Confidence. It can be a scary word. From a young age, we’re told that we should be confident in ourselves and our abilities, but at the same time we can get mixed signals when we do exhibit self-confidence. Women are told that being too confident can come across as bossy, and men who are seen as too confident are often considered arrogant.
It’s a shame because confidence is one of the most powerful tools we have in our figurative tool belt of life. It’s essentially how we not only see ourselves and how we move in the world, but how we see our past, present and future, and everything that makes us into the person we are.
How Your Good, Bad, and Even Ugly Past Can Make You More Confident
You might be thinking that confidence sounds a lot like good old-fashioned self-esteem. This is true to some degree, however, self-esteem is how we value ourselves and our perceived self-worth; it’s related to feeling. Confidence, which is based on self-esteem, is all about capable action. When you have a healthy dose of confidence, you are more likely to fully believe that you can successfully manage challenging situations and potential obstacles.
One’s own level of confidence can shift, depending on social situations, such as challenging experiences in the work place, or conflicts in a relationship. This is what’s referred to as situational confidence; external situations and encounters can cause it to change.
However, there is another type of confidence that isn’t impacted by external forces. This is often called core confidence. Think of core confidence as your confidence baseline; no matter what happens to you or around you, your self-image and inner confidence remains intact. As opposed to situational confidence, which can change frequently, you can build up your core confidence and keep it constant.
Without sufficient core confidence, people often feel anxious, depressed, stressed, or just generally frustrated with their daily life. Diffidence can make one feel powerless, like the fate of one’s life is beyond one’s control. Developing and maintaining a healthy core confidence baseline can help you be more consistently satisfied with your life and help you become stronger to meet challenges that may come along.
How do you establish, cultivate, and maintain your own core confidence?
As a certified professional coach, I work with people who are living with chronic pain or illness. Oftentimes, people who suffer from chronic pain are stripped of their confidence and their self-image is very, very weak. Even though I mostly work with people living with pain, I’ve observed that this isn’t an isolated issue; many people, if not most, have challenges with building and retaining core confidence.
Confidence is all about perspective. When you take control of the story, you can shift your perspective of both how you see yourself and how you present yourself to the world.
In an age where every one of our previous relationships, jobs, memories, and choices can be mapped out in front of us in a clean and tidy Facebook timeline, it’s now easier than ever to feel the bitter twinge of regret, nostalgia, and the dangers of the “coulda-shoulda-wouldas” and “wish I hadn’t done thats”.
What’s important to remember is that each experience we have in life is not only an opportunity for growth, but it’s also an opportunity to choose how we grow; is it in a positive or negative direction? When we scroll through the timeline of our lives, does our past make our confidence stronger or weaker?
Start by taking back the story of your past
Sit down and make a list of what significant events have happened in your life within the last year. Include the ups and the downs, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Laid off? Put it on the list. Stopped (or started) smoking? On the list. Had surgery? List. Relocated? Got a new puppy? Started or ended a relationship? Yep, list. Put it all down on paper.
Take a few moments to reflect on the past year. Think of how you may have changed after all you’ve experienced. Then, on a separate piece of paper, make a list of everything that you know now that you didn’t know prior to the last year. What are you grateful for learning? What do you wish you had known then that you know now? What characteristics have emerged over the course of a year?
Next, attribute each thing you’ve learned to one (or more) of the past experiences and combine these to form a new list. For example, the experience of unexpectedly losing my father taught me to be grateful for the time that we have with our loved ones. The opportunity to help care for him during his sickness was heartbreaking, but it also brought me to a place where I understood the true meaning of unconditional love. I now know that I’m a more compassionate person because of this experience. At first, when I reflected on his death, I focused on so much of the negative that comes with loss. It wasn’t until I shifted my perspective of the experience of losing a loved one that I was able to see how much strength had come from it. So, looking back at that year, I realize that the death of my father allowed me to find gratitude, strength, and compassion. I became a more grateful, resilient, and compassionate person, which has given me the confidence to be a better partner, sister, daughter, and friend.
Take your time with this. Don’t rush it. Look at the past year of experiences and what you’ve learned and view it at various angles. Think outside the box. Perhaps your relationship ended and you realize that now you have a better understanding of what you want and don’t want in a partner. You might realize that you’re a loyal romantic who doesn’t settle for less, and without ending that relationship, you wouldn’t have realized what it is that you want.
Lastly, take each item from your new list of learning experiences and add a positive word or short phrase that describes your personality and character. Maybe you think of words like brave, curious, compassionate, romantic, dynamic, or loyal to add to your list.
Once you’re done, take a look at this your new awesomely robust list of confidence-boosters. Pat yourself on the back for taking the time to proactively reflect on your past in order to fuel your future. And, don’t forget to add confident to your list!
Whatever you do, don’t toss this list away. You might want to take a photo of it and make it the background of your smartphone, or you can tape it to your bedroom mirror so that you see it every morning when you wake up. This list can serve as a reminder of how resilient we are and how every day is an opportunity to build on the foundation of our core confidence.
By selecting new thoughts and emotions that we can associate to our memories, we are redefining how our brain interprets our past experiences.
This exercise allows you to rewrite the story of the last 365 days of your life, so that you can be proud of what you’ve learned, lost, gained, and how you’ve grown. By viewing each step in your life as an opportunity for growth and attaching a positive character-building attribute to it, you can start to recognize how far you’ve come in your life and be proud of it! Ultimately, you will come out of this exercise knowing, wholeheartedly, that all your experiences are shaping you to be the boldest, strongest, and most bad ass version of yourself.
Our past is one of our greatest teachers. If we look to it openly, we can identify what we’ve learned, embrace from where we’ve come, and release or even replace any negative associations with former experiences. It’s not magic, and although no one can ever change what happened in the past, you do have the capacity to change how you think, feel, and react to it, and how these past events affect your present and future self. This allows you to take an active part in creating a new story, one of confidence and empowerment so that you to move boldly, bravely, and beautifully in the world.
Congratulations! You are one step further along in your journey of strengthening your core confidence. High five! You might even start to feel a greater sense of well-being. When you are confident, you generally have a more consistent and pleasant mood, which can increase happiness and reduce anxiety. Being less anxious and more confident can help you to feel empowered to overcome obstacles, and make you feel more comfortable when approaching challenges, which ultimately reduces stress. This can lead to feeling at ease in social situations, more satisfaction in the workplace, and can help tame destructive emotions, such as jealousy, rage, fear, and guilt. So, it could be safe to say that a strong core confidence can help us live longer, healthier, more satisfying lives.
The true essence of confidence is believing, without a doubt, the power and potential of yourself. If we make a commitment to establish, cultivate, and maintain this confidence, imagine what we can do. As the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying: “With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” And what a world it could be.