or support us, even at times pull us down. If you are to feel confident you need a group of people around you that respect you, support your goals and believe in your ability to achieve them.


You need people who can see you at your lowest and still stand by your side. When times get tough, which they inevitably do in everyone’s life, it will be the support systems around you that keep you going. It will be those people who laugh along with you, celebrate your success, are genuinely happy for you, help pick you up when you are down and have an unwavering belief in your ability to succeed that will enhance your confidence. They also provide a great sense of connection, compassion and community which is healthy for all of us.


Make sure those in your circle are the types of people you want to have around. This will make it much easier to be confident and stay confident.  The most confident people I know don’t have the time or the desire to put other people down or judge them. Why? Because they are genuinely content and happy in their own lives so they get nothing out of belittling others. Also, they are simply too busy enjoying their own lives to be bothered, they don’t have the time or energy for it!


I would guess that for even your most critical friend, when their life is going well, you’d notice a decrease in their critical behaviour. Why? Because they are feeling good about themselves so they don’t need to put you down in order to boost their own confidence. Think about that next time someone criticises you. How much joy do they have in their life? How well is their life going really? Often that might give a clue to what the real motive behind their comments are and many people aren’t even conscious of the fact we are doing it.

 

Be kind/compassionate towards yourself


 

This is similar to having supportive people in your life. This time I’m advocating for you to support yourself. Another area where many of us don’t excel is in being kind and compassionate to ourselves. Sometimes the mere suggestion of this in a session can make some people baulk as they find it too “fluffy” or others think it’s self-indulgent or means they are being selfish.


In reality though, if you have a harsh self-critic telling you: I’m useless, ugly, worthless or some variation of “I don’t matter”, how can you expect yourself to be confident? The two things are not compatible. Yet many of us put ourselves down frequently and that’s before the outside world has put their “two cents in” if they choose to. This is even more important than having supportive people around you in some ways because how you see yourself is everything. It filters through everything you do and shapes the way you see and interpret the world.


Consider this: Why are you even harsh on yourself in the first place? Has it ever really given you success? Has it ever made you feel more confident or better about yourself? Or has it just made you feel unhappy, shameful, low, angry, defeated or some other less desirable emotion? If you are kind to yourself what’s the worst you think is going to happen? 


In reference to the common fear people have that being compassionate towards themselves is somehow self-indulgent or selfish, in my experience the more people feel good about themselves (in a genuine way, not self-puffery or arrogance) the more giving and compassionate they become towards others. They don’t require anything from other people because they give that to themselves. This gives them more space to be giving, not less.


Often times clients who start exercising compassion towards themselves start seeing things from another’s perspective also and that leads to more compassion and understanding of others. So, compassion (towards oneself) breeds compassion (towards others), acceptance (towards oneself) breeds acceptance (towards others).


If you’re kind, compassionate and supportive of yourself you are creating the perfect environment to cultivate confidence and acceptance of yourself. Isn’t that something we all say we are striving for? Yet we can’t bring ourselves to do the one thing that actually might help bring it about: self-compassion! We spend a lot of time in our own heads during the day so it might as well be a nice place to be!



Focus on your success not other peoples



Your success is uniquely yours. In some sense I wonder why we even bother comparing ourselves to others as it really is like comparing apples and oranges. Nobody is on the same journey as you with exactly the same history, family background, talents, personality or hardship you had to endure. All those things make up parts of who you are. I understand the origins of these comparisons as growing up we often get compared to siblings, friends or classmates and we are graded on where we fit into the “norm” (whatever that is) on a range of measures from the physical to the intellectual.


However, as an adult none of that really matters. Are you really going to sit on your death bed and say to yourself: “Well, my life was mostly unhappy, but at least I feel like I achieved more than my friend Steve”. It’s not really the end goal, is it? Most of us just want to feel happy, fulfilled, at peace, have a sense of purpose and moments of joy in our lives. How is that related to anyone else but you? What gives your life meaning, purpose, happiness and fulfilment will be unique to you as an individual.


