This Simple Question Holds the Key to Lasting Self-Confidence

This question holds the key to lasting self-confidence by Cathy Jacob at CathyJacob.com
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If you’d rather listen than read, you can find this post on my podcast, Sound Insight Season 2, episode 6.

For many of us, me included, self-confidence can be fleeting.

Like a bad friend, one minute it’s by your side and ready to party. The next minute, when the chips are down and you need it most, it’s “outta here!”

So, what if you could feel confident at your core?

You’ve likely met people who exude self-confidence. They show all the outer signs. They are the first to speak up in a meeting. They have an air of authority and certainty. They have answers. They are decisive. They have a list of accomplishments as long as your arm.

Don’t be fooled.

The difference between fleeting and lasting self-confidence.

In two decades of coaching, I’ve met countless successful, accomplished, and brilliant people who struggle with self-confidence. I’ve also noticed a strange kind of inverse correlation between how confident you appear on the outside and how confident you are on the inside.  It’s as if that confident exterior is a thin outer crust that crumbles under the weight of a setback, a new challenge, or direct feedback.

I’ve learned from my own struggle with self-confidence that it doesn’t come from your competence, your achievements, your talent, or your intelligence. Don’t get me wrong. These things are all great. They just don’t deliver a guaranteed ticket to lasting self-confidence.

In fact, if you need to be the smartest person in the room or if you rack up achievements to feel better about yourself, your sense of self is built on unstable ground. If your confidence comes from being right or feeling certain, that feeling is fleeting, often misplaced, and sometimes even dangerous.  Paradoxically, despite our struggles with self-confidence, most of us over-estimate our knowledge and capabilities. Behavioral scientists have a term for this. They call it overconfidence bias.

The real key to lasting self-confidence lies in the answer to the question: “Can I trust myself?”

Lasting confidence comes from knowing you can count on yourself no matter what you know, what you can do, or what you have done.

The great news is self-trust can be learned and earned.

How can you learn to trust yourself?

Take a moment and think of someone you trust completely. Why do you trust them? Chances are one or all of these things are present.

  • You know can count on them.
  • They are kind and encouraging toward you.
  • They are authentic and honest with you.

Now replace the pronouns “you, they and them” with “I and myself.”

Let’s take these one at a time.

Can I count on myself to keep my commitments?

Do you consistently show up for yourself, particularly when the chips are down?

Being able to rely on yourself is ground zero of lasting self-confidence.

A common cause of an erosion of self-trust is when you act like a bad parent toward yourself – one minute, harsh and demanding; the next, permissive and indulgent.

The more you show up for yourself, the more you exercise persistence. The more persistent you are, the more you tap into your natural resourcefulness. The more reliable you become, the more confident you feel. It’s a self-fulfilling upward spiral.

That doesn’t mean you have to learn to go it alone all the time. Asking for help when you need it is a form of resourcefulness.

You can build your personal reliability in three ways.

  1. Make and keep commitments to yourself that will serve your well-being and growth. Things like exercise, nutrition, rest, time for family and friends, and learning. Start small. Be mindful and reasonable about the commitments you make. Don’t make commitments to yourself and others that you can’t keep. Set yourself up for success.
  2. Put your commitments to your well-being first. When you put the demands of others ahead of your personal well-being, you not only erode self-trust, you erode your ability to meet your commitments to others. On the positive side, taking care of yourself, enhances your performance in other areas of your life. The result? More confidence.
  3. Build and track your success. Small successes build momentum. Begin with commitments you know you can deliver. Track and celebrate your successes. Every small promise you keep is money in your personal trust bank.

If you haven’t already, you might start by building a consistent morning routine. It’s an excellent way to train yourself to be someone you can count on. For ideas on small, easy rituals you can start with, check out 10 Ways to Boot Up Your Day in Under 30 Minutes.

Am I kind and encouraging to myself?

What about when things get tough?

When you fail, do you berate yourself, call yourself names? Do you bully yourself?

We’re learning a lot about the power of self-compassion, it’s role in a healthy sense of self, and it’s role in effective leadership.

There’s still confusion about what self-compassion is and how it’s practiced. People sometimes confuse self-compassion with self-indulgence. As a result, they either resist the whole premise, or use it as an excuse to expect less of themselves.

Compassion is not indulgence. Again, remember the good parent. Effective parents provide rules and boundaries. They have expectations of their children to learn and put in effort. But this is all done in a container of love, encouragement, and attention.

Self-compassion is a practice and part of the practice is teaching the voices in your head how to talk to you. It is noticing when they are harsh and judgmental and gently recovering to compassion. Or as author Britt Frank advises in her article on negative self talk, “The secret to effective self-talk is to turn your inner monologue into an inner dialogue.” Pro tip. Keep the inner dialogue civil.

This compassion extends to your inner critic. Pay attention to when that voice is afraid or anxious and gently reassure it by repeating to yourself, “It’s okay. I’ve got this.”

Am I authentic and honest with myself?

This is the life-long practice of cultivating compassionate self-awareness.

It’s learning to observe yourself with clear eyes and make more of your behavior the object of your awareness. You learn to observe attempts to deceive yourself or avoid hard things.

Facing and doing hard things becomes easier when you practice self-compassion. Being compassionate toward yourself enables you to face and work with the less attractive aspects of your nature.

It involves honoring all of what it is to be human – the good, the bad and the ugly. The more you can do this, the more easily you can hear tough feedback without it threatening your sense of self. You learn to face the hard truth about yourself and your situation without avoiding, denying, or spiralling into a pool of self-loathing.

This skill takes time to develop. Meditation and mindfulness practices, as well as developmental coaching can accelerate this process.

Can I trust myself?

When you can answer yes to that question, you’ve done the hard work to earn the kind of lasting self-confidence that rises above the details of your circumstances. All of this is the challenging work of peeling your sense of self-worth away from your accomplishments, your talents, and your external circumstances. When you can count on yourself. When you are compassionate toward yourself. When you know and accept yourself, you access the kind of inner peace and strength that comes with lasting self-confidence.

It’s not the end of doubt and uncertainty.

It’s the foundation that enables you to move forward in the face of doubt and uncertainty.

It is the bedrock on which you can grow and thrive.

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    Cathy Jacob

    I'm Cathy Jacob. I am a writer, coach and co-founder of Fire Inside Leadership. After two decades of coaching leaders on how to inspire while navigating the challenges of demanding careers and lives, I’ve created this site to share the best of what I’ve learned from my courageous clients and leaders in the fields of psychology, leadership, philosophy and neuroscience on what it takes to live an inspired life.

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