5 Ways to Build Self-Confidence (and What You Need to Know about Self-Worth)

Written by Leah Hynes and Nazrin Murphie December 7, 2016

“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.” –Dalai Lama

Have you ever admired someone for their self-confidence and just wished you could be more like them? Wondered how on earth they got to be that way? And then wondered what the hell is wrong with you that you aren’t taking massive action, big risks, and walking around facing fears left, right and center?

One of the biggest barriers that we hear you guys and gals talk about when it comes to living a life you adore is that you don’t feel you have the self-confidence to go after it. The LYL team does read your emails and these are a few versions we have heard directly from you: 

  • I’m just not confident enough in myself to do work I love.
  • I haven’t got the credentials, job requirements or experience in order to step into the particular field that I want to go into. 
  • I’m just starting out and have no idea what I’m doing.
  • I’m introverted and shy, it’s harder for me to go out on a limb.
  • Who am I to step into a space when there are so many other experts already out there? (a.k.a. imposter syndrome!).
  • I’m not a young person just starting out. I feel like I can never keep up with all the people younger than me in this particular field. 
  • I know other people do it. But I am not “them.” I have X [enter about the million different stories (ahem, excuses) we tell ourselves] reason why I can’t do it.

But the main thread we’ve been picking up, is about not having the self-confidence to take the action that you really want to be taking. You know how to take action, but you are feeling held back by your internal dialogue and fears.

And it’s fair enough! Because when we embark on something new, it’s uncharted territory—a path we haven’t walked before. From the outside looking in, others might make it look easy, but we bet if you just scratched the surface they have been doing a lot of hard work that nobody has seen…

But before we get into the details of how to build self-confidence, there is an important distinction to make that might actually give you some freedom to take action (no matter how small) despite these concerns. 

Why You’re Probably Lacking Confidence

Think of a time when you learned to do something new…

Take driving a car, for example. When you first sat in the driver’s seat, how confident did you feel at the wheel? We’re guessing probably not at all, and in fact quite the opposite: you might have had sweaty palms, nerves in your stomach,  been tentative, scared and driving REALLY slowly! You might have even felt like a big spotlight was on you and everyone on the road staring as you drove for the first time. And that’s why you had a driving instructor or experienced driver with you showing you the ropes and helping you take those first tentative steps.

The reason you didn’t feel at all self-confident when it came to learning to drive a car is that you were yet to build any competence in that particular area. But then as you started to take additional lessons and experienced driving on the road more, your level of competence started to rise. And as your level of competence started to rise, your level of self-confidence equally started to increase.

Competence feeds confidence.

So if you don’t feel confident embarking on a new project or learning a new skill, take the pressure off yourself and remember that you are building competence. Without competence, self-confidence doesn’t just magically appear. And those people who just launch into things all “gung-ho” and over-confident will likely make huge errors and probably crash the car. So having a false sense of confidence does not feed competence, and there are no shortcuts (sorry!).

But the good news is, as with any kind of momentum, once you start to build competence, and you start to observe yourself getting better and improving a skill, you will start to feel more and more confident, which in turn encourages you to continue building your competence.

Self-Confidence vs. Self-Worth

Another area that people can sometimes confuse is the distinction between self-confidence and self-worth. Self-confidence is entirely separate from self-worth.

Your self-worth is the same today as the day you were born. It’s just a matter of whether you choose to believe that or not! Now obviously if you don’t believe that you are of value just as you are, then building confidence via building competence will likely be far more challenging and it will require that you do some digging (ideally with the support of a coach or therapist/counselor) to help you unravel the stories you have been playing out in your mind about why you are not worthy or valuable.

  • Self-worth is unchangeable. Every person is as valuable and worthy as the next and it is completely separate from what you do and have in the world.
  • Self-confidence and competence, on the other hand, are entirely changeable, variable and dependent on actions that are in your control. You can feel self-confident as a seasoned driver but completely lack self-confidence as a snowboarder if you’ve never tried it before.

So as defined in the dictionary and in summary:

  • Self competence: The ability to do something successfully or efficiently.
  • Self-confidence: A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.
  • Self-worth: The sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.