It’s your life, your choices, your successes. Unlike childhood and adolescence which have their limitations in terms of the freedom you are afforded, as an adult you are free to cultivate whatever life you choose and get to live it in whatever way you choose. Again, that has nothing to do with anyone else.  There are always people doing worse than you and there are always people doing better than you depending on what arbitrary measuring stick you are using. It’s a battle you will never win.


The only thing I can see that comes from comparing ourselves to others is potential envy, jealousy or disappointment as you decide you don’t measure up. And if you’re in a constant state of feeling you don’t measure up, that knocks your confidence and sense of self. Your job is to create a life you want to participate in, that gets you excited and enthusiastic, and makes you happy. Where somebody else is on their own unique journey has nothing to do with you and where you are on yours. They haven’t lived your life and it’s not theirs to live.


Instead of being envious or bitter about somebody else’s success put that energy into making your life what you want it to be. It’s a much better and more productive use of your time and energy.

 

Own your unique talents and be proud of them



Everyone has unique talents. Yet many of us don’t embrace them either because we think it would be arrogant to do so or we see our talents as not as relevant as somebody else’s. Worse still, we sometimes deflect or dismiss praise about our talents and skills by saying “I’m not really that good” or “I just got lucky” or “yea I’m ok at that but I still can’t do X, Y, Z”. We totally overlook not just our talents and skills but the perseverance and commitment it took to develop and get really good at those skills. We take for granted the skills we have gained because they have just become part of our everyday life. We almost expect ourselves to be good in those areas so discount them as being irrelevant in the process.


We tend to focus more on the areas in which we don’t feel we are accomplished and base our worth on that.  However, that’s not a particularly good strategy in my opinion. If all you do is look at what you haven’t accomplished that’s quite overwhelming and potentially unmotivating. If you instead focus on what you want to be better at while reminding yourself what you’ve accomplished before, that gives you a lot more “evidence” if you like, that informs you that you can be successful and you have the evidence for it from your past. This can also apply to the present in recognising the skills you already possess.


We also overlook what it takes to stay good at something. If you take the time to look a little closer at every skill you’ve built up in your life up until now and what it took to get to your current skill level you will be amazed at what you’ve achieved.


There will also be things you are just naturally good at and have been for a long time. Don’t just dismiss those because they might have come a little easier to you, embrace them and be proud of them. How can you expect to be confident if you don’t acknowledge your skills and talents? They are part of what make you brilliant, you might as well enjoy and celebrate them.


The other important point is within those skills you had to overcome challenges to get skilled. Overcoming is something we have to do over and over in our lives as we move from unskilled, to skilled, to mastery. You can learn a lot about yourself when you look back at what you have overcome before and what that says about your ability to face future challenges.



Be courageous and take a step forward anyway




Confidence doesn’t always come before action as I’m sure you are aware. In many cases we gain confidence through action and seeing ourselves take a step forward. Granted, particularly if you are prone to anxiety, I’m not suggesting you throw yourself in the “deep end” as that might overwhelm you and put you off trying again.


However, I think sometimes we need to push ourselves slightly out of our comfort zone to realise what we are capable of as long as this is done in a managed way. Sometimes when we are given a bit of a “nudge” we sit back and say to ourselves, “wow I was so nervous beforehand I never thought I’d be able to handle that but I was fine”.


Sometimes we have done all the preparation we possibly can and it’s just a matter of stepping up and doing it, learning our competence and gaining confidence through action. What’s the worst that could happen? Even if it doesn’t go well, we can learn more about ourselves so we can have a better shot at things next time.



 

Reflect on your past successes (with the help of your friends)




In the world of Solution Focused Brief Therapy (the type of counselling I use) and other branches of therapy there is something called “resource talk”. Different modalities use this differently, but in SFBT it is about reflecting on your skills, traits, abilities that helped you to succeed, in this case that helped you to be confident. So, ask yourself:


When was I at my most confident in my life? How was I able to do that? What was different about me then? What have I overcome up to this point in my life? What qualities did I draw upon in order to succeed? What do I know about myself from my previous experiences that tells me I can succeed? If I was to bring those same qualities when facing the next obstacle what difference would that make? What would it mean to me to see myself as a confident and successful person?


