Jason Liem explains how to fortify your self-confidence and weaken your self-doubt

The internal struggle between self-confidence and self-doubt is a familiar one to most of us. All too often it is self-doubt that comes out on top. So instead of acting, our creeping self-doubt causes us to hesitate and over-think the situation. We back down from a potential opportunity and settle for what we are comfortable with.

When my self-doubt creeps into my mind it feels like I’ve stepped on the brakes of my life.  My self-confidence drains from me and I feel indecisive and rudderless.  The opposite is true when I feel the surge of self-confidence.  It launches and accelerates me forward.

Human beings have a well-developed cortex.  It allows us to be logical and analytical when faced with life’s challenges.  We can reverse engineer a problem and observe its various elements. Our cortex affords us the ability to work on finding a solution and moving onwards and upwards.

This is all well and good.  The problem is we are still human.  This means we tend to be quite predictable in our irrationality.  Facts?  Solid reasoning?  Irrefutable proof?  Who needs these when my brain is telling me listen to my oh-so-comforting-warm-under-the-blanket self-doubt?

You know those feelings.  Part of you wants to take the chance to grow and develop. But the stronger more persuasive side is telling you to stay in your warm cozy bed.  Self-doubt tells you there will always be another opportunity, so you can sit this one out.  Irrationality has spoken, and it sounds like solid advice.

Resources versus Demand

The brain seems to divide every situation into resources and demands.  Resources are categorised as external and internal.  External resources are quantities such as time and money.  Internal resources are your level of knowledge, experience, education and confidence.

 The demand refers to the level of complexity, uncertainty and know-how needed to handle the situation.

resources vs demand 1

Image courtesy of www.mindtalk.no

In familiar situations, such as how to make a cup of coffee or use your smart phone, your resources will be more than adequate to deal with the demands of the situation.  It is here where your self-confidence flourishes and you are well within your comfort zone.

resources vs demand 2

 Image courtesy of www.mindtalk.no

The game changes when you are confronted with a novel situation.  This is when your perceived resources start to converge with the demands of the situation.  Your brain sits on the fence as it considers if the situation is either a challenge or a threat.

resources vs demand 3

Image courtesy of www.mindtalk.no

If you perceive your resources are greater than the demand than you see the situation as a challenge.  On the other hand, if you perceive the demands exceed your resources than you will interpret the situation as a threat.

The demand refers to the level of complexity, uncertainty and know-how needed to handle the situation.

The perceived difference of challenge and threat not only has a psychological impact, but a physiological one too.  A challenge will embolden you and fire up your self-confidence.  A threat will weaken you and seed self-doubt into your mind.

How you write the narrative about your ability to face a novel situation and its demands will determine if self-confidence or self-doubt rules the day.

resources vs demand 4

Image courtesy of www.mindtalk.no

The Confidence Game

Think of a scale with a sliding counter.  On one end of the scale sits self-confidence and on the other end is self-doubt. The simple rule of the game is to slide the counter toward self-confidence.  Although it sounds easy, in fact, it is quite hard for most of us.

You’ll know when the counter slides toward self-doubt.  You’ll be overthinking the situation. You’ll be considering the pros and cons, and the cons and even more cons.  You’ll be finding excuses, any excuses, to talk yourself out of acting. Your brain will start to spin worst-case scenarios in the theatre of your mind.  You will tell yourself you don’t have enough resources to deal with the demands of the situation.

Building confidence comes from having experiences and learning from those experiences.  This means we must accept that a part of learning is messing up and making mistakes.

My Mom gave me some solid advice years ago.  She said, “Jason, there are only two outcomes you need to think about.  You either win or you learn.”  I try to remember her words even in the hardest of times.

Here are some other ideas to think about to embrace failure and build self-confidence.

Don’t Fail Before You Have Even Begun

For a lot of people, the anticipation of failure is worse than the actual failure itself.  You can overcome this by focusing on the here and now.   Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time.  Keep your thoughts focused on what you know, control and influence.  Then you won’t have time to focus on speculation and fortune-telling.

Know the Value of Failure

It’s part of everyday life and sometimes failure is unavoidable. No matter how good you’re at something, you will always experience obstacles and setbacks. Failure does have benefits. It helps to improve learning, strengthen resilience, and enhance motivation.  Keeping this in mind can reduce the sting of failure.

I remember when I first started out to build my business.   I told myself that I needed to collect 10 ‘no’s’ before I could get one ‘yes’.  This made rejection more palatable.

Ask Yourself Good Questions

Making mistakes and messing up is inevitable.  Those of us who can learn to fail better have a significant competitive advantage. You can do this by debriefing after tripping up.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Was I trying something new?
  • What did I learn from this experience?
  • What would I do differently next time?
  • How can I use this experience to improve?

Final Thought

Self-confidence can be fragile, and it takes time to build it into something that is more robust.  Along the way, self-doubt will try to rear its ugly head and do it’s best to dissuade you from taking a step forward.  It is the fear of failure that is the primary driver of self-doubt.

Failure, in all its forms, can’t always be avoided. It is part of the process of learning, adapting and growing.  The point is to come to terms with this.  Failure should never be the aim, but you can learn how to fail better.

Becoming more resilient comes from how well you manage your lows.  This in turn will help to determine how many highs you achieve.

What builds self-confidence is not always dependent on whether you succeed or fail.  What counts is if you resolve to act, to speak up or to take a chance.  Each time you do it cements another brick in fortifying your self-confidence and weakening self-doubt.

Jason W Birkevold Liem helps people to think about their thinking so they are better at managing themselves, others and situations. He achieves this through an informative and engaging process that educates people about the brain, cognitive psychology and ... (Read More)

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