So given that self-worth is something you all already innately have on board (whether or not you believe it right now), here are some ways that you can start to build your self-confidence in a particular area of life that matters to you:

1. Adopt a beginner’s mindset

When you first embark on learning a new skill or doing something you’ve never done before, you will be at the beginning of your journey and other people will be ahead of you on the journey (hence the saying “Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20”!).

Leah: When I first learned to snow ski in a tiny resort in Slovenia about ten years ago, I wanted to be swanning down the mountain right away and was so frustrated that I was on these baby slopes, all hunched over gripping my poles as tight as hell and moving at a snail’s pace (not to mention the falling over!). I felt so out of control and looked ridiculous.  A grown adult completely terrified while 4-year-olds sped past me on tiny skis with ease. I had completely forgotten that I was a beginner, that I’d never even seen snow before, let alone skied on it!

The problem was I had created a false expectation that I should be to the advanced level quickly and boy, was I frustrated. I was completely beating myself up for not being better at something I had never tried! How ridiculous? It’s like expecting a newly born baby to know how to walk right away.

Adopting a beginner’s mindset is absolutely crucial to ensure that you keep on showing up. Give yourself a break! Accept you are a beginner and know that you will fall down. The key is to keep on getting back up again.

2. Practice consistently

Building competence takes practice—there are simply no shortcuts. After all, there are no Olympic athletes who turn up to their events without having diligently practiced and trained for the years (many, many years) preceding.

If you want to build confidence in an area, it’s only practice that will get you there (a.k.a. building competence).

Leah cont’d: Being a beginner is never a great feeling. But 6 months later, after my first attempt to snow ski in Slovenia, I lived and worked in the French Alps with my husband for 6 months. I was still just as lacking in self-confidence getting out on the slopes and only marginally better on my skis (if at all!). But then I had a whole 6 months ahead of me to practice (in between running a chalet). I skied almost every day (even if just for an hour or two), took private lessons and had a lot of falls! But it still took months until I felt confident clicking my boots into the skis and certainly the full six months until I could comfortably take on any black run and venture off-piste.

3. Set small milestones and goals

As the saying goes: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same goes for building competence and confidence. It’s important to have the end goal or result in mind, but often this can be super overwhelming when you are just getting started on learning a new skill or making a change. Set yourself small milestones and goals along the way.

By proving to yourself that you can get stuff done, you’ll prove to yourself what you’re capable of achieving. They don’t have to be big goals; they can even be things like writing a blog post or trying your hand at event planning by organizing a friend’s birthday party.

4. Understand your talents and non-talents

As we’ve spoken about already, think for a moment of something you have never attempted before: book writing, bungee jumping, teaching, science, playing soccer. How is it that you know you don’t have a strength or weakness in this area if you have never tried? Well… you don’t!

Likewise, the only reason you know you have an alleged weakness or strength is that you have tried something and you discovered you either excel in that area or not.  

Taking these things back to their key state: you have natural talents or non-talents in particular areas. It is only when you “lean in” on a talent that you create a strength and when you “lean in” on a non-talent that you create a weakness.

Everyone has strengths and talents. What are yours? Often we can build competence and confidence faster if we focus on utilizing our talents and building on our already existing strengths. Recognize what you’re already good at and trying to build on those things instead of only improve your weaknesses.

Plus, understanding your talents and non-talents then puts the power back in your court to choose where you focus your time.

5. Don’t forget to look back

Sometimes it can be easy to focus on what you haven’t accomplished yet and forget about how far you have come. Focusing on the milestones you have achieved, big or small, can help you gain perspective on all your talents and abilities.

Keep a list of the things you have achieved along the way, whether it’s getting a good mark on an exam or even learning to ride a bike. Keep this list close and add to it when you do something you’re proud of.

So remember, the next time you embark on something entirely new, know that those feelings of lacking self-confidence are not personal to you—they are completely normal and required as you start out on your journey. Have some compassion for yourself and make sure you get yourself supported during that process by like-minded people who will encourage you along the way—you can find plenty of them in our Action and Accountability Facebook Group.

Because the reality is, most of us stop ourselves before we ever even start. We are the ones getting in our own way! So the more you can get others in your corner to help you along the way, the more growth you’ll see.

Let us know in the comments below: what area of competence are you now committed to building up? 

To revealing your best self,

–Leah & Naz 🙂

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