If you have trouble doing this for yourself (as many of us do) ask a friend or colleague what they admire most about you. What do they see in you that tells them you are capable of being strong and confident? What would they say are your best qualities?


This is where hanging around with supportive people as I mentioned earlier comes in handy. Focusing on what resources you already have can be a way to recognise your own competence and therefore boost your confidence, whether you discover this yourself or ask a trusted person to help you.


 

Celebrate the small wins


 

One thing I don’t think we do enough (myself included) is celebrate our small wins on the way to our bigger goals or even just in life in general. We get laser focused on the end goal which is fine, but if we only acknowledge the end goal without recognising how far we have come this can sometimes be demotivating or make a task feel more exhausting than it needs to.


If we instead acknowledge all the small wins, this helps to give us a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and can help keep us motivated to keep going. It also gives markers of success on the way to the overall goal which can help give a feeling of progress. Rather than thinking “well, I haven’t got there yet” take some time to acknowledge how far you have come.


This will impact your confidence as you are constantly focusing on what you have achieved rather than what you haven’t done shifting your focus from a sense of lack to a sense of accomplishment.


 

Create structure that makes it more likely you will succeed




If you have the right structure or plan in place, it certainly won’t guarantee success but it will make it far more likely you will get there. Take for example losing weight. If you have the right food in the cupboard, plan meals in advance and have your workout gear ready the night before (assuming you exercise in the morning) you’re far more likely to stick to your weight loss goals than just “winging it”. Prioritise the things in your life that are most important and meaningful to you and create the kind of structure that makes it more likely they will happen.   


Initially it might feel like a chore, for example having to get up a bit earlier to make time to exercise, but a few weeks down the track when you start to notice the difference you will be pleased you made that sacrifice. This is the same with confidence. Sometimes we avoid the very activities we know would help us to be more confident, like studying before a test, planning for a meeting or even finding out where we need to go for an appointment ahead of time so we don’t feel rushed and stressed. We might put those things off as a way of not facing the task we have at hand. However, in a way we are sabotaging our own success by not preparing as well as we know we could have.


Essentially, I’m saying regardless of what area of your life you want to be more confident in, give yourself the best chance to be successful by creating the kind of environment or structure that supports your success.


 

Focus on being interested in the person you are talking to, rather than being overly self-conscious



This is more for those who lack confidence in social situations or have trouble making small talk. I could actually do an entire blog on this subject as there are many different techniques, but here is one.  Something to remember is people really enjoy talking about themselves so show genuine interest in them and what they are saying. Focus on their answers and ask them about themselves.


This has the added bonus of shifting your focus onto the other person and what they are doing and moving the focus away from how you are looking, what you are saying or how you are feeling. After some practice this can help with social anxiety as we shift our focus away from ourselves and onto the person we are talking to.



Keep going



Even when setbacks happen, find a reason to keep going. This is why having an underlying purpose or overall meaning behind what you are doing is so important. Regardless of any setback the important thing is to keep getting up and trying again. What other choice do you have? We all experience setbacks and life is constantly throwing “curveballs”. It’s the people that have the courage to get up and try again that eventually succeed.


Progress is never a straight line when it comes to changing a behaviour so your success will be marked more by the times you get back up and carry on, than the times you fell down. Think of all the successes in your life, the ones that involved setbacks. Imagine if you had stopped after the first obstacle? I’d assume the key to anything you have achieved is the fact you kept going even when it was tough. Once you then reach that success it’s even sweeter because you know the obstacles you had to overcome to get there. That “overcoming” then becomes the fuel to take on the next challenge.



Take responsibility for your successes and your failures



What I am really saying here is take full responsibility for your own beliefs, thoughts and actions. They are the only things you have full control over and the capacity to change. Always take responsibility for the part you played in a particular outcome. It can be too easy to blame other people or certain circumstances in our lives but in a way, this just gives our power away to something “out there”. I’m not saying that bad, unfair, tragic or underserved things don’t happen, they happen frequently in everyone’s life. The world isn’t perfect and we as people are not perfect. Yet there is only so much impact we can have on those circumstances day to day, so it might be better to focus your attention where you can have real impact.


If we take full responsibility for our successes and our failures that means we are in control of our own lives (as much as is humanly possible). Feeling our lives are “under control” or we have the capacity to create real change can be quite fulfilling and freeing because we don’t have to rely on something outside of ourselves (or external) for peace and happiness. It’s quite an empowering position to take even if it’s difficult to face ourselves in such vulnerability.


However, it is very raw and real and, in my experience, once we work through our aversion to being vulnerable and face life just as it is, life gets much simpler and much easier. There are less “moving parts” if you like and we stop struggling against the tide. As a result, anxiety, frustration and angst decrease.


We have real impact on our thoughts, beliefs and actions in a way that isn’t possible with outside circumstances. We just don’t always recognise this unless we start paying attention. Many of us put all our focus on the external hoping it will change with very little regard for how our beliefs, thoughts and actions are shaping our lives every day. I believe taking full responsibility for our successes and failures gives a great source of confidence and agency because instead of becoming victim of circumstance or another person’s actions, we start creating the life we want by aligning our thoughts, beliefs and actions with how we want our life to look and that changes how we perceive events in the external world.



Process your past and let go of it


 

The reason this is important is because the past often creates a filter through which we look at ourselves and the world. Our view of ourselves (until we update it and let what we don’t want go) is largely made up of other people’s opinions (e.g. parents, caregivers, teachers) and past experiences from our childhood and teenage years. We often remember negative experiences from that time period quite vividly as those experiences often involved a threat of some kind either to our sense of self or a literal physical threat.


During our childhood, adolescence and young adulthood we sometimes pick up a healthy sense of self while at other times we pick up a negative self-image that holds us back from being as successful as we could be. This then stops us from reaching our potential because our beliefs are self-limiting in this case. Learn to process your trauma and let it go, and the world will open up to you in ways you never imagined.


Once you view yourself accurately without it being filtered through the lens of the past or trauma you can move on and create the life you want with purpose, contentment and confidence. I recommend working with a therapist of some sort if you decide to do this step especially if it involves trauma.



 

Laser-like focus, sacrifice and commitment




Lastly, as with anything you are trying to achieve, it just comes down to being committed to where you want to go (in this case confidence). It might even mean making a few sacrifices along the way (e.g. getting up a bit earlier to ensure you can exercise or putting yourself in situations that are uncomfortable but help you grow) but if the reason behind what you are doing is important and meaningful enough to you, you’ll be willing to make those sacrifices as they are just stepping stones on the way to where you want to go.


Life is not always going to work out as planned, people won’t always treat us how we want to be treated and we will make mistakes along the way. This is the same for any endeavour for which we want undertake. This is no different when working towards confidence in my view but if we stay committed despite what comes our way one day you will look back and go “wow, I made it, I’m here”.



Conclusion



Confidence, in my opinion is something you gain through experience and seeing yourself succeed. Ultimately you have to take action for it to grow. However, it’s also important to remind yourself where you have succeeded in the past as it is within those experiences that you will find signs of your strengths. I believe confidence is maintained or enhanced by having a solid foundation that supports your growth, a foundation that needs to be infused with a much deeper meaning than just gaining confidence for confidence’s sake.


It is the case that some of us may have been lucky enough to have had supportive parents so have a bit more “in-built” confidence to start with. However regardless of where you start on the “confidence continuum” it’s making a start that makes the difference. I don’t believe confidence is a destination where once you get there you just have it. I think it’s something that needs sit on a solid foundation, cultivated and maintained through purposeful action and infused with deep meaning.


Once you know who you are, where you want to go and why on a deep and meaningful level you are well on the way to gaining more confidence. Often the only thing that is stopping you is you!



Tim Robinson - Counsellor

MCouns (Distinction). Msc Psych. PGDipHealSc (Health Behaviour Change)

Registered Provisional Member with NZAC

 

For more helpful blog posts or to book an appointment visit: www.timrobinsoncounsellor.com

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